Thomas Deltombe is an independent French journalist whose new book, Imaginary Islam, examines how French media have represented Islam on news broadcasts during the period 1975 to 2005.  --  Deltombe's book, a brief review of which is translated here from a Paris newspaper, is based on an academic thesis written at the Institut d'Etudes politiques in Paris where Jean-Noel Jeanneney, now the head of France's national library, was his advisor.  --  Next Thursday, Oct. 20, Deltombe will speak in Paris with Pierre Tévanian, author of Le voile médiatique: Un faux débat ('The Veil in the Media: A Fake Debate') and L'Affaire du foulard islamique ('The Islamic Scarf Affair')....

[Translated from]


By Claire Cousin

** A book deciphers the role of media in Islamophobia **

October 10, 2005

[Review of L'Islam imaginaire. La construction médiatique de l'islamophobie en France, 1975-2005 ('Imaginary Islam: The Media's Construction of Islamophobia in France, 1975-2005'), (La Découverte, 2005), 384 p., 22 euros.]

Clichés, manipulation, and even fakery: when it comes to Islam, French media don't beat about the bush. In L'Islam imaginaire: La Construction médiatique de l'islamophobie en France, 1975-2005 ('Imaginary Islam: The Media's Construction of Islamophobia in France, 1975-2005'), Thomas Deltombe dissects thirty years of television archives.

From the Iranian revolution to the beginning of the debate on secularism by way of the war in Algeria and the September 11 attacks, this independent journalist has analyzed the variouis sociopolitical contexts that underlie the vision of Islam presented by the press.


The use of the terms 'Arab', 'Muslim', 'Islamist', and 'terrorist' are seen to be utterly confused. Pithy turns of phrase abound despite promises to avoid lumping categories together, an easy alibi that is often heard at the beginning of the reports that most deserve the label 'garbage'. "Frightening people with Islam sells," says Thomas Deltombe, who denounces "the logic of competition among channels." Spurred on by the ratings race, TV news and mass-audience programming commit loads of them, using lots of hidden cameras even when there's no need for them, music that builds up suspense, and even the addition of beards when characters don't look "Islamist" enough.

The reporting angle is usually determined in advance, and the goal is then to get those interviewed to say what people want to hear. Then, as if to make amends, the media portray the "good Muslim." A doctor or athlete, this figure is "necessarily extraordinary," "almost like us," which merely adopts "a Manichaean, paternalistic, and communitarian approach," complains Thomas Deltombe.


The absence of representativeness brings in its wake the proliferation of the self-proclaimed experts found on all sets discoursing about "real Islam" without realizing that this concept is chimerical. "Islam is a matter of faith, it is immaterial -- as for me, I have never seen Islam on television, I have only seen incarnations, projections," the author insists.

Feigning ignorance of "the enormous power" they hold, throughout their news broadcasts TV's big names construct an Islamophobia founded upon fear and ignorance. Even at the risk of being responsible for creating hostility between groups.

Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
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