-What do human beings do?
-Mostly, they eat, sleep and hope they won’t die.
-Is that it?
-Unless they discover religion in which case, they eat, sleep and put their hopes in Death.
Scott Adams – Dilbert
-What do human beings do?
-Mostly, they eat, sleep and hope they won’t die.
-Is that it?
-Unless they discover religion in which case, they eat, sleep and put their hopes in Death.
Scott Adams – Dilbert
I am not here to talk about what gay people are going to do for it is simple: Keep living and carry on loving.
We have been the victims of all kinds of abuse since the dawn of monotheist religions: we have been denied, ignored, shamed, insulted, persecuted, trialled, imprisoned, exiled, assaulted, tortured in the name of finding a cure, burnt and murdered. And we still are. It has however never stopped us and it never will because we have no control over our heart which leads us to love.
I am here to talk about the desperation of the Right (mainly) and the major religious bodies in trying to condemn the act without having to change their rhetoric. We are told the killer has radicalised on line. No, he has not but right-wingers are all too happy to follow their archenemy Obama, for once. How convenient…The on-line, the unknown, the dark side, the uncontrollable where everything happens and all Evil springs.
Maybe the killer has indeed found a flag to fly on-line, the one of Daesh and the caliphate, but one needn’t go on line to find, hear, read, witness the reasons he proudly advertised as being his motivations: he was outraged by the sight of two gay people kissing. Two men, two women, who cares? His father brought water to the mill. He said his son killed “these faggots” because he was disgusted by them.
There are a lot of things you will solely find on-line but homophobia is not one of them. It is everywhere.
It is in the words and actions of our leaders, in every speech made by right-wing parties. It is in the US Congress, l’Assemblée Nationale, The House of Commons, Der Bundestag and all seats of democracies when debating any kind of laws that would put gay people on par with straight people. In France, MPs used the hemicycle to quote the Nazis almost words for words except that “Jews” was replaced by “Gays” such as: “Gays are the undertakers of mankind.” Putin has erected himself as a leader of the world against homosexuality, turning Russia into a lab of what a country can “lawfully” do to eradicate it. However, most countries did not wait for him to light the bonfire as most of Africa and Asia will kill you for being or suspecting you of being gay.
It is in the street, loud and proud. In France, for example, under the banner of La Manif Pour Tous – The Demonstration For Everyone – populated by people who don’t hesitate to drag their toddlers and under-10s in the streets of the major French cities holding signs saying that they “don’t want to marry their brother”. The link? Gayness, incest, paedophilia…All is linked obviously and proudly shouted by people in the name of freedom of expression.
It is at the core of our societies in the name of religion: Judaim, Christianity, Islam all based on books supposedly mentioning homosexuality as a crime punishable by death. These books are 2000 to 1400 years old and so vague that it can be interpreted as one wish – hence the countless currents, divisions and endless infighting behind three banners: Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, Calvinists, Lutherans, Sunnis, Shiites, Yazedis, Jews, Orthodox Jews, Ashkenazi Jews…However, they find their common ground in the God-wanted submission of women and eradication of homosexuality.
Let’s focus a second on Catholicism for two reasons: it is the only one to have an official, universally acknowledged, accepted and followed hierarchy and it prides itself of being the heir of the Ancient Greek democratic process and the inspiration for all modern democratic process. What does it say about homosexuality? A sin. With various degrees of punishment – Hell being the softest as they, thankfully, have no control over where we do or don’t go after we die. They have been fiercely and continuously condemning every single equality law in every single country with an extra layer of hate speech in the name of a God.
What about the killer in all this? The killer’s father was very clear: his son’s mistake was to have believed it was his duty to carry God’s punishment. He should not have done it. It was for God to decide, not him. The death of gay people is justified and a good thing, but just not that way. I’ll let you digest the the failure of our education system and thrive for tolerance as they are constantly attacked by everyone on the right of the political spectrum.
The killer did not radicalise on-line. He didn’t radicalise because his parents are Afghans. He did not radicalise because he was a Muslim. He radicalised because the world is still crusading against something people have no control on: their feelings. And at the head of this crusade are right-wingers and religious authorities whose desperation is growing as days pass.
Indeed, they need to join the chorus of voices condemning the killing by an Muslim because that’s at the core of their scaremongering push for dominance, however the motives are their own rhetoric. How do you condemn someone who justified his killing innocents using what you gleefully preach? How dare the Catholic Church “empathise with families” when they believe their murdered loved ones are now burning in Hell?
