Keep calm and carry on (as long as jesuischarlie…. otherwise keep quiet)

I’m quite fed up with the hypocrisy around this idea of freedom of expression.  I’m not going to go much into my own thoughts on the freedom of expression, I’ve already done that in my last blog “what a fuss about an omelette”, but I’m frustrated with the blatant hypocrisy that has been displayed in the week following the jesuischarlie march.

After going out in their millions, lauding freedom of expression, people have now been put in jail over expressing themselves and their opinions. I’ve heard of friends nearly disowning one another and I’ve seen people telling others to ‘STOP’ discussing potential causes of the situation.  At the moment, it feels like either jesuischarlie or you’re against us (us being the majority French population). It’s kinda the point I was trying to make in my last blog. We’re human. We get hurt by words. Freedom of expression is not absolute.  It comes with responsibilities. And from what I am now witnessing, your right to the freedom of expression only exists on the condition that you conform. ‘We’ have the absolute right to offend others. But ‘you’ have no right to offend ‘us’.

To be honest, this is the first time that I haven’t felt totally comfortable as a migrant in France.  I don’t feel comfortable with this mass movement of people who are more intent on focusing on religion and diversity as the only problems, instead of looking in the mirror to find the root causes.

France has a massive issue dealing with its culturally diverse population, and this is a large part of the problem.  I even remember seeing a lecture from Victoria University’s Centre of Cross Cultural Studies, which stated how terribly France deals with its multicultural communities. You’re either with us, or you’re against.  And because the devise (the motto) ‘liberty, fraternity, egalite’ (freedom, brotherhood, equality) exists on the letterhead of every Government department and notice, the French mistakenly believe that every person actually experiences these rights.  But just because the words exist, doesn’t mean that their meanings are realised.  To bring them into existence, that actually takes work.

I’ve been reading a book titled ‘Allah est grand et la republique aussi/Allah is great and the republic as well’, which discusses these exact problems.  While I disagree with the author’s proposed solutions – more hardline Frenchness, she identifies a whole lot of issues that children ‘issue d’immigration’ experience in France.  They experience discrimination to an extent that saddens me.  The author herself learnt economics with the rest of her issue d’immigration classmates while looking at the teachers back, as he taught the more deserving Francais de souche (french born people with no immediate ties beyond France). They were also told in no uncertain terms not to work toward higher education, which wasn’t for them. She doesn’t just recount her own history. She recalls plenty of examples of France discriminating against her own people. I also understand that there are plenty of French citizens of other ethnic backgrounds (France had many colonies for hundreds of years), who aren’t considered by the rest of France as one of their own.  So maybe we might find the cause of these recent events somewhere in this black hole that breeds embarrassment, invalidation, isolation, exclusion and perhaps, resentment in its own citizens.

When you combine these socio-cultural problems with socio-economic problems, then you just exacerbate things.  At the moment, France’s economy is in a pretty unhealthy situation.  I understand that we are experiencing historically high levels of unemployment. Its not hard to imagine who is gonna be hit most hard by this.  The working class and migrants.  Not that I’m an expert, but I’m also guessing that broken families and orphaned children are the most vulnerable of them all.

But just like in New Zealand, unless you are extremely empathic, have witnessed or experienced these situations firsthand, it simply doesn’t make any sense.  France, like NZ, is a developed country where poverty and hardship are not supposed to exist, especially when there’s a thing called hard work (and state assistance) to get you ahead in life.  It is especially hard for dominant populations to understand that sometimes, being the wrong colour or having the wrong name can make it that much more difficult to get a job. Or to recognise that in countries like France and NZ, where industry no longer exists, it’s the knowledge economy that’s gonna help us provide for our families. Except when kids are made to feel like failures before they’ve even left the security of the education system, it would be naive to think they’d choose to put themselves through more humiliation. So they become part of the unskilled labour force, whom the economy isn’t really helping at the moment (thats to say nothing of the precarious working conditions unskilled workers have to deal with these days).

Of course I’m not relieving the terrorists of the blame.  They made horrible, horrible choices.  They pulled the triggers. They are responsible for their own actions and they paid the price.  So I am not, in any way, excusing what they did.  But this didn’t happen in a vacuum.  Most importantly and above all else, they were French citizens.  They were let down by their community.  They were vulnerable.  It might’ve been avoided if they had had better support systems in place.  Unfortunately, they didn’t.  There was a massive void in their lives, and it wasn’t France and it’s ‘fraternite’ that took them in, it was fundamentalism. It took advantage of their vulnerability and filled the void with some perverted sense of comfort.

At the end of the day, I’m just an observer. I’m not French.  And that’s the point, I’m a migrant to this country. Yes, I might be the ‘good type’, as has been pointed out to me dozens of times (good type referring to me being white, educated and from the West), but it doesn’t make the situation any more palatable. I might have easily looked like my dad or one of my cousins.  I might’ve been a shade darker.  I might’ve had a Maori name.  Because I don’t have any of those things, I am given a free pass, which I suppose I’m thankful for. But when I see and hear of discrimination happening, I do think how easily it could be someone from my family. And that’s not ok.  Where on earth is the fraternite and egalite then?

Oh that’s right, its in the devise*.


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