U.S. Embassy Engagement With Muslim Communities In France

12/12/2010

25 January 2007 cable from the U.S. embassy in Paris, released through WikiLeaks, December 1st 2010 (via Libération):

1. Summary: The Ambassador and all of Mission France support a sustained and focused effort to engage France’s Muslim minorities, recognizing that organizing and executing such an effort will continue to require considerable discretion, sensitivity and tact on our part. Although there is some evidence that France’s Muslim minorities are better integrated than their counterparts elsewhere in Europe, the French have a well-known problem with discrimination against minorities. French media has fallen short in their reporting on these issues and French government and private institutions also found it difficult to face up squarely to the challenges involved. We can engage the French both privately and via the media on the issue of minority inclusion, but superior French language skills are crucial to make effective use of the French broadcast media.

2. Our specific goals for this strategy: a) demonstration of our commitment to these issues, b) sharing of our American experiences in managing diversity, and c) encouraging social reforms within France to improve the lot of its minorities.

3. Post will continue to grow its established minority outreach effort, identifying Arab-Muslim outreach projects as such in expanded program reporting. Effectiveness will be measured in terms of audience and participant totals, improved French media treatment of minority issues, a measurably improved perception of the U.S. among target audiences, and the initiation of new policies and programs by both the French government and French non-governmental organizations to improve the lot of French Arabs and Muslims. […]

THE CHALLENGE

5. Reftel [Reference Telegram] tasked post to produce a ’07-’08 public outreach strategy for engaging France’s Muslim minorities, to counter terrorist recruiting among them, and to foster their greater integration into mainstream French society. We regret the late response to this tasking.

6. Embassy Paris and its seven field posts began to reach out systematically to France’s Arab and Muslim populations several years ago, in 2003, targeting neighborhoods and institutions known to have large immigrant populations (first, second and third generation). Since that time post established a broad base of political reporting on French Muslim issues, and the post’s Public Affairs Section increasingly focused its program assets (speakers, DVCs , exhibits, exchanges and grants) on minority communities, under the more acceptable rubric of “civil society” outreach.

7. Organizing and executing this outreach required sensitivity and discretion due to France’s particular philosophical outlook and history. It has the largest Muslim minority population in Western Europe, both as an absolute number and as a percentage of the national population. France’s five million plus Muslims are largely North African (Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian) in origin, although they remain diverse and resistant to blanket categorization. The French Government’s approach to religion and minorities traditionally has been to promote assimilation under the banner of equality, however imperfectly that goal has been achieved, with a strong emphasis on “laïcité” (secularism) in public spaces. This policy demands official blindness to all racial and ethnic differences. French law formally prohibits the collection of statistics on the basis of race, religion, or ethnic background; and only approximate figures are available to us regarding France’s minorities, including Muslims.

8. Concepts such as “affirmative action”, “diversity”, “multiculturalism”, or compound descriptions of identity (e.g. Arab-American) are relatively new and somewhat controversial in France, where the approach has been more to target specific geographic enclaves, e.g. educational programs for neighborhoods with a high percentage of socio-economically disadvantaged (often Arab and Muslim) youth.

9. Young French citizens across the religious spectrum tend not to be practicing/devout, but disadvantaged minority youth remain an obvious target for extremist recruiting. As a result of recent events (including the November 2005 unrest in the suburbs), diversity and integration are discussed more openly—at conferences, as well as on talk shows and campuses. Nevertheless, it remains generally indelicate in France to ask a person’s religious affiliation. Challenging the government’s approach to assimilation can amount to challenging the basis of French identity within the Republic.

10. The organization and execution of any official USG [United States Government] Muslim outreach strategy in such an environment—whatever the strong justification in our eyes—will continue to require considerable and continuing discretion, sensitivity and tact.

MEDIA ENVIRONMENT

11. As in other European countries, French media reporting of U.S. policies and intentions is often skeptical. Reporting by the mainstream media on Arab Muslims and their issues, however, is typically not so much negative as negligent, falling short both in its coverage of discrimination towards them and of juvenile delinquency among them.

12. Official Americans and pro-USG surrogates have ready access to most French media to convey official policy messages, but using that access effectively presents a special challenge. Superior French language and presentation skills are especially important for making effective use of French broadcast media. Communicating to the French about the treatment of their minorities, a topic they themselves are often reticent to explore in depth, is more difficult for us than, say, describing our own, American experience. Any ill-prepared efforts to reach out to France’s Muslim audiences could easily become counter-productive. We therefore must continue to proceed with care.

13. Our primary media focus needs to be on TV and radio, but print—and the new media—should not be ignored.

14. Fewer or less than one French adult in four reads a national newspaper regularly. Regional papers are still important, however, with Ouest France (Rennes) being the largest daily. The French are more avid magazine readers, buying over three billion copies a year.

15. French broadcasting is partly state-owned and partly in the hands of private enterprise. Most French TV viewers still, reportedly, prefer the six major broadcast channels, but the number of channels offered by various cable and satellite operators continues to grow, with the newest being France 24, a CNN-like 24-hour news-station. Average French TV viewership is over five and one-half hours per day.

16. Radio, especially FM, remains an important medium in France: over 99 per cent of French households own at least one radio and almost 5 in 6 over the age of 13 year listen to the radio daily. As with TV, French radio is part state-owned and part private.

17. Top French journalists are often products of the same elite schools as many French government leaders. These journalists do not necessarily regard their primary role as to check the power of government. Rather, many see themselves more as intellectuals, preferring to analyze events and influence readers more than to report events.

18. The private sector media in France—print and broadcast—continues to be dominated by a small number of conglomerates, and all French media are more regulated and subjected to political and commercial pressures than are their American counterparts. The Higher Audio-Visual Council, created in 1989, appoints the CEOs of all French public broadcasting channels and monitors their political content.

