Deaf Culture Across the Globe: The life of the deaf in France, India and the U.S.


deaf pride

The universal symbol for deaf pride

Deaf Culture describes the social beliefs, behaviors, literature, art, values, traditions and shared customs that unite those within the deaf and hard of hearing community. This community finds solidarity in the issues faced in being deaf, and the use of sign language as a main mode of communication. A huge difference in perception of deafness between the “hearing” community and members of the Deaf culture, is that deaf people view their lifestyles as a different human experience instead of a disability.

Because of the deaf community’s minority population in comparison to that of the hearing community, they are often faced with the prejudices similar to those of other oppressed groups. Accommodation for people who are deaf has grown, and more awareness is being spread for those who are unfamiliar with deaf culture. Here, we will be taking a glimpse into what deaf life has been and currently is, in three countries. These countries being India, France, and the United States.

french flag

The French flag

The first school for the deaf, whose current name is Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris (INJS) was opened in 1760 in Paris,France by Charles-Michel de l’Épée. The school was started when l’Épée, a philanthropic educator who is now popularly dubbed “The Father of the Deaf”, met 2 young girls who were hearing impaired and in need of an instructor. l’Épée is also credited with being the creator of the world’s first sign alphabet for the deaf. Currently, France is a part of the European Union of the deaf, which is a non-profit that is the only organization that represents the interests of deaf Europeans at a union level. The National Federation of France for the Deaf is another major program in France, geared toward deaf support and awareness on a governmental level.


The flag of India

In modern day India, deaf entrepreneurship is a reoccurring issue that exists as a result of the heavy social and societal stigmas placed on those identified as being deaf or Hard of Hearing. Hinduism, which is the predominant religion in India, is historically known as including text (specifically in the Law code of Manu) that can be interpreted as oppressing those who are deaf. In the Law Code of Manu, it states that a person who is deaf should not be allowed to own property, but is to rely on the charity of others in their daily lives. This text and examples like these, along with preexisting negative views of deaf people as the “other” has made India one of the most difficult and least accommodating places in the world for those who are deaf/Hard of Hearing.


A translated copy of Manu’s code of Law

Because of India’s overwhelming size and population, there is a large and colorful variation of dialects of sign language within the country—making communication between deaf people in India difficult as well. According to an article on, there are 10-15 million deaf people in India, and that this large deaf population is poorly connected and uniformed of the resources within their community geared towards helping them. The main approach in classrooms toward the deaf community in India is the oral way of teaching. Leaving the education of members of the deaf community neglected due to a need in labor workers.


The United States Flag

The United States is seen as one of the more progressive countries in terms of accommodation for the deaf and HoH. While legislation and social awareness campaigns have been responsible in large part for the U.S.’s growing success in this area, the installation of deaf culture in media and television has proven to be pretty impressive and helpful. For example, Switched at Birth is an ABC network show that surrounds the life of two teenage girls who find out that they were, well, switched at birth. One of the girls, Daphne Vasquez, has been deaf since a young age due to an infection that she caught when she was still in infancy. Watching the show, you learn many things about the deaf and deaf culture. The television series features multiple deaf actors and shines light on common misconceptions that the hearing population has about the deaf community by showing rather than telling.


The television poster for Switched at Birth

However, the U.S. is not without its setbacks concerning awareness and accommodation for those of the deaf community. While many large public and private institutions (like the University of Missouri) have interpreters, a discouraging amount of Americans are still pretty ignorant when it comes to what deaf people can and can’t do as a result of their inability to hear. The United states has two similar but different forms of sign language. There’s the more commonly used American sign language (ASL) and the lesser known signed English language. The key difference between these two is that ASL deals more with gestures that include entire phrases, while English sign language works more with word by word translations.  Common complaints of those who are deaf in the U.S. is the need for those who are talking to face them when doing so. If communication is done by lip-reading, this social interaction requires 100% visibility on part of the deaf person involved. Discrimination against those who are deaf in America is still a very current problem even on the judicial level. On March 31,2015, a federal court ruled that three Indiana judges discriminated against a deaf citizen. In this case, the citizen, Steve Prakel wanted to attend his mother’s court proceedings and requested an interpreter in order to be able to do so. Despite multiple requests, the judges refused him accommodation and did not install an interpreter.