So, in addition to trying to come to terms with the atrocities, the past few days have forced us, the LGBT community, to listen to our usual attackers removing the LGBT factor from the picture altogether. The gayness of people is irrelevant in all this, we hear. Suddenly, we are all one, all Westerners in war against the same enemy, radical Islam, or just Islam for most anti-gay people. This is no hate crime which is coming as a direct consequence of their increasingly violent push for institutionalised intolerance and exclusion. What the killer said were his motives was just a cover, it’s nothing in the grand scheme of things, just a detail from a mad man. It’s Daesh, it’s Islam, this is a proper terrorist attack and we are all in this together (and those who disagree are therefore in line with Daesh.)
Bottom-line, deniers will be deniers. The traditionally anti-gay commiserating and expressing sympathy for the families need to move the debate on grounds that are more convenient to them, especially as it erases their hate speech as one of the main sources of the problem. I am not denying there is more to what he did than homophobia. Notwithstanding, it is not bad enough for them to deny us in life, they also deny us in death to protect, if not further, their agenda. This is beyond the pale.
I have decided to start a series of blogs on what I call the Health Inquisition, this new religious-like movement that has come, under its most aggressive form, from America. I will treat of various aspects of its beliefs and its relationship to everyday people and I am starting with an aspect of its proselytism: The “Why aren’t you there yet?”
Everywhere in my town are posters and placards made by Keepcool, the gym I joined about a year ago and whither I tried to go as much as possible.
The posters show a smiling hunk or hunkess and always read either “Stop finding excuses” or “Enough with the excuses”. There is no mention of “bad” or “false” but the words are cleverly implied: if you haven’t joined yet, you must have wrongly convinced yourself that it wasn’t worth doing it through a myriad of some kind of bad excuses. And thou hast to stop, open your eyes and accept Keepcool’s help…You poor soul.
“Look, we have six-packs! The key to happiness…That proves we’re right, ain’t it?”
Like the Catholic Church claiming a Godly mission to save every souls, the Health Inquisition also claims it does what it does only because it cares about us, about me: the fat one, about the hardworking parents with kids and a bad back because they are bowing under the strain of modern life, about the broke young people who cannot afford the luxury of healthy fruits and vegs rather the cheap food offered by McDonalds and Subways, about the insecure teenager who has not yet grown to realise there is more to life than external appearance.
Like the bells of the church nostalgically beckoning you to a mass that will save you, the posters are beckoning you to a place that will do just that as well. Like the Pope overlooking the saving of us all, my gym and its healthy-looking, perfect people are also working for the benefit of the world.
This emphasis on health is not new but until recently, it has gone from sensible advice and trying to teach people (usually from state institutions) to self-righteous and fallacious preaching from companies. Indeed, mixed with capitalist imperatives, healthy living has morphed into the same kind of monster that is the new Evangelical church and its born again Christians. We now have a new type of born-again health missionaries with a new message for the lost and fattening masses: a message of good health and happiness only them can provide, should you be enlightened enough to accept it.
When I joined, the message they were giving was merely about getting the motivation to just do it or go the extra mile once you were there but how quick it has become an Inquisition-style concern for the said masses. Barely a year, it took. How quick they were to go beyond the lovely piece of advice, right down to the finger-pointing and patronising damnation of anyone who is not a member. A behaviour that isn’t without resemblance to the treatment reserved to supposed heretics by the Inquisition.
It’s not about “could” and “would” anymore, it’s about “should” and “ought to”. We ought to stop finding excuses not to follow and accept their selfless help even if it is comes in the means of a monthly payment.
“Enlightenment will cost €30/ month, by the way.”
So little for a life-saving opportunity, isn’t it? It is really the new church: you don’t give to the priest for a chance of happiness in the after-life, you pay the gym that will help you conform, and therefore finally be happy, here on Earth.
Not only is the message presumptuous and patronising but it is first and foremost phony. Stop pretending you care about us: me, the busy parents and poor people when you are nothing but a company who needs the money to pay back the loans you took with the banks. Your priority is not to make us all healthy but to ensure that if people do want to go to a gym, they come to you and that you can keep up with the ever-increasing targets you set yourself in your business plan when it comes to monthly subscriptions
This message of “Stop finding excuses” is harmful because it presumes to know people’s life. It presumes that people are actually wilfully ignoring the light and the truth these people have supposedly found and are now selling. It presumes that every single reason not to go to the gym and be healthier is just automatically bad, false and ludicrous because it should be at the centre of your very existence.
