Women are rarely represented adequately at peace negotiations yet they make up half the population of any country in conflict or at war. This remains the case despite increasing global policy awareness on how women are affected by conflict and the importance of including them in peace and security processes. For instance, the UN’s landmark framework on women, peace and security reaffirms the important role women play in the prevention and resolution of conflicts.
But how do women in conflict actually engage in peace building? There is considerable academic literature on the links between gender and peace but the lived experiences of women peace builders are not well captured.
To understand this better I studied the peace activities of women in Kenya. I interviewed 57 women from six communities affected by violence. They were all survivors of the violencethat broke out in the country after elections in 2007. I also convened focus groups to find out what peace activities they had organised ahead of Kenya’s 2017 poll.
The aim was to provide in-depth insights into their agency, perceptions and contributions to peacebuilding.
I found that women had primarily come to engage in peacebuilding because they had been survivors of violence in their communities. Interviewees highlighted the particular effects of conflict on women. One said;
Women are the ones who carry the burdens of war and so they fight for peace.
They initiated a range of effective peacebuilding activities – including peace dialogues which enabled them to pick up community tensions early on, mediation, and economic empowerment initiatives – which they experienced as empowering and transformative.
This study is important because we need to understand the opportunities and challenges of community peacebuilding from the perspective of those involved, especially in poor and marginalised environments with little or no external funding for peacebuilding.
Women and peace in Kenya
Kenyans have regularly experienced political violence. It is often accompanied by gross human rights violations and typically occurs around elections. Kenya’s political violence is driven by long-standing conflicts and injustices relating to land, corruption, and the unequal distribution of resources.
In 2007/2008, over 1,000 people were killed, 660,000 displaced or forcibly removed, and 40,000 were victims of gender-based violence. Ten years later the country went through a closely fought but relatively peaceful election.
My study found that women survivors of violence were involved in a number of peacebuilding activities within their communities in the run up to the peaceful election. Their initiatives included:
Women organised informal initiatives to provide monitoring and early warning through peace dialogues across ethnic communities. A mother of five who lost her husband to post-election violence, for example, brought together widows from all ethnic communities. The aim was to pick up tensions in the community early on and promote the benefits of peace for the community.
Women in inter-ethnic marriages were able to become mediators in their husbands’ communities. Some mediation and training activities were undertaken by community-based organisations with donor funding. However, this kind of support was not available in all violence-affected communities. Beyond such funded peace work, women shared their experiences of mediating in very direct and physical ways. Said one;
I talked to the men to stop fighting, to stop burning houses. After some time I started finding myself being a peace builder and the community was listening to me.
Economic empowerment such as saving and investing money through micro-saving groups. Such groups also served as spaces of encounter and dialogue in which peace could be discussed.
Most of their activities were unfunded, informal, and led by survivors of violence. With little to no external funding for peace work, women used their social roles and networks to foster peace, for example by initiating inter-ethnic dialogue in divided communities.
This kind of peace work at the communal level is sometimes seen as not properly transformative. But my research showed that women’s diverse activities were empowering and also helped transform community dynamics for the better.
‘Gendered’ nature of conflict and peace
Women who are involved in peacebuilding should frame their own engagement. This was the case with the women I interviewed in Kenya. This is important because women and men, girls and boys, are affected differently by conflict. Gender stereotypes persist when it comes to building peace: women are often portrayed as inherently good at, or interested in, building peace because of their social roles as mothers and carers.
But my research shows that women are able to break through these stereotypes and become effective agents in their pursuit for peace.
Despite the empowerment the women in this study described, there are still many constraints to women’s peacebuilding roles. These include poverty, the divisive nature of ethnic identity, and patriarchal cultures and values. Nor does the focus on community level peacebuilding mean that the lack of participation of women at the national and international levels should be neglected.
Nonetheless, activities such as the ones discussed here are essential to peacebuilding in the communities where they occur.
The most violent – and most frustrating – episode ever. Why are the creators destroying the world they once carefully depicted?
Spoiler alert: this recap is published after Game of Thrones airs on HBO in the US on Sunday night and on Foxtel in Australia on Monday. Do not read unless you have watched episode five of season eight, which airs in the UK on Sky Atlantic on Monday at 2am and 9pm, and is repeated in Australia on Showcase on Monday at 7.30pm AEST.
‘They say every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath’
I don’t think I have ever been more frustrated by an episode of Game of Thrones.
There was so much that could have worked here, so many emotional pay-offs and beautifully shot scenes – and it was all let down by how little work was put into earning those moments.
In part I’d argue that this is not entirely the fault of this series. Indeed, I have enjoyed many of the individual episodes while hoping that they would somehow coalesce into a coherent whole. Instead, the seeds of destruction were sown in series seven, a meandering mess in which too much time was spent circling various plot points. This in turn created a pacing issue that has ensured that now, with the end in sight, everything feels breathless and rushed.
That was certainly the case with The Bells, which was largely (though not entirely) a triumph of spectacle over depth. Dany embraced her dark side, took note of the Targaryen motto ‘Fire and blood’ and razed King’s Landing to the ground even as the bells for surrender rang out. As a series of images it was undeniably powerful, without ever ringing entirely true.
There are many things about Dany’s transformation into the Queen of Ashes that I can buy: that she’s lost and out of her depth in Westeros, that she’s grieving and desperate and alone without the counsel of those she trusted most, that the razing of one city could be seen as a small price to pay to end the tyranny she so abhors.
The problem is that the writing has given us none of this. Instead, a series of men (Tyrion, Varys, even Jon) have pontificated about whether or not Dany is as mad as her father while the Dragon Queen herself remains silent. It’s as though coming to Westeros has stripped Dany of both agency and character development, just at the time she (and we) needed it most.
Would it have killed the writers, David Benioff and DB Weiss, to give us one scene where the girl raised on the stories of her noble older brother and mad father, who saw in the shape of her younger brother Viserys how ambition could curdle and who has faced down slave owners and raised dragons from a funeral pyre, actually considered what her raw grief and desire for destruction might give birth to?Advertisement
I don’t object to the idea that Dany – who has always had something of a messianic streak – could be more tyrant than saviour. But if that is your endpoint you have to sell it more than one small scene in which the future destroyer of a city offers her loyal general the one thing the love of his life owned, only for him to throw it in the fire.
‘Look at me … do you want to be like me?’
Game of Thrones has always prided itself on the brutal reality of its war scenes and, whatever the issues with this episode – and increasingly it felt as though Benioff and Weiss were doing little more than gleefully destroying the world they once carefully depicted – there’s no denying it worked as a visceral display.
