Using We CAN! - A case example
The example below illustrate how the Step by Step guide in chapter 7 is used.
Each counter narrative needs to be tailored to the specific context of the hate speech situation. Chapter 5.4 and 5.5 describe how a human rights based narrative can become an effective alternative to hate speech.
The case example
La Cimade organises the ‘Migrant’scène’ festival in France
Developed by Agata de Latour, based on information provided by La Cimade
Over the last decades, France has been going through a serious crisis in terms of its values of freedom, equality, and solidarity (widely known as Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité). Despite France’s historical contributions to the development of human rights frameworks, France is facing serious difficulties in living up to its international human rights and humanitarian commitments in relation to the rights of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. This can be observed in a number of areas: the administrative and legal obstacles in asylum procedures; difficulties in accessing information, and limitations in access to public services, housing and health care; alarming conditions in detention centres; and discriminatory practices and abusive treatment. All these are leading to the precariousness, impoverishment, isolation and exclusion of the migrant population on French territory.1
French society is also becoming less tolerant and respectful of difference. The rise of racist statements and acts has been steady, as documented by reports by the National Consultative Commission of Human Rights.2 The Commission devotes a large part of the reports to hate speech online targeting all minorities, such as Muslims, Jewish or Roma and, in recent years, also refugees. Reports confirm that the Internet as a space for the free flow of ideas has also become a space of proliferation of hate and the banalisation of evil.
Despite the fact that Islamophobia and hate speech against migrants have increased, especially since the 2015 and 2016 terrorist attacks, these trends have existed for decades. It is the general oppressive narrative targeting migrants and refugees that the association La Cimade have been addressing, through a series of activities, since 2009. In this example, the organisation of the Festival Migrant’scène is highlighted as one of them.
Phase 1. Assess the oppressive narrative
The oppressive narrative analysed appears in two different, yet interrelated spaces: those public discourse spaces in which lead politicians participate, and those spaces on social media platforms where individuals can express their views and respond to messages.
Examples of textual evidence from the oppressive narratives produced by politicians include the following:
- “We should put those populations coming via the Mediterranean Sea back in their boats.”3
- “All civilisations are not equal, contrary to what relativist left ideology claims. Those who defend Liberty, Equality and Fraternity [Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité] seem to us superior to those who accept tyranny, the minority position of women, and social or ethnic hate. Anyway, we have to protect our civilisation.”4
These examples refer directly to the defence of values and traditions of the “French civilisation”. Hate speech is here supported by love narratives towards the motherland.
Examples of textual evidences of the oppressive narratives can also be found on Facebook posts. For example, several can be found posted by readers of a regional newspaper from northern France, relevant because considering that it is in this region where one of the biggest irregular camps of migrants was located (the so-called “Jungle”). Migrants trying to reach the United Kingdom by boat or train were hosted in this camp. The textual examples are as follows:
- “Shit, and so they now start to swim, LOL. They have to train themselves a little bit more though. By chance, some will maybe die.”5
- “The truckers should by equipped with guns and should not hesitate to shoot the migrants.”6
STEP 1: Analysis of the content, the structure and the tone of the oppressive narrative
In the case of politicians, the language is formal and the tone is arrogant, abusive and dehumanising. In the case of the readers’ posts, the language is informal and the tone is ironic, threatening, abusive, dehumanising and violent. They call for violent action.
The structure is the same in both cases. The original situation was that there was a prosperous country which has been disrupted by the arrival of migrants.
STEP 2: Analysis of the intent of the oppressive narrative
Textual evidence by politicians contains stereotypes, prejudice and racism, for example, promoting the idea of the “superiority of our civilisation”. The statements encourage feelings of rejection and superiority as well as hateful attitudes, legitimatising the governmental expulsion of migrants. The statements aim to increase the number of votes in upcoming elections by appealing to sentiments of fear and anger.
Textual evidence posted by the general public shows sentiments of hate, and its intention is to support actions to expel migrants from the territory around Calais and from France in general. The texts explicitly call for violent action, for example, by suggesting that truck drivers should be equipped with guns and should not hesitate to shoot migrants. This constitutes a clear incitement to hate.