A more popular incident that occurred in South Africa, but was broadcast internationally that shed a light on the issue of oppression within the deaf community is the Nelson Mandela memorial debacle of 2013 .


A meme of Thami Jantjie

During President Obama’s speech in address to the memorial, government recruited interpreter Thami Jantjie made a bunch of fake signs that upset the deaf community at large. Random gesticulations and childish motions comprised Jantjie’s “interpretation” of President Obama’s speech, and the problem wasn’t addressed until after the speech was finished. This was a problem that would have presumably been addressed much more quickly had Jantjie been posing as a translator for an oral language.

To sum up this post, the world still has a lot more growing to do in terms of learning about and accepting deaf culture, (some more than others).

LGBT Issues Across Borders

From an American perspective, when we think of France, we think of them as generally being more progressive with regards to aspects of life such as trends, socializing, and relationships. We think of their trends as being “hip,” and stylish, considering Paris is the fashion capitol of the world. We also think of France’s more liberal culture of sexuality, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) rights, and gay marriage.

One would think that France would be extremely accepting of LGBT rights, especially when compared to the United States, who has jumped on board with it within the past several years. Instead, France has actually been fighting for its LGBT rights for a very long time, and even now that it’s legalized, France has still been facing some of the most violent and radically extreme of backlash and protests.

Protesters taking the streets against the same-sex marriage bill passed, photo from

Protesters taking the streets against the same-sex marriage bill passed. (Photo from

Dating back to 1791, homosexual rights have been sought after. Supporters of LGBT rights have fought for its decriminalization, lessened the bans of sexuality, and legalized same-sex marriage in 2003. The timeline regarding LGBT rights highlights some of the milestone years that have proved to be of significance to the movement.

People who have been social justice warriors for LGBT rights, either for themselves, friends, family, or humanity in general, are still facing social segregation and discrimination, unfortunately leading to violence. One would think France has come so far and the world is adapting to be more accepting of issues like LGBT rights. France has come very far, yes, but not far enough.

gay mar

Same-sex couple delighted that marriage bill is passed. (Photo from Ms.Blog)

Less than 10 days after France legalized same-sex marriage, it was in the news again. On a Saturday and Sunday at the end of May 2013, emotions on same-sex and non-traditional marriage hit a breaking point. On France’s Mother’s Day, a generally peaceful march of well over 150,000 protesters converged in front of the Invalides.

A separate, smaller march by conservative Christians also made its voice heard. Nineteen demonstrators were arrested after climbing onto the headquarters of the Socialist Party and unfurled a banner calling for the resignation of President François Hollande’s resignation. Hollande, after all, was the one who signed the equality bill into existence earlier in the month.

Streets are flooded with demonstrations and protests. 

Demonstrators included religious leaders and followers, the conservative French (especially Roman Catholics) who thought “gay couples should have equal rights, but within an institution other than marriage” and those objecting to gay couples adopting children.

The night before the largely peaceful Sunday protests was a more volatile showing. On Saturday night, 59 people were arrested “after chaining themselves to metal barricades on the Champs-Élysées.”

After the legalization of same-sex marriage, tens of thousands gathered to protest in fron of the Invalides in Paris. (Credit Etienne Laurent/European Pressphoto Agency)

After the legalization of same-sex marriage, tens of thousands gathered to protest in fron of the Invalides in Paris. (Credit Etienne Laurent/European Pressphoto Agency)

Or at least, that was the New York Time’s report of the protests. The Independent took a much more impassioned angle.

“About 200 young people, many of them masked, pelted police lines with bottles, stones, fireworks and flares. The crowd – led bizarrely at one stage by a lone bagpiper – chased and beat up TV crews and press photographers. Police and gendarmes responded with tear gas and baton charges.”

The Independent also addresses the discrepancies in turnout Police put the turnout at 150,000. The organizers claimed 1,000,000. Other organizers estimated over 400,000, which seemed closest to the mark.”

France was the 14th country to legalize same-sex marriage, and it continues to face the longstanding obstacles that have been holding LGBT couples back for centuries.

France’s LGBT tolerance since the bill and protests. 