From the early incineration of Varys to the final haunting shot of a dust-covered and bleeding Arya riding out through the charred remnants of what was once the finest city in Westeros, this episode was steeped in blood, guts and gore and determined to remind us that all the ice zombies in the world are nothing next to man’s inhumanity to man.
Yet while that was a powerful point (I particularly loved that the Golden Company turned out to be an irrelevance) there were still problems. A long time ago, Jorah told Dany that the Unsullied were incapable of behaving like the brutal men she so despised. Yet Grey Worm broke the fragile truce between the city watch, murdering a man who had surrendered, and by the end Jon’s Northern army, the Dothraki and the Unsullied were all complicit in the murder and rape that accompanied the sacking of King’s Landing.
Again, it is possible that this is part of a wider point the show’s creators are trying to make – how there is no such thing as a noble cause, how war brutalises all and how a ‘liberating’ army might commit the very atrocities it claims to hate. The trouble is it doesn’t feel as though the recent writing has earned so devastating a moment.
‘Nothing else matters, only us’
Just when I was about to despair entirely, we were treated to a scene of true power as Jaime and Cersei reconciled even as the Red Keep fell around them.
Again, the writing that got them to this point hasn’t been without issue – the decision to have Jaime and Brienne sleep together last week smacks of the worst kind of fan service, in addition to suggesting that Benioff and Weiss have no concept of the notion that men and women might be friends – but the final scene between the Lannister twins was a small masterpiece, tightly scripted and beautifully acted.
And while I might not agree with the idea that Jaime would throw his hard-earned redemption away for a woman who ordered his death, his statement that “nothing else matters, only us” rang bitterly true as did Cersei’s desperate plea to her brother to save both her and their unborn child.
It also reiterated one of the major themes of this final series: the importance of families, those you make yourself and those you are born with.
Thus Jon’s greatest strength has come from the Stark pack, even if he is seemingly doomed to become the last Targaryen, while Tyrion’s greatest weakness is the love he still bears for his – a love that means he can never walk away no matter how much he should.
Meanwhile, Arya was saved by the father/daughter bond she forged with The Hound, a bond that meant not only could he offer her a way out but that, crucially, she would listen, while Dany was undone by the destruction of her own makeshift family, the deaths of Jorah and Missandei leaving her finally, fatally unmoored.
I never tire of watching Jon Snow’s patented ‘War is hell and why am I caught up in it?’ face of great astonishment.
• Those who have yearned for Cleganebowl got their wish. I’m not one of them, but I did like Sandor’s ‘just die’ line as well as his sardonic aside about “That’s you, that’s what you’ve always been.”
• Interesting choice to double down on the ‘incest equals true love’ subplot. Not only were Jaime and Cersei positioned as the show’s great romance but it was also suggested that if only Jon had overcome his Northern queasiness and ignored the whole ‘she’s my aunt’ thing then Dany wouldn’t have had to immolate an entire city. Women eh? One minute you’re denying them a kiss, the next they’re instigating the end of the world.
• Nice to have confirmation that some of the Dothraki survived their Charge of the Light Brigade moment.
• In case anyone doubted it, The Bells gave us the proof: even one dragon is too much of an advantage if you’re prepared to wield it without remorse.
• I hope the military tacticians were pleased that the whole ‘Scorpions can’t turn around’ issue was addressed. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that makes last week’s ambush anything more than another piece of plot manipulation.
• I would quite like it if next week’s episode simply consisted of the Iron Bank of Braavos turning up to collect their debt. There must be a killing to be made in fire insurance claims.
• If anything sums up the later seasons of Game of Thrones it’s the failure to develop Euron properly. Not even his gleefully delivered final line could redeem him.
• I loved Arya’s failure to save the little girl – it was a small moment but a clever one.
• Unless they pull something very special out of the bag next week, the failure to show the scene between Arya, Sansa, Jon and Bran when they discussed Jon’s true parentage feels a huge misstep.
• We said goodbye to many old friends this week, from Qyburn and Sandor to (almost certainly) Jaime and Cersei. However it’s Varys the Spider I’ll miss most of all. Sadly underused in these last seasons, Conleth Hill’s delivery meant that even his briefest scenes were a delight.
Arguably the most violent episode of Game of Thrones yet saw the execution of Varys, the burning of an entire city to the ground including the brutal deaths of several thousand innocent citizens, the destruction of the Iron Fleet, the Golden Company and what remained of Cersei’s army, Qyburn’s casual dispatch by the Mountain who subsequently plunged to his doom with Sandor, the gory death of Euron and the probable ends of Jaime and Cersei, reunited once more at the end of the world.
Random Brit of the week
You might think that the penultimate episode of a long-running series wouldn’t be the time to introduce new characters but hello to Laura Elphinstone aka Line of Duty’s corner-cutting DI Brandyce, who popped up to give a human face to the devastation around.
So what do you think? Did you buy Dany’s transformation from breaker of chains to mad queen? How many times can Jon refuse the Iron Throne before they crown him anyway? And with one episode left, how do you think it will end? As always, all speculation and no spoilers welcome below …
South Africans are about to vote in the most competitive election they’ve had since democracy began in 1994. But, despite this, the poll will have far more impact on the factional battle within the governing African National Congress (ANC) than on the contest between it and other parties for control of government.
The election follows a decline in the ANC vote from just under 70% in 2004 to around 54% in 2016’s local elections. This seemed to signal that the ANC was no longer guaranteed re-election nationally and in most provinces. There has been much talk of the ANC vote sinking below 50%, forcing it to seek coalition partners if it wants to govern.
In Gauteng, the country’s economic heartland, the ANC won only 46% in the 2016 municipal elections and was forced into opposition in two metropolitan areas – Tshwane and Johannesburg. This happened because the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a breakaway from the ANC which espouses a more militant brand of African nationalism, agreed to support the country’s second biggest party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), even though they differ on just about everything. This raised the possibility that a similar arrangement this time will mean the ANC will no longer govern in Gauteng or nationally.
So, is South Africa about to see its first election in which national power changes hands? No. The ANC is almost certain to remain in government in all the eight provinces it controls, including Gauteng. This will leave the Western Cape, which the DA holds and is likely to retain despite claims that it is in trouble, as the only province in which the ANC is not in government.
This prediction is not based on opinion polls which, in this election, have continued their tradition of doing more to confuse than inform. One poll has the ANC at 61%. Another says it is on the cusp of losing its majority . The DA’s projected vote veers just as wildly. The only constant is claims that the EFF will improve although this is not what is happening in municipal by-elections, where its support remains largely unchanged.