In my gym, they have a huge board and post-its on which people can write down these excuses with a “funny” example reading “I twisted a hair lock”. I was trying to find some excuses I could have come up with in the past but for me even the fact that I wanted to stay in bed longer or play video games is a good excuse. I work all week, day in day out and having a lie-in or enjoying some me-time with some music playing creative games is are not bad things for my health: it’s relaxing and I feel better afterwards. I don’t look like Chris Hemsworth but I do feel rested for Monday morning.
Do people who do that rather than going to the gym really deserve to be put in the same box of immature, lazy brats? Is anyone who doesn’t conform to your views really childish, should be ashamed and needs to get their act together by giving you some money?
Because that’s exactly what these posters are doing They are telling me and everyone else that the gym should become our free time, our me-time and that it is always worth, if not a moral obligation to ourselves and others, to get out of bed, even if we think we deserve to stay under the covers. Having a good work-out should be always come before anything else (branded “excuses”) because at the end of the day, the gym is something you are doing for you.
This message is patronising because adults are not tantrum-throwing kids and if they decide not to go to the gym, they do not have “excuses”, they have reasons. Whether Keepcool and the Health Inquisition consider them valid or not is, I am afraid, irrelevant. They needn’t apologise for what they choose to do with their lives and whatever reason they have certainly do not deserve to be exposed for everyone to laugh at.
The bottom line to everyone with their perfect bodies, their good-health-for-all agenda, the companies that employ them and make money out of it, is that you don’t know people’s life, stories, struggles and wishes. Not everyone wants to be like you or be part of the same world as yours and that doesn’t give you the right to look down on them. Not everyone who is not paying to go to the gym is of bad faith or is trying to find excuses.
If you want to help people being healthier, please do spare us your judgemental, self-righteous shaming and try to appeal to our intelligence in you think that you are indeed in the right.
“No, she is not a feminist because…” is a sentence I hear more and more today as feminism is entering the mainstream with artists like Beyoncé or Taylor Swift. The columnists working for the Guardian (God knows I love and admire that paper), well many columnists seem to like dismissing her, her and her or her because she “pretends” to be feminist “when in fact she is not and here why I can prove she is a fraud who has not understood a thing.”
They are not the only ones who do that – far from it. I am just very disappointed when they do because I expect some much from the Guardian, and using irrelevant arguments to dismiss people’s commitment is what I expect for the people who think patriarchy is the way forward.
Here are a few of the countless reasons I hear (not just in the Guardian) as to why such or such woman is not a feminist after all when in fact, she is.
She is not a feminist because she is a housewife.
She is not a feminist because she is married.
She is not a feminist because she gave up her job to follow her man.
She is not a feminist because she gave up her job to raise her kids.
She is not a feminist because she does things for her man.
She is not a feminist because she likes pleasing men.
She is not a feminist because she is a stripper.
She is not a feminist because she works in porn.
She is not a feminist because she enjoys watching porn.
She is not a feminist because she wears bikinis on the beach.
She is not a feminist because she shows some skin in her video clip.
She is not a feminist because she wears skirts.
She is not a feminist because she wears high heels.
She is not a feminist because she wears make-up.
She is not a feminist because she likes to be pretty.
She is not a feminist because she reads women’s magazines.
She is not a feminist because she is Catholic.
She is not a feminist because she is Jewish.
She is not a feminist because she is Muslim.
She is not a feminist because she is religious.
She is not a feminist because she is black.
She is not a feminist because she is African.
She is not a feminist because she wears the veil.
She is not a feminist because he is a man…
When you listen to people and the reasons why so and so are not feminists, you end up with the following definition of a feminist:
“A white, European, childless woman who is not married, resents all men and will do anything to keep them at bay, therefore has short hair and never wears make-up, any kind of clothes, never shows any physical attributes and never has any attitudes men would consider attractive; hates and conjures sex in all its form; is an atheist because it is essential to have no master; and is never making any compromise on any aspect of her life to the point of associability.”
Clear; isn’t it? Well that’s what the aforementioned statements about feminists translate to and of course they do. They are the views our societies have been making, having and happily spreading of feminism since the Suffragettes in late 19th century. We have this view of women who don’t want to be women because men have defined femininity as an inferior, humiliating state. So we like to see feminists as wanna-be men who have not been able to invent a different way of being, rather are trying to conform to the objectivist idea of the modern male to finally take over his dominance. Even if it means turning into the stereotype he created of himself: heartless, careless, ruthless, strict, aggressive, driven by gain, free of all masters, never hesitating to walk on bodies on his way to economic fulfilment.
