The Challenge of being a French in today’s France

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Photo Credit: DB Young

France had already experienced terrorism: in the 1950s or 1980s, more recently in 2012 when military men and Jewish schoolchildren and their headmaster were killed or wounded in the South of France. But on January 7th, France discovered a new level of terrorism. There were still precise targets: a satirical magazine, police officers and a kosher supermarket. There were more victims, 17 killed and 16 wounded. Some victims were known to a lot of French people. Charb for example, drew characters to illustrate articles about the Vikings or submarine life in the magazine I read as a teenager. Cabu was the father of the “Grand Duduche” and “Beauf” my Dad’s generation grew up with. Symbols and values were attacked – freedom of the press, secularism, fraternity, freedom in general. The aim was to divide the society, to make everyone feel the fear of being a potential target, anywhere at anytime, to make us think again about our way of life and abandon some of our principles because it could harm us, to make us believe that our neighbour was different and so dangerous because they lived another life, believed in another God, came from somewhere else. It succeeded in the way that people are still arguing about Charlie Hebdo and their caricatures: Should they draw what they draw? To what extent can we mock other people (in any cartoon, from politicians to the average Joe). However, we all came to the conclusion that murder is not and will never be the solution; these people were just doing their job: they were cleaning agents, police officers, journalists, proof-readers and economists and they were doing the grocery or were working in that supermarket. They were all humans and harmless.

It also confirmed that our Republic was able to breed terrorists, lone wolfs who would turn against the country they were born into. The terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo, the kosher supermarket, the Bataclan, cafés which killed people in the streets were French. This is the realisation that was hard to make for France. It was not new, but it was a sort of reaffirmation. We are not protected from terrorism because there is no war on our territory, because we live in Europe and because we have stable institutions. Our society failed in some way, we knew it before but on this morning in January we saw the extent the lack of barriers and support for some kids can lead to. Did “l’École de la République” (the Republic’s school) fail? Did the Justice system fail in preventing delinquents to become terrorists? Why did they feel abandon? Why did they turn against their own country? Why did they suddenly think that extremist ideas were better? How could we have help them before they changed? What can we do to avoid that in the future? How can we reduce the gap in society already created? These were some of the questions asked. We came to the realisation that something was wrong because we did not see it coming. Our intelligence was not ready to deal with lone wolfs, we cannot watch every single citizen to see who is a potential terrorist and who is ready to attack. More importantly for other Europeans, France cannot deal with it alone, we are not the only target. It was more obvious in November as the investigations is leading towards the idea that the Paris attacks were planned in Brussels.

2015 did not only bring the January attacks for France but also smaller attacks, against military men, or police officers throughout the year. In April, ISIS proved they could attack the press through the Internet and that churches were targets, in June we saw that an employee could decapitate their employer in the name of the Islamic State, in August we realised that we were seriously at risks in trains, in July and October our Navy was targeted twice and then in November there was no target or no real target, it could have been anyone. However, even if anyone could be attacked with a knife in the street in the name of ISIS, massive terrorist attacks could happen but were rarer, hence more brutal. We came to the realisation that being French in France was a risk, that we were never really safe. After the Paris attacks in January, the military and the police patrolled even more in the streets, train stations, near tourist attractions. The annual fête organised in most of the schools in the summer was even cancelled for many and kids now have to see a bright red triangle on their school’s door every morning, something I never saw when I was at school and this was two years ago.

What the attacks changed in France was probably mentalities. People realised that their way of life was threatened, that although they were safer than in many parts of the world, there was still a risk. We have to get used to show our bags each time we enter a shopping mall or to think about it when we take a ticket to Paris for the holiday. It emphasised solidarity and a sense of reconnaissance towards the emergency services. The French are proud, and have demonstrated it, of their country, the values they hold, the institutions they have. They are ready to defend it, any way they can, by having four million people in the streets the same day not to shout after the government but to say that they are French. That sense of patriotism is never shown in France and 2015 awakened it. We suddenly realised that we are extremely lucky to live in our country and that we should still defend what we have because it would be taken away any moment. We are proud to live with people from all origins and all faiths, it is what makes France even better. The wish for 2016 is to learn from our mistakes and build a new society altogether, to reinforce fraternity and equality to preserve our liberty. Paris’ motto has never been truer for our generations: Fluctuat Nec Mergitur.

Julie is a second year French student in Politics and International Relations in Scotland.

Sharing Voices – Part II

Interviews about rights of women in Egypt – Hopes and Aspirations

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Nadia Siraj – Interviewee

Following the previous post about Maryam few weeks ago here is my II part of the series. 