So, the polls tell us little and there is a good argument for ignoring them. But they do have one use. They largely agree on what won’t happen: the ANC won’t lose power.
Why the ANC is sitting pretty
Predicting that the ANC will remain in government outside the Western Cape is based on political common sense.
Talk of the ANC dropping below 50% often ignores the reality that, just about everywhere, the opposition is far behind it. The nearest an opposition party comes to challenging it outside the Western Cape is in Gauteng where the DA won 37% in 2016. Elsewhere, the nearest opposition party trails by 30 percentage points or more. The only way the ANC could be removed from government is by another deal between the DA and EFF.
But EFF leader Julius Malema has said that it will not make a deal with the DA and is more likely to look to a coalition with the ANC. What politicians say about coalitions cannot always be taken seriously and later Malema said the EFF would consider a coalition with the DA or ANC if they agreed to improve conditions in the townships where black poor people live.
But a DA-EFF coalition seems impossible, whatever Malema says now. For one thing their positions on land, a core EFF concern, are diametrically opposed. This does not matter in local government, which does not decide on land policy. It would matter hugely in national government and to a degree in the provinces.
If there is no DA-EFF deal, the only way the ANC can lose its hold on government anywhere is if either party wins a majority or at least enough to allow them to govern with small parties. But in Gauteng, no poll puts the DA above 38% – its numbers elsewhere are much weaker. In North West province, the ANC’s weakest outside Gauteng and Western Cape, the EFF is the second biggest party and it won only 16% in 2016. No poll has the EFF vote improving by more than eight percentage points.
Nationally and outside the Western Cape, then, two results are possible: the ANC wins a majority or is by far the biggest party and the only one able to form a coalition.
The reality which predictions of a change in government ignore -– the absence of another party which could defeat the ANC – means that, even if the ANC does as badly as one poll says it will, it will still be the party of government just about everywhere.
But, while the election will not change the government, it may change the balance between the two factions which compete for power within the ANC. One supports President Cyril Ramaphosa; the other backed former president Jacob Zuma.
The Zuma faction is still strongly represented in ANC decision-making forums. The battle between the two factions continues and the difference between them is often greater than that between the ANC and parts of the opposition. It is impossible to make sense of anything the ANC does without knowing which faction was behind it.
Ramaphosa was elected in 2017 because key ANC figures, most notably current deputy president David Mabuza, believed the ANC could not win this election if it was led by the Zuma faction. Ramaphosa’s credibility with some ANC power brokers depends, therefore, on showing that he can stem the ANC’s decline at the polls.
If the ANC improves on its 2016 vote, Ramaphosa will have presided over the first increase in its vote for 15 years. This will greatly improve his chances of winning re-election as ANC president at its next conference in 2022 because it will signal to ANC politicians that he can deliver more seats.
Because many South Africans are excluded from the benefits of the market, seats in municipal councils and legislatures are often the only ticket into the middle-class. So, an ANC gain in this election is certain to strengthen Ramaphosa now and in 2022 by showing that his leadership offers more opportunities to ANC politicians.
Even if it matches the last result or comes close, ANC power brokers could decide that Ramaphosa saved them from the opposition benches.
If the ANC drops to near 50%, whether Ramaphosa would be at risk of losing in 2022 would depend on whether ANC delegates could be persuaded to blame Zuma and his supporters. That is hardly assured. What is clear is that, the worse the ANC does, the better the Zuma group’s chances are of removing Ramaphosa at the national conference in 2022.
The two factions have very different approaches to governing and so the battle between them affects the country’s future. It is this battle, not that between the parties, which will be shaped by the election result.
This article was updated to reflect the correct date for when the ANC could remove Ramaphosa, if they chose to do so.
It is no longer news that Governor Akinwumi Ambode will no longer return as Governor of Lagos State in 2019 since he lost to his contender Babajide Sanwo-Olu in the governorship candidacy ticket of All Progressive Congress(APC) at the primary election held on the 2nd of October, 2018.
state has become more chaotic and filthy since the governor lost the election.
It has become even more of an eyesore everywhere you turn to. It is as though
we are not ruled by a governor.
the traffic in Lagos is increasing at an alarming rate. It has no end and has
no special time allocated to it. Some radio stations now create a program where
they release traffic reports to the audience. No one can give a proper reason
as to why there is so much traffic in the state. Some other people speculate
using environmental and spiritual factor. Some say it is because of bad roads,
some say it is because of overpopulation, others say that it is because of
roadblocks caused by tankers. Whatever the case may be, Lagos has never been
the same since his rule.
roadblocks caused by Apapa Tankers are as deadly as ever. It has been a major issue for the past four
years. The number of tankers on the road is greatly increasing. Some of the
trailers and tankers park on the road without checking on whether it is the
right place to park.
has become filthy ever since the governor scrapped out the environmental
sanitation that normally occurs every last Saturday of the month. Lagos has now
become a centre for dirtiness. The roads are filled with dirt and the sewage is
blocked which in turn causes flooding during the raining season. Just recently,
I noticed that all the waste management’s companies have resumed work after a
while and they are still trying to recover the state from its uncleanliness.
Most people say that Lagos has never been dirtier as what they are seeing now.
to Tracka, out of 174 roads in Lagos, Governor Akinwumi Ambode has done only 54
roads as of February 2019. According to the Lagos State Commissioner of Works
and Infrastructure, Engineer Ade Akinsanya, the roads would be done in 3
phases. This construction was a promise by the Governor to open more inner
roads in the state and this was budgeted for 18.6 billions naira.
Lagos State has not remained the same since the lost to the incoming governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu. We are hoping for a definite change from the new elected governor after the change over in the government. We solidly hope that everything would turn out well and Lagos will go back to remain a clean state.
South African athlete, Caster Semenya, has lost her case against the athletic governing body, IAAF, which means that she will have to take medication to lower her testosterone levels if she wishes to continue competing internationally in running events.
Last year, the IAAF introduced new regulation for female athletes with “difference of sexual development” (DSD). Athletes with circulating testosterone of five nanomoles per litre of blood (5nmol/L) or above and who are androgen-sensitive, have to meet certain criteria if they wish to compete internationally. One criterion is that DSD athlete must use medication to reduce their blood testosterone level to below 5nmol/L for a continuous period of at least six months.
Semenya felt that the IAAF was targeting her, specifically. She took her case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but the court rejected the 28-year-old athlete’s challenge against the IAAF’s new rules.
Although CAS found the rules to be discriminatory, it also said that they were “necessary, reasonable and proportionate”.