STEP 3: Analysis of the context
- Post-colonial French culture and a feeling of superiority as part of the historical background
- Public rhetoric becoming more and more racist and hateful towards migrants in order to legitimate governmental actions and oppressive laws,7 and gain votes in the upcoming elections (until then a method used only by the National Front Party). Politicians playing with people’s emotions by disseminating an atmosphere of fear, indifference and the lack of solidarity. Increase in an oppressive and hateful political framework, which in turn has left wide open the field of intolerance and racism and has “allowed” the eruption of hate speech in public and has favoured the normalisation of evil.
- Diversion from other societal problems, such as the economic crisis and the rise of unemployment
- Intensification of the arrival of migrants from 2014 to 2016, known as the “refugee crisis”, contributing to the rise of the National Front Party, nationalist ideas and a general hateful atmosphere towards migrants in France and across Europe
- Regular expulsions of intra- and extra- European migrants from the French territory by the right-wing government
- Insufficient information communicated to the public about of the situation of migrants, and a growing need to react, as noticed by NGOs volunteers and field-workers, in order to deconstruct the stereotypes and prejudices
- Rise of terrorist attacks and the threat of the so-called Islamic State actions leading to an atmosphere of fear, rejection of “others” and blaming migrants for all the problems
- Politicians using the hate speech discourse (both right and left parties) in order to ensure electoral votes and legitimise their actions.
STEP 4: Analysis of the targets of the oppressive narrative
Migrants are targeted as a group in general, especially asylum seekers and refugees. These are groups who have been marginalised and discriminated against historically.
STEP 5 and 6: Analysis of the media and geographical distribution
Politicians use mostly mainstream and local and national newspapers, TV and radio in France. The public uses Facebook groups related to local newspapers, for example, a newspaper in Calais. Messages are then re-posted on pages with a regional and national outreach.
STEP 7: Verified facts and sources
The oppressive narratives are based on testimonies from direct observations, and news reports by some that the number of migrants and refugees has increased, especially in some locations, as in the example of Calais.
STEP 8: Analysis of the impact on individuals, groups, or society
The impact of statements by leading politicians is the legitimisation and normalisation of hate speech. Migrants are dehumanised, and there is a rise in racist, intolerant and hateful attitudes. As a result, Extreme right-wing parties are gaining support within France and across Europe.
The impact of the online hate speech is the dehumanisation of migrants, and a rise in tensions, violence and hateful attitudes. These attitudes emerge and contribute to a general atmosphere in which fear and anger are important emotional dimensions. The idea of a clash of civilisations, “us” against “them”, and inward-looking attitudes hinders attitudes of openness towards migrants and closes opportunities for the inclusion of migrants within French society. This is aggravated by the poor economic situation and a high level of unemployment.
Phase 2. Design the counter narrative
The idea of the counter narrative presented below is based on and inspired by the actions of the French association la Cimade,8 which has supported and helped displaced people and migrants since 1939.
STEP 1: Definition vision and objectives
The vision of la Cimade is that Liberty, Equality and Fraternity [Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité] applies to everyone. It wants members of French society to respect people’s right to seek protection from violence and ask refuge, ensure humane treatment and acknowledge everyone’s contribution to French culture and society, including that of migrants, as the true meaning of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity [Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité]
Short-term objectives (immediate reaction)
In reaction to discourse: denouncing hate speech produced by the members of government and other officials by editing press releases and articles published in mainstream newspapers.
In reaction to hateful comments online: denouncing hate speech and promoting human rights in social media, occupying cyber space, and reporting hate speech to the web platform where hate speech is produced. (In the case described above, on the web platform of the newspaper.)
Catching the audience during the Festival Migrant’ Scènes 9 was assessed as a first step in a longer-term awareness-raising process to promote the vision ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity for truly everyone in France’. The Festival gathers a very diverse public: families with children, social and youth workers, teachers, and passers-by. Over the past few years, more and more young people have also attended the Festival’s events, searching for answers to the complex questions of our societies. The Festival is made up of street theatre shows, concerts, photo exhibitions, games, debates and intercultural events based on non-formal education methodology. This approach helps people to experience empathy and compassion instead of only theoretically learning about how it is to be a migrant. The aim is not to impose an opinion, but to bring people together to reflect and exchange thoughts and ideas about the prejudices, and finally to deconstruct them.
- Promote an inclusive understanding of the French vision ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ [Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité]
- Raising awareness about the real situation of migrants
- Informing the public about migration processes and the conditions of migrants
- Deconstructing the prejudices and fighting against discrimination
- Changing laws concerning migrants
- Transforming attitudes and ideas about migrants and migration.
