by Guilaine Kinouani

Many remember the place of their upbringing with fondness and nostalgia. This may be particularly so for those who through life’s circumstances, have had to leave their childhood home behind. As a Parisian born and cité bred immigrant to the UK, for me the banlieue of Paris evokes memories of multicultural community and a sense of togetherness I have never experienced anywhere else. It makes me think of adolescent rebellion and the hiphop anthems which were the soundtrack to our youth. Since my departure I have constantly longed for the warmth and safety of those close knit communities, mainly made up of migrants, amongst whom my parents made their home amidst the dire deprivation around. However, returning to the cité after being away for many years was surreal. It feels like a different place.

A place where burkas are now worn with defiance by all creeds. A place where men I had been friends with and, who as teenage boys had unsuccessfully tried to teach me to breakdance and who dreamt of making it big on the French rap scene now wore jilbabs, had long beards and were avoiding eye contact with me if we crossed paths on the streets. A place where kids, some still in nappies, ask my children whether they eat pork on the neighbourhood playground to assess whether they can be friends.

The dark side of a youth in the banlieue started to re-emerge in my mind’s eye; troubling images and flashbacks that my selective migrant memory had put away. Our regular clashes with the French riot police over police brutality and harassment, the stigma and prejudice attached to ‘les quartiers’ freely propagated in the media and the limitations this placed on our lives.

I remembered that when I was growing up the area had been an emergency-services-free-zone because it was deemed ‘too dangerous’. I recalled the daily racial indignities placed on older generations because their French was not good enough, or their attires were too colourful or some other purely republican reason of course; managed robotically and with resignation by members of our communities most of whom believed fairness, dignity and equal treatment was not theirs to claim in their ‘host’ country. I became flooded with embodied memories of collective experiences of alienation, of exclusion, of invisibility and the resulting anger and our constant quest for respect, validation and belonging in all its by-any-mean-necessary dysfunctional manifestations. Clearly the issues are complex and multi-factorial but, let’s be real; it is not simply coincidental that the inner cities offer breeding grounds for the radicalisation of young Muslims. Refusing to look at the social context and its drivers which give terrorism its local face is short-sighted. Worse, in the longer term it may perpetuate the very same alienation and invisibility that leads many to seek refuge in extremism.

Racism and Islamophobia in France are still ubiquitous and vitriolic in the most offhand of ways. France is still a country which uses the everyday expression “du travail d’arabe” (literarily ‘Arab’s work’) to refer to botched or poor quality work. A country that is so removed from the violence it inflicts onto its racial minorities that it has no qualms using this expression as the title of one of its movies whilst simultaneously denying all responsibility for the hurt, tensions and offence this causes. A country where just a few years ago, the appointment of the first ever Black newsreader, Harry Roselmack, on the national channel TF1 (the equivalent of BBC1), caused demonstrations and uproar because, wait for it… he was Black. A country that still bans all-Black cast movies.

Is it not possible to hold both the position that the Charlie Hebdo killings were absolutely abhorrent and unjustifiable acts, whilst also calling for increased attention to be paid to the marginalisation of entire generations of citizens and its complex link to Islamic radicalisation and fundamentalism in France and elsewhere? Can a balanced debate be had on the essential value of freedom of speech, its deriving responsibilities whilst also integrating discussion about ethical and legal bounds? And while we’re at it, can we also reflect on the liberties that we so value, but which only seem to be selectively afforded to others? Alas there seems to be very little evidence of measured and rational debates.

Cabut’s cartoons have been like the wallpaper of my teenage years, in the background but present. They provided an important reminder that no one should be above scrutiny or ridicule and indeed that nothing or no one should be taken at face value. I have the utmost respect for France’s philosophical tradition of irreverence and satirism. It has provided the foundation of my critical thinking and, no one in their right mind should hold Charlie Hebdo responsible for the atrocity it has faced. Nonetheless, though they may have sensationalist appeal or score political points for those eager to resurrect their political career, the current apocalyptic narratives of war, of barbarism and the acts of retribution both in speech and in deed are very dangerous, they add fuel to an already highly tense, fragmented and polarised racial context.

It seems that most want to ignore a fact which is plain for us all to see. For me this quote from a classic French rap song featured in the the movie La Haine says it all:

‘La honte infligée à nos rents-pa se paiera, ils veulent faire des examples pour qu’on les craigne mais ils ont oublié que la haine engendre la haine’

This translates as:

“You will pay for the shame you’re inflicting onto our parents…they [the police] want to make examples out of us so that we fear them but, they have forgotten that hatred breeds hatred.”

Expression Direkt: Dealer pour survivre

These lyrics were written about 20 years ago. It is extremely disturbing that in 2015 they still speak of the experience of many of those who have to contend with the triple jeopardy of being of (eternally) foreign origins, of living in the inner cities and being Muslim in a country that continues to despise all three of these traits. To me, the most terrifying thing about the Charlie Hebdo massacre is the fact that the perpetrators look like men I could have gone to school with. Even though some may choose to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that the perpetrators and indeed the journalists were ‘islands’, some of us aspire to be little more questioning. It is after all what I was taught in France.

