Presidential

First presidential election I was aware of: 1995. France’s longest-running president, François Mitterand, is retiring. This is the time when I learn about the difference between right-wing and left-wing, about the environmentalist party (that was still a thing in France back then), and about the infamous Jean-Marie Le Pen, the man who became a big name in French politics by barking like a mad dog about how evil foreigners are and how we should re-establish the death penalty. We’ve just learned about the French Revolution in class, and I’m fascinated with politics. I put the ballot in the enveloppe myself. I’m ten years old, and a few weeks prior, after my teacher ripped off a page from my copybook for not having used the right layout, I’ve written ‘They cut off trees to make paper’ across the page before handing it to her, which left her speechless. I’m confident we’ll manage to change the world. After all, we already did, once.

Second-ever presidential election: I’m seventeen, six months shy of my majority. I can’t vote yet, but when they announce that Jean-Marie Le Pen has arrived second, and will run against Jacques Chirac for the title of president, I decide to do what I can. I go on marches and rallies against the National Front, in a purely symbolic attempt to remind everyone that most of our country is still not okay with voting for a neo-fascist. In my school, someone has printed out a picture of a mass grave in a Nazi concentration camp, plastered it to the school wall and scribbled ‘Do you really want to vote for the man who denied THIS?’ (among other things, Le Pen was a notorious Holocaust denier). In the end, Le Pen is soundly defeated, and everyone breathes out a sigh of relief.

The next elections are far less eventful. A new concept has been introduced: the ‘useful vote’. People are told that if they don’t vote for a candidate from one of the majority parties, they will scatter votes and somehow this will magically result in having a member of the Le Pen dynasty make the second round of the election again. At uni, I’m a member of the environmentalist student union. Other, bigger unions loathe us, not because they disagree with us, but because we ‘divide student votes’, according to them. They brilliantly exert democracy by ripping off our posters at election times and harassing us at meetings. Two more presidents are elected. They reach unheard-of levels of unpopularity. Everybody talks about the economic crisis, about insecurity, and later, terrorism. Of course there are still far fewer victims of terrorism and insecurity than, say, domestic violence or alcoholism (not to mention traffic accidents), but then have electoral debates ever been rational? Never mind, we vote. It’s still a democracy, or so we’re told. And there are still people who want to change the world.

2017. Emmanuel Macron, a centrist-liberal who wants to change absolutely nothing to the current economic system, is elected. Nobody knows why. Most of those who voted for him did so out of the conviction that they had to ‘vote usefully’, meaning that you have to vote for the person the polls tell you will be elected, or else you’re not on the winning team or something. Apparently someone changed the definition of ‘democracy’ while everybody was sleeping. Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie who proudly upholds the family tradition of raging fascism, gets one third of the votes. One third.

I still want to change the world, I really do. I teach my students about human rights and women’s rights and I teach them how to recognise plants on school trips so that hopefully they will learn what biodiversity means, I buy organic food, I mend my clothes, I take public transport all the time, I avoid taking planes, I’ve chosen to work part-time because I believe that excess individual wealth is a source of both social inequalities and environmental disaster, and it’s useless to have political principles if you don’t live by them yourself. I try to do my share. It’s tiny, but I’m doing what I can. I want to change the world. And I know I’m not the only one.

But for God’s sake, people. We need your help out here.

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Going on strike in France

There has been a large social movement in French priority education in the past couple of weeks. It didn’t change much as far as my schedule was concerned: when I should have been in class, I was marching outside with the demonstrations that attempted to fight the future budget cuts in our schools (without success for now, unfortunately). Going to school in the morning was a different experience than usual…

After a couple of days, students joined the movement and decided to block the entrance to the school, by piling litter bins from the street in front of the main gate. On the first day, I arrived to find a student standing with his back to the wall, his head completely covered in a hat and scarf. He greeted me cheerfully. I had no idea who he was, but I said hello all the same. He asked if I had recognised him. I had to admit I hadn’t. He removed his scarf so I could see him; he had a huge grin on. The excitement and motivation of the first few days hadn’t worn off yet.