- Capacity building and training of volunteers acting locally in awareness-raising campaigns, providing them with skills, such as being able to facilitate workshops, the capacity to respond to oppressive narratives, and provide psychological support for migrants
- Creation of tools and pedagogical resources for workshops and awareness-raising campaigns
- Providing volunteers with tools and pedagogical resources for workshops with children and adults
- Transferring tools and resources to the large public in order to encourage citizens to lead their own awareness-raising actions on the migrants’ situation and rights
- Reinforcement of the network of local groups of volunteers in order to build common projects at the national level
- Number of press releases and articles and number of readers
- Number of social media posts and number of followers on social media
- Number of partnerships with other NGOs, universities, public sector bodies, and schools
- Number of awareness-raising campaigns
- Number of people reached by those campaigns
- Number of people reached by specific annual events (e.g. a festival)
STEP 2, STEP 3, STEP 4, STEP 5:
Defining the target audience of the counter narrative (2), choosing the content and the tone depending on the audience (3), securing human rights values and approaches (4), the mediums (5)
Target audience, content, tone, mediums
Target audience – politicians
Content: advocacy, recommendations to change the law, political analysis on legal malfunctions and impact on migrants
Tone: formal, legal arguments, facts, numbers
Media: letters, press releases and articles, meetings, website
Target audience – public sector & Universities
Content: recommendations for school programmes including migratory flow issues, awareness-raising events – short documentary films, exhibitions, story-telling, humanising migrants
Tone: humour, irony, games
Media: social media, meetings, websites, blogs
Target audience – youth
Content: awareness-raising tools and pedagogical resources (e.g. games, short documentary films, workshop on prejudices and how to deconstruct them, workshops on multiple identities – e.g. genealogical trees)
Tone: humanising migrants
Media: social media, participation in events for youth (e.g. Fête de l’Humanité)
Civil society (social workers, volunteers)
Content: workshops on the situation of migrants, migration laws, migration history and flows
Tone: legal and technical information, but also meetings with migrants
Media: through fieldwork action, and partnerships with other organisations such as ATD Quart Monde, Restos du Coeur, etc.
Content: press releases and articles on migration policies, stories on specific migrants – e.g. portraits
Tone: formal, legal, technical, rational, factual, but also pedagogical and emotional narratives about migrants in order to show the impact of the oppressive law on their lives, humanising migrants
Media: press, social media, petitions, public debate, Open air theatre events
Target audience – European institutions, international organisations
Content: advocacy, partnerships
Tone: formal, technical, rational, factual
Media: press, social media, petitions, public debate
STEP 6: Development of counter-narrative action plan
- Short-term: press releases, news articles, online articles, use of social media
- Mid-term: Festival (2009) and the launch of awareness-raising campaigns
- Long term: Organisation of the Festival annually up to the present (planned 12 November to 4 December 2016)
The main actions have been the organisation of the Festival Migrant’Scène in one city in 2009 and several related campaigns and educational activities. This included street theatre, concerts, a photo exhibition, games, debates, and intercultural events. The Festival continues to be organised annually and in 2016, activities took place in 55 French cities.
Educational activities involved research and the creation of tools and pedagogical resources for the campaign, such as ‘The short guide on combatting prejudices on migrants’.10
Organising all these activities entailed training the local teams of educators, staff and volunteers, engaging with media, working with the artists, co-ordination and fundraising.
Phase 3. Implementation of the counter narrative
STEP 1: Launching
The launching of the counter narrative took place during the Festival Migrant’Scène in 2009. It was the start of a series of educational and awareness-raising activities.
STEP 2: Engaging with media
Engaging with media included:
- Meetings with chief editors of newspapers or other media to present the action of the organisation.
- Providing journalists with research, facts and pedagogical resources.
- Helping them edit articles and press releases.
- Extraordinary media actions, for example, organising a performance in which 100 people lay on the floor in white sheets pretending to be dead in front of a town hall to symbolise the impact of expelling sick migrants.11
STEP 3: Influential persons
La Cimade has involved renown artists and actors such as Jean-Louis Trintignant, but also philosophers, psychologists and artistes for participating in two campaigns: Added Value: In France, a Foreigner is neither a Problem nor a Threat,12 and The True Face of Migrants.13
STEP 4: Engaging with producers of hate speech, engaging with targets of hate speech
- When responding to producers of hate speech, actions avoided the escalation of verbal violence, kept people calm and acted within the framework of human rights and respect.
