Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A little bit of spin makes the sugar-pill go down

[Hier auf den neuesten Stand gebracht.]

Though it’s shooting fish in a barrel, and we probably shouldn’t bother, we devoted a post to exposing some of the sleights of hand whereby the New York Times slants stories in the direction of the politically correct:  in particular, as regards armed French intervention in Africa.

The P.C. narrative is:  Just lately there has been a spot of bother in one of two countries of the continent, but the Africans themselves are going to sort it all out with their noble peace-keeping forces -- aided, to be sure, from time to time, by their friends the French (modestly shouting encouragement from the sidelines, and making coffee for the African warriors, one supposes).   These conflicts have lately taken on an unfortunate inter-confessional dimension, in which blame is to be found equally on all sides.

That narrative is being repeated in the case of the current French intervention in RCA.

Thus, this morning’s New York Times refers to “shootouts between the mostly Muslim rebel fighters who overthrew the government this year and rival Christian militias”.   This isn’t false, per se, just… massaged a bit.  For, “mostly Muslim” leaves open the possibility that the Séléka (to name it by its name; that’s Sango for “alliance”) is indeed an alliance -- say, 55% Muslim to 45% Christian;  kumbaya around the campfire to follow immediately upon our interfaith services.  More realistically, Wikipedia reveals that “Nearly all the members of Séléka are Muslim”.  And this, in a country that is eighty percent Christian.
As for that “rebels versus militias” picture -- well, that’s true enough in the present landscape;  but the causal lead-up thereto  was asymmetric, with Muslims being the aggressors, and the Christian militias  a belated response in defense.  The English Wikipedia is silent on the matter, but here is a summary of the timeline from the French:

Le 24 mars 2013, les rebelles de la Seleka — avec à leur tête Michel Djotodia qui se proclame président de la République — prennent Bangui, ce qui conduit le président François Bozizé à fuir le pays pour le Cameroun.
Dans cette progression, de nombreuses atteintes à la laïcité ont été constatées.

Le 22 août, suite aux refus de la population civile du village de Bohong de subir les persécutions de la Seleka16, le village subit de violentes représailles entraînant de dizaines de morts, des viols et des pillages17, visant spécifiquement la population chrétienne18. Un millier d'habitants quittent le village.
Dès sa prise du pouvoir en mars, Michel Djotodia dissout la Seleka, mais les ex-rebelles se livrent par la suite à de nombreuses exactions contre la population, notamment en octobre 2013

Reuters, too, is frank about the actual sequence of events:

The country has been gripped by chaos since mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in March. Months of looting, raping and killing since has brought reprisals by Christian militias and allies of ousted President Francois Bozize.

All right, so, a bad business;  but fortunately the African Union has this well in hand, n’est-ce pas,  fortified by gifts of brioche and ammunition from their French buddies, who are there purely by African invitation.   Thus again, the P.C. Times:

A resolution passed last week by the Security Council tries to strike a balance. It strengthens an intervention force of up to 6,000 African troops, to be aided by 1,600 French soldiers.

La France et l’Afrique annoncent leur union indéfectible
[BTW -- for those who might have trouble deciphering the French font, it says "Bisou du matin, calin".]

The reality has historically been otherwise, as we saw in the case of Mali.   Today’s Le Figaro  has a more nuanced assessment;  and as for this “support” role, their readers are not fooled, as witness this reader’s comment:

Curieusement (!) personne en France n'évoque qu'une dizaine ( de mémoire ) de soldats sud-Africains ont été tués en RCA il y a quelques mois , ce qui a conduit les sud-Africains à retirer leurs troupes en RCA - Alors parler aujourd'hui de forces armées "africaines " pour "épauler" l'armée française .. relève, au mieux, d'un dénis des réalités,  et au pire d'une désinformation délibérée de la part de leurs auteurs.

The Washington Post has rather a better article about all this, containing this tidbit about some onomasiological pill-sweetening:

The French move into Central African Republic is dubbed Operation Sangaris, after a local butterfly. The 1979 intervention to depose Jean-Bedel Bokassa, Central African Republic dictator and self-proclaimed emperor accused of cannibalism, was called Operation Barracuda.

The Christian Science Monitor alertly notices a different semantic connotation of the name that France wistfully chose for the op:

Reality Check
A brief French intervention in the Central African Republic? Maybe not.
When France announced deployment of 1,600 soldiers to a former colony last week, President François Hollande promised the intervention would be quick and easy. The Central African Republic, after all, has no terrorists, he said, unlike in Mali, where France intervened in January.
In reality, however, CAR could turn into a potential quagmire. Driving home that possibility is the fact that two soldiers have already been killed, France confirmed this morning.
Sangari[s], the name chosen for the operation, refers to a red Central African butterfly with a short lifespan.

Bonne chance, les gars ...

And, another tidbit of Sango philology -- balaka.  English Wikipedia actually has an entry for it (the French version is so far behindhind in this):

Anti-balaka is the term used to refer to the Christian militias formed in the Central African Republic after the rise to power of Michel Djotodia. Anti-balaka means "anti-machete" or "anti-sword" in the local Sango and Mandja languages

The group name thus incidentally incorporates the actual causal sequence of events:  the two armed camps did not spring up simultaneously, equally at fault.

Actually, a richer source of news about this  turns out to be a blog:


A radio essay by the journalist Robert Buissiere  begins by quoting the ludicrous remark of Hollande’s likewise Socialist presidential predecessor, “"la France sera africaine ou ne sera pas".  (One wonders whether, as with Shepherd’s celebrated but bungled line, lors de la lunaison, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, an article was inadvertantly dropped, and the intended sentence was rather “ou ne le sera pas”, in which case it would have been a tautology, and quite in keeping with Mitterand’s yen for the fatuous platitude.)
Listen to it here:
Si cela vous parle,
savourez la série noire
en argot authentique d’Amérique :



For more on the saga of Franco-American journalism, try this.

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