We spent most of the morning freezing our noses off in front of the school. The first half of January was quite cold, for once, and there is no sunny spot at all in the street, so it soon became uncomfortable to stand there without moving. A couple hundred people showed up for the demonstration. We marched through the street chanting, and received no answer at all. So we repeated the process, again and again, all through the month. We even took a train to Paris to join with other people from the local schools. We meant to arrive at the Ministry of Education, but were greeted on the way by the special police forces, all geared up to face a fully-fledged riot, with body armour, shields, helmets, pepper spray, everything. I don’t even know why. Did it look like we were going to start a riot? We only wanted to ask for the necessary funds to teach in decent conditions. Or half-decent. I mean, there are rats in the school gym, cockroaches in the teachers’ common room, we have to wash our dishes in the toilets because there is no other place to do it and the electricity is down for maybe ten days every year, so it’s not like we can’t adjust to the circumstances. Anyway, none of this seemed to matter to either the minister or the Robocop squad that blocked the street for half the afternoon to make sure we wouldn’t disturb anyone. So we travelled back South.

France is famous for having workers who go on strike every other week. Right-wing politicians and journalists who don’t know better love to make it sound like we’re too lazy to go to work. During the past few weeks, it was obvious to all of us that the problem was the exact opposite. We had to go on a prolonged strike because most teachers chose to go to class anyway: they cared too much about their students’ exams to let them miss a single class. How can you stage a general strike in those conditions? Eventually, the movement lost steam. But at least no one can say that we took advantage of the spring to have a party outside. It was freezing cold out there.

Social security: A big Thank You

As you know, health care in France is mostly free. While private insurance exists, it essentially takes care of important but non-vital parts like glasses and dental care (and even these parts can be covered for people who really struggle financially). The rest is taken care of by social security. This costs a lot, of course, but the costs are shared by everyone, and you pay more if you earn more, not if you need more care.

Social security has been a part of the French system for over seventy years. Although we’ve come to take it for granted, there are constant debates concening its costs. Many right-wing politicians would love to transfer most of the burden to private insurances, regardless of how poorly such systems perform in other countries. Let that sink in for a second: I have never, ever heard of a French person who died or underwent a serious illness without treatment because they couldn’t afford it. We don’t even have to plan for that possibility. It simply doesn’t exist. That’s perhaps why some people in France can sometimes get flippant when referring to our social security system: yes, it costs a lot, and yes, if you’re generally in good health, you would probably pay less in the long run if you chose to get minimal coverage from private insurances. Right-wing politicians don’t have to care at all: most of them are so wealthy they could afford any kind of insurance. If social security disappeared, their lives wouldn’t change a bit.

Because of these debates, I think it’s great to pause evey now and then, and appreciate how much social security has changed our lives. A small event in our household has made me think about that a lot lately.

Our cat Natacha has been ill for a couple of months. She’s lost a third of her weight due to intestine and liver problems. Apparently it’s not life-threatening although she’s visibly exhausted, but since cats can’t talk, we’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what was wrong. And money. She’s had blood samples taken, ultrasound exams, plenty of medication along with special food. And it’s not over, so we’re going to buy more medication, perhaps do some additional exams in case there’s something we missed. We’re worried, of course, but at least so far we can afford it. We may have to skip a couple of evenings out in months to come, but our finances can cover it. We won’t give up on her.

Now these are serious costs, but they’re quite exceptional for a cat. Cats are sturdier than humans, after all. For us… it’s another story. In the past couple of years, I’ve needed X-ray and MRI scans, countless physiotherapy sessions, half a dozen visits to the doctor’s office and two paid weeks of medical leave, just because of persistent knee pains. I’ve also been vaccinated against the flu and taken medication for minor illnesses, and I’ve had my blood iron checked. All this for, I think, a little under sixty euros. One-fifth of what we’ve had to pay so far for Natacha, because we’re lucky enough to live in a country where health care is covered by public funds.

Now that presidential elections are looming, I think it’s more important than ever to stop taking things for granted. It’s all well and good to talk about economic growth and public deficits, but how dearly are we willing to pay for a slight improvement in our economy? I can barely think about what it would be like to let go of a beloved pet just because we wouldn’t be able to afford the vet. Having to face the same dilemma for a family member? I don’t even know how there can be a public debate about this. We’re civilised people. Whatever views we hold on our economic and social system, we can’t let people die for a bunch of figures.

We need to wake up.

You all know how it looks like for the world; here is what it looks like from the little spot where I’m currently sitting, sandwiched between a computer and a cat. In the middle of a rahter stressful couple of weeks, including a hectic shcool trip, two attacks on our students right in front of the school, and my knee acting up again to the point that I can’t even go to work and have to stay at home craddling my computer and swallowing morphine, Donald Trump was elected.