Difference of sexual development
So what exactly is DSD and does a serum testosterone level above 5nmol/L really confer an unfair advantage in running events? DSDs are a group of rare conditions that are acquired before birth, where the reproductive organs and genitals don’t develop as expected. While the condition can be inherited, it usually occurs at random.
A person with DSD may have a mix of both male and female sexual characteristics. For example, they may be genetically female, but with reproductive organs that are of the opposite sex (or the other way around), a combination of both male and female, or not clearly either.
As the testes are the primary site of testosterone production, if a female is born with these male reproductive organs, their testosterone level will be high, often reaching male levels.
Testosterone is involved in many factors that may confer athletic benefit including increased muscle size and strength, along with the ability for the blood to deliver oxygen to those working muscles. This is why elite male athletes are generally faster and stronger than females – and also why males don’t compete against females in most sports. Semenya has high levels of testosterone so she will undoubtedly have at least some associated metabolic benefits.
How much benefit testosterone gives female athletes is difficult to define as women cannot convert testosterone into its more potent form and do not possess the same numbers of testosterone receptors (to carry out its actions) as men. The IAAF level of 5nmol/L is still high for female levels, which normally range from 0.1 – 1.8nmol/L. Judging the actual benefit of testosterone and where to draw these lines would require a lot more research and investigation.
Where does it stop?
However, Semenya hasn’t artificially altered her testosterone levels and while her condition is rare – and gives her a large advantage as a track athlete, they are naturally occurring – so is it not discrimination to make her change her body to compete? Does this take the phrase “all men are equal” to the extreme and try to make everyone the same, even by artificial measures? And where does this stop? Many genetic physical attributes can contribute to athletic performance such as height, muscle composition and aerobic capacity.
Dutee Chand, the female sprinter who was also barred from competing against women in 2014 because her natural levels of testosterone exceeded guidelines for female athletes, publicly expressed her disbelief as to why she was penalised for her natural body when she competes against women who are taller and from wealthier backgrounds, which certainly put them at an advantage.
Cases like Semenya and Chand will always be contentious and generate more questions than solutions, and there will always be disagreement among athletes and fans over the right way to approach this sensitive issue in elite sport.
The slogan “rainbow nation” seems to have retired along with Anglican archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu. Personal racist incidents still make the headlines and class remains hued by colour at the structural level. Although slightly over half of the country’s middle class is now black, deep poverty is an almost exclusively a black experience.
Race continues to divide. Take just the best-known parties among the four dozen contesting the country’s general election this month. They all represent radically different perspectives on the race issue. And – at the extremes – there is no crossing the colour line.
For example, almost no black Africans will vote for the minority Freedom Front Plus. Almost no whites will vote for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the third-largest party. Strident racial rhetoric from some EFF leaders. And its election manifesto envisages for massive tax rises, a proviso that’s alienated white voters. For its part, the Freedom Front Plus’s campaign to defend minorities against affirmative action and black economic empowerment doesn’t attract many black voters.
But, when moving towards the leading parties of the centre, the governing African National Congress (ANC), and the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), are making serious efforts to reign in racial rhetoric among their leaders and members. They also have manifestos that promote non-racialism.
The ANC and DA documents and speeches have repeated their long-held goals of non-racialism. Both try to ensure that people of all colours are represented in their executive structures.
Recently, ANC veterans condemned a statement by their powerful secretary-general urging a vote against “whites” and for “blacks”. And the party’s election campaign, particularly in Gauteng and the Western Cape, chooses issues and rhetoric which include white voters.
The DA too has more than once disciplined leaders, or got members to resign, because of racial comments on twitter or elsewhere
At a deeper level, the DA is attempting a strategy so difficult that it has only been accomplished twice before in South Africa’s history. The party seeks to change from an overwhelmingly white party to a predominantly black party. The South African Communist Party achieved this during the 1920s. The Liberal Party followed a similar path during the 1960s.
South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.
The ANC’s alliances from the 1950s included organisations centred on coloured – people of both European (white) and African (black) ancestry – , Indian, and white members. It incrementally opened its own membership to supporters of all colours before 1990.
Strategically, the ANC is the only African nationalist party that has had to accommodate – in policy and rhetoric – a significant white minority.
More than nine-tenths of white settlers fled Algeria after independence in 1962; the same in Angola and Mozambique following independence in 1974. This also happened in Zimbabwe between the 1980s-1990s. White Algerians had the right to French citizenship; white Angolans and Mozambicans had the right to Portuguese citizenship. Over half White Zimbabweans had the right to either South African or British citizenship.
By contrast, the overwhelming majority of white South Africans have no rights to other citizenships.
White South Africans are only make up 7,8% of the population. But they remain strategically important. They still own most capital and most companies. They constitute a significant proportion of management and in most of the professions.
The western powers, investors, and media remain sensitive to their concerns and anxieties.
Interestingly, statistics show that white living standards have risen higher than anyone else’s since 1994. That is not exactly the “genocide” proclaimed by the global alt-right.
There is a wide range of black views on colour and race relations. Some activists in the Rhodes-must-fall and Fees-must-fall movements expressed total alienation from whites and “whiteness”. Simultaneously, there are many interracial friendships and some interracial marriages.
Tensions bound to remain
The world’s oldest democracy, the US, and the world’s largest democracy, India, also have to grapple with the contradictions between nonracial or non-caste ideals in their constitutions, and affirmative action and preferential procurement laws and regulations.
Given that the country has the world’s largest white minority living under black rule, colour line tensions will remain a fairly permanent feature of the country’s political landscape. The same can be said of the US, where the world’s largest black minority lives under white rule.
Using a fat person as a punchline is cheap and lazy. So why was everyone in the cinema audience laughing except me?
WARNING: contains spoilers!
At 30 years of age I really should be used seeing how fat bodies are depicted in the media. I should be used to fat bodies being the easy go-to for depicting sad, angry characters. I should be used to the introduction of a fat body to provide some comedic relief. But here I am, the morning after seeing Avengers: Endgame, and I am still shocked, angry and hurt. I am an avid Marvel nerd and while the movie itself was brilliant in many ways, I had seriously conflicted emotions about the physical appearance of Thor.
When we see Thor at the beginning of the film he is his svelte Asgardian god self on the outside but is clearly battling some pretty heavy stuff on the inside. This is a man who has been to war. He is struggling to come to terms with the loss of his brother, to comprehend his inability to defeat Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and is losing the battle to conquer his demons. Thor has seen war, death and destruction and as a result he has PTSD. I applaud Marvel for highlighting mental illness, particularly as it relates to veterans, but it could have been treated more sensitively.
