Post Charlie (and feminism?)

What journalist could have heard the news about Charlie Hebdo last week and not felt the following emotions? Shock, empathy, and a reminder that we choose a profession that doesn’t make us popular.

These journalists weren’t in a war zone, or at least not a literal one, they were in an office having an editorial meeting, the same thing done the world over. But because of what they published, the war zone came to them.

(Guardian article with numbers of journalists, killed, imprisoned, and kidnapped 2014)

I was torn between writing an immediate piece, or letting the dust settle and thinking more about the issues.

And indeed, there are a number of issues in what is a very complex situation, that are now coming up in discussion.

Let’s start with what should be an easy one.

Defence of the right to free speech

Free speech is a misnomer to say the least. One of the components of my journalistic training was law, we had to pass qualifying exams of which law was one before we could go on to take our final journalism exam.

One of the reasons for learning law was to learn exactly what you couldn’t write. It may be OK for national tabloids to risk libel cases but your average provincial newspaper isn’t too keen on it. So defamation was a big one. Court rules, what you can and can’t say in court. Privilege. (That’s legal, privilege, not the social type of privilege enjoyed by rich white men for example.) And, at the time, although now superseded, we learned about blasphemy (referring to Christianity of course) and racism. That’s quite a list. Ten years after I started we were also more careful about how we referred to women who chaired meetings. Society changes albeit slowly, and so do our words, our views, and our values.

So, the obvious discussion item here is: Should Charlie Hebdo have initially published—and then continued to publish after receiving threats and direct action—satirical and blasphemous cartoons about Islam?

And, to what extent are western media being balanced and respectful, or, intimidated and manipulated by not reproducing the cartoons when they report the news story? How is the reader expected to make up their own mind with this rigidly imposed self-censorship by important media?

The secular state

France is a secular country, the one that comes first to mind when thinking of Europe. There is no state religion and individuals are free to practise a religion of their choice or no religion. Religion in theory, has no place in public life.

Yet who can forget the headscarf saga that continued for years? Even a couple of years ago, a Sikh was expelled from school for wearing a turban, and the law banning obvious religious clothing has led to a rise in Islamic secondary schools in France.

The UK is described by wiki as being ambiguous in its split between church and state. Religion is still embodied in the constitution via the Queen, but in practice the country is secular.

[Please note, for anyone unaware, America is described as a secular state, in spite of the statements by many Christians that it is a Christian country.]

Shabina Begum

In the UK we had our version of the headscarf debate with Shabina Begum, a schoolgirl in Luton.

In the 2011 census, the Muslim population of Luton was around 25% (up from 15% in 2001). At Shabina’s school, four out of the six parent governors were Muslim, three of the local education authority governors were Muslim, and the Chair of the Luton Council of Mosques was a community governor.

The school uniform offered trousers and skirts, and on top of that, a uniform based on the shalwar kameez with optional headscarf. No tough French rules here, Brits trying to be multi-cultural and inclusive and all that.

Ms Begum wore the shalwar kameez for two years and then demanded to wear a jilbab, a long gown regarded as a more appropriate or stricter (depending on your POV) form of dress that was compliant with Islamic dress under Sharia law. Because, don’t you know, the shalwar kameez was tight fitting and had short sleeves—shock, horror—seductive flesh on display, the shape of a female body implied.

And then began a nice circus, no doubt at vast cost to the British taxpayer. Begum and her supporters issued a judicial review, under of course, the European Human Rights Act.

She lost the case in the High Court, but won at the Court of Appeal, courtesy of Cherie Booth. The school appealed and this went to the House of Lords.

The Law Lords looked at two aspects:

      A person’s right to hold a religious belief was absolute (couldn’t be interfered with)
      A person’s right to manifest it was qualifiable (that right could be interfered with)

Three out of five Law Lords said her rights hadn’t been interfered with while the other two thought they had. But they all agreed that the interference was justifiable, and one of those grounds was to protect the rights of other female students who might be pressured into adopting a more extreme form of Islamic/Sharia dress.

And the bottom line for all of this comes down to should/could/can religious beliefs trump constitutional law?

Does/should religion get special treatment in a secular society? Not just equal treatment, but special treatment? At what point will Sharia law start to gain sway in non-Islamic countries and Muslims will be exempt from secular law of the state? Or has it started in Britain, France, Germany?

On Sharia law, and an increase in Muslim populations, there is an interesting circular that reappears every now and again, allegedly based on a book published in 2010. I’ve added the link to Snopes.