- When engaging with targets of hate speech, La Cimade’s method has been to mobilise an important team of psychologists who accompany migrants with traumatic experiences, such as rejection, isolation, violence and hate speech. They train volunteers of local groups to help and support migrants by listening to their stories, and informing them about their rights and how to defend them. They also organise intercultural events with them.
Phase 4. Monitoring and Evaluation of the counter narrative
STEP 1, STEP 3: Monitoring
- Monitoring of the participants of awareness-raising campaigns or festivals: data collected included the number of participants, the number of those who came back the following year, and what had changed for them after the campaign. (Google surveys, interviews, games or debates are organised during different events such as festivals, photo exhibitions, concerts, etc.)
- Monitoring of volunteers involved in actions: feedback on participation and the reactions of the public (during the regional team meetings with the national co-ordinators volunteers share reports and impressions on the attitudes of the public where particular actions are adapted to the public’s needs according to the region, the age and the level of awareness of the local population).
- Monitoring of conversations online and offline: Facebook comments.
STEP 2: Estimation of the reach
Per annum: 35,000 people were reached by campaign, 30,000 were present at the festival, 100,000 migrants were accompanied, 400 partnerships were involved in actions (for example, with NGOs, universities and local governments), 2,000 volunteers were involved in actions, press releases and writing articles: Facebook: 35,000 fans; Twitter: 12,000 followers. All the evaluation tools, such as monitoring of social media, surveys and reports of the regional teams, made it possible to measure progress in all regions of France. Other data collected included the number of supporters and the number of volunteers joining the organisation. The Festival, which was organised in 2009 in one town, took place in 55 French cities in 2016.
STEP 4: Evaluation
Evaluation and findings
- The most effective counter narrative in the long term is raising awareness. It is about creating spaces of reflection about complex issues, and is also used for developing competences and skills for active citizenship and respect for human rights.
- The emergence of small awareness-raising actions and events carried out by citizens, communities and informal groups in order to transfer to others what individuals have learned themselves from past actions.
Need of adjustments
- The first counter-narrative iteration focused on prejudices, which were named and listed. The method consisted of quoting and repeating the oppressive narratives, for example, in the ‘Little guide on combatting prejudices on migrants’, and then by countering them with alternative facts, narratives and stories.
- Feedback from the field workers, volunteers, researchers, and psychologists working for the campaign highlighted that it is harmful to actually restate the oppressive narrative because it plants and roots it in people’s mind.
- The adjustment on a new iteration was not to name it, but directly provide an alternative narrative focused on human rights. Instead of restating the oppressive statements and thus multiplying them, it was seen that it is better to leave open questions in order to provoke more profound reflection. Thus, the most important aspect is to create counter and alternative narratives within a human rights framework.
- 1 The French association La Cimade published in 2016 a report concerning the relationship between asylum seekers and France’s legal bodies, entitled ‘Sold out’, available at www.lacimade.org/publication/a-guichets-fermes, accessed 30 August 2016.
- 2 Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’homme webpage, available at www.cncdh.fr, accessed 20 August 2016.
- 3 A parliamentary deputy from a right-wing party making comments about the arrival of migrants in 2012
- 4 One of the Ministers of the French Government
- 5 A web-user on the situation of five migrants who were swimming in the port of Calais while trying to reach a ferry in 2015
- 6 Another web-user calling the truckers to violent action in 2015
- 7 The French association La Cimade has noticed and reported the increasing number of expulsions since 2008 as well as the deplorable conditions of migrants in retention centres, and administrative dysfunctioning in the expulsions process
- 8 La Cimade Association webpage, available at www.lacimade.org, accessed 27 August 2016
- 9 Festival Migrant’scène webpage, available at www.festivalmigrantscene.org, accessed 27 August 2016
- 10 La Cimade Associatios webpage, available at www.lacimade.org/nos-actions/sensibilisation, accessed 27 August 2016
- 11 Rue 89 Lyon Online webpage, available at www.rue89lyon.fr/2015/06/16/etrangers-malades-un-die-in-pour-denoncer-le-couloir-de-la-mort-a-la-francaise, accessed 27 August 2016
- 12 La Cimade Association webpage on their added value, available at www.valeurajoutee.lacimade.org, accessed 27 August 2016
- 13 Visages de Migrants website, available at http://visagesdemigrants.lacimade.org/, accessed 27 August 2016