My issue lies not with Thor’s alcohol consumption or his turning to food for comfort – both are common coping mechanisms; my issue lies with his physical appearance. I thought we were finally past the days of the fat suit. I had hoped that we were past the point in history where we are allowed to poke fun at fat people. I was wrong. Because here we are in Avengers: Endgame and Thor is 30kg heavier and it seems as though everyone in the audience is laughing except me.
While you might laugh, others are sitting around you feeling like they’ve been punched in the gut
I wouldn’t be upset if he had put on weight as a result of his trauma and this was taken more seriously. Fluctuations in weight are normal, particularly when you aren’t taking care of yourself. My problem with Thor’s appearance is that he was clearly a strategic joke placed by Marvel to provide some comedic relief from the overall seriousness of the film.
Thor’s first appearance as a fat person sees him walking into the room shirtless with an extreme focus on his belly and everyone laughs. Look! Thor is fat! Fat, but still jolly, because how could a fat person not be jolly? Sitting in that movie theatre, watching the fatphobic jokes roll through at the expense of a veteran with mental health issues and listening to the subsequent laughter broke my heart.
The jokes made at the expense of the fat person were lazy stereotypes and cheap laughs that really weren’t necessary and while you might sit there and think they’re funny punchlines, others are sitting around you feeling like they’ve been punched in the gut.
The one redeeming quality is that there is no workout montage that shows Thor getting his life back together. The audience goes on a journey with Thor as he battles his inner demons and comes through the other side and I greatly appreciate the fact that this does not include him losing his weight, shaving off his beard and cutting his hair. Thor sits in his misery, grows, works through the darkest depths of his mind and comes out the other end a changed man. He is not the Prince of Asgard that we were originally introduced to, which is only right. One cannot stare death in the face, lose everyone that you love and suddenly bounce back to being the sprightly Adonis that you once were. For this I am grateful.
While I have many issues with the way Thor’s struggles were depicted, he was struggling nonetheless and this needs to be acknowledged. Avengers: Endgame highlights the emotional toll and psychological effects of war, which can be seen in all of the characters not only the one in the fat suit. So while I fully support people going to see Avengers: Endgame, I feel it’s necessary to make a trigger warning: strong themes of fat shaming and PTSD as it relates to war. So make sure to check in with each other and remember to be kind to yourself.
Lacey-Jade Christie is a freelance writer and host of the Australian body positivity podcast The Fat Collective
It mesmerised Proust, terrified Homer Simpson and gave us the Hunchback – Guardian critics celebrate Paris’s gothic masterpiece at the heart of the modern imagination. cathedral
By: Oliver Wainwright, Stuart Jeffries, Peter Bradshaw, Jonathan Jones, Fiona Maddocks, Michael Coveney and Keza MacDonald
Architecture: ‘Pugin fainted when he saw its beauty’
As Notre Dame Cathedral’s majestic spire tumbled into the inferno on Monday night, live newsreaders around the world decried the tragic loss of this 12th-century marvel. The great timber roof – nicknamed “the forest” for the thousands of trees used in its beams – was gone, the rose windows feared melted, the heart of Paris destroyed forever. What few realised in the heat of the shocking footage was that much of what was ablaze was a 19th-century fantasy. Like most buildings of this age, Notre Dame is the sum of centuries of restorations and reinventions, a muddled patchwork of myth and speculation.
Standing as a sturdy hulk on the banks of the Seine, the great stone pile has never been the most elegant or commanding of the ancient cathedrals, but it became the most famous. Begun in 1163, it was larger than any gothic church before it, employing some of the first flying buttresses to allow taller, thinner walls and larger expanses of glazing – including the spectacular rose windows that projected great cosmic wheels of colour into the luminous interior. “Where would [one] find … such magnificence and perfection, so high, so large, so strong, clothed round about with such a multiple variety of ornaments?” asked John of Jandun, in his 1323 Treatise on the Praises of Paris. Five hundred years later, the gothic revivalist architect Augustus Puginfainted when he first encountered Notre Dame, so overwhelmed was he by its beauty.
The only solace one might take from the horrific fire is that it is merely the latest chapter in a long and violent history of destruction and repair. The cathedral was heavily damaged by rioting Huguenots in the 16th century, remodelled by successive kings and roundly plundered during the French Revolution, when the 28 statues of biblical figures on the west façade, mistaken for French kings, were ritually beheaded.
It was Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris (translated as The Hunchback of Notre Dame) that brought the cathedral’s plight to widespread attention, raising alarm about the “mutilations, amputations [and] dislocations” of the structure, and making gothic architecture touch the popular imagination in a way it never had before. His writing spurred on calls for a full restoration, eventually undertaken by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who was just 30 when he won the commission with Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus in 1845. Over the next 25 years, he would mould Notre Dame according to his own romantic vision, adding elaborate layers of ornament and decorative statues of entirely his own invention.
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His enormous spire, made of 500 tons of wood and 250 tons of lead, was a far cry from the previous tower (removed in 1786 due to instability), modelled instead on a 19th-century spire in Orléans. Around this great flèche, he concocted a fantastical menagerie of apostles and mythical creatures – most of which appear to have been saved from the flames, having already been removed for restoration.
History hasn’t been kind to Viollet-le-Duc’s work. Victorian architect William Burges called him a “disastrous restorationist”, while Charles Hiatt’s 1902 account of the cathedral’s redecorated interior bemoaned that “the colour confuses our appreciation of the fine lines of the architecture, and it is frequently restless and irritating where it should be most reposeful”. Critic Ian Nairn passed a damning judgment on Notre Dame in the 1960s, calling it “one of the most pessimistic buildings in the world [with] no hope of change, and no glimmer of ultimate purpose,” adding that “Viollet-le-Duc’s musty and self-righteous cackle can be heard all over the building”.
Yet the echoes of this gleeful, overripe cackle are exactly what made Notre Dame so seductive to the imagination of the millions of tourists who flocked here each year – and who will no doubt continue to do so when it is rebuilt, with yet another layer of creative interpretation added to the rich historical collage. Oliver Wainwright
Literature: ‘Proust gazed at it for two hours’
In 1904, Marcel Proust wrote an article for Le Figaro whose title, The Death of Cathedrals, now takes on painful resonance. Proust, who so loved gothic ecclesiastical architecture he would inveigle his beloved chauffeur-lover Alfredo Agostinelli to light up church facades with headlamps so he could study their stones, one evening threw a fur-lined coat over his nightdress so he could spend two hours gazing at Notre Dame’s portal of Saint Anne.
