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)


  1. You've given us a lot to think about. Thank you for this well-reasoned essay. Despite this fearful world in which we live, savor your Sunday morning cup of coffee! This, too, can be a defiant act against the powers that incite fear.

  2. def like your logic in this death is no less tragic than the next as well...though i wonder at the provoking back with the special issue with cartoons about mohammed...what do they or we hope to gain in that...does it make us feel better to bully me it is like the strong patriotic songs that came out after 9/11 about the USA kicking the ass of another country or group of people...really they make me rather sick...and what does it prove...

  3. Religion is the root of a lot of crap, the 2000 gods out there all saying what the 7 billion people want them to say. Then they go and do crap like this because it offended them. Pffft if it offends you, don't read it. Anyone to say they had it coming is just a moron.

  4. I agree with much (most, maybe) of what you write, CiL, but I cannot agree with your basic premise -- your theory -- because there is no empirical evidence to either prove it or disprove it.

    I was a believer in "men are from Mars and women are from Venus" before the book and long before the concept came into vogue, but I think the traits (negative, as well as positive) you describe are largely human and not necessarily "owned" by men. Having experience working among women who have committed every crime known to "humankind," I think environment and genetic makeup are fairly equal partners. I had a secretary for a while, for instance, who had left her living child in a house and set it on fire. I could discuss her and others with you, but I would include religion in the discussion and its direct effect on some people, which might not suit you.

    Anyway, I think there are both many explanations and no explanations for the things people do to each other, but there never will be a simple, single answer.

  5. Powerful essay and one that points out the often hidden force underneath all these murders. I received nasty, insulting e-mails and comments on my blog because I asked one man to stick to the issue of freedom of speech, He is all for censorship, esp that of "uppity women." Speaking truth to power has become more and more dangerous; I just hope that we can continue to be courageous and not give up our hard won freedoms - which are still only honored in Western countries. At least 1/3 of the countries in the world - and probably more - don't have even the most basic freedoms. And women even less so.

    1. Definitely an interesting angle Cubano, you always make us think that's for sure. However, like a few here I can't say I wholly agree. I concur with Fram Actual and other comments here about socialisation and 'gender' traits so I won't rehearse them. I appreciate you did try to make that distinction but it's framed using the language of polarised gender attributes.

      As a Christian I am of the view that there is no one so good that they don't need redeeming and a Saviour. We're not perfect. At our best we reflect Divine beauty. At our worst each one of us is capable of all kinds of cruelties. It's just for some the outcome is more immediate and brutal.

      No-one deserves to be slaughtered especially the way it was done @ the Charlie Hebdo HQ; neither do I believe in acts of 'religious vengeance' (surely Allah can fight his own battles?). Nevertheless one could argue it's the same hubris of which you speak that caused the magazine staff to be provocative for its own sake. Freedom of Expression, all good yes but with rights come responsibilities.

      I'm also disappointed by how some have simplistically blamed religion on here. However I would have left without comment was it not for an earlier remark that 'only in the West' are certain freedoms upheld. I am surprised in this day and age someone could take such a Panglossian stance. Charlie Hebdo is part of a tangled web of consequences engendered by Western hypocrisy and selective application of these 'freedoms'. Elephant Child's comment is spot on; 'do as we say, not as we do'. There are so many examples of Western double standards and (e.g. the support of other human-rights violating regimes who suit their ends) there isn't time to list them. That's not to mention the damage caused by mammonist, neo-liberal ideals. I'm sorry but I just had to address that because it got my goat a little.

      Shalom x

  6. You have a talent for words, thank you so much for sharing.

  7. Sadly, in many ways the obscenity in France was a re-inforcement of values. Not the ones we say we have, but the ones our culture displays and rewards. The 'if I don't like what you say, feel, believe, do...' I have the right to stop it. And if you don't give me that right I will take it. Whatever happened to 'live and let live...'

  8. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

    There is no empirical evidence to back up my theory, I agree. But its plausibility should not be brushed off. A woman setting a house on fire with her child in it could well be a pathological case. I don't know, but it seems to me it could well be the case. To me the opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy or even feminism but humanity, not as the concept of the human race but as the quality to which we aspire. Tha includes kindness, benevolence and other traits I included above.

