Image is author's own
*Disclaimer: I want it to be very clear and understood – the attacks that took place at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, France in January 2015 were abhorrent, cruel and purely disgusting. The extremists were immense cowards for their demand to silence French liberty of press through violence and the attacks will forever leave a wound in France, having robbed it of its artistic talent and national icons. That being said, I do not condone, agree with, nor feel that that attacks were in any sense justified or with reason. Violence is never the answer and the attacks were heinous and evil in all regards.
I have dealt with France for a good portion of my life.
I have family there.
I have history there.
I’ve lived in France for almost two years and French has influenced me to a large extent. So much so, that the French language actually dominates my thoughts and I think in the language in lieu of my native English or Italian.
Though I am Italian, Dominican, and American, I’ve always seen myself as somewhat French (despite the fact I don’t even have an ounce of French heritage or blood in me).
I eat marrons glacés during Christmas.
I spray eau de lavande in my room on the weekends (to keep out the Scorpions, as they say in Toulon).
I think everything is a n’importe quoi.
And I always need a p’tit week-end to échapper un peu (escape a little) from London.
At times, people think I’m French and it’s probably because I care about France and French culture as I do my own three countries. And I care especially about the people of France, particularly the people of Paris, whom I consider my adopted folk.
I was born and raised in New York City but I will always say Paris was where I grew up.
I experienced life at its hardest in Paris and it made me
the man I am today – through the good and more often than not, the very bad
That being said, it destroys me when I see injustice in a place I feel very much a part of and the marginalisation of the immigrant communities, in particular Middle Eastern communities in France, is an injustice and a real problem.
The fact that a Frenchmen who is third generation French-Arab is still subjected to the racial slur of beur is an injustice.
The fact that a French-Arab has a better chance of getting a job if he changes his name from Mohammed to Michel or Fatima to Françoise is an injustice.
The fact that an immigrant who grows up in the harsher 18th arrondissment of Paris does not have the same opportunity as a bourgeois from the 15th or 7th arrondissment is segregation and goes against the values of France: liberté, égalité mais surtout et toujours fraternité.
Image is author's own
While I lived in France, I faced firsthand the racism that wrecks havoc in Paris and experienced hateful actions towards me because I merely looked Algerian to most people (which was not helped by the fact I speak French with no accent). Though I am not Arab at all, I endured the same experiences as the Arabs of Paris and felt their pain but while mine was always short lived after I uttered a quick “je suis italien !” or, at the most extreme, flashed my Italian carta d’identitá to prove my origins, Arab Frenchmen endured these harassment on a daily basis.
Harassment such as being spat on by passer-byers. Being chased with pocket knives by rival groups who “had it with the Arabs”. Denied work because “on a assez des guelles arabes” (we have enough of these fucking Arab faces). And worst, denied access into certain places because of my “Arab” appearance.
I had experienced racism in the USA before, for being Italian and Dominican. But never in my life had I experienced anything so brutal as what I lived through in Paris.
I was never a fan of Charlie Hebdo and I am still not a fan of it.
I found their use of religion and race on the cover of their hebdomaire (weekly paper) distasteful and promoting stereotypes that only fed hate and ignorance in France, which was an ever growing epidemic of an environment. Nevertheless, I respected the publication as a very important feature in French life.
I did, however, wish they would've done their caricature topics differently.
Pictures above: 1) A caricature of Charlie Hebdo literally showing God, Jesus, and “the Holy Spirit” engaged in an orgy.
2) Racism at its best: it says “The sex slaves of Boko Haram are mad: Don’t touch our benefits!”
Image by Charlie Hebdo
I had always wished Charlie Hebdo would stop its depiction
of Muslims and Mohammad, as though they meant no harm in it, I felt their
caricatures only gave more credibility to the stereotypes that were given to
Muslims by those who too ignorant to know the difference between satire and
truth. Not only that, it would lead to a more alienation of the Muslim
community in France, who were mocked for their faith and culture. I felt that
by continuing to depict immigrant communities, or most importantly the large
French Muslim community, in such a dehumanising and disrespectful way, it would
only provoke tensions
There is a saying: you can make fun of the chubby boy in the corner of the class all you want, but one day he’ll explode.
My fear was that extremists would use Charlie Hebdo as a scapegoat for manic attacks of revenge.
Hèlas, my fear came to light and when I heard of the attacks from my office in London, I wept.
I am aware that one must exert their freedom of expression, but when an atmosphere is already infused with hate and prejudice, I feel that making statements that continue to exert and fuel the hate will only backfire.
Marine Le Pen of the far-right political group Le Front National has already gained stronghold in many French regions; so much so, she’s gained a seat in the European Parliament. Youth political groups like GUD (Group Union Défense) prompt xenophobic behaviour by incorporating hateful attacks on Jews and Muslims as part of its initiation into the group. With the Charlie Hebdo attacks now in the picture, I feel this will augment racism in France towards Muslims, with many seeing Front National’s “point” with the immigrant problem – especially if they feel that all Muslim immigrants are extremists.
After the attacks, I posted a Facebook post which expressed my sentiments for everyone back in Paris and how “all Parisians were united”.
The response was shocking – I received messages from friends back in Paris saying that tension was rising and hate whispers against Muslims have begun to hang in the air. Other friends told me that nobody was united really in Paris, especially not with the Arabs and that I “was dreaming” for thinking that. Worst, I later heard that a Tunisian-French friend of mine was harassed while walking down the street near his apartment and being called “stupid Arab”.
Already in an interview with French Footballer Demba Ba, journalist Stéphane Guy began criticizing him for praying (Ba is a Muslim) before his matches and when he scores a goal, saying that it creates tension, especially as he is Muslim and that he should’ve been respectful given the Charlie Hebdo attacks. To see the interview, with English subtitles, click here. As Demba Ba stated, his religion has nothing to do with the stupidity of the extremists and all must learn tolerance.
We are in 21st Century France and the behaviours being expressed seem to belong in a medieval setting.
My fear for France is that racism will increase following the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
My fear for France is that ignorance will prevail reason and tolerance, which will lead to more marginalisation and alienation of France’s Muslim community.
France needs to end racism by expressing it does not tolerate it, in the same way that France does not tolerate attacks on its freedom of expression. I believe that if France sets the example, extremists will not have pathetic excuses for attacks on French liberties. I believe if France does this, French Muslims will stand proud with their Non-Muslim compatriots and united will say “ça suffit” (that’s enough) to extremists and racists.
But one can only pray......