*Happy News*

Not only did opponents of the gay rights and LGBT parenting bill protest, but supporters of the bill also held their own demonstrations. Just two days after the largest protest against the bill happened, 125,000 people took to the streets and staged their own demonstration in favor of these human rights.  There were also more than 7,000 same-sex couples that got married in 2013 after the bill was passed.

In January of 2015, the French court validated its first Franco-Moroccan gay marriage. A ban had previously stated that a Moroccan citizen could not marry a French person of the same sex abroad or in Morocco, but “the court put an end to the discriminatory interference” and allows the two to marry.

"People take part in a demonstration for the legalisation of gay marriage and LGBT parenting, in Paris on January 27, 2013" (AFP Photo / Thomas Samson)

“People take part in a demonstration for the legalisation of gay marriage and LGBT parenting, in Paris on January 27, 2013” (AFP Photo / Thomas Samson)

*Sad News*

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma against the LGBT community in France regardless of the bill. Segregation against people who are gay is relevant and ongoing in France. Separate nursing homes for France’s elderly homosexual population has since been discussed with France’s Prime Minister for the Elderly. In the months following the first round of protests, popular Twitter hashtags were #LesGaysDoiventDispaîratreCar (#GaysMustDie) and #BrulonsLesGaysSurDu (#letsburngays).

In February of 2014, tens of thousands of people, mostly right-wing conservatives, protested once again against France’s legalization of gay marriage. Not only that, but protesters were also demanding “the scrapping of an experimental school programme aimed at combatting gender stereotypes.” Members who identify as within the LGBT community still face structural and systematic oppression.

Paris, France: February 2, 2014, thousands of protesters against same-sex couples to adopt or have children. (Photo by Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)

Paris, France: February 2, 2014, thousands of protesters against same-sex couples to adopt or have children. (Photo by Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)

LGBT rights in francophone countries and around the world.

As is evident by the continuous discussion of LGBT issues and rights (or lack of rights) in virtually every news medium, the topic is of universal interest. Though not the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, Belgium became the first francophone country, and the second country in the world to do so in 2003.

Prior to this decision, Belgium had given limited rights to same-sex couples since 1998 with a law allowing these couples to formally register for joint responsibility of their household. The law passed with minimal controversy across the traditionally socially divided country.

In 2003, Belgium officially allowed and recognized same-sex marriage, and in 2006 the government passed a law allowing partners the right to adopt children. Since then, Belgium has become known as the LGBT “paradise” to many, even though historically Belgium was outwardly conservative, Catholic and prone to xenophobia – traits that would suggest more of a struggle for those promoting LGBT rights.

 Supporters march for LGBT rights in Belgium. (Photo from

Supporters march for LGBT rights in Belgium. (Photo from

Moving forward, Luxembourg, a country smaller than Rhode Island but consisting of three official languages, became the 20th country to fully legalize same-sex marriage in mid 2014. Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, openly gay Xavier Bettel championed the bill that would allow “gay and lesbian couples to wed and to adopt children.” Previously, the country had recognized same-sex partnerships after a bill granting this registration was passed in 2004.

As is the case both economically and politically, it seems that countries in Africa have historically had a harder time progressing. In the case of LGBT issues, most countries in the continent have the same issue. In 2009, francophone country Burundi made significant steps backward, banning same-sex relationships in any form. Scholars commonly cite colonization of African countries as reasons for lack of progressiveness in African countries in general, yet during it’s years as a colonized state, Burundi had no legacy of any laws prohibiting same-sex relationships.

Although some headway has been made in progressing LGBT rights worldwide, in the grander scheme, arguably only baby steps have been made this far.

Author Team: Skyler Alderton, Hanna Jacunski, Allissa Fisher, and Julia Schaller

France’s climate change commitments

I sat numbingly and mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook news feed, my eyes unenthused crescent moons, my fingers robotic, my body a stone. After irrelevant minutes, I came across a picture that turned my waning crescents into full moons. I immediately perked up as I came across something that was actually worth my time. It was a picture my friend had posted while abroad in France. The picture was this:

Photo by: Julie Rozanski

Photo by: Julie Rozanski

My friend Julie captioned the photo, “Paris – Gare du Nord. You can sit at one of these tables with bike pedals and physically charge your phone by pedaling! So eco-friendly…epoustouflant!”