We’re not the people for whom it should be a problem. After all, this is happening across the ocean, isn’t it? And this was a democratic election where people expressed their wishes for their country as they’re supposed to, and I’m the first one to rant when people lash out against the politics of other countries without being aware of all the aspects of the situation (that’s why I was extremely annoyed when foreign blogs reacted to the Charlie Hebdo attacks by merely stating that it was very sad but then again these people were racist jerks). But it’s a bit different when you’re talking about the most powerful country in the world. Like it or not, what happens in the US can influence places very far outside the US. In Europe, the baffling trend of looking up to the USA as a model of economic success is still continuing (apparently, there are some people who consider that a country can be ‘successful’ with less-than-stellar rates of poverty, inequality or infant death). And I don’t want France to start deriving inspiration from a country led by Trump, believe me.

There is no question that this election will be a blow for the entire world. First, our environment does not have boundaries. If Trump decides that it’s off with natural reserves and climate-protecting measures, then it is. I hate to point it out, but there it is: the USA already is among the world’s major polluters. If the whole world lived like the average US citizen, we would need four or five planets the size of Earth to make ends meet. That’s one of the highest rates of the planet (twice that of Europe, and Europeans are most definitely not an example when it comes to sobriety), and there’s no use trying to blind ourselves by pointing to China and India. If, instead of taking radical steps to curb resource overconsumption, the US government decides to let every business run wild, we’re screwed. Every single one of us.

Of course, Trump’s isolationism could reassure us, from a strictly selfish standpoint. After all, it could bring an end to the negotiations on TTIP, the free-exchange treaty that has been looming over our heads for years, and which threatens to force us to bring European health regulations down to US standards, essentially destroying our agriculture in the process (as if European agriculture needed more destroying after all it’s been through in the past fifty years), and imposing private tribunals to judge whether or not a country should be able to raise its minimum wage if it makes private companies lose money (a thing that’s already happening all over the world). The thing is, Trump is not alone, and I don’t think his friends from big businesses will let go of TTIP that easily. So I don’t have much hope on that front. And I would much, much rather see Europe reject TTIP on democratic grounds (for example, after acknowledging that an overwhelming majority of the population is firmly against it) than see it go through the window decause a half-illiterate populist said so.

Plus, as my boyfriend says, it’s extremely worrying to see that Trump is planning to withdraw from the Middle-East and at the same time increase the army’s budget. If he’s not going to engage in any more wars, what on earth does he need that big army for?

Now I’m worried for another reason. Trump did it. He showed that it was possible. And we have a similar threat hanging over our heads in France, as well. The National Front, our own brand of bigoted populists, have been on the rise. If Trump won, we can’t assume we’re safe from the Le Pen family. We can’t hide our heads in the sand anymore.

There is no other way to put it: I’m disgusted. Utterly, sincerely revolted. I understand that there are many people out there who are out of patience with the ‘system’ (whatever they mean by that), and who want to shove traditional politicians out of the window, with their little nepotic games and appalling lack of awareness of what the average person’s life is like. But neither Trump nor the Le Pen family are any different: they’re wealthy people who have lost touch with reality decades ago, just like the rest of our reviled politicians. They are millionaires posing as ‘normal people’. Unbelievable as it is, it worked. Unbelievable as it is, people can see a billionaire who doesn’t pay his taxes and a political dynasty as outsiders and underdogs who will bring some honesty back into the political system. I’d love to feel genuine compassion for these voters, I truly would. I just can’t. Not because of a class thing, not because I think they’re below me, but simply because I refuse to think they’re that clueless. I refuse to think that they are just poor sheep who were fooled into believing that the wolf with the funny hat was in fact a shepherd. We’re talking about adult voters here. Whatever helplessness and frustration you feel in your daily life, I simply cannot believe that anyone can be fooled into thinking that a billionaire understands their daily concerns and will pay attention to them. No–what I believe is that, for many people, voting for either Trump or the National Front is a way to make sure that other people will be more miserable than they currently are themselves. Whether they admit it or not, it’s a way of heeding the countless dehumanising discourses that have been put out and making sure that the rabble of the world, whatever it is, will get what’s coming to them. I’m not even sure it’s supposed to make things better; as this elderly man on the bus put it the other day, it could be just a way to ‘have a good laugh’.

