One is NOT like the other: The aftermath of Charlie Hebdo.

It took three days and 20 deaths to see the siege which engulfed Paris come to an end. ‘Ironic’ cannot begin to describe the sequence of events which followed Stephane Charbonnier’s or ‘Charb’s’ illustration in his last edition of Charlie Hebdo. The killing of journalists, a caretaker and a policeman at the satirical publication on Wednesday, in addition to subsequent shootings and hostage-takings over the next two days, shook not only Paris, but those in solidarity around the world. This attack on outspoken proponents of democracy has been denounced by all, excluding the network of extremists who claim to be fighting in the name of Islam. But how can this violent cause be conflated with a peace-loving religion? With regards to the murdered police officer, Ahmed Merabet, how can it lead to the killing of those with whom you wrongfully and insultingly associate with?

Last Sunday’s ‘Marche Republicaine’ saw almost 4 million demonstrators including 70 world leaders proclaim ‘we are not afraid’, most notably through the adoption of ‘#JeSuisCharlie. Yet, almost as quickly as the ‘#JeSuisCharlie’ hashtag emerged online, so did criticisms towards it. What many expressed after the killings was that Charie Hebdo, despite being a satirical magazine, used this label to disguise underlying racism and Islamaphobia. Although the magazine’s illustrations are devoid of political correctness often provocative, as widely remarked by journalists and the late Charb himself, all sectors of French society were targeted equally by the magazine.

We cannot eliminate the issue of culture: France is a country in which freedom of speech is exercised as fully as possible. It is no coincidence that a British equivalent of Charlie Hebdo does not exist in the mainstream; it certainly would not live to compete with Charlie’s forty-four year presence in the media. Aptly, the famous Voltaire quote: ‘I do not agree with what you have to say, but i’ll defend to the death your right to say it’ has been adopted by many and reflects the respect that societies around the world express towards the freedom of expression, despite the controversy surrounding it. Undeniably, the images depicting the prophet Mohammed were offensive and in bad taste. However, it in no way justifies confrontation to this extent. That is not Islam.

A principal concern of the French population, Muslim and non-Muslim, is the potential ‘amalgam’ which is anticipated to follow. I, along with most, fear for the plight of the Muslims who may find their position in French society in a vulnerable state. Already, ‘revenge’ attacks against mosques and innocent Muslims have taken place, only serving to heighten religious and cultural tensions, and add fuel to the fire of ignorance. Blaming the majority of followers of Islam is both irresponsible and vilifying.

In contrast to #JeSuisCharlie, ‘#JeSuisAhmed’ has also been been used to voice the heroism of the murdered policeman who many remarked was ‘protecting a magazine which made fun of his religion’. The hashtag also marks the position of Muslims and non-Muslims alike who, although sympathising wholeheartedly with victims of the attacks, do not accept the depictions of the Prophet Muhammad published by Charlie Hebdo.

Over the days following the killings in Paris, pictures on the French news channel ‘France 2’ showed measures taken by teachers to educate and debate with students on the implications of such an attack. One picture which struck me was of a teenage girl weeping, overwhelmed by what she saw as a ‘war’ breaking out. What the peaceful protests have shown yesterday, today and I hope tomorrow, is that we are not at war in terms of deadly weapon against deadly weapon. Right now, we are fighting with our pens and pencils, defending our right (to the death) to use them, and to exercise freedom of speech.

In the same vein of democracy and freedom of expression, it seemed contradictory to exclude Marine Le Pen’s ‘Front National’ from participating in Paris’s upcoming national unity rally. However, this was a <em>very</em> welcome contradiction, and it spoke volumes: while Le Pen could use the attacks to further her political agenda, her ability to do so is being restricted. The core-rattling events witnessed over these past few days nearly always engender a strong unity and nationalism within the affected country, and it is reassuring to witness that, publicly, Islamophobia has no place in it. Privately, however, we must not be under the illusion that ‘unity’ is our reality – it is not. Europe is a deeply fractured continent, and, as the Pegida movement in Germany shows, Islamophobia is a profoundly rooted problem which governments and citizens must actively work to rectify.

Beyond these protests however, we also cannot ignore the wider issue of extremism, its advocates, and the dangers it presents in the future. It has been said that the attack on Charlie Hebdo is a French equivalent of September the 11th; one of the most poignant illustrations published as a response to Wednesday’s attack is a symbolic representation of 9/11. In it, two green pencils stand upright, with a plane heading towards them. Given the comparisons made between the two era-defining attacks, it is yet to be seen whether the cause of action which follows Wednesday’s attacks will mirror that of 9/11.

In proclaiming ‘Je Suis Charlie’, supporters are standing in solidarity with the principles of a publication which fully exercises freedom of speech, as well as its victims and their families. Yes, the magazine is polarizing, and often as ‘nasty’ as it proclaims itself to be. But ultimately, the freedom of speech – this ‘pillar of democracy’ – is one which we must defend our right to exercise. Journalists of Charlie Hebdo cannot be blamed for their deaths, for such extreme defensiveness can never be justified – and certainly not in the name of Islam.


LSE on Ferguson

A few weeks back, The London Globalist headed out to the LSE campus to find out what students made of the grand jury decision which decided to not indict Darren Wilson of the killing of Mike Brown.