Sure you will meet women like this. I have and it’s actually quite interesting, because it’s meeting people who are extreme, who are on the fringes and whose violence in words and being is forcing you to reflect upon your own views. We need these people to define the boundaries and see where the argument stops being sensible and becomes ridiculous, but they are not more nor less feminist than the others.
The definition of a feminist is very simple as given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – not Beyoncé, you daft gits! – in her lecture at TEDxEuston.
“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”
That is it! Nothing more. That’s what a feminist is. A feminist can be anyone, of any shape, any religion, any colour, any nationality, any age, any gender, any marital status, any job, any fashion sense, any sexuality who believes that men and women should be equal socially, politically and economically.
As I said, for some, it means becoming the man but as the spectrum is widening and we are listening to less extreme views of feminism, it’s mainly about believing in choice because equality is mostly about being able to make a choice, it is to be free of all hindrances whether they are economic or social. The big difference today is that men have the choice to be, think, do, believe, become, achieve anything they want whereas women are still under a lot of pressure from everywhere (society, family, friend, education…) to be a certain way. A way that is not the one they choose to choose but a chosen way that is somehow dictated by someone or something else.
You can refer to Adichie’s lecture on Youtube where she addresses these pressures and requirements very well.
The truth is, you can be happily married with children and a housewife and be a feminist. Because feminism is not about forbidding women to be housewives, it’s about making sure that it’s a choice they make because they wanted to do it, not because they were told again and again and again that a woman belongs at home or a woman was born and can only find solace in caring for her children.
You can be a Muslim and wear the veil and be a feminist, like hundreds of thousands maybe millions of women are around the world. Feminism is not about forcing women to dress like a Western man. It’s a battle we fought in Europe but it’s not always a battle people want to fight, it’s about ensuring that women who follow Islam, and therefore wear the veil, have chosen to do it themselves, not because they were told it was the only way. It’s the same for all religions. Feminism is about ensuring that religion was not forced upon you in any way peaceful or harmful rather it’s a deliberate, educated choice you made.
You can be feminist and want to be pretty, sexy, attractive and wear whatever you want, you can want to attract men because feminism is not about rejecting men or fashion. It’s about making sure that the women are doing what they do for themselves, the way men are. I know many feminists who will put on a skirt, high heels, spend 15 to 30 minutes doing their hair and eye-liner in the morning not even thinking about men for a second but about themselves. Unlike what men and the society in general seem to be believing, women’s life do not revolve solely around men. Women will use make-up and try clothes until what they see in the mirror puts a smile on their face and inflates their heart with confidence, not until they think of themselves as “fuckable”. My mother’s like this and she is not doing it for the men, who, by the way, are absolutely clueless about women’s fashion.
Saying that women dress sexy only for men is to agree with the presupposition that men, attracting men, finding a man is at the centre of their life. Feminism is about making sure they wear what they wear because they want to, not because they feel like they have to. It’s making sure that if they dress sexy for men it’s because they want to, not because they were told that, as a woman, the most important thing in her life, before any other kind of accomplishment, is to find a man of her own, marry him and spawn him a dynasty.
You can love a man, be ready to give up everything for a man and actually do it and still be feminist because feminism is not about teaching women to become utterly selfish and stubborn in relationships. Again, feminism is not about trying to turn women into the outdated stereotype of the man in a relationship. It’s about ensuring that women and men can be passionate, dedicated and committed without being ridiculed and called submissive. It’s about teaching men and women that there are no predistinctive, gender-based attitudes towards love, that there are not just two ways to love: one masculine way, one feminine way, one dominant, one submissive. It’s about showing people that all kinds of love are valid, dignified and respectable. It’s about teaching men and women that compromise, agreements and sacrifices are a noble and necessary part of the relationship and that both should be ready and okay to do some of it with a full conscience. Not just the woman because she was told that it was her job as a supporting wife and girlfriend, which is still mostly the case.
You can be feminist and like sex, love sex, do sex, enjoy sex and want more sex because feminism is about accepting that women are sexual beings, not just baby factories for whom sex is solely a matter of human survival. It’s making sure that the way you express your sexuality doesn’t reduce you to being either a frigid nun or a shameful slut which is, for instance, is what for many Beyoncé has unfortunately become after her last album. Two, maybe three songs, were more or less openly dealing with sex (with her husband) out of the whole album so suddenly, she is a low-life slag who lost all dignity. Really? All dignity?