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photo(1)Guilaine is a French woman of African descent, an amateur writer, an independent trainer and a race, culture & equality consultant currently working toward a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and accreditation as an integrative psychotherapist. Before this, she completed a degree in Cultural Studies and studied Counseling Psychology after obtaining a Masters in Transcultural Mental Health. She blogs at racereflections on the interface of psychology, mental health, social justice, inequalities and difference. Tweet her @KGuilaine

Featured image photo: Iranian cartoonist Bozorgmehr Hosseinpour

This piece was edited by Henna Butt

17 thoughts on ““Hatred breeds hatred”: Charlie Hebdo, marginalisation and terrorism

  1. This was an excellent and nuanced post, thank you. I appreciate the perspective of a person of colour with lived experience alongside a part of the French Muslim community very much – though as a canadienne my French is good enough to read and understand the cartoons, it doesn’t give my white UK-born self an understanding of that milieu. Merci très beaucoup.


  2. “A place where burkas are now worn with defiance by all creeds.”

    Do you mean that non-Muslims are also wearing burkas? That seems hard for me to imagine.


  3. P.S. Just thought of a better way of putting it: the problem, in my opinion, is that a minority, claiming to speak for the majority, breeds the hatred that the majority then suffers. That applies to any group of extremists.


  4. I totally agree that hatred breeds hatred. Unfortunately, we seem to be stuck in a vicious circle of that breeding where a faction of those marginalised become radical, which in turn radicalises those with xenophobic views. Without meaning to sound cheesy, I guess the non-extreme majority of us, no matter what nationality, race, religion, sexuality… will have to love to breed love and outnumber the ones breeding the hate.


  5. “Is it not possible to hold both the position that the Charlie Hebdo killings were absolutely abhorrent and unjustifiable acts, whilst also calling for increased attention to be paid to the marginalisation of entire generations of citizens and its complex link to Islamic radicalisation and fundamentalism in France and elsewhere?”
    I think this is an abhorrent statement. The acts WERE unjustifiable. Here’s why – killing for any reason – is WRONG! Esp. in the way that these people shot people in cold blood.
    I don’t think Muslims are marginalized anymore than others in society. And it’s because of a few incidents like THIS that they will be marginalized ALL THE MORE.
    So instead of emboldening the enemy – PEOPLE WHO KILL OTHERS because they don’t agree with them.
    How about this – alright everyone take a breath.
    What happened at Charlie’s was HORRIBLE – it was the slaughter of people who only used their free speech.
    If Charlie knew the fire storm that would erupt would they do it again? Probably not.
    But people of the world don’t usually think that offending Muhammad with get them KILLED.
    Now they do.
    The problem is that we don’t understand the old why of thinking that if someone disagrees with you – you KILL THEM.
    This is very old school – it’s archaic and it’s WRONG!
    Very Baal and Jezebelish and quite Cain vs. Able.
    If there is not freedom of expression – what else is there.
    If you god can’t defend himself against blasphemous statements and you are REQUIRED by his word to do it – what hope is there for the world.
    Here’s something I put on twitter yesterday:
    Joke about God -everyone laughs
    Joke about Jesus -everyone laughs
    Joke about Muhammad -THE KILL YOU!
    See the God of the Bible doesn’t require that his followers KILL others b’c you offended him. He’s big enough to defend himself and doesn’t require the help of us puny humans.
    So I do NOT justify in anyway the killing of others because someone is offended!


  6. I don’t know what marginalization the Muslims are experiencing.
    Every person in society is marginalized to some extent.
    Killing ppl bc someone insulted ur religion is so Baal ie: Old Testament. Queen Jezebelish. It’s a spirit that is as old as Cain and Able.
    Killing ppl is WRONG regardless of ANY reason one may give.
    Senseless slaughter of ppl is WRONG!!


    1. This is a ridiculous statement. Should people not revolt when a government is tyrannical? Should someone not defend themselves when attacked? Is a government suddenly right in employing an oppressive police force because someone finally lashes out against them?


      1. I don’t think the people at Charlie Hebdo were doing anything to warrant being gunned down. The shooters weren’t lashing out against the French government, they were taking radical action against people who had committed blasphemy against Islam. I am not particularly religious myself but I think it’s crass to mock someone’s religion, and doing it against a religion that is marginalized in one’s country is doubly offensive, but that act shouldn’t result in death. I agree with the article’s author that we can simultaneously condemn the killings and ask ourselves, are such parodies/satires of religion (which contribute to the marginalization of whole groups, Muslims in this case) necessary? I would stop short of any legal sanction of that kind of work but in an inclusive society that kind of thing would be socially unacceptable. I don’t think someone should get killed for drawing a parodic picture of Muhammad, but I also don’t think such things really need to be drawn anyway.


      2. Is the French government tyrannical? All French citizens have a right to education, health care and considerable government benefits if they live in poverty or are unemployed. Let’s keep things in proper perspective here.


  7. ‘Refusing to look at the social context and its drivers which give terrorism its local face is short-sighted. Worse, in the longer term it may perpetuate the very same alienation and invisibility that leads many to seek refuge in extremism.’ – perfectly put. And a part of the issue more people should be giving attention to, instead of focusing on the rhetoric of recrimination and seeking to demonize entire communities.

    Liked by 1 person

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