Black Marianne: A freedom too far for France?

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and the groundswell of affirmation for freedom of expression in France, you might have thought that all was well in the land of Liberty, Egality, Fraternity. At least as far as what the state is prepared to allow in the name of artistic expression.

Not so in the small town of Fremainville, in Northern France, whose mayor has removed the statue of a black Marianne from outside the town hall. Here is the statue in question.

260115-marianne-noire-620Beautiful, isn’t she? Marianne is a national symbol of the French Republic, an allegory of liberty and reason, and a portrayal of the Goddess of Liberty. You will be shocked to learn that most Mariannes are white.

And it appears the mayor, Marcel Allègre, wants to keep it that way. He claims that a black Marianne is a “Marianne of liberty, but not a Marianne of the French Republic. She undoubtedly represented something, but not the French Republic.”

So, absolute freedom of expression where the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists are concerned, but you can’t allow a black Marianne to represent the French Republic? The cognitive dissonance is staggering.

If the French are serious about freedom of expression, then I suggest the government overrules this stupid, racist mayor, and puts the statue back in place. Furthermore, I suggest they commission more Mariannes, representing all the ethnic minorities.

Including a few Muslim Mariannes, complete with headscarf.

Est ce que Je Suis Charlie?

The attack by Islamic terrorists on the Charlie Hebdo offices and the death of twelve people is appalling enough, even without the implied attack on a free press and freedom of expression. We are naturally outraged, and the impulse to join together in solidarity under the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ banner is almost overwhelming.

But I’m resisting the temptation, and I’m not very happy, because it’s an uncomfortable position to be in. Here’s why. First take a look at the Charlie Hebdo Mohammed cartoons, with English translations.

Some of these cartoons are vile, for example this one.

iTumRdEJePilN-e1348078503609Compare it to this antisemitic cartoon from the Nazi newspaper, Der Sturmer.

der_sturmerBoth cartoons vilify an entire religion and by implication all its followers. Now you might say that satire is meant to be offensive, and of course it is. The great tradition of British cartoon satire held nothing back, and Steve Bell is its torch bearer. Here’s an example of his work.

Steve Bell cartoon, 28.06.2012The image of George Osborne is personalised, as with Muhammed, but it’s not implicating every Tory voter as scum of the earth. Or presenting a stereotype, as in the Der Sturmer cartoon, inviting the reader to tar all Tory voters with the same brush.

The point is that if freedom of expression is sacrosanct, then some of those expressions will inevitably be racist, zenophobic, antisemitic, Islamophobic. You have to ask who produced them and why. So the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ meme is fine when you’re defending an abstract right, but the Devil’s in the details. It’s such a big tent that any racist, zenophobe and Islamophobe can happily crowd in, along with the people who genuinely care about freedom of expression.

And I’m choosy about the people I associate with.

Is Scotland Free Yet?

This is real-time blogging. The time is 8:25 am. I’ve been up since 6:00, doing everything possible to distract my mind from seeking out the result of the Scottish Independence referendum, which should have been made public by now.

So here goes. Off to the perfidious Guardian for the news…and it’s No. Huge missed opportunity to be our own country, independent of the neo-liberal cabal at Westminster. Life will go on, but Scotland just shot itself in the foot.

Freedom Day

Otherwise known as the Scottish Independence referendum, which finally happened today after months of wall-to-wall negativity, bias, lies and pure fantasy from all three major parties and every single newspaper. Including my own dear Guardian, for which I will never forgive it.

I voted early, getting to the polling station at Victoria Hall before 7:00. First in line outside.

The next photos are of the Independence Car, and its proud owner, who I’ve seen driving round Campbeltown during the campaign.

And then I took a bus to Glasgow, because I couldn’t bear staying in the same place while the process unfolded. Part of me really doesn’t want to know the result. More tomorrow.

Guns ‘R US

my-parents-open-carry-bookDespite living in the US for 20 years before moving to Scotland, there are many things I don’t understand about American culture. The most mystifying aspect of this strange country is its deification of guns. Some things I get, like the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, which states:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Putting aside the dire need for a copy editor to clarify whether that means bearing arms as part of an official militia, or just anyone can have them, it’s an established right in one sense or the other.