Perhaps I’m being unfair to some voters. Perhaps I’m letting my own anger and disgust get the better of me, I don’t know. The thing is, I don’t even want to try anymore. However bleak your life, nobody has a right to make other people miserable just to feel better. Now more than ever, it is our collective responsibility to do something about the situation we are in. And that ‘something’ is not voting for the most inept politicians out there just to see urban liberals pout. Let’s pull our collective head out our arse. The world needs it.

All my differences

Today, on the bus, I heard an old song by Jean-Jacques Goldman. You probably haven’t heard of him if you’re not French. Goldmann was (still is, although he doesn’t sing much anymore) a famous singer in the eighties and nineties, famous for writing songs about tolerance and exclusion. I didn’t quite enjoy his music as a teenager. I thought his lyrics were cutesy and his singing awful (to be fair, I haven’t changed my mind about the latter), and his preoccupation with universal love and brotherhood was cliché at best. Fifteen-year-old me craved more mature themes, like unrequited love, existential despair or premature death. You get the picture.

It’s hard to imagine nowadays that tolerance was once such a common topic in France that it felt like a tired cliché. The eighties had seen the birth of both the National Front and the antiracist movement, and in the nineties, antiracism was well on its way to becoming the dominant opinion in some parts of French society. Yes, it was clumsy and well-meaningly ignorant at times. I remember scoffing at an educational comic book about ‘racism’, which bundled all possible forms of discrimination under the word. It nonetheless had some insightful stiries, some of which I still remember, but at the time, it was just one more example of the ubiquitous and somewhat messy way we were educated about the evils of discrimination. Meanwhile the National Front gathered more and more supporters, but you could still safely assume that the person you were talking with was just about as disgusted with Jean-Marie Le Pen, its leader, as you were yourself. Good times.

I’m not sure when it started to change. In 2002, Le Pen landed the second place at the presidential election. Protests were staged across the whole country by people who couldn’t imagine we would even consider electing a man famous for his horrid brand of racism and antisemitism. Perhaps that took it one step too far. I started hearing classmates saying that after all, Le Pen was just another candidate, this was a democratic election and people had a right to vote for him, and after all not all of his ideas were bad. That’s when I discovered I had classmates my age who believed in bringing back the death penalty or kicking out foreigners suspected of sponging off French welfare. Perhaps they were right on one thing: public protests were taking it too far. Because in the years that followed, supporters of the National Front grew more and more defensive. Under the pretext of being shamed and silenced at every turn, they grew more vocal, to the point that expressiong racist ideas in public started being seen as a courageous move by some. ‘Saying out loud what the rest of us think for ourselves’ became a popular motto. Apparently, a larger-than-expected part of the population believed that ‘what the rest of us think for themselves’ involved nasty things about foreigners, women and LGBT people.

Now, about one quarter of the population in the area where I live and vote support the National Front in local elections. The terrifying thing is that you can no longer assume that people you’ve just met are on your side in this fight. Because yes, I think it’s a fight. I don’t think of the Le Pen dynasty as regular candidates. I don’t think of their ideas as democratic. I really, really don’t think it’s all right to spout out racist, sexist or homophobic crap in public. The scary part is that it makes me feel old. It makes me feel like a product of a bygone time when people really wanted to root out prejudice from our society, and really thought we light make it.

It makes me feel like listening to Goldman songs. What would my teenage self think of me…

Get naked. It’s an order.

Since the latest terrorist attacks have been driving much of France crazy, we seem to wait every week for the newest controversy, outrageous statement or ridiculous debate, with varying degrees of anxiety. In the past two weeks, some seaside towns have decided to take a completely unnecessary and possibly quite illegal step, as you’ve probably read in international media: they have forbidden bathers to wear burkini, a type of swimwear used by some Muslim women to hide their bodies while they bathe.

My first reaction was to feel a little bit more exhausted than usual. I’m not the target of those regulations, I’m not part of a religious minority, and I won’t pretend I’m the victim of anything here. But I still have to live in this country. Most of my students are Muslims. Part of what makes my job so complicated is the wedge that these politics are driving, day after day, between ‘people like me’ and ‘people like them’. I’m using quotation marks because that’s how my students see it. I’m not part of their world, so why should they listen to me? Once again, I have to thank some clueless politicians for making my job a little bit harder. Great. I can’t way for the first school days.

