Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Scum in the suburbs

The French-language website called Le Post, run by the prestigious daily Le Monde, publishes articles written by internauts as well as professional journalists.

Early this morning, this portal featured a short presentation of a video sequence in which the CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour asks Nicolas Sarkozy, standing alongside Barack Obama at the recent press conference at the Elysées Palace, if he regretted his use of the term "scum" in a declaration made by the French president back in November 2005, designating rioters in the suburbs. The article was erased from the portal a few hours later, and replaced by a short message that doesn't tell us what happened.

Fortunately, I kept a copy of the offending article, and I can see retrospectively what went wrong. As you will see in a moment, it was basically a transcription error on the part of the French internaut called Chamizam who signed the article.

Christiane Amanpour speaks French, but she actually used English in her question, and her use of the word "scum " for Sarkozy's "racaille " is, to my mind, perfectly correct. Here is the exact wording of Amanpour's question to Sarkozy: "I'm wondering whether you feel today, when you stand next to somebody you clearly admire so much and who has broken so many barriers, that you regret that term, or that you wish you hadn't said it." Curiously, the internaut Chamizam, who presented the video in the Le Post website, claimed that Christiane Amanpour's question could be translated into French as follows: "Monsieur le Président, ne regrettez-vous pas votre propos raciste? " [Mr President, don't you regret your racist expression? ] Clearly, no professional interpreter at the Elysées press conference would have made such a translation blunder. As I see things, somebody has alerted Le Post of this journalistic fault, bordering on slander [the internaut has taken the liberty of introducing the adjective "racist "], and they've simply removed Chamizam's article.

Here, in any case, is the video in question:

In conclusion, I think that Amanpour's question was excellent, in the usual direct and slightly impertinent style of this brilliant Persian woman. And I'm sorry that Chamizam's presentation of the video wasn't simply corrected, rather than being axed. If Christiane Amanpour had wanted to be really nasty, she might have asked the president if he regretted having suggested, back in those days when he was minister of the Interior, that rebellious youth in the suburbs should be treated with a Kärcher cleaner. But that exotic question would have surely made Barack Obama wonder what the hell was going on in France...


Chamizam said...

Dear William,

Thanks for the debate about my article on the Post about Sarkozy.

I simply disagree about one speculation you've made. Or maybe are you lost in translation?

I never translated the question of Amanpour by "don't you regret your racist expression, Mr President?"

I only interpret the "angle" of her question towards that direction : it was all about contempt for one category of the population which is, by the way, mainly young, poor and dark-skinned.

In France, "racaille" or "scum" has got that kind of racist connotation. And Miss Amanpour has perfectly understood that meaning.

Besides, I have been contacted by the moderator of Le Post for a new publishing of my article, if I accept to make slighty corrections. It was not my intention to suggest that Sarkozy was a racist thug. But my purpose was to remind that there is some "essentialism" or "collective approach" for cultural differences that is obvious in his speeches.

I let you consider the new article to be published soon which makes it clear for the reader.

Best regards, Chamizam

William Skyvington said...

Thanks for your clear explanations. I had in fact noticed that you added a remark that might be summarized as follows: Even if Christiane Amanpour did not use those exact words, her question was limpid.

It's perfectly obvious, as you say, that your rephrasing reveals the intended "angle" of her observations and question.

It's normal that observers should seize upon every opportunity of reminding Sarkozy and his supporters that he once used the ugly terms racaille and Kärcher in talking of French youth. Those words must never be forgotten. It was easy for a talented US journalist to draw attention to this smear on Sarkozy's background... particularly at a moment when the president was rambling on about his mate Obama. It was harder for a French Internet journalist such as yourself to present Amanpour's intervention to his compatriots.

Chamizam said...

Hello William,

I reported on my blog all the details about the "Sarkozy/Obama/LePost" story.

As the subject was quite interesting for you, any comment will be welcomed.

Best regards.