Presumably one could reasonably produce a similar projection based on Christianity, showing the ultimate measures that would be taken by a Christian state. Wouldn’t look much different to me.

Increasing calls for Europe to resist Islamification

One of the clear problems arising from increasing numbers of Muslims in Europe is the rise of right wing politics and the perceived marginalisation of Muslim communities. Boháček has an interesting (short) paper on this on, looking at The Impacts of Muslim Immigration on European Politics.

It’s worth a read to look at the different strands: tightening of immigration policies, lack of integration, unemployment, discrimination, cultural differences, and the resultant radicalisation of both Islam in Europe and reactionary politics in the individual countries, especially Britain and France.

On the ground, away from academia, we can see the rising fortunes of the French National Front (again) and the emergence of the UKIP in response to some of these problems.

And the Guardian looks at the background of the three men who carried out the murders, which bears out some of Boháček’s theories.

So whose fault is it?

Those greedy colonialists, that’s who

I read a blog post recently which mentioned the impact of colonialism on Islam, and the author was ripped to shreds by another commenter for her liberal, soft, guilt-ridden apologetic views. I paraphrase, but you get the idea.

Yet, in Boháček’s paper, he mentions the significant change that occurred when Europeans gained the knowledge (and presumably money) to surpass the Middle East economically, technologically and therefore militarily, which was the start of western colonialism.

Western ideals of liberalism and democracy, human rights, equality of citizens (well, unless you are a woman of course) separation of church and state, led to new values across the western—colonial—world.

Living in a previously Moorish part of Europe, Andalucía and Gibraltar, it’s impossible to forget the heritage left by the caliphates and Islamic rule. And the vicious way Los Reyes Católicos, Ferdinand and Isabella, drove out Muslims and Jews and instituted the Auto-da-fé.

They didn’t exactly do a lot for PR with followers of Islam.

No, no, it’s the radical and strict orthodox Muslims, that’s who

This is the opposing point of view, oft touted by fundamental Christians, who deny that Islam is a religion of peace and that Islam has been seeking to conquer and rule non-Muslim countries for the past 1500 years and western civilisation is just rolling over waving their legs in the air.

Here’s a Telegraph article that lays the blame squarely on jihadists.

And the other big issue – should Obama have gone to Paris?

Well it’s nothing to do with America is it, so hell, who cares?

It’s just an attack on western values (not just European ones) and civilisation, and some of those countries in Europe are the first ones rung by America if the US wants a little support in invading here, there and everywhere helping restore human rights and freedom to countries with oil tyrants and despots.


The indisputable facts from last week’s incidents are:

      Twelve people were killed as part of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, one of whom, with bitter irony, was Muslim, defending the right to free speech
      A policewoman was killed on Thursday
      A police officer on the investigation committed suicide on Thursday
      Four hostages were killed
      A jogger shot on Wednesday night, and badly injured, is thought to have been another of Coulibaly’s victims
      The three murderers/assassins/criminals were killed. The three had criminal records and had known jihad links
      A German newspaper that reprinted a Mohammed cartoon was firebombed early Sunday morning

Other than that, who can clearly state the cause, or the way to prevent future attacks? Certainly not me.

I am left with some conclusions of my own.

Religion is dangerous and used for evil means. That’s nothing new, I worked it out at university. But, while the majority of religious people may be relatively law-abiding and not sign up to murder people in the name of religion, some do.

Religious groups get financial deals (eg tax breaks in various countries, and in the UK 26 seats in the House of Lords), and special treatment. It is increasingly unacceptable to offend someone on the grounds of religion. Why is someone’s belief in a fictitious (TM) entity more important than my personal beliefs? Imagine the fuss if someone had been given a non-kosher or non-halal meal in hospital compared with me complaining about the non-vegan meals I received in hospital (I didn’t complain). Offend someone’s religious beliefs – black marks. Give the wrong meal to a cranky vegan? Unimportant.

Religion gets the kid gloves treatment, and that’s partly also because it is blurred with racism. The majority of Muslims are not white Europeans/Australians/Canadians/Americans. Sure there are some white converts, often young and from other religions. Check out youtube. Depressing in the extreme. Same old story, something lacking, minimum social life, sense of exclusion, ripe for religion.

But why does religion get singled out as a priority for dispensation, respect and tolerance that it doesn’t afford non-believers? Charlie is already getting criticised from non-Muslims for its offensive brand of satire.