There is the idea that a woman who likes sex is therefore addicted to men, thus submissive to them (because the “woman” role is only passive obviously) and can therefore never be a feminist. You can be a porn actress and be a feminist, you can be a stripper and be a feminist, you can be a prostitute and be a feminist, you can have orgies and gangbangs and be a feminist. Not a “fake feminist” but a real one because feminism is about what you believe in your head, not what you do with your body. Otherwise you may as well dismiss the Suffragettes on the basis that they conformed to the dress code of their time.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in another interview that “you can shake your booty as long as you make sure that it’s your choice, that you do it for yourself first”. Like Missy Elliott puts it “Ain’t no shame and do our thing, just make sure you’re ahead of the game”. It’s about women having full control of their life, not feeling forced to conform to someone else’s idea of sexual value.
Feminism must not be reduced to the usual shallowness of our male-dominated society where everything is dismissed at the first blink of an eye. Feminism and being a feminist is not about what you look like or in which box your various social, political and economic status put you in. It’s about what you believe. If you believe that women should be men’s equals, not copycats or clones (once again, feminism is not about turning women into men), but equals in the way they should have the complete freedom and peace of mind to choose what they want to be, become, think, do, believe and achieve, then Miss, Mrs, Mister and everything in between of which ever religion, nationality and colour, you are a feminist.
You don’t even have to agree with all the above. You might think that a housewife can never be a feminist but if you believe that women should be able to wear and look like whatever they want without any pressure from anyone else, whether it’s wearing or not wearing the veil, make-up, or trousers, then you are a feminist. You are not less of a feminist than somebody else, just different. You will fight for that aspect of feminism whereas others will focus on something else and you will bring a different view to the debate which is always necessary for feminism to move forward and be more inclusive.
“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” If only people were given some time to think about it, most of us would be open feminists.
First, it is not.
Homosexuality has been observed in more than 480 species of animals so it is “natural” – whatever that means. Yet I guess that kind of scientific argument doesn’t really bode well with people who shout such definite statements to strangers in the streets for they don’t care for the actual laws of nature. They only follow the man-written laws of nature, the ones we write and change to agree with how we think things should be.
Philosophically, biologically and sociologically, the “natural” argument is ludicrous because human beings have always opposed nature and civilisation…
There is the idea, the same that drove colonisation, that there are two types of human beings: the civilised and the savages. Civilised people are not animals; they have managed to extract themselves from their biological condition by embracing several ways of life we group under the term “civilisation”: we have a codified language and literacy, we codified counting as maths, we have the ability to understand and create abstract concepts such as organised religion to understand the universe and explain our condition, we also are self-aware…well, most of us are… And mostly, we have conquered nature.
The idea in modern society is that the civilised man is not an animal anymore because he has vanquished nature, he has bent its laws, rewritten them to fit its own purposes so he now lives according to his will, not nature’s. Unlike the savage, the civilised one has evolved out of nature and he makes the rules now so he is not a slave of his biological condition.
“There is nothing natural in homosexuality so it should be banned.”
Yet, suddenly in our “civilised societies”, the people who have been enjoying the full array of civilised behavioural opportunities and have argued that humans are not animals…well these people suddenly care for the rules Nature has supposedly laid out, they feel obliged to differ and refer to Nature, they are calling for her to judge and condemn human behaviour.
Are these people really that close to Nature? Are they really ready to go back on their strict biological condition? I can wait to see that happening.
According to them, who like to ignore scientific evidence, “natural” ensues from comparing humans to what other animals are doing so let’s see:
Because there is nothing natural in sitting on a bench made from the trunk of an oak in a building made of stone dug from the Earth and talk silently to some deity that has never been proved to exist, only because a book says you should. Religion is unnatural and should be banned!
There is nothing natural in marriage. Even birds which spend their life with a partner don’t make such a fuss of clothing and ceremonies. There is no need for that. We could just be together, no need for official document or anything so marriage itself should be banned!
There is nothing natural in sitting on a chair made of modified liquid carbon in a huge box of melted and moulded metal and flying above oceans to spent two weeks playing on the beach. If human beings were made to fly, we’d have wings given to us by Nature so flying is unnatural in all forms, it should be banned!
There is nothing natural in paying for anything. There is nothing natural in saying that gold is pricier that silver or that diamonds are the most expensive of them all. There is definitely nothing natural in printing numbers on some paper and saying it’s worth the said number to buy some already cut meat wrapped in plastic in a building you have to drive to in a car. Money and capitalism should be banned!
And the fact is, there is nothing natural in homophobia. It should be banned.
If we start comparing human beings and other animals, the list is endless of our behaviours that we have and have never been observed in any other animals in nature and therefore are truly “unnatural” and should be banned.
Philosophically, biologically and sociologically, the “natural” argument is ludicrous because human beings have always opposed nature and civilisation, and…homosexuality can be found in both.