19. Internet access is growing steadily in France, especially among the younger generation, rapidly replacing traditional media. All important television and radio channels in France have their own websites, as do the major print media. Blogs are an increasingly popular method of communication for minorities and NGOs, who use them to express opinions they do not feel are reflected in the traditional media.

20. France’s first generation Arab immigrants typically continue to read publications from their countries of origin, and the major Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian papers are widely available in larger French cities. These individuals also watch satellite and cable TV stations in Arabic, including Al-Jazeerah TV. Second and third generation French Arabs, however, are typically not literate in Arab, and their print media habits are similar to those of other French readers.

SPECIFIC GOALS

21. DEMONSTRATE OUR COMMITMENT. We need to say and show, repeatedly, to Muslim and non-Muslim audiences alike, the USG is engaged for good in the Arab-Muslim world, we respect Islam, and the USG takes seriously the potentially global threat of disenfranchised and disadvantaged minorities in France. For those reasons, and because we believe in participatory democracy, we promote the advancement and full integration of France’s minorities into mainstream society.

22. SHARE OUR EXPERIENCES. We also must continue to communicate, well and often, to both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences in France, the American experience with ethnic and social conflict—both our successes and our failures—in order to establish our legitimacy for engagement on this issue. We can strengthen the sense of shared values and common cause between Americans and French working for inter-communal cooperation, peace, stability, opportunity and respect. In addition, we need to remain present, listening and showing respect for French (immigrant and non-immigrant) experiences.

23. Most French minorities, including Arabs, are somewhat aware of the U.S. experience and positively inclined towards us, seeing us as having tried to address our shortcomings. What many French lack is specific information about or any in-depth understanding of our experience that might help them to conceive of and implement a workable French model for addressing ethnic conflict. The French establishment, for the most part, has been reticent to face up to these problems or their root causes, reluctant to accept the U.S. as a model—or as a partner. The Ministry of Education, however, has shown its willingness to engage with us in this area.

24. ENCOURAGE REFORM. We must continue to encourage and help to empower moderate social reformers in France to preempt and thwart those who would aggravate social discontent for the purposes of extremist recruiting.

HUMANITARIAN/DEVELOPMENT ISSUES TO BE ADDRESSED

25. Although France has a highly developed, modern economy with significant resources at its disposal, much of the discontent reported by French minority communities relates to economic and social exclusion. While direct development assistance from the USG is not likely to be available for France, some USG financial and program resources were and will continue to be deployed to address the consequences of discrimination and minority exclusion in France. Some French NGOs working to assist minority youth, for example, received financial and other support—such as invitations to participate in exchange programs—through the Embassy to pursue specific programs.

TARGET AUDIENCES BY GOAL

26. DEMONSTRATE COMMITMENT. We need to show the USG takes seriously the threat of disenfranchised and disadvantaged minorities around the world, including in France, and we are committed to empowering minorities as part of our fundamental belief in participatory democracy.

27. Our target audiences for this goal include both Muslims and non-Muslims: at-risk youth, professionals who serve them, NGO leaders, and the media, both national and regional. We will continue to engage resident Muslim country diplomats to improve their understanding of the U.S. We also must continue to educate ourselves systematically on Islam through such efforts as our in-house speaker program, which recently invited a prominent French scholar on Islam to address a lunchtime roundtable for Embassy staffers.

28. While much of the existing effort already ties into our current Embassy public diplomacy strategy, increased funding for exchanges, speakers and grants would be most welcome. So would more help from Washington with recruiting minority speakers (Francophones) and further access to short-term exchanges, such as ECA’s summer institutes, to target minority educators.

29. SHARE EXPERIENCES. We must continue communication in a broad and frequent manner to audiences in France about our own American experience with ethnic and social conflict. We need to demonstrate our legitimate standing on this issue in order to strengthen the sense of shared values and common cause between Americans and the French.

30. Our target audience for this goal, again, is Muslim and non-Muslim, but especially the media, NGOs, educators, and French youth (students and professionals.) All need to engage—themselves and each other—to resolve the minority problems facing France.

31. As with the earlier goal, a considerable effort is already underway, tied to our existing public diplomacy strategy, but increased funding for exchanges, speakers and grants would enable us to reinforce our current efforts.

32. ENCOURAGE REFORM. We need to encourage moderate social reformers in France and thwart those who would aggravate social discontent for the purposes of extremist recruiting.

33. Our target audience for this goal should be both social reform elements and the individual young Muslims most likely to be targeted by extremist recruiters. The reformers need to be encouraged and resourced. The minority youth need to believe that they have a bright future in their adopted country and that they have nothing to gain and much to lose by association with extremist violence. Specific programs we could deploy to address these audiences include our existing media and Information Resource Center outreach efforts, increased targeting of our exchange programs to those engaged on minority issues, and expanded personal outreach by the entire Mission staff via our in-house public speaker program. A concerted effort will also be made to increase invitations to Muslims and other minorities for Mission representational events, not only in Paris but also in our field posts across France. Again, increased funding for exchanges, speakers and grants would enable us to reinforce our current efforts.

MEASURING EFFECTIVENESS

34. We will now identify our minority outreach efforts more clearly as such in our routine program reporting, tying into the new PD [Public Diplomacy] evaluation project led by ECA’s PD Evaluation Office. We will measure our effectiveness in terms of audience and participant totals, improved French media treatment of minority issues, improved perceptions of the U.S. among minority audiences, and the initiation of new policies and programs by the French government and/or French non-governmental organizations to improve the lot of French Arabs and Muslims. […]

Read the whole cable on WikiLeaks

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