And, it’s good to see religion joining forces:

In a statement released yesterday headlined “Muslims are right to be angry”, Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, accused Charlie Hebdo of “intolerance” and its journalists’ “disgusting record” of playing a role in causing their own death.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights is an influential group in the United States, with a multi-million dollar budget and assets, as well as membership numbering in the hundreds of thousands.


Can you imagine if Charlie had published anti-feminist cartoons, and those few of us who are feminist had even complained, let alone firebombed the office or killed twelve people because we were offended?

Would anyone have stood up for women or said, Charlie was asking for it by insulting women? which is what is being said now regarding the continued depiction of Mohammed and Islam. One quote in the first Guardian article I quoted above said that was similar to saying women wearing short skirts are asking for it. (Called victim-blaming if you don’t know.)

Or would anyone have said that we should all be less offensive towards women? Because there is as much offence churned out against women every day as there is against Islam.

And, women make up approx 50% of the population. And, what affects women, affects their children and men. Yes honestly, it does.

A report in the NYTimes yesterday looks at some studies that prove women need to keep their mouths shut. Or if they don’t it won’t help them at work. Men, on the other hand, can talk as much as they want. Because, you know, they are just so much smarter.

But if the greater enlightened gender of our species lets us open our mouths or contribute, apparently, better results ensue. Surely not? The studies must be flawed. Popular article though, currently the one most emailed forward. It’s a good insight into the daily discrimination that persists for women and yet, it’s denied, it doesn’t exist. Perhaps one of the most interesting examples is how the number of women musicians hired to orchestras goes up when blind auditions are held. Can’t see whether it’s a man or a woman? Have to decide on skill and ability not gender?

Which brings me onto my last article from CNN, neatly combining terrorism and gender equality.

Even terrorists have fears. And the prospect of gender equality appears to rank high on their list of worst nightmares.
The logic, for them, is simple. Empowered women would never accept the brutal ideology espoused by terrorist leaders as the rule of their land.

Which then, leads me to my nice simplistic proposal:

Stop giving religion special constitutional status. That’s right. It’s no more important than believing in the tooth fairy. And the tooth fairy does a fair swap. If you want to go to your local club to chat about teeth fairies that’s fine, just don’t make everyone else put their teeth under the pillow if they don’t want. We can’t all be bought for sixpence.

Support gender equality, and no, men and women do NOT currently have equal rights. Discrimination continues, blatantly in many societies, less obvious to the casual observer in others. Giving women equality would achieve far more than supporting hocus pocus.

About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and getting on with life. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog had his own blog, but most of you knew that anyway. Pippadogblog etc
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19 Responses to Post Charlie (and feminism?)

  1. Pingback: There’s no such thing as bad publicity | roughseasinthemed

  2. davidprosser says:

    As you know, I see very little good that comes out of religion. I have strong feelings about young children being indoctrinated and would rather see them make their own choice as they grow.
    Do I think we should respect other people’s choices?, Of course I do but don’t be surprised if I laugh a little when I hear obvious untruths spouted. A Virgin birth, yeah right.
    But if I respect your right to believe, you must respect my choice not to.
    I didn’t find the Charlie cartoon very funny but I respect their right to publish it.

    Maybe we should all adopt a new immigration policy that says ‘Fundamentalists need not apply, there is no room for Sharia law/ Catholic law ( insert your choice) here’ throughout the West because I have no problem with Muslims, Jews, Jedi Knights coming to live in the West as long as some kind of mutual respect is there that allows them to worship in their own way without interference with others. Radicals of any colour seem to have a problem with that last bit.

    Half the regimes that had heads of state attend the memorial in France have a terrible record on freedoms of one kind or another, particularly towards journalists and or women. It seems a large proportion of European countries now has a large leaning towards the right, France, Germany, Greece,etc who foment as much trouble as possible towards those of a different race, different religion or who don’t use the right colour tea service on a Sunday so at this rate we’ll be shipping people out by the boat load soon. I wonder if the idea of tolerance has had it’s days and Hitler’s children have all been found living in Brazil waiting for the call back to take over.
    I’m very much for live and let live ( despite it being biblical) and for having full equal rights with women, except maybe I think they should take over running the place( except for Marine le Pen).
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx


    • I think you and I sing from the same hymn sheet 😉

      Virgin birth always gets me every single time. Along with the Phoenix rising from the ashes/tomb, and Catholics drinking wine and wafers and thinking it literally turns into body and blood? Or Mohamed’s 13 wives (at the last count) one of whom was nine when the marriage was consummated, although she could possibly have been a few years older. Gee whizz, makes it all better. And! He allowed his wives to talk to him and even disagree. What more could you ask for in a polygamous relationship?