The death Proust was lamenting was not so much sacrifice to flames as the insufferable consequence he inferred from a contemporary governmental plan that allowed cathedrals like Notre Dame to be converted into “museum, concert hall, or casino.” As his biographer Jean-Yves Tadié points out, though agnostic and Jewish, Proust was so fired by the passion inculcated in him for gothic architecture by John Ruskin that he couldn’t bear the thought of Catholic churches being thus repurposed. His great novel, À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, revels in lapidary descriptions of churches, great and small.
Sigmund Freud, another secular Jew and contemporary of Proust’s, was similarly entranced by Notre Dame. The first time he saw it, in 1885, Freud said he had “a sensation I never had before.” Thereafter, between studying with neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot at Salpêtrière Hospital, he returned to Notre Dame “every free afternoon” to be in its presence. “I have never seen anything so movingly serious and sombre,” Freud said.
But Notre Dame has an even more sombre incarnation, one that reeks of death and damnation. In 1866, Baudelaire published Les Épaves (Scraps), a collection of incidental verse including six censored poems from the 1857 edition of Les Fleurs du mal, one of whose poems, Le Joueur généreux, includes the line: “The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.” Its frontispiece includes a hideous skeleton, described by British Library curator Chris Michaelides as “symbolising the tree of good and evil, in whose feet grow flowers representing the seven deadly sins. Angels and cherubs are flying high above around a medallion of the poet carried away by a chimera.”
The artist of that frontispiece, Félicien Rops, perhaps inspired by Baudelaire, made that devil’s existence sickeningly plain in his 1882 image Satan semant l’ivraie(‘Satan sowing seeds among the wheat’). In it, Michaelides relates, a gigantic Satan is crossing Paris, casting seeds of discord from his right hand. The seeds, misogynistically enough, are women. Worse, his right foot rests on – perhaps even crushes – the twin towers of Notre Dame.
But it is Hugo’s Hunchback through which literature bends the knee most eloquently to the cathedral. Hugo wrote it in part to catalyse interest in the gothic building, which had fallen out of fashion in Paris. At one point in the vast novel, the villain, Judge Claude Frollo, directs his visitors to look away from a book on his desk to the massive silhouette of Notre Dame Cathedral. “This will kill that,” he remarks. The idea is that the printing press will destroy the cathedral, that the renaissance will murder religion, silence the eloquence of churches. “Small things overcome great ones,” Frollo says, “the book will kill the building.” For Hugo, Stonehenge, the Parthenon and indeed Notre Dame are “books of stone” pregnant with meaning.
Not that all Notre Dame is as venerable as we might suppose. Eric Hazan, the city’s great historian, wrote in his recent book A Walk Through Paris a passage that seems to have been composed for tourists arriving on the Eurostar. “It is a shame that no one stops to contemplate [the facade of the Gare du Nord],” he writes, “whereas crowds throng in front of the facade of Notre Dame, whose statuary is no older than that of the railway station.” The station’s facade is, Hazan argues, a masterpiece. While the world awaits the rebuilding of Notre Dame then, there are consolations. Stuart Jeffries
Film: ‘Gene Kelly danced in its shadow’
There are numberless postwar movies set in Paris that use Notre Dame as an establishing shot, embedded as part of the city’s legendary fabric and its furniture, the camera sometimes noticing it just subliminally. Paris is habitually a signifier for the secular world of romance and adventure, so using the cathedral more explicitly is not an obvious choice. Jean-Paul Belmondo reads the paper with Notre Dame in the background in Godard’s Breathless; Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly dance in Notre Dame’s shadow in An American In Paris; Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn walk past it as they talk about murder in Charade.
The most stunning – and now eerily prescient – “movie tourist” use of Notre Dame is Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset in which the reunited lovers Jesse and Céline ponder the cathedral and Céline says: “But you have to think that Notre Dame will be gone one day …”
But of course the most sensational use of Notre Dame is in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame in 1939, based on the Victor Hugo novel (there were two earlier silent versions and many remakes since, including a Disney animation). Charles Laughton is the poignantly lonely and lovelorn Quasimodo, the cathedral’s bellringer who rescues Esmeralda (Maureen O’Hara) from public hanging for witchcraft by swinging down Tarzan-like from one of his bell-ropes and bringing her back to the bell tower for sanctuary. That is: the North Tower, whose ancient oak frame has now been destroyed, and the fate of its four immense bells still uncertain.
The film breathtakingly reverses the usual movie grammar of Notre Dame; instead of incuriously glimpsing the cathedral on the skyline, we are around and inside it, getting a stunning reverse view of Paris from the tower – that is, the fake medieval Paris built in the San Fernando Valley – as the agonised Quasimodo looks out over the teeming city with all its drama and compares himself to the gargoyles he stands next to. The movie was instantly felt to be a symbol of anti-Nazi defiance.
Later, Paul WS Anderson’s version of Three Musketeers staged a swordfight on the cathedral’s roof, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s whimsical romance Amélie had the heroine’s mother bizarrely killed by a suicide jumping from Notre Dame. During their ominous conversation about Notre Dame in Before Sunset, Jesse and Céline talk about Nazi plans to destroy the city before the Allied advance. In René Clément’s Is Paris Burning?, Orson Welles plays the Swedish consul who dissuades the Nazi governor from anything of the sort — because Notre Dame has to be saved. Peter Bradshaw
TV: ‘Its function has been to scare the crap out of you’
In The Muppet Show in 1981, the show’s opening number featured a blue headed, green haired chap called Mulch performing the role of Quasimodo. He climbed to the bell tower of Notre Dame to sing a love song. “The bells are ringing,” he began gamely, “for me and gargoyle / The birds are singing for
And then, in unexpected application of the Pygmalion myth, the love of his life, though no looker, unpeeled herself from the parapet and mutated from stone into a singing puppet. “Everybody’s been knowing to a wedding they’re going,” she sang. “And for weeks they’ve been stowing days of labour and toil.” And then some other hideous troll-like figures, sculpted into the parapet below, came to life and sang the chorus.
Though the episode’s special guest was Debbie Harry, her performance of Blondie’s One Way or Another was no match for this reworking of the 1917 standard For Me and My Gal, best known from its outing in the Gene Kelly 1942 film of the same name. Its gag worked through the same hilarious principle of the Rodgers and Hart song Manhattan, with its couplet: “The city’s clamour can never spoil / The dreams of a boy and goil.” Though why French gargoyles sing in New York accents is beyond me.