I want to be completely honest about one thing, even though it may not be the safest admission to make. I have very little sympathy for women who insist on dressing ‘modestly’. I think women’s modesty is a very loaded issue, and I don’t feel very comfortable around people who insist that coverig your body is a sign of moral virtue. What does it mean, then–am I a bad person for not wanting to hide my body? I’m certain that lots of people would reply that obviously, women who cover themselves up do not do it for or against me, they do it for their own personal reasons and it has no implications about my personal virtue or lack thereof. They would certainly be right, although that doesn’t make me more comfortable. When I walk around Marseilles, I get more or less unpleasant comments from men on a regular basis. The idea that I deserve less respect because I wear short skirts doesn’t seem so foreign to them. That’s why I’m not comfortable around people who parade female modesty as a sign of virtue. Like it or not, it does impact my life.

But there’s one thing this does not change: I’d rather have a real conversation about this, rather than see people toss humiliating regulations around. I know I’ll never get to discuss the implications of female modesty and the presence of the female body in the public space with my students, because one question will always come back to pollute the debate: if women should be able to wear whatever they want without being judged, why are religious clothes prohibited? And I know I can’t answer that question, becuse there’s no good answer. Yes, France is supposed to guarantee freedom of religion, and yet some religions should not be seen in public… Also, I don’t believe that the purpose of law is to make people comfortable, and it’s certainly not to make me comfortable. I’m fine with being uncomfortable as long as I can discuss why. The only thing we’ve gained is that now, there will be no discussion. Only hurt.

There’s another thing. Earlier this year, I considered shopping for a burkini myself. Not for religious reasons, but for a very simple practical one: my skin is extremely fair, burns very easily, and I want to stop using sunscreen on the beach as much as possible, because sunscreen is very damaging for marine wildlife (just imagine that blanket of clouds that blocks out all sunlight in The Matrix, only the blanket is made of sunscreen particles diluted in the water–you get the idea). I didn’t, because burkinis are not form-fitting and I assumed it would be a pain in the arse to swim around wearing one. But there was one thing I couldn’t help noticing: apparently, when you’re on the beach, you’re supposed to be as naked as possible. Long-sleeved swimwear is almost non-existant, and I found nothing that could cover my legs. Seriously, am I the only person in this continent whose skin is prone to burning? If I want to take a swim while protecting my skin, what is the fucking problem with that?

It’s summer. Go naked. Wear a bikini even if you’re a little girl with no breasts. Bare your legs even if you’re a self-conscious teenager who’d rather stay in her bedroom. If you can’t be bothered to shave, face the judgement that will inevitably come, you don’t simply have the option of wearing something on top of your unsightly legs. Groom that skin cancer or hide in the shade, there’s no alternative for you. It sucks. A lot. That’s why I raised an eyebrow today, when reading an article by a famous French (female) polemist, who argued that yes, of course banning burkinis is probably illegal, but that’s a shame because ‘people go to the beach to relax, not to collide head first with other people’s convictions or ideologies’. Fair enough, but who are these mysterious ‘people’? Apparently not women who would like to wear burkinis, because they will definitely have to confront other people’s ideologies (and have to disrobe) instead of just being able to enjoy a nice day in the sun. Not people like me either, because life’s a bitch and now it makes me so sad to put on sunscreen and realise how I’m contributing to killing off the sea I love more than so many things in the world, and so I don’t always get to relax either. It must be nice to feel so important you imagine that the purpose of your society’s laws and organisation must be to help you relax. Don’t worry, the police are here to make sure that just the right people are publicly humiliated and that ‘other people’s convictions’ won’t hurt your nice day on the beach.

One month later

It’s been a month since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, and there are lots of things I wanted to say. I’m not sure I can be perfectly coherent or organised. But I need to say them, so I’ll try.

The reason why it’s hard to organise one’s thoughts is that it’s a messy situation. It would be lovely to be able to pick a definite side, to have good guys pitted against bad guys and not just a bunch of people flailing around, trying to do their best (or sometimes not) and just all messing up in varying proportions. I count myself among those trying their best and messing up, by the way.

The journalists killed in the attacks messed up, too. And did their best. And this is why I’ve been deeply uncomfortable with some of the reactions that emerged, calling them horrible racists, shunning them and their work and reminding the world that just because some people died for the cartoons they drew is no reason to celebrate their work. I’m uncomfortable, not because I completely disagree, but because it seems, once more, that it’s a way to pick up a side, and it also seems to me that it would be a decent thing to wait a little before throwing mud all over those people, because that’s usually what you do when people die, unless they were truly hateful and horrible during their lives. Which those guys were not.