Now, you may be thinking this is fairly uninteresting like most things online. What’s the big deal? Why this picture? Well, as an environmentalist, I was very excited. I shared it on Facebook with my environmentalist friends and they all liked it. Any new sustainable invention or article sucks me in and sometimes makes my heart flutters from joy because of it. And, to be honest, I don’t understand why every single human doesn’t feel the way I do about sustainability advancements.

Luckily for Earth (and for my mental health and stability), there are fellow activists out there working, and environment issues are becoming a greater part of human lives. At the 2014 Climate Summit, more than 100 global leaders gathered in New York to discuss their plan to reduce their respective country’s carbon footprint. There were 44 countries that made commitments to carry out feasible solutions to the increasing environmental issues.

Peoples Climate March in New York City in honor of the Climate Summit 2014. Photo from Google.

Peoples Climate March in New York City in honor of the Climate Summit 2014, photo from

Because the picture my friend posted was from France, I took interest in sustainability advancements in France. France’s leaders pledged that France “will commit $1 billion to Green Climate Fund over the ‘coming years.’”

“Coming years”? What does that even mean? But, to be fair, France’s pledge almost sounds better than the United States’, which states, “President Obama signed an executive order directing all federal agencies to begin factoring climate resilience into international development programs and investments. The U.S. is also deploying experts and technology to help vulnerable nations better prepare for weather-related disasters and plan for long-term threats.” None of that sounds clear cut with a plan for a specific quantifiable result.

I wondered if other francophone countries were that vague with their commitments, but not all were. Belgium, for example, pledged to “reduce emissions by 85% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.” Luxembourg, another francophone country, committed “$6.8 million to the Green Climate Fund — %1 of the country’s entire GDP.

Examples of renewable energy, photo from

Examples of renewable energy, photo from

After hearing about France’s somewhat imprecise commitment at the Climate Summit, I was frustrated. So, naturally, I did more research to see what were some actual attainable, concrete goals that France has set for itself (and for the world, for that matter) before and since the Climate Summit.

Since 2013, France has focused a large part of its country’s efforts on renewable energy. As of 2013, France has “committed 2 billion euros to renewable energy and energy efficiency” over a three-year period. France has also concentrated a large part of its efforts on sustainable energy in Africa to both rural and urban areas. France has invested millions in programs and resources towards many types of energy in France and countries in Africa. “By funding more than 230 million euros, France has developed the geothermal potential of the Olkaria site in Kenya, which is among the most important sites in Africa.”

In December, France will be hosting the Climate Conference Paris 2015. At this conference, 196 countries will commit to a solution to combat climate change. This climate conference will alter and update countries’ commitments to create a more sustainable Earth, as well as set new goals. The previous climate conferences and summits, while successful, have been criticized by using a ‘top-down’ approach, whereas for the Climate Conference Paris 2015, the goal is to shift the conversations towards hearing from each country what they would like to do and what is best for their infrastructure.

Photo from Google

Photo from

Researching  about France’s (and other countries’) sustainability advancements and goals gives me hope and satisfaction. Because for me, the picture my friend posted on her Facebook was so much more than a cool post from a good friend in a different country. It sparked in me a hope for humanity. I saw this invention of a bicycle charger and I felt a sense of content for the world. Maybe we’re not all dooming Earth for the rest of our lives.

Oftentimes I get very overwhelmed by the weight of the world. I spend hours upon hours each week learning about the ways in which we harm the environment. I’m taught and teach others ways in which humans can change the path we’re headed towards and actually make a difference. I get very preoccupied on worrying about how we’re all going to clean up the giant dump we’ve taken on Earth, and I forget to look up and notice the positive, innovative, incredible things that thousands of people are doing right now through policy and service.

So thank you to Julie Rozanski for her picture. I doubt she ever thought it would make another human so content.

Femen: Giving us something to talk about

In my last post I talked about Ukraine is Not a Brothela recent documentary following the members of Femen. Originally based in Ukraine and now based in France, Femen is a feminist group of self-identified “sextremists” who lead protests with their messages written on their breasts. Before seeing the film I didn’t know much about the group, other than their chosen method of protest, since most of what I’ve read about the group seems to be exclusively interested in a) the fact that they protest topless (omg breasts—how scandalous!) and b) dismissing most, if not all, of their credibility as feminists based on that fact. Accordingly, many of the pieces that talk about them err on the side of the sensationalist (in the case of the more formal, “factual” media), or the downright patronizing (in the case of more opinion-based media like blogs).

