A demonstrator in Paris shows her support for the magazine. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images
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Leader: the Charlie Hebdo attack and the terror next time

To overreact to what happened in Paris – to indulge in grandiose declarations about wars between civilisations or to turn Britain into a surveillance state – would further encourage the terrorists to believe that they are winning. They are not. 

The well-planned and murderous attacks in Paris in which 17 people were killed by Kalashnikov-wielding Islamist militants provoked worldwide outrage and revulsion. There was an outpouring of sympathy for and expressions of solidarity with the murdered journalists of Charlie Hebdo, the once obscure and struggling satirical magazine that emerged out of the countercultural upheavals of the late 1960s and that has long delighted in wilful provocation and shattering of taboos.

If the French-Algerian Kouachi brothers and their sponsors wished to silence Charlie Hebdo, which offended many Muslims by publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, their failure could not have been greater. On 14 January, the magazine published a 16-page special edition, which had a print run of three million, and the paper has been flooded with donations from media groups. If it did not before, the world now knows all about Charlie Hebdo and what it represents.

Left to its own devices or ignored, it might well have gone out of business. As it stands, Charlie Hebdo will be able to go on blaspheming, offending and defending the values of the French republic. One does not have to agree with all of its ultra-left-libertarian editorial decisions to be greatly cheered by this, as well as the courage of its surviving staff.

The attack by the Kouachi brothers’ associate Amedy Coulibaly on a kosher supermarket on 9 January, in which four Jewish men were murdered, was yet another reminder of the vulnerability of Jews, wherever they happen to be in the world. Already the vast majority of Jews have left, or have been forced to leave, North Africa and the Arab Middle East, where millions once lived even as recently as the 1950s (there are small communities remaining in a few countries, such as Iran and Turkey). It is estimated there are 1.1 million Jews in the European Union, mostly in France and Britain. How safe must they feel in the present environment?

The Kouachi brothers said that they did not kill civilians, from which one concludes that as well as the military the terrorists considered the police, journalists and, in the case of Coulibaly, Jews to be legitimate targets in their war against the secular west. Small wonder that more and more Jews are choosing to emigrate from France to Israel because of the way anti-Semitism has poisoned the culture.

How vulnerable is Britain to comparable attacks? As Andrew Hussey, a Paris-based academic and the author of The French Intifada, explains in this week’s magazine, the attacks have to be understood in the context of the peculiarities and specificities of France’s relationship with its Arabs and its former colonies. French colonialism, the Algerian civil war and its long, violent aftermath, the alienation felt by many Muslim youths living in the impoverished banlieue – the zones surrounding cities such as Paris and Lyons – high unemployment, the failures of post-colonial integration: all have contributed to a sense of a nation at war with itself.

Yet, throughout the world, atrocities and the mass murder of civilians are being committed by those who claim to act in the name of Islam, from Boko Haram in Nigeria to the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Militant Islamism is one of the great transnational evils and it thrives in states of disorder and where the rule of law has broken down.

Britain has endured attacks – from the London bombings of 7 July 2005 to the brutal murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, south London, in 2013 – and will do so again. But we should treat with scepticism the alarmist pronouncements of those such as Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, who, in a speech on 8 January, warned that Britain was at risk of an imminent attack from al-Qaeda or one of its affiliates. He used his speech to ask for the security services to be granted enhanced access to surveillance of digital communications, to which David Cameron seems more than happy to accede. The issue of how to balance the competing needs of security and liberty remains as difficult as ever.

British jihadis are as opposed to the values of a free press and the open society as the Kouachi brothers and their like. They wish to destroy our way of life and change our behaviour and we should not let them. The best way to combat their extremism is through vigilance, patience and a benign reassertion of liberal values.

To overreact, to indulge in grandiose declarations about wars between civilisations or to turn Britain into a surveillance state would further encourage the terrorists to believe that they are winning. They are not. 