I’d like to go over the context a little bit, if I may. And no, I’m not going to play the ‘cultural differences’ card. I’m not going to argue that we’re so special and different in France that what seems racist or sexist to other Westerners isn’t racist or sexist to us because of some arcane cultural reason. I did (and still do) find many of Charlie’s cartoons objectionable. But unlike what some people seem to believe, tons of people realised that. ‘Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism’: I’ve read that in some places after the attacks, and it pained me, because in this particular case, shit, criticism came from everywhere. Left-wing, right-wing, even the bloody government actually told them to stop because they were starting to be tired of paying policemen for their protection. Also, people were absolutely exercising their right to not buy a newspaper they didn’t approve of. In fact, Charlie Hebdo was in such financial trouble that the only reason we can be sure there will still be a Charlie in 2016 is because of the support they received after the attacks. Yes, I know. Ironic.

My point is, this wasn’t Fox News. This wasn’t a bunch of powerful old white guys spewing venom all over the place in perfect impunity and getting all the money and attention in the world to do so. They were heavily criticised, and while they defended themselves, I think it would be fair to remember that they actually did not pull the ‘unlimited freedom of speech’ card in their defence. They defended themselves, obviously, by stating the reasons why they kept publishing those cartoons. Because there actually was a reason, beyond wanting to annoy people.

Charlie Hebdo journalists had been receiving death threats ever since they republished the Danish caricatures in 2005. And the reason why they republished those caricatures was precisely the death threats their authors had received. They were not acting offended because someone had criticised them. They actually were in the situation where desisting would mean giving in to actual death threats. In other words, for once, this was truly a question of freedom of speech, in the sense of not getting yourself be scared into saying what your opponents want you to say. And that’s messy. It would have been much easier if this was a situation like GamerGate, with a bunch of hateful, pathetically entitled, despicable jerks threatening feminist women for daring to speak about an innocuous subject. Then it would be easier to pick a side. Yet the Charlie Hebdo situation was exactly like GamerGate: misguided, despicable people feeling it was all right to send death threats in reaction to being offended, and journalists, who, as a result, felt that desisting would have meant letting the terrorists win. I’m definitely calling GamerGaters terrorists, by the way.

Yes, there probably would have been a way to keep disrespecting religion without the added sprinkling of racism. They could have left out the caricatures of big-nosed Arabs and big-lipped African women, and been just as effective in their message. They might have been far more sensitive in many ways instead of acting like non-White people, women and gays are just meant to be the subject matter of jokes and not actual people with their sensitivities, I’m not excusing that. That’s part of the messiness.

Side note: I also don’t quite agree that caricaturing religions is racist in itself. I’m ready to accept criticism on that point. As an atheist, I acknowledge that many atheists can be jerks in their obsessive hatred of religion (I personally don’t hate religion; I just don’t give a crap about it); but I’m usually quite baffled when I hear people calling atheists jerks just for saying that God doesn’t exist, or making fun of this or that aspect of religious beliefs. I’m not sure I see why, if you believe in God, you should be affected when someone tells you that God doesn’t exist, rather than sorry for them or indifferent. But then I’m an atheist. I may get those things completely wrong.

That put aside, another reaction that saddens me a lot is the many people calling for explicit action on the part of Muslims. Seriously, people: shut the fuck up. The message you’re really sending is not that you want reconciliation. Instead, you’re telling everyone that you’re standing there, all ready to judge whether ‘moderate Muslims’ have condemned the attacks enough, and all ready to condemn them as ‘not moderate enough’ if they fail to act up to your standards of moderation. Which of course they will. People who think it’s a problem for the Muslim community to solve within itself, but who still feel the need open their mouth and tell Muslims to do something already, are not usually people who will look at anything that might be considered a ‘positive’ reaction. They are people who will count how many Muslims have failed to say or do anything, and then will use that to say that the Muslim community is not really that ‘moderate’ and that they’re enabling terrorists. In short, they are people who badly need to shut up.

