Translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone.
No one can fail to notice that the way we get our news is changing. Print newspapers are dying; Facebook is now the biggest online platform for news. Although this might seem excitingly democratic, there is a big danger that we each retreat into our own little bubble. That we see only what we want to see. We build walls around our communities of interest. What does this mean for Europe? Well, in my case, I am privileged to know a group of young journalists who are fighting this kind of insularity in France.
It all began with the Bondy Blog, an honest and ambitious initiative by a group of journalists from the Swiss magazine L’Hebdo. After the international shock caused by the 2005 riots in the French ‘banlieues’ (migrant suburbs), the Hebdo journalists wanted to go and see what was really happening – out there, on the ground. They decided to be somewhere in that reality: that somewhere was Bondy (in Paris’s north-eastern suburbs), on an estate called the Cite Blanqui.
In my view, the proper job of journalists is to make sure the public sees the reality of what’s happening, and this means that journalists need to dive in, rather than watching from afar. It sounds simple enough, but few journalists dare to do this, and fewer still take the time it requires.
Today, nearly 12 years later, the blog is run by a local team of young journalists from multi-racial low-income neighbourhoods, and hosted by the website of the French daily newspaper Libération. Its televised format, The Bondy Blog Cafe, is broadcast on LCP (the parliamentary channel): this features a group of young people interviewing, with rare sensitivity, a different political personality each episode.
This on-the-ground style of journalism is non-sensationalist; instead, it focuses on the ‘sensation’ of what it feels like to live in these neighbourhoods – all this makes a big difference.
My first contact with Bondy Blog was when I met two (very) young members of the team, barely fifteen at the time: Mehdi Meklat and Badroudine Saïd Abdallah. They had come to interview me following the publication of my second novel, Dreams from the Endz. And I’ll never forget their fresh and lively approach, the relevance of their questions and, above all, the way in which they understood my answers. Theirs was a deep understanding.
Later on, I got to know Mohamed Hamidi, who edited the Blog for a while and who these days makes feature films, the most recent being La Vache, a poetic and unifiying family comedy which has been a popular hit.
In 2009, I remember following the weekly column of another Faïza, Faïza Zeroulala: we didn’t just share the same name, but also the same sense of humour and the same taste for words.
As I followed these young people’s output, over time, I felt that we were like-minded, especially in our desire to re-appropriate the subjects that spark public debate. We wanted to set the record straight, to make our truths heard, to tell the story differently, to make sure the public sees something else. For me, this happened in my novels, for them, in their articles.
When I hooked back up with Mehdi and Badrou, they had a slot on the public radio station France Inter as columnists on the programme of the excellent journalist, Pascale Clark, who had spotted them… on the Bondy Blog, of course.
Mehdi and Badrou write with four hands and speak with one voice. I was a fan of everything they did.
On the publication of my fourth novel, Men Don’t Cry, I was a guest on the programme, and I was very touched when they decided to dedicate their entire slot to me. That same day, I had the privilege of introducing them to Elisabeth Samama, my editor at the time, and she offered to publish their first novel, which appeared a year later: Burnt Out. (This is the personal journey, behind the human interest story, of an unemployed Algerian man who immolated himself in front of his regional job centre after warning the centre’s directorate by email. In order to understand this desperate gesture, Mehdi and Badrou had to imagine everything, and the result is a magnificent novel).
That’s what I mean by above and beyond, again and again – always.
This year, in February, Bondy Blog ‘occupied’ the Pompidou Centre in Paris, for a week of programmed events specifically aimed at teenagers stuck in Paris during the holidays. I led a fiction-writing workshop.
The Bondy Blog team’s can-do attitudes, vision and talents are all about wanting to play an active role in our era, through images, words, art and beauty, via an approach that’s grounded in reality and that offers a fresh vision.
I am now involved in a new collaborative project called Teleramadan, which is reinventing what a magazine can be. Its creators are Mouloud Achour, producer, interviewer and director of Clique.tv, and Mehdi et Badrou (who’ve already had a heartfelt introduction from me).
I’d urge you to download the magazine, and read its editorial on Teleramadan.fr. Today, more than ever, we continue to be actively engaged, despite a negative and hostile climate in which fear and pessimism have gained ground. It’s a matter of urgency that the public has the opportunity to see, to read and to understand – so that we don’t let ignorance and fear win. It is for that reason we’ve adopted the nauseating concept initiated by the extreme right in France, that of the ‘Great Replacement’, a contemporary theory about the barbarian invasions. Yes, we want to be the ‘great replacement’, but according to our own definition of what ‘great replacement’ means.
“We are the present. We are the Great Replacement of an archaic system, which no longer speaks to us and has never considered us as its children. We are radical in our ideas: we will go to the ends of beauty. We will write when you want us to be quiet, and fight when you’ve decided it’s time for us to sleep. We will reclaim our place, which has been taken by those authorised to think for us. We only wish to speak in OUR name. About OUR tastes and OUR colours. We are the Great Replacement of a generation that is active online to counter the cheap shots. We are artists, manning the frontlines alone, ready to take on every battle. We are the rebels of a society that no longer knows how to look itself in the eye, or to listen to those beating hearts.”