The French Internet scene has been buzzing for a week over a surveillance video on a bus that caught four hoodlums beating up a young white Frenchman. The attackers appear to be dark-skinned immigrants, and can be heard calling the Frenchman such things as “French shit,” and “son of a whore.”
For a time there was suspicion about the authenticity of the video, but all doubts were laid to rest when a policeman in the Essone district admitted he had posted it. “I put it up to show a few friends the conditions under which we have to work, but it leaked,” he said.
When surveillance videos are transferred to the police they are put under seal and are considered confidential material to be used in investigations. This officer in this case has been suspended pending an investigation. French authorities have forced all the French sites that had posted the video to take it down, and most of the few remaining copies are on Russian sites.
After lying low for a week, the victim of the attack emerged to give an interview, which appeared on April 11 in the paper Le Figaro. The interview, printed below, shows that Frenchmen can be just as denatured as Americans. The reader comments on the article, however, show that just as in the United States, ordinary citizens are of an entirely different mind from their rulers and media spokesmen.
Exclusive interview: The victim explains how he survived the attack and the recent publicity it has received.
Interview by Christophe Cornevin, Le Figaro, April 10, 2009.
Very poised, age 19, and a first-year student at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, F.G. has not forgotten anything about the attack of the night of December 6/7: Singled out on the Noctilien bus in Paris, he was beaten by four thugs. The incident was filmed by a surveillance camera and posted on the Internet, where it unleashed much controversy. A policeman, suspected of having put the film on line, has been suspended. F.G. recalls the events. In a cafe at a Paris railroad station, where he is waiting for the express train, he says he will speak “exclusively to Le Figaro, which found me first. After that, I will say no more. I want to move on . . .”
Figaro: What really happened on the Noctilien bus that night?
I had spent the evening with friends and I was getting ready to go home to the 17th Arrondissement. I got on the Noctilien alone at the Gare de l’Est railroad station. I turned my back on four young men. One of them asked for a cigarette while another went through my pockets. When I turned around, I saw one of them was opening my wallet. I instinctively tried to get it back. That’s when things started . . .
Figaro: The very violent attack on you must have seemed interminable . . .
I have a hard time judging what I went through in space and time. Watching the video let me see what the attack was really like. All I remember is that they pushed me toward the back of the bus and that I was knocked down.
Later, I came back towards the conductor and was punched and kicked some more. As you can see in the video, other passengers were attacked, especially a young man who tried to help me.
Figaro: What about the driver, who remains seated?
I don’t hold anything against him. It was very hard for him to react. He did what he could according to the rules: He stopped right away and called the police. They arrested two people on the spot, and their alleged accomplices were caught a few days later.
Figaro: Internet sites say that racial slurs were shouted at you . . .
I didn’t hear anything like that. If such things were said it would have been in the context of my attackers being drunk or on drugs. In any case, they were not all immigrants. The video of my attack looks like a stereotype because I was dressed conservatively and was faced by four people who were making a lot of noise. I do not want at all to be considered an example of a certain social image of someone singled out by foreigners. I didn’t take it that way. In any case, one of the attackers, who was shaved and wearing a sweat suit, was of a very pale color.
Figaro: What did you come away with after that trauma?
Nothing has been found besides bruises and a hematoma in one eye. Two days later I went to a psychiatrist at the Hotel-Dieu hospital in Paris who told me I seemed to be getting over it fine. Since then, I started taking public transportation again, even the Noctilien line . . .
Figaro: But this episode came back like a boomerang because of the Internet . . .
Yes. On April 6, a friend told me that a video had been posted on Facebook. When I saw the link, I was going to tell the person who has posted it to take it down. I had no idea it had been disseminated on such a scale . . .
Figaro: It seems that this posting bothers you as much as the attack itself.
The situation is very difficult, very delicate. Many of my friends have been shocked by the way the video got around and the trouble it has caused me. Putting images like this on the Internet is serious because it calls into question some of our judicial principles. There is a big difference between what actually happened and the way it has been presented. This video has circulated on extremist sites and has been exploited by political types.
Well, I don’t want to be used. The subject suits certain radical ideas and I don’t want to put fuel on the fire. I had to escape from this simple-minded caricature. It is never pleasant suddenly to appear in the middle of a firestorm. It hurts me a great deal, just when I had managed to get over the facts themselves. I am leaving Paris in order to get some peace and be with family.
(Translation by New Century Foundation.)
Just two days after this article appeared on the Figaro website, it had attracted more than 750 comments. The vast majority expressed frustration and even anger at the way the young man appears to excuse the attack and play down the racial angle.
“Halleluiah! I was worried France had a race problem.”
“I’m a miserable little petit bourgeois white man, responsible for all the evils of the world and I got just what I deserved.”
“Without the Internet this would never have been known. Whenever it’s a white who is attacked, the media go silent.”
“Next time this young man will be knifed. All he is doing is encouraging more violence.”
“When I read the feeble reaction of this victim to that attack I can think only one thing: He took too many blows to the head and has lost all sense of reality.”
“This interview is nothing more than an attempt to by the media to calm the sheep that we have become.”
“He could have been killed, but he seems to have learned nothing!”
“This is what you get after 20 years of just one point of view, of obsessive anti-racism, and of denying reality. Disturbing. Surrealist.”
“This attack on the bus is nothing compared to what happened to Delphine, a young woman who was raped for months by some 30 swine from North Africa.”
“If he’s trying to quiet the buzz, his idiot interview hasn’t worked.”
“The words of this young man show wisdom and intelligence well beyond his years. Bravo.”
“Grow some balls, like the kid who tried to help him. That’s what we need, not more loudmouths.”
“He’ll end up as a minister in someone’s government! He has already mastered the finer points of mealy-mouthed political correctness.”