You cannot ban homosexuality because it is indeed natural.
You cannot ban homosexuality because it is indeed civilised human behaviour.
“Just wear a poppy, it’s nothing”, the headteacher said.
“If it’s nothing, why do I have to wear one then?”
One of the most striking and increasingly uncomfortable culture shock I encountered in England was the one surrounding November 11th so as they call it in England “Remembrance Day”.
Let’s start with the poppies. In November 2007, I had been in England for a bit more than a month when I started to be asked, demanded, harassed to wear a paper poppy. I didn’t know why I should but I started to feel like if I didn’t do it, something bad would happen to me. Or that I was bad myself. So I asked what the poppy was about and I was told that the poppies celebrate (?) the fallen soldiers of the battlefields of France and Belgium in WWI. Lovely but why a poppy? Because after the battle (Only one? Which one? Where?), the year after, fields were covered with poppies and that year they were redder because of the blood of the soldiers. How cute!
But that’s complete bollocks!
I am French and I never heard of that. I found out that the whole legend (yes!) is actually from a line in a poem that is read year in year out about that war then I remembered a mention of it in Sting’s Children’s Crusade too:
“Poppies for young men, death’s bitter trade
All of those young lives betrayed.”
I was happy to finally be able to explain that line to Sting-adoring mother because none of us in France has even heard of that.
Personally, I think it could be a genuinely lovely way to remember the fallen soldiers…if it hadn’t become a symbol of England’s militarism.
In 2012, 2013 and 2014, I did not wear a poppy as they appeared sooner and sooner in late October so my students would first ask me why, then tell me I just should and finally the low-educated, tabloid-reading one just stated that I was heartless, mean, cruel and uncaring for the ones who saved my country after we surrendered.
And there you have it. I was yet another “cheese-eating surrender monkey” who is too proud to be grateful that they saved my life. That’s actually what many Englanders told me. We surrended (as we always do) and they saved my life (as they always do) and that’s why I should wear a poppy. And that also says loads about the state of England’s mind-set in today’s Europe. We owe them something.
In England, I discovered Remembrance Day is not about WWI anymore. Well, it’s not only about WWI but it’s definitely not about remembering the horrors of the war like we do in France. When I talked about the differences between the two days in France and England, I discovered how little they knew about the war itself, how little they were made to understand the reality of the front. That’s because Remembrance Day has become a moment to “remember all soldiers that died for the country” and the poppies are “to show respect to all soldiers that died for the country”. The day and the flower have become terribly heavily emotionally charged. And the fact that the money you spent to get the poppy goes to army charities is making it virtually impossible not to wear one. This is a symbol anymore, this is a sign. Wearing it shows something about you as person.
Everyone on TV from presenters to guests, whence-ever they are coming, to members of audience or the crew…even animals on their collars have to wear one or the network will face with thousands, hundreds of thousands of aggressive, threatening complains from viewers. Before, you had to wear one on the day itself but now, within a couple of years, it has changed and you have to wear one for the entire week before too.
I lost count of the times I was heckled, shouted at, called a “foreign cunt” and told to “go back to my fucking country” as I was not wearing one because I was “showing disrespect to the UK.” I was even once called into the headteacher’s office because some parents complained that I wasn’t wearing one. Three of my family members fought to death during WWI so a stranger can call me a “French twat” for not wearing a piece of paper.
The poppies and Remembrance day have lost their meaning because they have been used and abused. They have become something religious you have to abide by, no one really knows why but there is some kind of morale, and physical something, pressure to do it.
I began to wonder: why has something so pretty as a poetic metaphor as the poppy to remember the dead become such a commercial, patriotic whip to sort out the good and bad among people?
Since 1945, the UK and the US have been seeing themselves as the world peace-holders which, oddly, means that they have been hawking and going to war everywhere in the world, with a wide degree of success but mainly, failures. Expect for the Falklands and the Korean war, the two countries cannot boast any actual victory.
However, today, the UK is facing with greater difficulties making itself heard throughout the world, with greater challenges to the world order they established in 1945, with greater dissent to which they always respond with mention of The War. “We saved you from the Nazis!” Like every former hegemonic power which defined its position in the world by war but is now struggling, the UK’s psyche has become extremely militaristic as they go back to what made them powerful and they endlessly reminisce on a glorious past full of victories. It’s been over 60 years but they still mention The War, even though very little can actually talk about it.