    Nor do I think that we, men, are aggressive by nature. Women can be and are as aggressive as men. But at some point in our evolution into human beings someone had the "brilliant" idea to big up our aggression and tame women's. And obviously, they also came up with a theory to back it up after. Hence, women who are confident and self-assertive are seen as "feisty" and "bolshie". Even "bossy". In short, they are displaying features usually associated with the male persona. This is partly the work of a patriarchal system. The killers in Paris and Nigeria displayed those traits. But they are also on display in the House of Commons and in the Kremlin. They might be subtler, but they are there for all to see.

    Thanks for your comments. It always pleases me to see the variety of opinions on this blog.

    Have a great week.

    Greetings from London.

  9. You make a good case here and there's plenty of food for thought... And I'm sure there are many things that we don't know and that we cannot possibly know that weave this fabric that we call reality...
    Have a wonderful week!

  10. some interesting thoughts here - i wonder though if it's really a male thing or rather a power thing - either way - it makes me sick - ugh

  11. If only we didn't live in a patriarchy ... Oh yes! I had a long conversation with a man in India suggesting that if women held the top jobs we'd sit around drinking tea and sort our differences by talking about them! (He took the 'women are useless once a month' line, which did rather push me to take an extreme position.) I still think women in the top jobs changes the way we talk to each other.

  12. Retaliations are to be expected but I was concerned that the response was yet another dig at Mohammed. People shouldn't underestimate women, they're on the rise!!

  13. I didn't like the response either - very concerning to me!! This is going too far. Always wanting to up the ante.

  14. One of your most powerful posts ever, CiL...and no, I don't think you've gone too far with this one. Not at all.
    These things needed to be said.
    Your words echo my own sentiments on this sensitive subject exactly.
    These atrocities have nothing at all to do with religion... have much more to do with power-crazed, intolerant (and yes, patriarchal) personalities.
    But we do, of course, need to remember that not all those who behave in this barbaric way are of the male gender. There are also a growing number of women engaging in terrorist activities alongside their male counterparts...and that does scare me. What kind of future do our offspring have to look forward to?
    One thing is for certain: the attempted suppression of free speech in a democratic society will never succeed, however violent and intimidating the methods deployed to those ends...

  15. I'm not sure that a matriarchal society would be a kinder, gentler one. Having worked with very young children, I've seen some violent struggles between girls and boys over toys and food. Then many of the boys get some weight and strength to them, giving them a clear advantage. And, of course, the girls are taught that "girls don't hit/fight". If that stricture was removed and women had the weapons under their control (which helps to mitigate the male physical advantage), would they not use them at every opportunity to gain what they want? Who knows.

    I have to give a lot of weight to religion. I live among both Quaker and Amish communities, both of which practice non-violence. Even when they are attacked, they do not fight back. This goes directly against the human instinct to protect one's self. Religion is a powerful thing, whether its believers practice it for good or evil.

  16. All religion is not good , that is what I have come to believe.
    All violent acts done in 'the name of religion' are sickening.

    Great post, thank you!

  17. Thanks everyone for your comments.

    Joseph, I'm afraid I'm going to have to delete your post. I will pop over to your blog to explain. I wouldn't like you to feel that I'm singling you out.

    Greetings from London.

  18. The most powerful and most controversial post I've read lately by far. You know the Pope just visited our country and you could just imagine how that brought a sort of "war" of opinions on social media.

    I am a Christian but I believe that the bottom line of everything is respect. We all have our own opinions and beliefs but we can surely live harmoniously despite our differences when we don't force our beliefs to another and just show respect.

  19. Excellent post. Enlightened opinions. Thanks for taking the time to write your perspective.

  20. A couple of things, CiL:

    The young writer in Paris whose name I could not recall in my comment for your January 21 post was Rainer Maria Rilke.

    And, not that it is particularly important, but whether or not the young lady mentioned in my comment for your January 25 post was pathological in reality, she was not legally. She cited revenge as the reason for the murder of her child; she wanted to punish the father of the child, who had abandoned her. She was determined to be competent to stand trial and, in the midst of it, accepted a plea bargain which led to a sentence of a minimum of ten years imprisonment. (Somewhat light, I thought.) While in prison, with the "assistance" of a male trusty inmate, she managed to become pregnant once more. While she worked for me, I found her to be intelligent, reliable, a solid worker with a cheerful personality and a beautiful smile. I could cite any number of similar cases involving murder and murder for hire, and a few fascinating events in a military context, as well. There will always be crazies (legally and otherwise) and fanatics among us, of both sexes, I think.

  21. a thought provoking post..
    actually,i think,it's all about power more than anything else..people think that they become really powerful by doing these atrocities



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