A U.S. engagement success story on the outskirts of Paris

The United States doesn't always do the best job of promoting itself abroad. Lots of people in lots of different places like to burn American flags and chant anti-U.S. slogans. It's stock footage at this point.

But yesterday the New York Times highlighted an encouraging U.S. cultural diplomacy effort in a pretty unexpected area: French banlieues. 

Obviously the U.S. image is a bit worse in other parts of the world, so why do outreach in France instead of FATA? For one, terrorist plots are increasingly being launched by disaffected Muslim youth in western countries who have been shunned by their new societies. Demonstrating that they can actually have a future in the west is thus both good on a social and security level. And if there were any western country in which to combat the ill-effects of racism and bigotry, it's France, which has totally abrogated any responsibility of caring for its growing immigrant population.

President Barack Obama's election certainly played a role in silencing the once ubiquitous anti-American voices in the banlieues (hey, look! It still means something!), but just as important has been the substantial engagement attempts on the part of the U.S. Mission to France:

The United States Embassy in Paris has formed a network of partnerships with local governments, advocacy groups, entrepreneurs, students and cultural leaders in the troubled immigrant enclaves outside France’s major cities...

Residents “have the sense that the United States looks upon our areas with much more deference and respect,” said Mr. Roger, the Bondy mayor.

The embassy also runs an International Visitor Leadership Program that brings 20-30 up-and-coming French entrepreneurs and politicians to the United States each year, and at least one participant raved about the program:

A Moroccan-born Muslim, Mr. Senni traveled to the United States in 2006 as a participant in the visitor program. He was effusive in his praise for the outreach and the optimism it has spread. “Never has France had this type of approach,” he said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has a history of dealing with Parisian suburbs, and it's not particularly flattering. During the 2005 banlieues riots, then-Interior Minister Sarkozy infamously called the rioters "scum" and that they should be "hosed down." Surprisingly, his comments only made the rioters angrier.

Nowadays when Sarkozy ventures out to the suburbs he's accompanied by a major police presence and spends his time focusing on law enforcement issues, and not on the myriad social and economic complaints of the locals. He said in 2007 that the riots were the result of "thugocracy," which sounds like a brilliant future title of a 50 Cent album, and not social issues.

The embassy also brought Samuel L. Jackson to the banlieues to connect with local youths, and I believe he told them that, "I've had it with this mother-******* unemployment in these mother-******* banlieues." Seriously.

The U.S. is freaking out over qurans, shariah law, and Manhattan community centers, but at least some of our diplomats get the importance of engaging on a human level. The U.S. Ambassador to France, Charles H. Rivkin, sums it up: "It’s easier to hate something you don’t understand."



From Nimrod to 9/11: Ahmadinejad at the U.N.

The U.S. delegation walked out of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech at the General Assembly today, just as the Iranian president was putting forth an alternative theory about the 9/11 attacks:

"That some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East in order also to save the Zionist regime. The majority of the American people as well as other nations and politicians agree with this view."

Just from the press highlights, readers might get the impression that Ahmadinejad's U.N. speeches are anti-American barn-burners, similar to classics by Hugo Chavez or Daniel Ortega. But the truth is they're much stranger than that. Ahmadinejad tends to set up his political arguments with extensive discourses on theology and moral philosophy. The corrosive influence of materialism on human society is a theme that he seems to return to each year. Here's this a sample from this year:

Nimrod countered Hazrat Abraham, Pharaoh countered Hazrat Moses and the greedy countered Hazrat Jesus Christ and Hazrat Mohammad (Peace be upon them all). In the recent centuries, the human ethics and values have been rejected as a cause for backwardness. They were even portrayed as opposin wisdom and science because of the earlier infliction on man by the proclaimers of religion in the dark ages of the West. 

Man's disconnection from Heaven detached him from his true self. Man with his potentials for understanding the secrets of the universe, his instinct for seeking truth, his aspirations for justice and perfection, his quest for beauty and purity and his capacity to represent God on earth was reduced to a creaturelimited to the materialistic world with a mission to maximize individualitic pleasures. Human instinct, then, replaced true human nature.

Human beings and nations were considered rivals and the happiness of an individual or a nation was defined collision with, and elimination or suppression of others. Constructive evolutionary cooperation was replaced with a destructive struggle for survival. 

The lust for capital and domination replaced monotheism, which is the gate to love and unity. This widepread clash of the egoist with the divine values gave way to slavery and colonialism. 

There really isn't any other world leader who speaks this way on the international stage. Most Western analysts tend to gloss over the religious/philosophical portions, which seems like an oversight given the emphasis he puts on them.