This article first appeared in the 16 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Jihadis Among Us

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France’s burkini ban could not come at a worse time

Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

Since mayor of Cannes David Lisnard banned the full-body burkini from his town’s beaches, as many as 15 French resorts have followed suit. Arguments defending the bans fall into three main categories. First, it is about defending the French state’s secularism (laïcité). Second, that the costume represents a misogynistic doctrine that sees female bodies as shameful. And finally, that the burkini is cited as a threat to public order.

None of these arguments satisfactorily refute the claims of civil rights activists that the bans are fundamentally Islamophobic.

The niceties of laïcité

The Cannes decree explicitly invokes secular values. It prohibits anyone “not dressed in a fashion respectful of laïcité” from accessing public beaches. However, the French state has only banned “ostentatious” religious symbols in schools and for government employees as part of laïcité (the strict separation between the state and religious society). And in public spaces, laïcité claims to respect religious plurality. Indeed, the Laïcité Commission has tweeted that the ban, therefore, “cannot be based upon the principle of laïcité”.

While veils covering the entire face such as the burqa or niqab are illegal, this is not to protect laïcité; it is a security matter. The legal justification is that these clothes make it impossible to identify the person underneath – which is not the case for the burkini.

 

By falling back on laïcité to police Muslim women in this way, the Cannes authorities are fuelling the argument that “fundamentalist secularism” has become a means of excluding Muslims from French society.

Colonial attitudes

Others, such as Laurence Rossignol, the minister for women’s rights, hold that the burkini represents a “profoundly archaic view of a woman’s place in society”, disregarding Muslim women who claim to wear their burkini voluntarily.

This typifies an enduring colonial attitude among many non-Muslim French politicians, who feel entitled to dictate to Muslim women what is in their best interests. Rossignol has in the past compared women who wear headscarves through choice to American “negroes” who supported slavery.

Far from supporting women’s rights, banning the burkini will only leave the women who wear it feeling persecuted. Even those with no choice in the matter are not helped by the ban. This legal measure does nothing to challenge patriarchal authority over female bodies in the home. Instead, it further restricts the lives of veiled women by replacing it with state authority in public.

Open Islamophobia

Supporters of the ban have also claimed that, with racial tensions high after recent terrorist attacks, it is provocative to wear this form of Muslim clothing. Such an argument was made by Pierre-Ange Vivoni, mayor of Sisco in Corsica, when he banned the burkini in his commune. Early reports suggested a violent clash between local residents and non-locals of Moroccan origin was triggered when strangers photographed a burkini-wearing woman in the latter group, which angered her male companions. Vivoni claimed that banning the costume protected the security of local people, including those of North African descent.

Those reports have transpired to be false: none of the women in question were even wearing a burkini at the time of the incident. Nonetheless, the ban has stood in Sisco and elsewhere.

To be “provoked” by the burkini is to be provoked by the visibility of Muslims. Banning it on this basis punishes Muslim women for other people’s prejudice. It also disregards the burkini’s potential to promote social cohesion by giving veiled women access to the same spaces as their non-Muslim compatriots.

Appeals to public order have, occasionally, been openly Islamophobic. Thierry Migoule, head of municipal services in Cannes, claimed that the burkini “refers to an allegiance to terrorist movements”, conveniently ignoring the Muslim victims of recent attacks. Barely a month after Muslims paying their respects to friends and family killed in Nice were racially abused, such comments are both distasteful and irresponsible.

Increased divisions

Feiza Ben Mohammed, spokesperson for the Federation of Southern Muslims, fears that stigmatising Muslims in this way will play into the hands of IS recruiters. That fear seems well-founded: researchers cite a sense of exclusion as a factor behind the radicalisation of a minority of French Muslims. Measures like this can only exacerbate that problem. Indeed, provoking repressive measures against European Muslims to cultivate such a sentiment is part of the IS strategy.

Meanwhile, the day after the incident in Sisco, riot police were needed in nearby Bastia to prevent a 200-strong crowd chanting “this is our home” from entering a neighbourhood with many residents of North African descent. Given the recent warning from France’s head of internal security of the risk of a confrontation between “the extreme right and the Muslim world”, such scenes are equally concerning.

Now more than ever, France needs unity. Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

The Conversation

Fraser McQueen, PhD Candidate, University of Stirling

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.