Femen meme

An oversimplification of Femen’s ideology, at best

The way these kinds of pieces talk about Femen makes me uncomfortable in large part because they ignore the complexities of what it means to be feminist in a patriarchal society  and they pay little to no attention to the perspectives of the members themselves. Something that really struck a chord with me when I saw Ukraine is Not a Brothel is the fact that its interviews are exclusively of Femen members. Of the more thoughtful pieces I’ve read about the group online since then (and there are actually more of those out there than I thought there might be), “Rise of the naked female warriors” by Kira Cochrane of The Guardian does a particularly good job of incorporating a member of Femen’s voice into its analysis of the group, and “The femen phenomenon” by Reuters blogger Gleb Garanich (which I mentioned in my last post) definitely wins the award for most humanizing portrayal of the group. Jess Eagle’s House of Flout blog also provides a great, nuanced analysis of Femen’s implications for feminism as a whole.

"Fight for me! Let me be how I want, not how you think is right"

“Fight for me! Let me be how I want, not how you think is right #MuslimaPride (sic)”

This isn’t to say that there aren’t legitimate criticisms of the group that go beyond their chosen method of protesting. Not examined in Ukraine is Not a Brothel, for example, is the group’s approach toward Islam-specific feminist issues. When Tunisian woman Amina Tyler was arrested following a topless protest in her country last year, Femen activists protested for her cause in front of the Justice Ministry in Tunis, announcing that they were bringing a “Topless Jihad” to the Middle East. This has drawn backlash in feminist and Muslim spheres from those who see this as a neo-colonialist attempt to “save” oppressed Muslim women (sparking the hashtag #MuslimahPride seen in the picture to the right). For an on-point explanation of why people are (understandably) upset about this, I recommend checking out these pieces by Manar Milbes, an American Muslim, and Italian blogger laglasnost.

At the end of the day, the way the media portrays Femen has the biggest impact on what we pay more attention to–their message or their breasts–and currently it’s not their message that’s winning. That probably isn’t going to change, because, you know, sex sells and all (and apparently breasts = sex), but we as media consumers can certainly do better by recognizing the hype for what it is and acknowledging that whether we agree with it or not, there is more to Femen’s feminism than meets the eye.

True/False Doc Shows Physicists Hot For Answers

Missouri Theater being used for True/False

Missouri Theater transformed for True/False

Each year, during the last week of February, Columbia, Missouri is home to its largest annual arts event, the True/False Film Festival. The festival boasts a plethora of documentary films and over 35 bands from around the world.

True/False technically starts on Thursday, but really kicks off for local students on Friday, which was marketed this year as TGI T/F (Thank Goodness it’s True/False Friday), which featured a free screening of Particle Fever, by director Mark Levinson, for students and festival volunteers. The film was a good choice for the student kickoff, particularly as it’s a film about people’s excitement and got students excited about the festival.

The film follows the excitement of the scientists involved with the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at CERN (the name of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research based in Geneva, Switzerland) from the startup of the LHC through the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle (a.k.a. “The God Particle”). The film leaves after the discovery which yielded inconclusive results on which of two theories explain the existence of the universe.

At one point in the film, one of the theoretical physicists involved with the LHC is asked by an economist what the economic incentive for the roughly $10 billion project is. I won’t spoil the film by giving you his fantastic answer, but Pauline Gagnon, a quantum physicist, gives a greater explanation to the question than just finding the the origin of the universe, on her official blog on CERN’s site.  Gagnon explains that

the LHC could be opening the door to parallel worlds, extra dimensions or the discovery of as many new particles as the ones we already know. These are but some of the exciting questions we are trying to address.

Gagnon, and Levinson aren’t the only people trying to explain the LHC to the public, either. In fact, CERN has made numerous websites that cater to students trying to spark young peoples’ interests in science. CERNLand, a spanish language site encourages children and their parents to get involved in science through contests. They also encourage visitors to check out this “Taking A Closer Look at LHC” blog, which gives easy to digest explanations of what CERN does.