      I think the bottom line, is no religion takes precedence whether in the guise of multiculturalism, tolerance or whatever. Just, no.

      The problem is that these issues are exploited by everyone. Sad times. I wonder why life is so difficult when I think it should be simple. Greed, power, wealth, corruption, and … religion.


  3. There’s a lot of good things here in this post. I’ll try to be brief.

    From an American perspective, our Federal system and First Amendment are good protection against the worry that people might try to impose Sharia on neighborhoods. Interestingly enough, the movement of fundagelical Christians trying to get the U.S. declared officially Christian erodes these secular protections. And all of this goes to say that I would be concerned if I had no constitutional protections in my government against religious people forcing me to worship or dress a certain way.

    I also really like how you’ve tied feminism to this debate on religion. It really puts things in perspective for me. Empower women in Muslim countries, and you might actually get progress on social issues. The thought seems like a no-brainer, and yet I don’t see it expressed enough. Definitely fighting oppressive religious practices via the specific harms they cause looks increasingly necessary to point out the defects of religious thought as a whole.

    Awesome post.


  4. Thanks Sirius. Courtesy of the Internet I’m more aware of your American amendment rights and that you are NOT a Christian country regardless of the 1956 In God we Trust thing. Surely the Constitution takes precedence? But it doesn’t stop people tryng to make inroads.

    There were a lot of reasons for tying feminism into the debate, although I suspect it might be too subtle for non-feminists. The main one is that feminism is perennially fighting against the Big Three, which are all patriarchal, and seek to define and limit women’s role in life and society.

    I also wanted to point out that we can’t mock religion, we can’t mock race, we can mock women and feminism. Very big difference.

    And, by basically keeping women down, we are denying people the right to productively contribute to society for everyone’s benefit. It’s not just empowering women in Muslim countries, truth is, women honestly aren’t empowered in any countries. If you didn’t read the NYTimes report, have a look at that.

    And thanks again. I think people are looking at it from a few different and valid points of view, but it is a very big societal issue that no-one is willing to address radically.


  5. Yes. Equal mocking for all! It is simple.
    Live and let live. (and will someone please stop the stay at home mommies and working mommies for fighting. Counter productive)
    Today former Pres. Jimmy Carter blamed the killings on Israel.
    There’s plenty of blame (historical, economic, political, human nature….) to go around.
    Your view point is probably more solid on this than many as you have a real education and actually see the impact of history where you live.
    Religious extremists are the most difficult to deal with (as I tried to relay in one long comment after the Swift post). There’s so little logic and reasoning – too much emotion – to little ability to laugh at oneself. When people are too touchy to talk about stuff, it’s impossible.
    Studying debate is a good thing – it forces participants to examine both sides and formulate logical thoughts…sometimes minds can open. Religion tends to discourage thinking outside the lines.
    I think it’s going to be a rough few years. Think you’re wise to burrow in there.


    • But it’s not simple is it? It should be, but …

      We all have to do something in life, don’t we? to justify our existence? Or maybe not, we could just live.

      Ah yes. Remember him. Sadly all I remember is peanuts. Imagine that. President of the US and some Brit thinks peanuts.

      The history is all around us. Why is no-one still learning from it? Not enough history taught these days.

      Gonna snuggle down. Maybe a small dog will come too in the morning but he shares his favours. Sleepy snores.


      • Oddly most of us only remember peanuts, too…and the recent ability to open out and say unnecessary and weird things…may be brain aging – on reason presidents traditionally go into private life and are mostly invisible in later life (with unwritten rule not to comment on current presidents or current affairs) – except Carter, and Clinton.
        Anything involving people is not simple – so true. Plants may be the real intelligent life form?
        Paws washed and wiped. Molly settled on couch for another grey day dreaming of running in the sun.


        • As I recall post potus and peanuts he came out with some sensible comments. Now as for the bushes and Reagan, they have some classics, was reading some today (on religion), not good, at all.

          Plants and animals.

          Pesky Podenco not taking his afternoon nap. Ah, I need to eat my food, that’s the problem that’s annoying him. Dogs huh?


