As Charlie Hebdo publish their satirical journal this week, they have a print run of 3 million compared to their normal 60,000. That’s impressive support from the general public in France and across the world, who have already shown solidarity to the cause by marching in Paris.
What is ‘the cause’? Gérard Biard, the editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo, said this:
The millions of anonymous people, all the institutions, all the heads of state, all the political personalities, intellectuals and media, all the religious dignitaries, this week, have proclaimed ‘I am Charlie’ should know that this also means ‘I am secularism’.
Secularism (here is an article with a brilliant definition of big-S ‘S’ecularism) is the cause. That everyone should want a secular state one would think should be a no-brainer. I mean, the same ideology that allows everyone the freedom to practise their religion also protects them from other religions holding power over them and stopping them doing so. A rational, superstition free approach to public policy should be good for everyone, right?
It appears not. It didn’t take long for the apologists, and the ‘it’s bad….. but..’ brigade to make their points known (great piece here). Smearing the anti-racist cartoonists as ‘racist’ is reprehensible and shows an intellectual laziness not to attempt to comprehend what they stood for. If you don’t understand what Charlie Hebdo stood for, read this. These commentators were engaged in protectionism, and this leads back to wanting special privileges for their religion.
And these are still being asked for, and in many cases, given. In Britain, segregation by religious denomination in school is still prevalent. Worse, the media’s reticence to show images such as the ones below are, at best, driven by fear and, at worst, cowardice and a betrayal of journalistic values. Who can say that there’s not a strong editorial reason for showing the Charlie Hebdo image? 17 people died in a secular democracy – executed for blasphemy. (Excellent piece by Nick Cohen – here).
We must consider very carefully what can be done to slow and stop this ‘clash of civilisations’ narrative. I think we can learn from a country that has successful immigrant integration at its very heart – The United States. Sure, the US has its share of problems (tending to grow the further from the oceans that you get), but immigrants to the country know what is expected of them when they ‘sign up’.
The US Constitution (and its amendments, especially the first ten – the Bill of Rights) was ahead of its time and is a fine document. At America’s core, it informs its citizens of the values and behaviours expected by the state and their fellow citizens. When you become American, you swear allegiance to the Constitution (many times). Being American isn’t a matter of geography, its a state of mind. It’s no coincidence that this is the world’s epicentre of multi-culturalism.
In Britain, we don’t have this series of shared values. Various people, at various times, have tried to define Britishness, but it’s never been codified. It’s time that it was. A contract, if you will, with your fellow citizens that gives all Britons a small, but non-negotiable, set of values to rally behind and define our Britishness.
So here I put forward my suggestions for the non-negotiable values that Britons should espouse (not including the ‘right to bear arms’ catastrophe!)
1. Britain will forever have a governance structure accountable and removable by its citizens
Democracy is the best we’ve currently got to achieve this, but I won’t rule out a possible better system (whether it’s currently in existence or not).
2. All Human Beings are inherently equal and have the same rights
Universal human rights and non-superiority of any race, religion or creed.
3. The right to personal liberty
The right to think anything you want. The right to say or otherwise express anything you want as long as it doesn’t incite violence against others or otherwise unfairly infringe on their personal liberties. ie Racism, Homophobia, religious discrimination, libel, slander, etc.
4. The right to religious freedom & freedom from religion
The two are interlinked. There can never be one without the other. Britain will guarantee you right to practise your religion (even if some of those practices are contrary to the above). It will also guarantee the rights of all Britons to be free of religion whether that be the safety of those leaving a religion, or those that never had religion not having it imposed on them. A big-‘S’ Secular state.
5. Rule of Law
All citizens are expected to obey the rule of law and are guaranteed a fair trial with recourse to appeal miscarriages of justice.
What do you think? These are deliberately general and, I think, very difficult to disagree with. It’s really just a framework for being a nice human being.
I’m not suggesting these become the basis for law as they are in the US; we have a mature legal system here that doesn’t need debasing. I’m suggesting this should, by custom and practice for those living here, and an allegiance oath for new immigrants, form the basis of what it means to be British.
You are, under article 3, allowed to disagree with this ‘constitution’. Just don’t be upset if other citizens call you ‘Un-British’. A term which currently has no use (unlike Un-American). The question for you then is – if you’re un-British, why would you want to live here?
You’re not welcome.