Category Archives: Leadership Fellow

ENTANGLED PASTS: 7 things you should know about the recent pasts of France and Britain, in the wake of the attack on CHARLIE HEBDO.

Prof Charles Forsdick (Leadership Fellow, AHRC Translating Cultures) and Prof Andrew Thompson (Leadership Fellow, AHRC Care for the Future)

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1. Charlie Hebdo is part of a long tradition of dissent in France. Its genealogy can be traced back to the satirical press at the time of the French Revolution. In February 2006, Charlie Hebdo shot to global prominence with its depictions of the prophet Mohammed. But since its launch, the anti-establishment magazine has had plenty of other targets in its sights. Hara Kiri, the publication banned in 1970 for its irreverent take on the death of Charles de Gaulle (and which Charlie Hebdo succeeded) was firmly opposed to French colonialism, particularly during the final stages of the Algerian War of Independence. And much of that French empire was of course in the Muslim world. Jean Cabut (known as ‘Cabu’), cartoonist and shareholder at Charlie Hebdo, a founder of Hara Kiri, and a victim of the 7 January 2015 shootings, linked his own politicization and pacifism to a period of conscription in Algeria in the 1950s. It was also while a conscript in Algeria that Wolinski, another victim of the killings, first came across an advert for Hara Kiri that attracted him to the publication. For more on the history of Charlie Hebdo and its predecessors, see the Exeter Centre for Imperial and Global History.

2. British and French laws on racial and religious discrimination differ in key respects. In Britain, legislation relating to incitement to hatred is applicable to all faiths and creeds and rooted in a multiculturalist tradition. In France, the situation is more complex. Although the offense of blasphemy was abolished during the Revolution, the penal code and press laws relating to freedom of expression still prohibit defamatory communication, or that which incites ethnic or religious discrimination. Legislation passed in France in the 1990s also outlaws declarations that seek to justify or deny crimes against humanity, most notably the Holocaust. In 2007, a French court cleared Charlie Hebdo and its director Philippe Val of defamation charges – filed by the Paris Mosque and the Union of Islamic Organizations of France – relating to the magazine’s re-publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that had originally appeared in a Danish newspaper. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, a number of people have been charged with and convicted for ‘defending terrorism’, under legislation that removes the focus from laws relating to freedom of the press to the criminal code. The tension between such convictions and the commitment to freedom of expression has not passed without comment.

3. Britain and France are still struggling to escape their colonial pasts. This is not only true of how parts of British and French society view immigrants but equally how many immigrants view them. The shanty towns which housed many Algerian immigrants in France after the Second World War were terrible places to live. They were regarded by the French authorities as a danger zones and colonial officials were brought back from North Africa to monitor the conditions affecting Algerian immigrants and the political threat they represented. The association of such precarious housing with marginalization continued until at least the 1970s, and some argue that the housing situation of several migrant communities in France still today reveals continuity between the post-war bidonvilles and the contemporary banlieues. Britain never developed the equivalent of shanty towns, although first generation immigrants from its former colonies struggled to gain access to social housing and often had to rent rooms in dilapidated properties in run-down inner city areas.

4. Despite the recent ramping up of political rhetoric on immigration it is worth reminding ourselves that politicians have not always pandered to public prejudices. Take the classic case in Britain. During the heightened racial tensions of the 1960s, Enoch Powell delivered his famous and inflammatory “Rivers of Blood” speech, a widely publicized attack on the levels of immigration which deliberately cast doubt on the capacity of immigrants to integrate. But at precisely the same time Britain’s first Minister of Immigration, Maurice Foley, was touring the country, warning of the dangers of the growth of extremism. Foley drew attention to the fact that in many parts of Britain immigrants had largely been ignored and abandoned. He called for a common humanity, especially greater respect for immigrant’s own traditions and culture. Similarly in France, two decades later in the 1980s amidst renewed controversy over immigration, the rise of the Front National was challenged by SOS-Racisme, an anti-racist group founded in 1984. Many SOS-Racisme activists have since become prominent if not uncontroversial PS politicians: Harlem Désir, for a time First Secretary, is currently the French Secretary of State for European Affairs; Malek Boutih, former president, is an MP. SOS-Racisme, although not escaping criticism for its Republican and assimilationist stance, has played a key role fighting racial discrimination. It regularly acts as plaintiff in discrimination trials and actively challenging prejudice in both social and legal spheres.

