A week after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, some writers for a blog called the Bondy Blog were taping a roundtable discussion on the attacks for French TV. What made this so unusual was that the bloggers themselves live in Paris's immigrant suburbs, and the taping itself took place in the suburb of Bondy.
Over the past week, many people in Paris have told me they're afraid to set foot in these suburbs, where all three of the Paris gunmen grew up. Some of them likened these suburbs to stereotypical American inner cities — with armed robberies and violence. Even Amedy, a bus driver from the suburbs whom I profiled earlier this week, told me I shouldn't go to the suburbs.
"It’s a fear zone for people," says French filmmaker Julien Dubois, who has produced a documentary about the Bondy Blog. He says people in Paris really don't know those neighborhoods.
"You can go to Bondy without any kind of danger. But for people in Paris, it's danger, phantasmagoria and fear."
In 2005, riots broke out in the Paris suburbs after a two teens died — electrocuted at a power station. Police say the two teens hid there, thinking they were being chased by police. Thousands of mostly immigrant and second-generation youth came out to protest what they saw as widespread police harassment. Cars and buildings were set on fire.
Dubois says many journalists made short trips to the suburbs. "Generally, they wanted to do a short interview with one or two guys in front of a burned car. And that’s not the life of the suburbs," he says.
So, a news weekly from Switzerland sent reporters on weekly shifts to stay in Bondy and report, and they started the Bondy Blog. When the riots died down, the reporters continued to cover life in the suburb. And they handed the reins of the blog over to people who actually lived there.
The revenge is interviewing the families of youth accused of crimes, not just taking the police’s word for it, he says. It's also about giving the suburbs a voice. His bloggers are largely the children of working-class immigrants. They don’t just cover crime. They blog about suburban arts and culture, too. The left-wing newspaper Liberation now hosts the blog on its website. And many Bondy bloggers have gone on to work in mainstream French media.
With France's attention focused once again on Paris’s infamous suburbs, many eyes are on the Bondy Blog to find out what its bloggers will write. That’s what worries Imane Youssfi, a 27-year-old daughter of Moroccan immigrants who's an editor at the blog.
She says she’s afraid that people will now go to the blog to try to understand something about homegrown terrorism, as if the Bondy Blog is the place that has all the answers about jihadism.
"I have friends who are journalists, they always call me, 'What will we do?' But I don’t know. I am like them. I am very lost."
So the bloggers are doing what they’ve always done — providing an alternative voice from the suburbs. Some people in Paris have said they were sad not to see Muslims from the suburbs marching with the masses this past Sunday. You'll get another perspective if you read the Bondy Blog, which has a report on a gathering on Sunday of about 100 people in Bondy.
It quotes a Muslim man at the gathering named Zakaria who said, “Terrorism is a virus that we must fight together.”
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