England has been at war virtually non-stop since 1945 but its attitude has not changed towards it: it still sees war as a positive force. Only violence, threats and intimidation will get you somewhere. It also rules its idea of capitalism, burning and harming everything in sight. However, it was easy up to the late 20th century to just say war is good because it makes powerful but today how do you make death acceptable? We found “collateral damage” to justify the murder of civilians (so that’s dealt with!) but how do you bring a population to accept its own men and women to die in foreign land? If war is good, it should not be source of such much pain for us, people think.
So you have to rise war and the army to some kind of new religion: you don’t question its premise, you don’t disagree with its servants and you make martyrs the ones who fell as they were fighting for it. The pain is for greater good.
How do you make it mainstream? That’s when war propaganda gets in the pictures. In England, it is working full-blast and, unfortunately, since 2007, Remembrance Day and the poppies have become pillars of war propaganda along with the whole rhetoric:
*They are providing dictators with weapons and money yet, all the wars fought by the US and the UK are in the name of “freedom” and “liberty”, against “oppressive regimes” who are “killing innocent people”.
*Open the tabloids and you will find that other countries’ soldiers are called “soldiers” whereas anyone fighting for England is a “hero”.
*Showing respect for the heroes who died is showing respect for your country. “Showing”, we said, display it, make it obvious. Being silence for a minute or three is not enough, we want red on collar.
“Poppies for our heroes” is all over the newspapers, TV and traditional media outlets because it is what Remembrance is all about nowadays and what the huge display at the Tower of London is all about (they are actually going “on tour”, by the way).
War will save you, fighting it will deify you, supporting it will absolve you from being a coward so wear the freaking poppy!
In England, the army has become a religion and all soldiers are role-models. Even the Secretary for Education said that the only way to restore discipline in schools was to allow “our heroes” to teach without any degree or qualification. In the English mind-set, being soldier puts you above, makes you god-like. They are never wrong, the reality of the army and their behaviour is chocked by the rising of soldiers to example of selflessness, courage, strength and devotion. They will fight for the great and the good against the evil, they are the keepers of our democracy, they will make us, the country proud. If only we could all be like them.
Talk to people in England about the wars they are religiously remembering on that day and they will not be able to distinguish WWI from WWII, they think the French lost both, that Hitler started both, that the European Union is responsible (true story), they mistake Iraq, Iran and Israel. The kids do not know much about WWI or WWII, just that England won and all soldiers were heroes and that’s all that matters because propaganda is not about facts, it’s about hammering, emotions and symbolism.
The English are behaving with war like a lot of Christians still do with their religion: they don’t really know what is about but were told to believe in God, go to church, believe the priest, do as he says and give money to the institution. Mostly, it’s about showing that you believe, the church don’t care if you do, what they want is you to show it, to display signs of belief. Poppies are now the sign of belief in the army and the war in England.
In France, November 11th is to actually remember the people who died but also why. It is a private matter because it’s mourning at the end of the day so you don’t do ostentatious. Black is the colour and there is no need for more symbolism, death in itself is enough. Some visit and clean graves of people who died. Many never found bodies at the time so every city, every town, every village has a cenotaph in its centre to the Unknown Soldier. In Paris, an unknown soldier was actually buried under the Arc de Triomphe where the president will display a wreath. Because it is also bank holiday, which it is not in England. I always liked to point that out to the students who liked to say that the French were all bastards that did not care. “We care enough to actually allow people to get off work so we can mourn and remember. Unlike you”. They hated it but that shut them up.
Seriously, this is a very important day in our calendar but like Germany or Belgium, we have a different thinking. When it comes to war in general, we hardly see it as a positive force, we are weary of it. I think it’s because we know the price of defeat. When you only have bleak outlook, it’s easier to reflect and ask yourself: What is the point?
But also, we are conditioned to look at it with care. When I was a child, we looked at images of war propaganda, analysed them and looked at them for what they are, saw the message behind them and were told to be careful with messages of blind faith towards something. We study WWI and WWII at length in school. It used to be about dates but now that many letters, journals and written testimonies found then hidden or censored by the state at the time are coming out, we see the war for what it really is: not this sexy, attractive, manly idea of brotherhood and fighting with pride like the propaganda has always tried to make it look like.
When I was at school we had two very old men talking to us about what they had experienced in the trenches of Verdun and the fields of Somme. They were not soldiers, they were forced to be. They told us how they were just like us but one day the army would barge in their classroom or bedroom to take them away because they were 14 or 15 and “France needs you”. We were silent, no attempt to be funny or clever, we asked questions if we were interested, remain mute if we were not because we felt the solemn of the occasion.
They told us about the reality behind the posters we see in the books of tall, strong soldiers in glittering uniform fighting in the sunset; or the articles in the newspaper mentioning how many German soldiers were killed by the great French army that day.