          • Jimmie was on target with Habitat for Humanity and some other initiatives early on – but this past year…some of his recent ramblings – most are trying to be polite about it. Hopefully those are not making headlines.Wise ones want to protect their image in retirement as they age.
            The religious – not much stopping them. They just feel they have to say it. At least they are saying what they mean/believe and using religion for political reasons. If Pres. Obama says anything else about “prayers” and “living Christian faith” I’m going to vomit. Not a word of religion from him in speeches or trips to church/prayer breakfasts for years, then when his approval numbers are low or his political party gets worried – every other word. GAG.
            Religion as a marketing tool for legislation by anyone irritates the heck out of me – and I’m not the only one.
            Anyway, need a laugh or entertainment for pups? (Careful since you’re not back to jogging freely, Snowy and Pippa might get some ideas…Molly was paying much too much attention to this one)


  6. EllaDee says:

    Thank you, this is what I needed, someone-something to connect the dots… but with integrity. At the best of times I find somewhat puzzling, via the various reporting streams and agendas, current events but barely returned from 3 weeks of media time off I gave the bombing bare attention simply assigning it as yet another event without seeing the significance. I’m not sure I understand anything any better but your concern and examination have given me a relevant awareness I wouldn’t simply never gain from mainstream media.


    • I heard about it quite early in the whole saga, probably via someone’s blog as I read blogs far more than I read the news. But it was difficult to find any coherency, just updates of the latest event without backtracking to remind people of what had happened before.

      And then, you got everyone jumping up and down on this side or that side or the other. So rather than add yet another view like that (although I did at the end) it seemed sensible to summarise the week’s main events and then look at the different issues that had been raised. I don’t necessarily think anyone is right or wrong in their perspective, and as this set of events reeks of polarisation, that’s the last thing I wanted to do. For example, many critics blame the rise of violent radical Muslim extremists on the discrimination and lack of integration in mainstream French society, saying the radicals come from poor/criminal/deprived backgrounds. But that doesn’t explain why established middle class Muslims have also become extremist. That’s why you can’t point a finger and say ‘this is the one single cause’. And seeing people arguing about their own perspective on it clouds the main issues even more.


  7. makagutu says:

    I agree with the solutions suggested here.
    Live and let live.
    If your beliefs can be ridiculed, get a bigger pen and ridicule the beliefs of those who ridicule yours. Make it a contest of ridicule not guns. Better still, come let us reason together is I think a good maxim.
    Oh yes, religion shouldn’t have no special status. It divides more than it unites. Most if not all its promises are beyond the grave. We live on this side of the grave, can we have better lives here.
    Great post I must say


    • I think one of the critical issues here, that religious people don’t (want to) understand, is that atheists have no axe to grind with people believing whatever they want, so long as it doesn’t impact on anyone else’s life. It’s like saying, you want to play golf, fine, but don’t force me to play golf, I prefer tennis—or—I don’t like sport at all.
      Reasoning together is the difficult one though. How do you reason with lack of logic and unreality?Plus acceptance of other faiths/no faith can cast doubt on the strength of each ideology. Dodgy ground for people of faith.
      Some people get something out of it on this side. Nothing that couldn’t be found or provided elsewhere though. But having a (false) belief in something is the glue that sticks things together and an unwavering belief saves thinking and asking difficult questions.
      Thank you.


  8. M T McGuire says:

    The sad irony is that most religions are started by some fellow trying to get people to be decent to one another and to stop doing what people of religion habitually tend to do. I wonder what Mohamed would make of IS? What would Jesus Christ would make of bible belt Christianity? I think I’d be more inclined to say, ‘je suis Yola’ than Je Suis Charlie.




    • Not only does WP persistently unfollow me from people, it puts people I know in the spam bin, not just moderation, but spam!

      I think that’s a really astute observation, assuming you believe that Jesus and Mohammed (and Buddha and Arnold and whoever else) existed.

      I’ll stick with Je suis une fille unique. I think I was the only only child in class.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Feminism and Religion | Amusing Nonsense

  10. Excellent piece. I enjoyed it. It is all a very tangled web, indeed.


    • Thank you. While my views could often be said to be extreme, eg radical feminism, dark green environmentalism, vegetarian/vegan, animal rights, atheism, I think taking an extreme or polarised view on this sort of issue is a recipe for continued disaster. You can see it happening all around on the as people argue about what are essentially trivial and PR issues, instead of looking at the complexity these murders represent.


I appreciate any comments you leave, so long as they are relatively polite. And thanks for reading.

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