But why has it assumed such importance in American culture? The NRA fights tooth and nail to defeat all legislation attempting to regulate the absolute right to own guns, even when there is clearly a need for background checks prior to purchase, a database of guns and their owners, and a limit to the amount of firepower individuals can amass.

The NRA has won hands down in most cases, despite America having the highest death rate by gun violence in the world at 4.5 deaths per 100,000. It is legal to carry concealed guns in all 50 states, and you would think that was enough to satisfy the most ardent 2nd Amendment fan.

Think again.

The newest thug on the block is the open carry movement, made up of gun owners who delight in walking around with their weapons on display. They even have demonstrations in favour of the right they already have, and which no-one is likely to take away from them.

The Guardian reported on one woman’s response to such a demonstration in Austin, Texas. She and few companions exercised their right to go topless at the event. Apparently this didn’t go down well with the demonstrators, who were more outraged at the womens’ breasts than with their own need to let their penis extensions hang out.

This is bad enough, but now the open carry movement want to pollute the minds of children with a book called My Parents’ Open Carry.

Come join 13-year-old Brenna Strong along with her mom, Bea, and her dad, Richard, as they spend a typical Saturday running errands and having fun together. What’s not so typical is that Brenna’s parents lawfully open carry handguns for self-defense. The Strongs join a growing number of families that are standing up for their 2nd Amendment rights by open carrying and bringing gun ownership out of the closet and into the mainstream.

Ah, the Strongs. Of course. The Strongs shall inherit the earth. It’s instructive that

“for a limited time only, White Feather Press is giving away a free copy of the fun book Raising Boys Feminists Will Hate! by Doug Giles, with every purchase of My Parents Open Carry in book form. That’s a $15.99 value!”

What? Don’t gun nuts like equality – who’d have though it? The author says of this “fun book“,

Parent, if you have a young son and you want him to grow up to be a man, then you need to keep him away from pop culture, public school and a lot of Nancy Boy churches. If metrosexual pop culture, feminized public schools and the effeminate branches of evanjellycalism lay their sissy hands on him, you can kiss his masculinity good-bye because they will morph him into a dandy. Yeah, mom and dad, if – if – you dare to raise your boy as a classic boy in this castrated epoch, then you’ve got a task that’s more difficult than getting a drunk to hit the urinal at Chili’s. Read this bold and hard-hitting guide by Doug Giles, the politically incorrect master, on how to raise your son in a world which more and more seems to hate masculinity.

And there you have it. Sometimes I despair. Let’s close with a poem by Roger McGough.

Why patriots are bit nuts in the head

Patriots are a bit nuts in the head
because they wear
red white and blue tinted spectacles
(red for blood,
white for glory
and blue … for a boy)
and are in effervescent danger
of losing their lives.
Lives are good for you.
When you are alive
you can eat and drink a lot
and go out with girls
if you are lucky
you can even go to bed with them)
But you can’t do this
if you have your belly shot away
and your seeds spread out over some corner
of a foreign field
to facilitate
in later years
the growing of oats
by some peasant yobbo

when you are posthumous
it is cold and dark
and that is why patriots
are a bit nuts in the head

Foot In Mouth Disease

Badgers CropThis terrible affliction, endemic to politicians, has claimed another victim in the form of Owen Paterson, environment secretary, after a badger cull failed to meet its target. Rather than accepting that it was the fault of his department, he said, “badgers are moving the goalposts.”

You couldn’t make it up? Well, apparently you can. Paterson may be the first person in the world to put those words in that order, and he deserves our undying gratitude for contributing the phrase to the political lexicon.

It is a tad unfortunate that it means a toe-curlingly pathetic excuse for failure. One that blames the victims of a policy for not waiting around to be killed. But the Tories are dab hands at blaming the victims, so nothing new there. Nevertheless, Paterson now owns the phrase, which will haunt him for the rest of his career.

Cheers, Owen, and thanks for the inspiration. Oh, and here’s a song to help you get to sleep at nights.