In France, at school, prior to November 11th, we remembered the Battle of Verdun, for instance, where French and German soldiers lived for month in narrow, two meters trenches they dug themselves in the fields, sleeping in the mud and cold water next to the corpses of other soldiers who had been blown in half by lone grenades or sudden attacks in the middle of night. We hear about the soldiers alone, far from their loved ones, surviving without clean water, with barely any food and plagued by Spanish Flu. We read their anguished letters revealing human beings far away from the strong men on the posters, rather men scared, frightened, that cried every night, killed themselves and begged their family to get them out of her. We talked about how they would go to prison and maybe get shot to be made an example of in they ran away or refused to go to the front.
We saw pictures of them: kids like us, young men like our fathers, we see the mutilations, the bodies deformed, hurt by the explosives. We see the agonising pain on the face of the ones who inhaled mustard gas, their body covered in blackened blisters that leaked pus and blood. It was not about glorifying them, stripping of the humanity like they do all too often in England but showing human beings torn apart by the war. We are made to remember that it must never happen again.
The Battle of Verdun lasted more than 9 months and every single family in France has someone who fought or even died in that battle. In my family, three people died in the mountains of Jura during the war. Up to 542,000 French soldiers and 434,000 German soldiers died in Verdun alone. In nine months. That’s up to 3400 every single day!
We could be proud of that battle, we could picture it in endless films showing the bravery of soldiers fighting for their motherland but history is not made of pretty stories to emulate people or make a country feel better about itself. The truth we learn is that battles like this are useless butchery where innocent men, sons, brothers, fathers, 16-year-old boys are used by the army and are made to kill each other in the name of nationalism, for purposes they know nothing about.
These men, not soldiers, but simple everyday men who were forced to be soldiers for four years were all telling us that they had no idea why they had to fight. They were told the Germans were evil and they had to be killed because they were evil Germans, end of but then the Germans they encountered turned out to be just like them, as human, scared and fragile as they were. We are taught to see the similar patterns in the Middle East today where propaganda attracts young Muslims to “fight for their faith” just to realise once they arrive there that they are actually nothing but canon food for extremists who have ulterior motives.
November 11th in France, Germany, Belgium and all countries on the continent that had to suffer from it is made to avoid this happening again. We are showing the kids how far hatred, xenophobia and autocratic despotism can go in brutality. I always felt this cultural shock between war-going England that encourages people to support war and us, in Europe, trying to learn lessons from millenniums of aiming to crush each other dead.
This is what the European Union with all its flaws and problems is built on: the blood of the innocent men who died because leaders wanted pay back and revenge which they justify under patriotism and the religion of war as a mean to solve problems. Which England still believes in.
“Just wear one to show that you gave money”, the headteacher also said, trying to appeal to some kind of common sense that was foreign to me. I told him I was not the kind to fake cough when putting £10 in the basket at church so everyone could see it. I told him I would wear it if it meant something to me because it still means something to people and wearing for the sake of it would be insulting. I told him I was sending money to France every year to pay for some flowers we put on graves every year. That shut him up. Not the parents or the kids, but he did not come back to pressure me with that travesty.
In seven years, I never wore a poppy.
Because a men’s world, patriarchy has brought one crucial idea:
Human beings as being “the acme of evolution” and men as being the strongest, most achieve human beings.
And all that gushed from it:
*One-sided world: the denial of differences and violence against them.
*Human beings divided into races
*Violence as an acceptable mean of solving problems
*Colonialism, bullying and intimidation
*Inequalities and segregation based on the ranking of human beings according to their wealth, race, age, looks and gender
*Women and children as objects and resources at the service of men, as properties of men
*Women as sole baby factories, as slaves of/to their ability to give birth and without a say on their fate
*Submission of women as second class human beings
*Seeing human beings merely as economic resources with various worth
*Nature as disposable economic resources
*Animals and any other living organisms as objects (the fact the English language calls them “things” is striking)
*Death and prison for sexual orientation, different beliefs, disagreement and dissent.
*Rape and sex as a weapon
*The creation of the “homo economicus” or the denial of human beings as living organisms lead by their feelings and psychological urges, rather driven solely by their cravings for more gain and power.
*The shaming of humans who are humane.
At the moment, the biggest hindrance to these changing is patriarchy. Now, I am not saying feminism will solve all problems, that would be foolish of me to think so, but most of them will definitely be left to History.
PS: Feminism doesn’t mean “a women’s world”, it means a equal world, a human world, a humane world, a “men and women’s world”.