I really wasn’t willing to talk about the “Charlie Hebdo” events in the first place. These words and thoughts have been maturing and it seems my mind wouldn’t let go of it, looking for an angle that would translate with accuracy my feelings about it. This is a way too sensitive topic to be talked about out of chock.
Please value this as a personal opinion and a reflexion tied to my experience as a French citizen of colour. I am not here to point fingers.
“Charlie Hebdo” is what could be considered the heir of a great satirical magazine named Hara Kiri. Principle was pretty much the same: satirical content and shots fired at every social, political and religious figures.
Freedom of speech is a strong cultural trait in France that goes way back in the country’s history.
However I couldn’t help but reckon that, over the years “Charlie Hebdo” slowly drifted toward ideas always standing farther on the right wing spectrum (the most conservative). Well, in my opinion at least.
Anyway, I esteem freedom of speech is important, if it wasn’t I couldn’t write this very post and it comes with great responsibilities. But, I learnt something about freedom in general and it goes like that: “one person’s freedom ends where another’s begins”. Obviously, it is a tricky question to know how far you can go without hurting anyone in your wake.
If you’re reading this, I will ask you not to twist my words. I do not condone any act of violence and show no moral support to any terrorist groups whatsoever. I felt deeply touched by these attacks and have the most sincere thoughts for the victims’ families.
The attacks left France and the Western world in utter shock. It is dubbed to be our own 9/11 (it was repeated so much as if it was something to take pride in) when it is nothing of comparison.
Putting the number of casualties aside, the difference stands in the fact that the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were perpetrated by foreign enemies of the State, whereas in Paris the attackers were French citizens -working in the name of foreign forces, but still French citizens who chose to turn their back on their nation. Our own people. And because of that, the cut felt even deeper.
Everywhere on TV, on radio, on the internet, in the papers, journalists, experts, politics talked back and forth, relentlessly about those 3 men avoiding carefully to address the real issue. Why would men born, raised, fed, schooled by France would come to turn their back on their kin-state?
If their parents were immigrants once, they were fully French. So why?
To understand better the roots of the problem, let’s go back in time a little.
France was a colonial empire. Successive rulers financed the conquest of territories all around the world, established numerous colonies, notably in North and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Fast-forwarding a few centuries later, the former colonies gained their independence for some of them or were fully integrated as a part of the undivided French Republic (e.g. the French West Indies). During the 19th and 20th century, France chose to apply a politic of colonial assimilation where the colonised had to leave behind their own culture to embrace solely the French one.
At the end of WWII France was on her knees, lacking the workforce to rebuild the destroyed cities, Paris being the worst. So, France relied on her colonies for help. Once on the French soil, those workers needed to be housed and soon the smaller cities around Paris welcomed the newcomers giving birth to the first large communities of African descent in France.
Everything was supposed to fall out alright thanks to public schooling and the immigrants’ will to wholly integrate the country.
Years later, more likely 20 or 30, in an attempt to give those communities the basics of a more modern “French-way-of-life”, it was decided to build low-income housings leading to countless skyscrapers blossoming and reshaping the landscape around Paris.
But at the end of the day, the communities could hardly mesh with the rest of the population and public schooling left out big parts of the French colonial history.
Well, I am oversimplifying a bit but I want to make things more palatable.
Over the years, those low-income housings were left in decrepitude by the authorities progressively cutting budgets and funds to prevent those blocks from becoming ghettos. As for the youths born into those communities, they felt less and less adequate, even less so recognized as full-fledged French citizens.
Slowly, we had become the “visible minorities”, being told that if we made more efforts to be accepted we could go as far as anyone, seen that everyone was given a fair chance at life.
But when your very identity is challenged, when you feel so forsaken by your own country, isn’t it right there an open door to any possibilities?
Those 3 men felt so valuable to extremist madmen, they were ready to give their lives for their cause!
My point is, when a country willingly leave aside portions of its population it creates a weakness, a crack where the bad seeds of insanity can flourish easily.
Maybe it is time for France to take an unflinching look at her history, at the consequences of decades of decisions that had led to this very point.
If we share something with the USA, it’s a vivid rap culture aptly coming from those blocks we call “banlieues”. It rose approximately at the same period, circa 1980. Since then, the message has been the same: the “banlieues” are slowly boiling, the youth is calling, some actions are needed to be taken. In short, people in the “banlieues” simply existed too.
And yet, the message kept on being ignored over and over again.
If we had taken it more seriously, if they chose to listen, chose to act on it, there might have been the slightest chance for us to avoid manifold calamities.
So let’s just say I am still hopeful. Let’s just say we’re at the onset of a new era, that change is a still an option and each party is willing to make a step forward toward a better future. Let’s just say…