We are not just as statistic: Youth unemployment doesn’t affect the economy alone

The Prince’s Trust has recently revealed that hundreds of thousands of young adults are either facing or battling mental illness due to a lack of jobs and desirable secure futures. The survey reports the hit that many young people have taken as a result of not being able to find a job. High unemployment figures of over one million 16- 24 year olds across the UK and an even higher proportion across certain parts of Europe (where the continental average is 22%), have stayed persistent for a while have acted as deterrents towards securing a hopeful future, leaving an unfortunately large proportion of young adults out of the picture and feeling hopeless.

I don’t doubt that this is a widespread discouragement felt across the university population, either. For many of us, and increasingly competitive market has meant that postgraduate degrees have become the default ‘next step’ in order to secure the careers that we desire that is, if we know the career we wish to pursue post-graduation. However, it is no longer guaranteed that even qualifications will provide a shield against joblessness. Nonetheless, and without wanting to adopt a pessimistic outlook, the hike in tuition fees has not negatively affected the number of undergraduate applications to university, which has the potential to improve international opportunities for graduates if such opportunity is unavailable in the UK.

While the focus has long been on the economic impact of youth unemployment, I believe it is just as, if not, more important and will potentially be more impactful in the future to consider the effect that high unemployment figures and a lack of opportunity is having on the wellbeing of young people, whether graduates or not. The instability and uncertainty which has been caused by ever-decreasing opportunity in the job sector has resulted in almost 40% of unemployment victims being affected by mental illness, low self-esteem and deflating confidence. Furthermore, The Princes Trust reveals that 75% of young people affected feel that they have nothing to live for, with one third of those in long-term unemployment having contemplated suicide. The problem of unemployment has always been more profound than its figures however, this is an often forgotten reality. Especially among younger victims, feelings of depression and vulnerability as a result of this are highly understandable; a concurrent theme running through the testimonies of a few of the young people interviewed revealed concerns towards the hope they have for their futures not just economically, but emotionally as well. The optimism and ambition held by  those affected has diminished and become replaced with feelings of unworthiness.

Furthermore, not only does concern lie in a lack of jobs, but there is also an issue in the kind of opportunities available for young people. Temporary and part-time jobs which many students take on as a supplement to their income while studying, can become the form of employment that they stay in for a long while after leaving education. For most, this is not initially anticipated and as a result, the problem lies in many young people feeling as though they will be left unable to fulfill their ambitions due to a lack of wider opportunity. Consequently, questions arise concerning the value that apprenticeships, work experience and further education hold, if a disproportionate amount of participants are not able to pursue their desired paths.

However, all hope is not lost. Mentoring programs and organisations such as The Princes Trust provide a solution and source of inspiration where other options have failed. Also, a dismal economy has not suppressed the innovative spirit of some: the absence of jobs has led an unprecedented 71,000 affected by youth unemployment to start their own enterprises, according to the ONS. Ultimately, while these are encouraging figures, I believe that in a situation such as this, where a lack of employment has been shown to negatively affect personal wellbeing and not just ‘the economy’, rebuilding confidence and self-worth within individuals affected will be more effective in helping our generation to overcome feelings of angst caused by a loss of ambition ad opportunity.


Scroungers? I Beg To Differ

Quite often and, rather unfortunately, the discussion surrounding immigration to the UK is imbued with outward resentment, nationalist sentiments and to some extent, xenophobic undertones. However the notion expressed by many that immigrants come to the UK to ‘steal jobs’ and ‘scrounge off the state’ hail from a rather misinformed and stereotypical perspective. Having always supported the ‘for’ side of the immigration debate, I was particularly pleased when a report from the Center for Research and Analysis of Migration at UCL was recently released, revealing that “immigrants overall are less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits and are also less likely than natives to occupy social housing”. It is not news that immigration throughout time has elicited hostile reception at some point: countless examples tell this story. However The ‘immigrant as the parasite’ is an image that sadly, even contemporary policy makers have chosen to adopt and exploit. It is perhaps unsurprising then, that the anti-immigration rhetoric spread by UKIP has recently gained ground among the UK voting population partly as a result of these negative assumptions surrounding immigration to Britain. Moreover, these beliefs are shown to be reflected across the continent: in the 2008 European Social Survey figures revealed that 8% of European citizens that participated believed that the rights of immigrants within the receiving country should not be equated with that of native citizens, while almost half of all participants were of the opinion that immigrants received disproportionately more than they contributed to the the economy.

In terms of the UK, hopefully this sentiment can now be overridden. The study, which measured immigrants’ net fiscal contribution to the UK economy found that within a 10 year period ending in 2011, European Economic Area migrants contributed 34% more than they received. Additionally it was revealed that spending habits on average were likely to equal that of native citizens and, relatedly; second-generation immigrants are also likely to contribute to successive generations by paying taxes at a later stage in their lives. Moreover, the fact that almost double the number of non-European Economic Area migrants to the UK obtained a degree than British citizens in 2011 – 38% of the migrant population as compared to 21% of that of the UK – is testament to the fact that the majority of immigrants are not relocating to the UK solely to take advantage of its state benefits.

This report is highly illuminating however, it will be difficult to gauge its subsequent effect on public perception regarding immigration. I am particularly looking forward to how these findings will play out in terms of policy concerning tighter immigration controls. While I understand that logistically, it would be impractical to open up the borders to more people wanting to enter, I do not believe that immigration warrants hostile reception and awkward discussion. From my perspective, I am a firm believer in the fact that immigration has some great benefits – not only economically – but socially also, in the way that it can promote cultural exchange and potentially better opportunities for migrants. My hope is that this statistical evidence will to some extent put to rest the negative connotations surrounding immigration to the UK and enlighten a fair few of Farage’s fan club.