5. The dynamics of the debate about immigration in Britain and France share more in common than we care to admit. Debates regarding French republican identity and British multiculturalism relate to the political will to move beyond a rhetoric of integration to affect a genuine accommodation of migrant communities. In France, the rigidity of a centralized republican model that requires assimilation is countered by an alternative notion of a ‘république métissée’ [hybridized Republic] that maintains core values whilst accepting the necessity of adaptation to twenty-first century cultural shifts and population flows. In Britain, the multi-cultural model is increasingly discredited in the eyes of many because it is said to encourage cultural separation. Repeated calls for “core British values” are offered as an antidote. But when asked to define those values, there is perhaps some irony in the fact that “tolerance” is often top of the list. In Britain and France, some critics of current government policy discern a persistent structural racism with colonial roots.

6. The flashpoints between migrant communities and the rest of British or French society have changed considerably over the last half century. Inter-racial relationships and mixed-marriages were once of far greater concern. Today the markers of integration (or its perceived absence) are more likely to be Islamic customs and practices (codes of dress, treatment of women, religious imagery), attitudes to which may differ among Muslims as well as between the Muslim and non-Muslim parts of the population. In France, intermarriage was met with hostility in the earlier part of the twentieth century, especially after the First World War. Attitudes have since changed. The 1999 census suggests that 38% and 34% of male and female married immigrants, respectively, are intermarried (including around 30% of those of North African heritage). A recent study has indicated that despite perceptions of its active multiculturalism, Britain may in fact have less immigrant assimilation through marriage than is sometimes suggested. Britain has a lower number of mixed marriages than France: it was reported that 8.8% of British marriages include one foreign-born partner compared with 11.8% in France.

7. There are a lot of myths about immigrants not speaking the language of their host country that recent data dispels. The 2011 census in England and Wales has allowed detailed mapping of linguistic diversity – in particular the super-diversity associated with many urban wards. The census revealed that, of the 8% (4.2 million) of residents aged three years and above with a main language other than English, 79% (3.3 million) could speak English very well or well; only 0.3% of the population (138,000) cannot speak English, with the majority of these likely to be recent arrivals. Comparable data for France is not available as national statistics are not permitted to reflect markers of ethnic diversity. The 1999 census nevertheless posed questions to a sample of 380,000 adult respondents about their family situation, including one relating to the languages in which their parents spoke to them before the age of five. The results suggested that 940,000 people consider Arabic to be their mother tongue, but these figures do not capture actual language practice and only reflect the activity of those born before 1981. In both national contexts, it is clear that acquisition of English or French remains a key element of social cohesion, although, for differing reasons, multilingualism is still seen as more of an impediment than an asset.

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AHRC Care for the Future and Translating Cultures, jointly with the Institute for Government, have just published a major report on the role of history in policy making.

History in the making

The article below was written by Malcolm Lucard and is cross-posted from the Red Cross Red Crescent Magazine. It includes material from an interview with Prof Andrew Thompson, Leadership Fellow of Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past.

History in the making

Photo from https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/icrc-archives/

Malcolm Lucard

Internal records from the ICRC’s archives concerning the conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s shed light on a decisive era for humanitarian action.

In a small room in the basement of ICRC headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, historian Andrew Thompson methodically pores through folders full of documents — typewritten mission reports, confidential telegrams and hand-written letters — never before seen by people outside the ICRC.

“It is a process of discovery,” says Thompson, a professor of history at Exeter University in the United Kingdom. “There is a sense of expectation and anticipation not knowing what is going to be there. For a historian, it’s a bit like opening a birthday present, or like going into a candy shop.”

The ‘candy shop’ in this case is the ICRC archives, where Thompson is exploring 40- to 50-year-old records to be released to the public in January 2015 under the ICRC’s policy of making internal documents public in blocks of ten years once 40 years have passed since the events they describe.