Nadia Siraj (44, Cairo) was born in Saudi Arabia. She has lived half of her life in Saudi Arabia and half in Egypt. She has worked as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) expert for corporations such as the National Commercial Bank in Jada, Microsoft, British Consulate or Islamic Development Bank as well as in the Social Field in several countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Dubai. At some point, she decided to leave corporate and focus more on Meditation and Energy, which had always been her passion. She believes in the importance of empowering people regardless of any condition, thereby making people being themselves. Nadia loves self-expression through body (dancing and music). She is co-founder of a centre that promotes meditation through dancing in order to make people to find their own serenity.

Maryam and Nadia stories make you clearly see some aspects that negatively affect women. In their opinion, the increasing influence of wrong religious interpretations, tradition and even Capitalism (‘is the other extreme of treating a woman like an object and making her feel she is unworthy without having certain looks, buying certain products, etc.’) make women to be more exposed to harassment, to be forced to wear veil, to get married at certain age or being restricted of choices and submissive on relationships. This process has especially been strengthen since late 70’s, ‘when wahabi culture started being imported to Egypt’.

Nevertheless, Maryam and Nadia believe ‘women are awaking’. Women are becoming conscious about their situation. Rather, as Nadia notices, there is raising ‘a strong reaction reflected by feminism movements’, although, in her opinion, another positive respond to fight for equality could have been developed instead of a movement based on ‘frustration and opposition’.

Since the fall of Mubarak’s regime (February 2011), Nadia believes that the ‘revolution’ worked for something and the fall of Mubarak’s regime ‘broke something old’ so it triggered a process ‘in which people realize that there are other options in life’.

On the other hand Nadia  considers that ‘ her divorce was one of the big turning points in her life because she realized that all people, who interfered in her life and were so keen on finding ways to control her. They are not there anymore or they are only there when it requires control. She said, she started questioning many of the values and beliefs in which she had been raised and then she disregarded many of them without being reactive, because being reactive will make things worse’. She is instilling it to her son and her parents start ‘to see things differently when it comes to raising girls different from boys and controlling them more than boys. ‘It’s a learning process for all of us we are breaking cycles of unnecessary controlling and being controlled’ she said.

Nadia highlights her younger period in Saudi Arabia, where it was very difficult for a woman to have a job. More recently, she remembers the harsh period she spent because of her son’s custody: ‘I have suffered dealing with separation, and the law stands always on the side of the man more than a woman’ For Nadia it was even difficult to being with being divorced with a son.

Hence, when I asked Nadia about the role of men in women’s situation, she said: ‘there were successful women who were supported by their fathers, their husbands, their brothers, etc. I was lucky to be one of them in certain aspects of my life where my father was there to give me support. Nevertheless, it is not the case anymore because there is much competition and people are so busy with their own stories so a lot of women have to empower themselves by finding their ways’.

Talking about younger women Maryam and Nadia agree on the fact that there is a certain polarity or contrast, but at different levels. Nadia observed that new generations face ‘resistance from the elders, who cannot accept that the whole area of security (everything that they believe in and keeps them alive) is being shacked. They don’t want that. They want to hold on to what they know and believe, so the younger generations are challenging the older ones and only those of them (the young ones) who get stuck in the ego and self-victimization are not able to move on and adopt change’.

Thus, looking at the future like Maryam, Nadia has a lot of hope. She sees ‘more respect from young men and they are more in touch with their feminine side; whereas many women are standing for themselves, for their rights and being more confident’. However, she points out the way Middle East societies are viewed, especially from Western countries. First, ‘they are always focused on books and conferences. It is always focused on driving, entrepreneurs, etc. and it is not focused more on based wise on women’s need. Whatever they look at, it is more in favour of consumerism at the end; so entities that promote independence in these aspects make women independent only financially, thereby making more consumers as equal as men’. Thus, she doesn’t see this independence ‘as a genuine step in really being concern on women’. Secondly, she saw many women from different countries (Dubai, Morocco, UK, Iran, Turkey, US) who had their own issues. They ‘are not equally treated as men, not equally paid as men, emotionally or physically abused by men’. Hence, she doesn’t like the idea of ‘spotlighting Middle East as an area where women are oppressed and it doesn’t happen anywhere else’.

She told me that ‘it is happening everywhere in different ways’.

Javier Javier Milán López (27, Spain) graduated in Political Science and Public Administration and specialized in International Cooperation, Project Management and Development Processes. He has been involved in activist movements as well as getting involved into Social Field through volunteering. He has worked for NGOs at national and international level (Spain, Senegal and Egypt) as project manager assistant and consultant/facilitator. Currently, he is doing a European Volunteering Service in Romania. Milán López (27, Spain) graduated in Political Science and Public Administration and specialized in International Cooperation, Project Management and Development Processes. He has been involved in activist movements as well as getting involved into Social Field through volunteering. He has worked for NGOs at national and international level (Spain, Senegal and Egypt) as project manager assistant and consultant/facilitator. Currently, he is doing a European Volunteering Service in Romania.