It’s not that there haven’t been problematic reactions. Many French teachers are dismayed by some of their students, who are very happy to declare that the attacks were a good thing and that Charlie had it coming. It’s no use pretending that those reactions don’t exist. There are people who approve of terrorism and that’s a fact. But it would also be useful to remember that when the Twin Towers were destroyed, many teenagers in France who had absolutely no connection to Islam, Palestine or the USA gloated over the attacks and said that the Americans had it coming. Yeah, sorry about that. It’s useful to remember that teenagers are jerks. Again, that doesn’t excuse anything either way; just because you’re a hormonal jerk and you may (hopefully) grow out of it doesn’t mean you’re not doing actual damage now. What it does mean, however, is that when teenagers in school express support for terrorism, perhaps they need guidance rather than public outrage. That’s what you do when children screw up. Instead of sending them to the police booth (when they already think of the police as their enemy anyway), maybe it would be a better idea to help them get their shit together. With actual listening and compassion. You know, what people do when they actually want results.

But staying fixated on those children (and sometimes, unfortunately, not children; not everybody grows out of being a jerk), and on the reactions of the Muslim community in general, is a terrible idea. Let’s face it once and for all: people who identify as Muslims don’t owe it to the rest of us to react as a community. I identify as a feminist, and I’m fairly riled when people expect me to express condemnation of whatever questionable thing another feminist said or did. It’s not my job. I don’t owe it to the rest of the world to re-establish the balance of global feminism. A feminist screwed up? She didn’t ask for my permission or input before she did. I have nothing to do with it. And while I’m using feminists as an example here, that’s what happens every time a member of a community you identify with screws up. It’s fairly easy to figure out when it’s your own community. You don’t ask people to take responsibility for making their community as a whole look good. In fact, you don’t ask people to identify as part of the community you think they should be a part of, full stop. There are many Muslims in France who don’t care about ‘the Muslim community’; who don’t, in fact, feel that there is such a thing. They have no responsibility in what happened. If they want to speak up, that’s great, but if they don’t want to, that’s it. Consider that they’re already doing their part against terrorism just like we’re all doing it: by not engaging in fucking terrorist acts in the first place.

Incidentally, I’m not the first one to say this. You know who said it before me? Charb.

I’m not afraid for my country. We’re not going to fall into the grip of radical Islam, whatever far-right pundits say. Our local alcoholic-with-delusions-of-being-smart, Michel Houellebecq, recently tried to start a controversy by imagining a future where milquetoast liberals get allied with an Islamic party in an attempt to fend off the far right, and thus allow France to descend into radical Islam. That’s all the more pathetic given that, in fact, if one thing is happening right now in France, it’s the opposite. The far right is getting more and more vocal in public spaces. We have people like Eric Zemmour vomiting their bile on TV every day of the week (if you don’t know who Zemmour is, google him, but make sure you keep some distance between yourself and your keyboard because you might throw up). Racist, islamophobic discourses have never fared better in recent times. I’m far more worried about the increasing number of far right seats in the parliament than about the acceptance of radical Islam.

There’s another ironic thing about that. At the moment, there is great complacency in the French media for far right discourses; it’s become normal to ask liberals to show some compassion and understanding for bigots who are, supposedly, just normal people at the end of their tether (strangely enough, few people advocate for compassion when people equally at the end of their tether start shouting insults to white people or taking an interest in radical religion), under the pretext of not ‘demonising’ far right voters. And one of the very few venues that has always refused to take that shit, and to show even an ounce of complacency for far-right nationalists… is Charlie Hebdo. In reality, those guys who died last month hated our National Front even more than they hated radical Islam. That may not excuse their racist, sexist and homophobic cartoons (again), but if we look at the big picture, it does mean one thing. Yes, even if not openly racist, they were enabling islamophobia. There’s no denying that. On the other hand, they furiously fought against radical far-right ideas, and that includes drawing militant anti-discrimination cartoons and opposing the National Front in every way they could. This is not merely symbolic: in a country where the near-totality of the media enables far-right bigoted ideas to thrive, they did (and still do) an active job of pushing back. No, they were not perfect. They were straight white guys (and some girls) who had the best intentions in the world but refused to question their own implicit biases. Sounds familiar? It’s nothing to be proud of, but reviling them is a bit strong. Especially when they’ve not been dead for a month.

And one last thing: there has been a battle between ‘Je suis Charlie’ and ‘Je ne suis pas Charlie’, and it seems you have to pick a side. So let me say it: I’m not Charlie for the simple and very obvious reason that I have never written for them, I haven’t been killed and I have not taken risks for them. What I am is a French citizen who will try to do the best for her country, and that includes not expecting the ‘Muslim community’ to prove themselves to me, not pretending I’m scared when I’m not, and never believing that criticising religion should earn you the death penalty, or even post-mortem opprobrium.