‘Afromaidan’: Foreign media cite Ferguson as evidence of US ‘failed state’

Media outlets around the world use Missouri’s racial tension to further criticism of Washington’s policies

Screen shots of foreign media coverage of the Ferguson protests. Iran’s PressTV site, left, led its news section on Monday with a story about the Missouri controversy. A Russian article, right, refers to the demonstrations as “Afromaidan.”

It should come as no surprise that the wall-to-wall U.S. coverage of the turmoil provoked by the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was echoed in the global media. And a quick survey of international coverage of the ongoing protests suggests that it often reflects pre-existing views of the United States.  

Russian and Iranian media have, perhaps unsurprisingly, printed scathing judgments about the police response to protests in Missouri. One Russian site, Svobodnaya Pressa, coined the term “Afromaidan,” implying that the U.S. is getting a dose of its own medicine for backing anti-Russian Euromaidan rallies in Kiev, Ukraine. The article poked fun at the notion of a land of opportunity, signaling that America’s “race war” proves Washington’s hypocrisy.

PressTV in Iran led with the Ferguson story on its website Monday. A news feature quoted an African-American historian referring to “institutionalized racism” in the U.S. and calling the country a “human rights failed state.” And Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Facebook page read Sunday: “Look at what they do to the black community in their own country … . The police may beat them to death over the crime of having dark skins!”

Egypt's official news agency MENA reported Tuesday that the country's foreign ministry was "closely following the escalation of protests in the US city of Ferguson" and urged restraint in cracking down on protesters. The statement issued was strikingly similar to the White House's comments in July 2013 about demonstrations in Cairo.

‘Deeply rooted chronic’ issue

Chinese state media, meanwhile, appear to have focused on Ferguson after Sunday night’s protests. In reaction to intensified clashes between demonstrators and police, Monday’s headline from the English edition of Xinhua read: “Ferguson riot reveals U.S. racial divide, human rights flaw.”

The article quotes Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech: “African-Americans living in the United States today are enjoying elevated political and social status. Notably, the country is having its first African-American president in history,” read an excerpt from the story. But the article goes on to describe the persistent, underlying tension in U.S. society as “a deeply rooted chronic disease that keeps tearing U.S. society apart, just as manifested by the latest racial riot in Missouri.”

The story underlines how prejudice is entrenched in the U.S., with conflict inevitable in a multicultural melting pot. The author rips into the U.S. for aggressively advocating human rights abroad while failing to address simmering issues at home. Mentioning American accusations towards “almost 200 countries across the world for their so-called poor human rights records,” the commentary concluded that the U.S. should focus more on its own problems rather than pointing fingers overseas.

The Chinese version of the article made repeated reference to “chronic” racism and alluded to possible embarrassment and schadenfreude on the part of the U.S. and China, respectively. It also referred to the Trayvon Martin tragedy by calling Ferguson just the “tip of the iceberg.” Another Chinese-language article from Xinhua highlighted the dangers of ethnic turmoil, painting a picture of Michael Brown in what can be construed as a disparaging tone.

‘New hero of America’

In France, center-left French newspaper Le Monde ran a headline on Monday calling attention to new developments: “National guard mobilized in Ferguson after night of tension.” The article addressed President Barack Obama’s planned two-day break from his August family vacation, saying that the White House was set to examine the “Mike Brown Law” petition to place a camera on every police officer. The article noted that 113,000 people have signed the online petition. It also cited statistics on how such a policy reduced complaints against the police in one California town.

The left-wing daily Libération focused on local police departments receiving enhanced counterterrorism funding and equipment after 9/11. On the other side of the spectrum, center-right Le Figaro ran a recent article headlined, “Captain Johnson, new hero of America,” in reference to the appointment last week of the Missouri Highway Patrol’s Ron Johnson as the top cop in the Ferguson security operation. Le Figaro has substantially covered the issue of police militarization, which was echoed by an opinion column in the U.K. critiquing heavy-handed local U.S. law enforcement tactics.

German media site Deutsche Welle, meanwhile, highlighted similarities between minorities in Germany and the U.S. while publishing some commentary on the tone of American television broadcasts:

"In the current U.S. media coverage of Michael Brown’s death, his photo is almost nowhere to be seen. Media reports are dominated by the images of burning suburban streets and a militarized police force – a visual language that suggests war rather than the tragic death of an unarmed young man shot by a police officer."

Other German news portals are similarly critical, with scathing evaluations of America’s “postracist” society, and of the quick deployment of weapons in Ferguson.

US ‘humanitarian crisis’

In Turkey, the pro-government newspaper Takvim has treated the Ferguson unrest as it perceives U.S. media covered protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park last summer. A recent headline derisively referred to American officials as monkeys. An excerpt from the article read: “Units patrolling in armored vehicles caused terror. They beat up journalists who were taking photos and sent them to prison.”

Brazilian news site O Globo ran an article on Ferguson emphasizing how U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “appealed to U.S. authorities to ensure protection of the rights of demonstrators.” In Venezuela, pro-opposition newspaper El Universal did not feature a story about Ferguson among the top stories on its home page Monday afternoon, placing a story among the international section’s most recommended, with the headline “Obama calls for transparency in death of youth in Missouri.”

Some foreign newspapers rely on wire services for their coverage of Ferguson. They either are not absorbed by the controversy or offer minimal sympathy for alleged victims of police racism.

One Indian citizen journalist, Leroy Leo D’Souza, summarized the scant attention that the story has generated, writing, “Not more than a small 100 word article in the corner of a newspaper or a two-minute television coverage in about 2 hours.” But he argued that Indian readers should pay attention because of similarities with oppressed groups in India, suggesting the Michael Brown shooting provides lessons about government discrimination and police accountability.

Chidanand Rajghatta, a Washington D.C.-based editor for the Times of India, pointed out how curfews and state of emergency declarations are rare for the U.S. The foreign correspondent ended his piece with an excerpt from Max Fisher’s Onion-esque satire of how American journalists would cover Ferguson if the story were taking place in a far-off locale:

"Chinese and Russian officials are warning of a potential humanitarian crisis in the restive American province of Missouri, where ancient communal tensions have boiled over into full-blown violence."

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