It hardly comes as a shock to learn that a French rap song, "Jeteur de Pierres" (stone thrower) by a group called Sniper (an excerpt can be listened to here) contains lyrics endorsing suicide bombings against Israel ("Bare hands face an army ready to kill; to blow yourself up is just resistance") or expressing antisemitism ("I come out of an urban place. I don't live like no Yehud"). Nor is it surprising that the album reached #3 on the hit parade, nor that it prompted a letter from the Jewish leadership to President Chirac.
Album cover for Sniper's "Du rire aux larmes" (From laugher to tears)
But it does come as a surprise to learn that the album in question, Gravé dans la roche ("Carved in the rock") is a product of the Desh Musique/East West label, a subsidiary of an American-based corporation, AOL Time Warner. JTA quotes a French AOL Time Warner spokesperson saying that the producer of Gravé dans la roche, one Johnny Trognee, "would maintain his position of not answering journalists' questions regarding the content of the album." (July 4, 2003)
Nov. 19, 2003 update: AOL Time Warner chose to do nothing about Sniper but the French government – of all things – has decided to take steps against the group. The Chicago Tribune reports today that Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy announced he would bring charges against Sniper for tunes he says are anti-Semitic, racist and insulting: "Those who do not respect the rules of the Republic ... will be taken to court." This change in policy fits into a larger context; after a recent attack on a Jewish school annex, President Jacques Chirac has established a commission to investigate the "new anti-Semitism."
Dec. 14, 2005 update: After Dominique de Villepin took over from Sarkozy at the Interior Ministry, he initiated a criminal case against Sniper on the grounds that it was "inciting to injure and kill police officers and representatives of the state." In particular, Sniper's lyrics included these passages in a song titled "La France":
On est pas dupe en plus on est tous chaud
Pour mission exterminer les ministres et les fachos ...
La France est une garce, on s'est fait trahir ...
On se fou de la république et de la liberté d'expression
Faudrait changer les lois et pouvoir voir
Bientôt à l'Élysée des arabes et des noirs au pouvoir
Faut que ça pète !
In his fine piece on French gangsta rap, Olivier Guitta translates the above as:
We're all hot for a mission
To exterminate the government and the fascists …
France is a bitch and we've been betrayed. . . .
We fuck France, we don't care about the Republic and freedom of speech
We should change the laws so we can see
Arabs and Blacks in power in the Elysée Palace
Things have to explode!
But a appeals court in Rouen today confirmed a lower court decision that threw out the case in June 2005, agreeing that the musicians did not intentionally threaten anyone's life. The court found that its lyrics were merely symbolic protests.
Comment: Although some French politicians partially blamed rap music for the riots a few weeks back, and indeed the violence can be seen as a fulfillment of the rappers' expectations, the riots generally had little impact on elite French attitudes.