Television’s relationship with the Parisian landmark has switched vertiginously from comedy to gothic horror. The 2016 Simpsons episode To Courier With Love has the family flying to Paris because Homer has to work as a courier transporting an endangered Amazon blue constrictor snake into the country for reasons too bizarre to get into. One night in Paris, while Bart is fishing in the Seine, and Lisa, you’d suspect, debating philosophy at Les Deux Magots, Homer dons the proverbial existentialist turtleneck and with Marge strolls past the cathedral. Admiring the gargoyles, Homer remarks: “That’s from back when religion knew how to scare the crap out of you”, clearly not knowing that the Muppets had taught us those stones could come to life and sing of love like native New Yorkers.\
And yet, Homer had a point. Notre Dame’s function on television has often been to scare the crap out of its audience or, what is the same thing, provide backdrop for gothic hokum. In Jo, the English language, Paris-set police procedural seriesstarring Jean Reno as the eponymous Joachim Saint-Clair, for instance, one episode starts with a body found beaten and strangled under the Last Judgment portal of Notre Dame. The victim’s ears have been pierced and his face tilted so that his dead eyes are aimed at a figure of an angel blowing his trumpet to wake the dead for the final judgment. Jo’s theory is that the killer has made the the victim symbolically deaf to the angels’ trumpet, suggesting the victim wasn’t worth God’s mercy.
But the future for Notre Dame on television is uncertain. Last year, actor Tom Hollander’s production company enlisted screenwriter Andrew Davies to develop an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel. Hollander himself told Radio Times he wanted to play Quasimodo, though he’d equally be good as Esmeralda. I’ve a hunch (so very sorry) that this adaptation, if it goes ahead, will take on a very different resonance now. Stuart Jeffries
Art: ‘A synthesis of medieval faith and modern fantasy’
To understand the artistic wonder that is Notre Dame you have to accept it as a synthesis of medieval faith and modern fantasy. Viollet-le-Duc crowded the real Notre Dame with grinning, devilish gargoyles just as Hugo populated his fictional one with a deaf bell ringer and his tormentors. This intermixing of a genuine gothic cathedral with the 19th-century dream of what gothic should be has put Notre Dame at the heart of the modern imagination. It’s the artistic embodiment of Paris, the centre of medieval European thought and culture which in the 1800s became the birthplace of modern art.
For at least 300 years before Viollet-le-Duc saved Notre Dame, medieval cathedrals had been shunned. When London’s gothic cathedral St Paul’s was destroyed in the Great Fire of London it was replaced with a trendy new domed edifice by Christopher Wren. No-one this morning is calling for a new Notre Dame to be built by France’s contemporary architectural star Jean Nouvel. That’s because Viollet-le-Duc, who also restored churches across France and the lovely walled city Carcassonne, taught us what makes medieval architecture so magical.
Almost a thousand years after its original creation Notre Dame still speaks to us
It is the human plenitude, the sense of hundreds of anonymous masons working in humble collectivism, and thousands of people across time sharing our awe for what they built, that gives Notre Dame its mystique. A great cathedral is a vast living organism. It’s like being inside a whale, the vaulting a sublime rib cage above you. Unlike a symmetrical classical building a gothic cathedral is not an image of order but living disorder where flying buttresses sprout, mighty columns soar, lofty galleries conceal prayers and plotters.
Viollet-le-Duc loved the monsters at the edge of medieval Christianity, basing the gargoyles and chimeras that cover his restored stonework on works in French museums. His macabre Notre Dame is the birthplace of French modern culture from Baudelaire’s poetry and Rodin’s Gates of Hell to Matisse’s painting of its unmistakable facade in pink morning light. Yet under all its accretions, the heart of Notre Dame is truly medieval. Gothic architecture was born in Paris. Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis, on the French capital’s outskirts, invented this art style in the early 1100s to glorify God in a spectacular new way. To let in sacred light, gothic builders created stained glass windows – and to make space for those, they raised buildings higher than ever before. Flying buttresses and the pointed arch redistributed the structure’s weight so cunningly that huge areas of wall could be replaced with glass. If Notre Dame survives it will be because the flying buttresses did their job.
It was hard to resist the sense of miracle when a photograph of the interior showed Notre Dame’s cross shining through smoke. Another image shows holes in the stone vaulting – but the interior is still the sculpted space the medieval masons made. As it seemed Notre Dame was perishing last night, I was heartbroken. But unless there’s fatal structural damage yet to be revealed, it seems the stones of Paris are holding up. And everything else can be replaced. A cathedral can endure the loss of its stained glass and other fineries, as has happened in Britain where all our cathedrals were vandalised in the Reformation and civil war.
It’s precisely this endurance that makes medieval architecture so special. Almost a thousand years after its original creation Notre Dame still speaks to us. Like cave paintings, it connects us with some primal aesthetic urge. Now our time faces a challenge. Do we still have in us the love, idealism and skill that enabled Viollet-le-Duc and his workers to recreate a gothic masterpiece? If we can reawaken the creativity this building embodies it will be a great moment of artistic renewal for today’s Europe. Jonathan Jones
Music: ‘Vierne died at the famous organ’
Music has been part of Notre Dame’s history since its foundation. Some of the earliest known European composers, working in Paris around 1160 to 1250, wrote music for the liturgy each week even as the great cathedral was being built around them. Collectively these composers are known as the Notre Dame School. Their names are mostly forgotten. Through a 13th-century English scholar, known as Anonymous IV, we know of the two most important: Léonin and Pérotin.
Their lasting significance was to write down and develop western musical techniques which had previously only been extemporised. Their polyphonic motets (written for more than once voice) replaced the single line of Gregorian chant, common up to that point. The Magnus Liber Organi (“great organum book”), a collection of Notre Dame works, is one of the greatest single achievements in medieval art, a cornerstone of European music for the next three centuries. Léonin, according to Anonymous IV, made the collection, Pérotin later revised it. The American minimalist Steve Reich paid tribute to Pérotin in his vocal and electronics work Proverb.Advertisement
Another globally important strand of musical life for Notre Dame is the historic organ, central to the flowering of French organ music. The current instrument, spectacular in size and symphonic sound, was originally built by the leading French organ maker Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in 1868. It has survived two world wars and was substantially improved in 1963 and again in 1990. Played on five keyboards and pedals, it has nearly 8,000 stops and an advanced computer system.
Several French composers have held the position of organist at Notre Dame including Louis Vierne who collapsed and died at the organ console after a recital to 3,000 people. The most idiosyncratic, quirky and brilliant in modern times was Pierre Cochereau, improviser, composer, pedagogue and one of the greatest organists of the 20th century. Fiona Maddocks
Stage: ‘Provided a hit for Celine Dion’
All great cathedrals are spectacular and dramatic, but the specific theatricality of Notre Dame is bound up in the mythology of Victor Hugo’s great novel. Hugo himself was thinking of the opera house soon after publication in 1831 and duly cooperated with composer Louise Bertin on a grand opera in four acts, La Esmeralda.
