Three weeks after Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced that the City of Lights would take Fox News to court over irresponsible reporting in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Paris city council has voted in favor of a lawsuit that charges the news organization with besmirching the "honor of Paris."
"I've received a lot of encouragements from Americans to try to make this kind of nonsense stop," Hidalgo told French media outlets on Thursday. "I don't accept insults to our city and its inhabitants."
The lawsuit is a response to a series of erroneous reports by Fox News that alleged the city was balkanized into a map of "go" and "no-go zones," where Islamic Sharia law superseded French law, creating Islamist-controlled sections of the city where non-Muslim Parisians feared to tread. Breakfast show Fox & Friends even displayed a map of these "no-go zones," crafted by purported "expert" Nolan Peterson.
Reminder: These zones do not exist. Despite allegations by Peterson that "the efforts of Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood or al-Qaida to recruit off the streets of the no-go zones is not something that's hidden in the shadows," the areas in question are host to bistros, bagel shops, the best baguettes in Paris and even a cheesesteak joint.
Not exactly Baghdad-sur-la-Seine.
While the accusations are hilarious on their face, the implication that Paris is in the grips of an Islamist revolution only serves to bolster the narrative that "political Islam" poses an existential threat to republican democracy in the West. The idea that Muslims across Europe are some sort of fifth column, an enemy within that needs to be weakened or expelled, is a classic Fox News talking point in the U.S., where the network has cautioned against the looming threat of "creeping Sharia" for years.
In a statement, Fox News lawyer Dori Ann Hanswirth called the lawsuit "antithetical to free speech," according to the Independent. On American airwaves, Fox News is protected from lawsuits for misreporting by the First Amendment, but in France, where anti-defamation laws are famously (even oppressively) strong, the network's half-assed retractions can only do so much.
The myth of Islamic "no-go zones" in Paris have been a common tool for French far-right political movements for nearly a decade, after Daniel Pipes, an American historian and political commentator, published an article that stated "the French state no longer has full control over its territory." That statement, which Pipes later retracted, fed the flames of an anti-immigrant political movement that has only gained strength since the Charlie Hebdo massacre and subsequent hostage crises.
Although Paris would likely be unable to receive damages from Fox News due to a 2010 law that prevents American courts from enforcing foreign defamation judgments, the lawsuit will be a strong reminder that, at least internationally, cable news organizations are beginning to be held to a higher standard.