Passports are amazing. In 1998, when I received my first passport, it was as though I had a golden ticket that could take me anywhere. I flipped through the pages, dreaming of all the stamps that would one day fill this little blue-covered book. I was an insecure twenty-something who graduated from high school two years late and had just been fired from my low-paying factory job. People like me didn’t travel. People like me only visited far away places in books and movie screens. That’s what I believed. So, it was funny that I had a round-trip ticket to London, a packed bag, and a Let’s Go! guide to Britain under my arm.
Other countries were an intimidating and weird magic. I wanted to experience that.
During that adventure, I explored various parts of England and Scotland. I took the Eurostar to Paris. I rode the métro. I made an ass of myself. I talked with strangers, got lost, rained on, and frustrated. I tried speaking a foreign language for the first time. I experienced falling in love with a place.
Three years later, a couple of planes hit their target in New York City and we all started living in a different world. An uglier world navigated by fear. Stories in the news and water cooler chatter were steady streams of nonstop grief, shock, and panic. Some of it true, much of it not. I heard rumors that Paris had become dangerous for Americans; the city was so rife with Muslims and terrorist sympathizers that Americans were no longer safe on the streets.
This cold, scary place could not be the Paris I visited three years before. But, the more I heard about the hell Paris had become, the more I wondered if I was wrong, if the world had become so dark that the Paris I fell in love with was now a thing of the past.
That didn’t last long. I snapped out of it and told people who were shouting about ‘Freedom Fries’ to shut the hell up. A few years later, I fell in love again. This time, with a person. A person living in Paris. I’d dismissed those stories of the American-hating Paris, so I bought my ticket, and dusted off my passport.
Life happened. Days passed. It was the winter of 2005 and I was packing up, preparing to move from Colorado to France. The news reported on the riots taking place in Paris. The city was burning. People were dying. It was a war zone and travel to Paris was being discouraged. I didn’t freak out, but felt concern. On the phone with my soon-to-be-husband in Paris, I told him what the U.S. news reports said.
He laughed. “It’s not that bad. It’s outside of the city. We can’t see or hear anything from the riots. They’re happening, but your news is exaggerating.”
I looked into it in more detail. I remembered watching the LA riots in 1992 on TV, which were worse, but in regard to the cause, very similar. I continued on with my move as planned and arrived in Paris about six weeks after the Paris riots had quieted down. I saw no evidence that anything had taken place. The city was even better than I remembered. I fell in love all over again.
A few family members warned me against moving to Paris, telling me, “They hate Americans over there. They HATE us. Why would you move there? He should move here. It’s better here.”
I ignored them, and while I have met my share of Euro assholes, I have yet to experience blatant Yankee hate. They were wrong. It was fine. Even when I was doing dorky, touristy shit.
Every day, during the years I lived in Paris, upon exiting or entering our flat in Montmartre, I passed by the little convenience store and its Muslim proprietor, Ben. Ben and his family lived in our building and we often popped into his shop, since it was just downstairs. Next door to this was the Halal butcher shop. They were always smiling and friendly. One of them was a deaf mute, and my French was lacking, which often left me mute as well. We had worked out a system of nods and facial expressions when we saw one another each day.
These were my neighbors. They greeted me warmly, knew I was American, and showed me nothing but kindness. I felt safe around them, and enjoyed their smiles every day, even though I had been told countless times that these people despised me and wanted me dead.
Life happened. Days passed. Sarah Palin became our greatest fear. I still had a mix of friends then that I didn’t talk politics with on a daily basis. Some of them were ideologically opposed to me in many ways, yet we remained open-minded and friendly. This was in the early days of Facebook, when people were still posting opinions on their MySpace blogs. One of my Palin-loving friends had developed the habit of posting some weird, far-out shit that was clearly fictional, bigoted rhetoric, supported by fabricated facts. (Yeah, it’s the norm now, but wasn’t as much of a thing, then.)
I asked her about it. I knew she was more intelligent than the things she was posting. Her response was, “I know it’s bullshit, and you know it’s bullshit, but some people are gullible, will happily eat bullshit, and then they come over to my side.”
I was stunned at the deliberate manipulation, but appreciated the honesty.
People who’d never been to France continued to tell me I was living in an anti-American hell hole. Then Charlie Hebdo happened. After that, it wasn’t enough for the occasional ignorant person or idiot to tell me what my home was like. Now Fox News was doing it.
Twitter and Facebook are teeming with photos and videos of various incidents with all context removed so that bigots and propagandists can fit them into their deranged and fictional narrative of evil, violent, Muslim refugees. If you take a grainy video, remove the time, date, and specific location where the event took place, it becomes easy to assign whatever story you want to it. People who post these videos without all of the details are not trying to inform you. They want to stroke the shaft of your confirmation bias until you jizz hate all over their comment section and share button. And with 104k+ shares, it’s obvious that FB is not blocking anyone from sharing. Making it seem forbidden fans the flames of conspiracy theories and paranoid delusions.
Above is an example of people trying to scare you. This is not a war zone. This is not a video of Muslims driving “Native French from no-go zones.” No go zones are bullshit. It is a video of people being stupid and rioting, which happens all over the world for a variety of reasons. Looking up the address of the shop behind the rioters, I had the address in Nantes and was looking at the same exact spot on Google street view in a matter of seconds.
This street view screencap shows the same street one month after the riot.
Ooh. Look at the scary no-go zone. That elderly couple holding hands must be fleeing with their meager remaining possessions to a more hospitable zone.
Armed with the address, I Googled for riots and whatnot in the area. Granted, I had the advantage of being able to do this in French, which was helpful because the actual incident that took place wasn’t big enough to make international headlines. (People trying to scare you often rely on your lack of being able to speak French, Swedish, or whatever the bullshit du jour is because it makes easier to feed you lies.) And sorry, it had nothing to do with Muslims or any imaginary zones created by Fox News.
The less sexy, real story is that it was a demonstration against labor laws that took place on April 9, 2016, and a few of the protesters went rogue and started doing stupid shit.
The demonstration has a hashtag on Twitter: #manif9avril so you can go look at all the scary tweets and photos of white people walking around demonstrating. Or click on the English translations of the news articles I’ve provided for you. You’re welcome.
This is just one of many. Snopes and other fact-checking sources are debunking these stories all over the place.
France is not burning or falling. Nor is it a wasteland full of roving hoards of rabid Muslims feasting upon man flesh. These days, I live in the UK, and I often hear the same load of paranoid nonsense.
I have yet to encounter a war zone in either country, and have yet to meet anyone who has.
The purpose of me showing you how I dissected the video is of course, to rant about how annoying several years of these lies have been, but also to encourage you to do the same. I want you to see how easy it is to do this when you come across something making spectacular claims without any context or details, or investigative journalist skills. If you’re saying, “But, Razzy, I just don’t have time to Google this shit.” Um… yes, you do. If you have time to watch these things, share them, and argue with strangers in comment sections, you certainly do.
This is the goddamn information age. Use the information. It’s there, under a layer of fly-covered bullshit and memes. With so many sources grabbing for clicks, it’s up to us, the readers and bullshit eaters to put a stop to this.
Check your sources. Most of them aren’t even news, just hate groups with a website. And if you’re on the left, don’t be cocky, thinking you can’t be duped, or that you’re smarter than all the right-wingers. You need to be vigilant, too. Be skeptical. Be curious. Now that it’s progressives who are especially on edge, the bullshit will be coming at you from every direction. We’re not just divided as a country. We’re completely fucking fragmented. Misinformation isn’t new, but it’s rapidly replacing actual information. Don’t let it.
If you can, get yourself a golden ticket. See for yourself what the world past your own front lawn is like. If you can’t travel that far, try engaging online with people who live in far away places. Or, go somewhere in your own country you haven’t been to with significant immigrant communities. But, if you’re anywhere in the U.S., I warn you to avoid the no-go zones. America has countless no-go zones. It’s a warzone. They burn cars. Sometimes, they even try to drive out the Muslim populations. It’s burning, blah, blah… something about FB blocking people from sharing… yadda, yadda.