This flopped, but five more romantic operas soon followed. Apart from the films and television series, there have been countless theatre versions, too, in recent years ranging from Ken Hill’s sparky adaptation for the National Theatre in 1977, through Strathcona Theatre Company’s small-scale touring edition in 2001. One forgotten musical was based on the Disney film, and several ballets have included Roland Petit’s for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1965.
But the main theatrical stab at the story in recent years was the 1998 Notre Dame de Paris, a French Europop concert that provided a hit soundtrack for Céline Dion after it was premiered at the Palais des Congres, a building conceived in an alternative plane to the cathedral’s scale and sublimity.
Our Francophile producer, the late Michael White, presented the show at the Dominion in London in 2000, with Tina Arena and blocks of concrete misrepresenting the cathedral. And it’s this powerfully ingratiating score – by Richard Cocciante – with gloriously banal book and lyrics by Luc Plamondon, that ripped up the Coliseum only a few weeks ago with an acrobatic chorus of Parisian low-life decked out in primary colour satin trews and boleros.
Most critics in 2000 panned the show, no doubt hoping to be right after being, mostly, wrong when Les Misérables (1980 in Paris) opened here in 1985. It was, they said “a load of old bells”, “all bats and no belfry”. Sheridan Morley decried Quasimodo’s disabled backing group who scuttled up and down the cathedral bell tower “in a futile attempt to escape the show”. Frankly, it gave him the hump.
Notre Dame itself really needs no dramatising. It has David’s paintings, stained glass, the magnificent organ and an impasto of ceremonies and coronations that should, God and the restoration willing, run for ever. Michael Coveney
Video games: ‘You can shimmy up its majestic exterior’
In video games, architecture is more than set-dressing. When a player can move through a piece of art, examine it through touch, movement and interaction as well as visually, the composition of virtual spaces and buildings becomes as vital to the experience as code, sound and visual design. Game designers’ art, like architects’, is that of expressing something through a space.\
A great many video game creatives show a weakness for the imposing beauty of gothic architecture in their work. Echoes of Notre Dame can be seen in games from eldritch horror Bloodborne to the arch-fantasy World of Warcraft. For Assassin’s Creed Unity, a historical game set during the French Revolution, an environmental artist named Caroline Miousse spent the best part of two years recreating Notre Dame Cathedral in a virtual 18th-century Paris, working from old maps of the city, sketches and photographs. Notre Dame didn’t have its spires at that time, but in the game they are there, a concession to the modern player’s mental image of the iconic building. You can climb right to the top of the cathedral and survey the city below; inside, you can see the paintings that were hanging on the walls 250 years ago. Experiencing the cathedral in-game having seen it in the flesh evokes a powerful, intimate sense of deja vu. You can’t touch its ancient stone in a game, of course – though in real life, you can’t shimmy up the majestic exterior like an 18th-century Spider-Man and view the Paris skyline from its peak.
Few would have foreseen it, but the work that Ubisoft Montréal did in building a virtual Notre Dame may now be of use in rebuilding the real one. It is a reminder that video games, in recreating architectural wonders, now play an important role in their cultural preservation. Keza MacDonald
SOURCE: This article was first published on The Guardian, UK
It’s clear that Islamophobia is on the rise globally. This antipathy towards adherents of the Muslim faith is often presented as a violent reaction to terrorism committed by the Islamic State. This suggests that if terrorism by so-called Islamic groups ends, Islamophobia will too.
Academic and author from the University of Birmingham Chris Allen has correctly discarded this thesis. He argues that it’s extremely dangerous because it ultimately legitimises indolent stereotypes which describe all Muslims as terrorists.
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And it plays into racist views held by individuals and parts of the media. It amalgamates Islam, terrorism, and all Muslims, which means that the faith is viewed as a threat.
A study conducted by Pew Research found that, even in more supposedly liberal countries such as France, nearly half of respondents thought that some Muslims supported the Islamic State and its aims. Other research has found that a majority of people in several European countries – among them Poland and Austria – supported a ban on immigration from majority-Muslim countries.
In my book, New Horizons of Muslim Diaspora in Europe and North America, I explored how people living in Muslim societies view this growing prejudice. I also interviewed numerous Muslims: some were still living in majority Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East; others had emigrated to Western countries.
I found that Islamophobia has changed how certain Muslims portray themselves to society. The people I interviewed considered themselves targeted and vilified by Islamophobia; many hid their Muslim beliefs and identity or pretended to be less devout than they really were – some women, for instance, have stopped wearing the veil.
My respondents felt that Muslims in Western countries aren’t treated fairly. They also worried that the rise of Islamophobia had badly damaged Islam as a religion of peace.
The book argues against an approach to the concept of culture that reduces all Muslims to one category. Such a reductive approach ignores other important factors that shape the attitudes and behaviours of Muslims all over the world. These factors include their socioeconomic status, their gender, age, level of education, social class; as well as their attitudes to religion and to Western lifestyles.
I interviewed 116 people and held less formal conversations with more than 100. They lived in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, France, the UK, Germany, Italy, the US and Canada.
Those living outside majority-Muslim countries were heterogeneous: they had diverse cultures and ethnicities. They were actually divided, rather than united, on issues related to Islam and to their new, Western homes.
The most conservative, traditional Muslims in the diaspora tend to be marginalised. They don’t work, or work low-income jobs. Many turn to religion and traditional values and practices as a reaction to their socio-economic exclusion from European or American society.
But the majority of people I interviewed described themselves as only moderately religious. They were open to other cultures and principles such as secularism.
Governments in Europe and North America should be working with such people to reach others who could be taught about a moderate, progressive approach to Islam rather than one that tends towards extremism. It has already been shown that Muslim Europeans and Americans are often the first to respond to radicalism – by rejecting it. They could be drawn into programmes to help new arrivals in Western countries adapt and learn about their new cultures.
This is especially important because I found in my book that many Muslim leaders have an insufficient knowledge of Western countries, and find it hard to fight Islamophobic propaganda. Likewise, most imams in the West do not master the language of the host country. This makes it difficult for them to explain moderate Islam to the Western societies and to fight against Islamophobia and youth radicalisation among the Muslim diaspora.
Younger, more open-minded Muslims could fulfil a valuable role in integration and in teaching non-Muslims about the religion.
SOURCE: The Conversation / Moha Ennaji is aProfessor of Linguistics, Gender, and Cultural Studies, Université Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah