- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange crowed yesterday that the State Department "is going to have a hard time of it trying to spin" his organization’s ongoing document dump. U.S. diplomats, he said, will "find their very privileged position in life undermined by having their lies revealed."
Presumably, he wasn’t talking about the latest tranche of documents, which cover the 2005 civil unrest in the French banlieues and the subsequent U.S. perspective on France’s integration (or lack thereof) of its Muslim minority. These cables show the U.S. diplomatic corps grappling reasonably with how to bring American resources to bear to improve this endemic problem in French society.
The documents begin with a notably non-hysterical look at the unfolding 2005 crisis, which resulted in the burning of almost 9,000 cars, and the arrest of nearly 3,000 rioters. The number of Muslim extremists in France, the cables note, amount to no more than 9,000 out of a population of 6 million Muslims living in the country. The long-term solution to this problem "will depend on successfully tackling the underlying issue of social exclusion – in particular, employment discrimination."
The fureur in France occurred as violence against the U.S. presence in Iraq was escalating, and U.S. diplomats were naturally on the lookout for signs that the radicalization caused by the Iraq war was spilling over into France’s Muslim population. The cables noted the presence of "frighteningly professional" terrorist groups opening cells in France, as well as a hardened core of Islamic extremists "hanging up posters of Bin laden, destroying Christmas trees and bibles, and cries of joy at the news of American soldiers killed in Iraq or suicide bombings in Israel."
But the diplomats took pains to separate this phenomenon from the larger group responsible for the civil unrest. "[T]he unrest is not viewed as specifically Muslim," noted one cable. "The issue is seen as a problem of disaffected ethnic minorities, not a local playing out of a clash of civilizations between Muslims and the West."
The State Department would later address what the United States could do to improve the situation. They suggested extensive public outreach, as well as discussing how the United States had managed to overcome similar problems. "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."
In short, these are the most sensible, boring cables that I’ve come across yet. And I’m at a loss why Julian Assange thinks that they will do anything but increase the American public’s belief that its government, by and large, acts responsibly on the international stage.