‘No-Go Zones’ Are Not a Conservative Meme Jonathan S. Tobin

Last week terrorism expert Steven Emerson erred when he claimed on a Fox news program with Jeanine Pirro that Birmingham, England was a no-go zone that was “100 percent Muslim.” That was an egregious gaffe and, to his credit, Emerson apologized though for his pains he continued to be excoriated by critics who sought to discredit his entire body of work, something that is as unfair as anything he might have said since the credibility of his groundbreaking work studying the growth of Islamist extremism in the United States has never been seriously questioned. But in the following days, the counter-attack against those calling attention to the growth of Islamist extremism in Europe has now gotten to the point where it is no longer possible for anyone to mention the existence of a “no go zone” for non-Muslims anywhere in Europe. But those who are trying to portray the entire topic as a conservative or anti-Muslim meme that must be stamped out are forgetting some important information. It wasn’t Fox News or any conservative outlet that helped popularized the idea of such zones; it was the impeccably liberal New York Times.

The backlash against mention of no-go zones has gotten to the point where CNN anchor Anderson Cooper actually apologized for letting several guests mention them on his program. Though had he interviewed Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo who speciously threatened to sue Fox News for mentioning no go zones in the region of the French capital and had heaped scorn on Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal for doing the same, Anderson also did a mea culpa for letting some guests say the dreaded words.

In the wave of the Paris attacks, several guests on this program mentioned ‘no-go zones’ in France. I didn’t challenge them and twice referred to them as well. I should have been more skeptical, I won’t make the same mistake again.

In other words, the push back on this question is no longer limited to obvious mistakes such as those of Emerson, the arbiters of political correctness are now seeking to enforce a ban on the term altogether. To even mention no-go zone is now considered akin to anti-Muslim racism.

This is an astounding development and not just because it reflects the desire of many in the media to change the subject from the explosion of Islamist terror and a rising tide of anti-Semitism sweeping across Europe to the faults of non-Muslims or promote myths about Islamophobia. The switch is all the more astonishing because the discussion of no-go zones in the Paris region was introduced in a New York Times Magazine article dating back to 2007.

In the piece titled “The Battle Over the Banlieues,” David Rief explored the alienation of Muslim immigrants living in grimy Parisian suburbs. But he did not shy away from the fact that many of these places had become all but off-limits to those who did not trace their origins to North Africa. In a piece that explored the aftermath of the violent 2005 riots that rocked the banlieues, as these suburbs are called, the Times Magazine did not hesitate to describe them accurately:

For the vast majority of the French electorate, watching the rioting on television or reading about it in the newspapers was both an alien and an alienating experience. It was alien because, for them, these suburbs were already a foreign land into which they almost never went (just as the residents of the cités rarely took the suburban rail links into the great cities like Paris, Lyon or Strasbourg). And it was alienating because the violence seemed both so savage and so self-destructive. Polling data showed that it was the older cohorts of French voters who were most affected, emotionally, by the riots. As the pollster Roland Cayrol put it to me, “these older voters are of the age where one is often governed by one’s fears.”

Their fears are anything but groundless. Violent crime and burglary are rising, though as yet guns are almost never used — nor were they, significantly, during the 2005 riots — and so the homicide rates are far, far lower than in American cities. There was, for example, only one death during the riots, compared with dozens in Los Angeles in 1992. But guns or no guns, there is a palpable air of menace when you take a ride after dark on certain parts of the superb Paris métro system or the anything-but-superb suburban RER network. To a New Yorker, it is reminiscent of the accumulated petty disorders of pre-Giuliani New York, with its squeegee men, hustlers, beggars and turnstile jumpers. And it seems hard to believe that anyone who has spent much time in the RER section of the Gare du Nord could have been surprised that things there turned violent so quickly last month. Whenever I passed through, it always seemed to me that both the suburban youths and the young policemen on duty were spoiling for a fight.

What are we to make of this passage in the wake of Cooper’s apology and the opprobrium heaped on anyone who mentions these facts today? Do politically correct deniers of the facts think the situation in the banlieues has improved in the intervening eight years as extremism and terror have grown throughout Europe?

The media’s instinctive attempt to change the narrative about the Charlie Hebdo and kosher market massacres to one of Islamophobia required them to try and find some examples of outrages against Muslims. The best they could do was Emerson’s gaffe but they have made the most of it. But the truth about no go zones and violence is not an invention of conservative pundits or Fox News. Rather than a right-wing meme, no go zones were first discussed in the New York Times, of all places. Poorly informed liberal celebrities masquerading as journalists like Cooper would do well to go back and read that article to gain some perspective before they issue any more apologies or seek to reinforce myths about prejudice against Muslims.

Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of COMMENTARY magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com. He can be reached via e-mail at: jtobin@commentarymagazine.com. Follow him on Twitter at TobinCommentary