Aside from exciting Thompson’s intellectual curiosity, these records offer a deeper understanding of conflicts going on between 1965 and 1975. In particular, they give insight into an area of great interest to Thompson, who took an early look at the records in order to pursue research on the evolution of international humanitarian law and human rights law as they pertain to the treatment of political detainees in non-international conflicts.

“I see the ICRC archive as hugely important for people thinking and writing about the past and present of humanitarian aid and human rights,” he says. “But it’s also much more than that. It’s an archive that allows for studying conflict in all its different dimensions.”

The archives are a treasure trove for historians as they contain first-hand accounts from delegates on the ground, as well as internal and external correspondence, for every major conflict during the period in question. According to Thompson, they offer a perspective not always found in diplomatic or military archives because in addition to political analysis, they show how conflict affects the lives of ordinary people on the ground.

Watershed moments
In this case, the records offer considerable insight into the Biafran war in Nigeria, a watershed moment for the humanitarian sector, as well as the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours, the United States war in Viet Nam, the civil war in Yemen and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, among many others.

They also show how important principles and precedents in the implementation of international humanitarian law and human rights law evolved in the post-Second World War and Cold War eras, as many colonies engaged in wars of independence and the stalemate between global superpowers resulted in a proliferation of proxy wars around the world.

One area of particular interest to Thompson is how the ICRC’s experiences in places such as South Africa and Yemen (including what was until 1967 the British-controlled State of Aden) helped shape the way human rights and humanitarian groups responded to political detainees. Among the records are first-hand accounts of then-ICRC delegate André Rochat making his first visit to wary and sceptical political detainees in Yemeni prisons.

There is also the very matter-of-fact description of a delegate’s interview in 1967 with a political detainee in South Africa named Nelson Mandela who, along with 30 other detainees, was working in a limestone quarry on Robben Island, one of the more notorious prisons operated by South Africa’s then apartheid government.

The ICRC began visiting ‘security convicted prisoners’ in South Africa in 1963. After that, the ICRC regularly met Mandela on Robben Island and later in Polsmoor prison, until his liberation in February 1990. Mandela mentions these visits in his biography A Long Walk to Freedom.

Notable in the report is Mandela’s frank and even-handed description of prison conditions and a detailed account of the medical conditions of his fellow inmates. But when discussing his own case, he replies simply: “I personally have no complaints.”

Transparency and reflection
Not all the records, however, have been completely sealed until now. Researchers can ask for permission to review unreleased portions of ICRC archives for particular research projects and those involved in events described in the records can ask to look over relevant files.

But the records are not just interesting to historians. They are also a resource for the Movement, as they contain considerable information about National Society actions, and for anyone who might want to appraise humanitarian action and its impact.

“The archives ensure the organization’s ability to take stock of the actions called for by its mandate,” says Jean-Luc Blondel, head of the ICRC archives. “They play an important role in the duty of an organization to be transparent. As part of this duty and in order to benefit from outside perspectives and approaches, the ICRC encourages research and independent critique of its history and the fulfilment of its mandate,” Blondel adds.

“Such an attitude doesn’t come without risks,” he notes. “The examination of dossiers can put into evidence the mistakes in negotiation, the misuse of language or a lack of diplomacy.” In some cases, it reveals certain prevailing cultural attitudes of the time — a lack of cultural sensitivity and even racist undertones in the way some people expressed themselves, Blondel notes.

“In other cases, for example in the Middle East or the Indian subcontinent, some events that occurred more than 40 years ago are still very present in people’s minds today and the analyses or the course of events described then could affect present actions and negotiations.”

Nonetheless, the illumination offered by the past, Blondel suggests, also allows a better understanding of the roots of conflicts and a potential insight into how to facilitate resolution to conflicts or at least engage parties in a positive dynamic towards that end.

The Movement also recognizes the importance of the memories contained in these archives, one reason the Council of Delegates in 2011 adopted a resolution that calls for the preservation of its historic and cultural heritage. This issue will be revisited during the Council of Delegates in 2015.

By Malcolm Lucard
Malcolm Lucard is the editor of Red Cross Red Crescent magazine.

– See more at: http://www.redcross.int/EN/mag/magazine2014_3/24-25.html#sthash.C5qtyu76.dpuf