Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Blogs Are with the Terrorists


Just back from a conference in Carmel focused on strategic listening: How may the U.S. government best listen to people in other countries? I'll talk about this at length in the coming days and interview some people I met there, but for now I'm recovering from days of being in rooms filled with frighteningly smart people. I intentionally left my computer at home, but I'm back to reading the paper—for the first time in days—and two things leap out at me:

Egypt's conducting parliamentary elections over several days. The news is that they're much less corrupt than previous elections, particularly the recent presidential election. But Michael Slackman and the Times' headline-writers see a glass that's half empty in "Bad Habits Linger at the Polls in Egypt." Notice that ballot boxes are transparent (to prevent obvious stuffing) and candidates aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood are allowed to use the MB's slogans. Say what you like about the Brotherhood, it's a good thing that Mubarak et al. is allowing them to say anything at all. There are only scanty reports of intimidation and people getting beaten up, which was a major feature of the presidential election.

Second, the International Herald Tribune's "French Police Fear That Blogs Have Helped Incite Rioting," reprinted in the Times, is just silly. Here's how it begins:

PARIS, Nov. 7 - The banners and bullhorns of protest are being replaced in volatile French neighborhoods by cellphone messages and Skyblog, a Web site that is host to messages inflammatory enough to prompt three criminal investigations this week.

Police officials say that youths have coordinated local arson attacks using cellphone messages. Two young people are under investigation for comments on the online diaries known as blogs on Skyblog, the officials said.

A 14-year-old in the southern city of Aix-en-Provence, arrested after posting an item urging rioters to attack police stations, was later released for procedural reasons, Agence France-Presse reported.

In the blog entries, one of the youths called on other young people in the Paris region to rise up at once in a coordinated attack. "Unite, Île-de-France, and burn the cops," one of the postings said, according to Agence France-Presse. "Go to the nearest police station and burn it."


Judicial officials said the three youths did not know one another but had all used Skyblog to send out their messages.

Sadly for IHT writer Thomas Crampton, his article doesn't justify the headline. No one is quoted as saying or implying that they fear the bloggers have incited rioting; cellphones seem to be the real culprits, although this is soft-peddled by the writer and, worse, the headline writer.

Now, in American eyes, a 14-year-old and two other wired French kids are shouldering part of the blame for France's burning cars.

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