Sunday, 25 January 2015

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

On 31st May 2009, George Tiller, a so-called “late term” abortion doctor, was murdered in the lobby of the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. As far as I know Dr Tiller had never drawn a cartoon in his life.

On Tuesday 9th October 2012, 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan for campaigning for the right of young girls and women to an education. Again, I am not aware that Malala had ever dabbled in the art of comic illustrations.

In 2011, Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian right-wing extremist, killed 76 people in Utøya and Oslo. None of his victims, as far as I can tell, were famous for caricaturing images thought to be sacred.

Whatever the staff at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo did, whoever they apparently provoked, whomever they targeted, one thing is clear to me: the cartoons they drew had nothing to do with the massacre that took place in their offices two weeks ago.

French police officer Ahmed Merabet’s blood had still not dried up on the pavement where he was gunned down by the two terrorists when the first analyses on this atrocity began pouring in. I have to admit that even a seasoned cynic like me found it hard to stomach how quick some “pundits” were in pointing the finger at the staff at Charlie Hebdo. They had it coming, seemed to be their (not so subtle) argument. If only they had been more sensitive. If only they had been more thoughtful. If only they had been more mature.

If only...

I have another “if only”. If only we did not live in a patriarchy. Read the examples above again. I highlighted the fact that none of those wounded or murdered at the hands of extremists was a cartoonist or illustrator on purpose. To me, the cold-blooded killing at Charlie Hebdo had very little to do with the depiction of an important religious figure and more to do with what has underpinned society for many centuries. What has ruled governments, controlled economies and shaped mindsets since the breakdown of the primitive communal system: patriarchy.
Charb, murdered by fundamentalists or by the patriarchy?

That we live in a patriarchal socio-economic political system should surprise no one. Even in countries where the prime minister or president is a woman, you can bet your bottom dollar that at times she has had to behave in a "manly" way. If only to reassure those who voted her into power that they are safe in her – feminine – hands.

Unlike previous forms of patriarchy our modern version does not require authority and power to be bequeathed down the male line. Nor do we need a blood-based, direct line of descent. The myriad structures we have created and that support the state take care of that. Banking, the law, finance, politics, religion, media, even education and the arts. They are mostly male-dominated and male-orientated. The result of this is a suffocating male atmosphere in which most conflicts are resolved our way, men’s way.

This is how we get to Charlie Hebdo. This is how two men, two murderers, use a religion to avenge what they think has been blasphemed. Dialogue is out of the question, let alone tolerance or acceptance that in a free, democratic society we are entitled to speak our minds. No, speaking is for “softies”. They’ll gun you down, they will make you pay. They will pose with their AK47s and show the entire world the tough men they claim to be. They might even kill a member of their own religion in the process. What idiots they are! But the world belongs to them and has belonged to them for centuries.

Some of the “pundits” I mentioned before described the recent events in France as a clash of civilisations. That comment to me was too simplistic and unhelpful. Especially because it rehashes the same old canard that Islam is a primitive religion at odds with fair, democratic Europe. To me the real clash is between the kind of society in which we live now, testosterone-fuelled, and the type of polity some of us would like to achieve in the distant future: caring, respectful and humane. What we see now more often than not is acts of aggression based on impulse. You bombed me, I’ll bomb you back. You kill some of my people, I’ll send the fighter jets over. You have politics with which I strongly disagree. I will kill two-thousand villagers. You draw a cartoon of my prophet, I’ll murder you. No moment to consider that the person you are about to shoot is a speccy, geeky guy whose only offensive “weapon” is a pencil. Or maybe that’s the reason why you want to bump him off, because he reminds you of your own humanity. He has a sense of humour and reminds you that you also have one. Who knows? Perhaps deep inside even you, pious fundamentalist, also find Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons funny.

I know that some of you will think that I have gone too far in this post. You will probably think that I have ignored the deprivation that engulfs certain communities in Europe and beyond and how this situation can and does generate resentment against the status quo. Resentment that can well be used by unscrupulous, cold-blooded assassins. I know, I agree with those points. Furthermore, men are perfectly capable of displaying the traits I mentioned before such as acceptance and dialogue. Yet, we – I include myself amongst those men – are in the minority. And like it or not, we all have to fit in somehow, so we might end up doing things that contradict our true nature. That is why my point remains the same. By carrying on with the same, male-run model, we are walking further away from a future in which conversation, negotiation, understanding, feelings (expressing and accepting them) and compromise become the norm. These are not female attributes, but human ones.

What happened on 7/1 in Paris was an attack on freedom of speech. There should be no doubt about that. Moreover, Stéphane Charbonnier and the other sixteen victims were killed by weapons. They were murdered by two fundamentalists who acted – wrongly – in the name of a religion. Above all, what happened more than two weeks ago in France was an assault on our human values. Human values that have sadly found less space in our patriarchal societies in recent times. One solution is to break the cycle. If only to stop future Charlie Hebdos.



© 2015

Next Post: “Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts”, to be published on Wednesday 28th January at 11:59pm (GMT)

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Urban Diary

Winter silence is eerie silence; it awakens in me the sense that my surroundings have been padded with snow despite the conspicuous absence of the white, fluffy stuff in London this season. The sound of passing traffic is muffled. The snap of the cold breeze feels brittle and glassy.

Under the cover of the recently revamped bus depot every one of us tells a story. The bus depot that is located near the tube station that is connected to the railway station. A hub. This is a well-known transport hub, which has been tweaked slightly to make it resemble one of those modern-looking, architectural success stories in continental Europe. Despite the fact that sink estates are rife around here.

Our stories have no words but images, as each of us at this bus stop becomes the vision of an autumn leaf discarded by a tree growing winter on its branches. The tall bloke, pale as paper, with a suitcase in his hand, seems to have just returned from a short-haul holiday in a Scandinavian country. The black woman with the multi-coloured head-wrap, skin black as dark mahogany and drooling baby on her back. The short, bouncer-looking, goateed man in the padded checked shirt paces around nervously. I am sure his sheltered arms are covered in tattoos, each design telling a story. The Gypsy-looking women with tiny tots on their laps sport faces that tell of nomadic travels, of intolerance and hopelessness. The dark-suited man stands somewhat separated from the crowd, as if refusing to be part of this urban family photo. This city’s family photo whose background is the newly-built, grey, skinny, pillars rising up and branching out into  uniform metallic treetops under which we, fallen leaves, huddle together, telling our stories, not with words, but images whilst waiting for our bus at the revamped depot.


© 2015

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflection and Music”, to be published on Sunday 25th January at 10am (GMT)

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