Part of the Large Hadron Collider

Part of the Large Hadron Collider

CERN’s next step is doubling the power of the LHC to conduct experiments that will hopefully determine which theories about how the universe is held together are supported by the Higgs Boson particle. To do this, the magnets, the main pieces of the LHC, needed to be strengthened. On their official organisational update blog, CERN announced in February that 1,000 of the 1,695 magnets have been upgraded so far.

After the film, theoretical physicist David Kaplan, whom the film followed, stuck around with director Mark Levinson to answer questions from students. The Q&A is a major part of the festival and someone who starred in or made a film is required to be present for the Q&A after each film.

Check out the website for Particle Fever and find out where the film will show next.

Bring ’em back home – French retreat early

This week, France began pulling approximately 2,100 combat troops out of Afghanistan in a surprising early retreat. NATO expected France’s full commitment until 2014. “Today is the end of our forward operations. By the end of the year, we will have 1,500 French troops remaining in Afghanistan in non-combat operations,” said Lt. Col Guillaume Leroy (Reuters Nov. 20, 2012). Those non-combat jobs include supply logistics as well as training operations for Afghanistan’s army, which is scheduled to take control of its country’s situation in 2014, after NATO troops make their way out.

Francois Hollande defeated French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a presidential runoff in 2012 and promised to help dig France, and Europe, out of a weak economy (CNN Wire May 6, 2012). Exiting the fight is a solution for a floundering French economy, not to mention a classically defeatist French military move.

But perhaps the United States under President Obama should follow suit. It might help the US economy.

Here are some compelling comments from a Baltimore Sun talk forum thread (posted Dec. 9th, 2012):

 Today, 04:47 PM
Omaha BeachMember Join Date: Jan 2009Posts: 2,744


Originally Posted by demopublicanBush and Powell’s wars have been a huge drain on the world’s economy and have cost far too many lives.

Ah Bush has not been President for four years. Obama has not only continued the US presence there but drastically increased troop numbers. How long does he, have to be President before Afghanistan becomes, his war?


 Today, 05:46 PM
AttackPlanRMember Join Date: Jul 2004Location: CRM114Posts: 17,563

Now if we could just follow the French’s lead.

Taliban government gone? Check
Osamma bin Laden gone? Check.

Though I suppose we’ll be out of there just like were out of Germany, Japan, Korea and Iraq.

The announcement of early French withdrawal from combat operations in Afghanistan brings to my mind another United States initiative that needs closure due to serious moral and financial questionability: Gitmo.  President Obama, now in his fifth year as Commander in Chief, still has not closed Guantanamo Bay Prison – an issue he campaigned on in 2008. Why not? No doubt the politics of fear are complex and shadowy, but a careful plan for evacuating all of the prisoners was never completed by the bureaucratic task force established to review such a process.

“…Obama’s executive order to close Guantánamo was undone by the burdensome bureaucracy of the task force, which sought to sort each captive’s Bush-era file. Each detainee’s case file contained competing and often contradictory assessments from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commissions, the Department of Justice, and myriad other offices, bogging down the review process. Time ran out before the task force could settle on a master plan to move the detainees out of Guantánamo in time for Obama’s one-year deadline….  Meanwhile, the detention center enters its eleventh year on January 11 [2012]. Guantánamo is arguably the most expensive prison camp on earth, with a staff of 1,850 U.S. troops and civilians managing a compound that contains 171 captives, at a cost of $800,000 a year per detainee. Of those 171 prisoners, just six are facing Pentagon tribunals that may start a year from now after pretrial hearings and discovery. Guantánamo today is the place that Obama cannot close. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Carol Rosenberg, a reporter for The Miami Herald who covers the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”

Even though President Obama does not want to be seen as being soft on terrorism he should still close Guantanamo Bay Prison. It would be a major step and graceful beginning to winding down wartime activity in Afghanistan. Furthermore, if President Obama takes the cue from its NATO counterpart France to withdraw sooner, I might be the first time an American President has taken political cues from France since the US’s founding fathers did so in the late 1700s.

Demystifying French: Strikes, L’Exception Culturelle, and Patriotism

My last blog, France surrenders to Neo-classicism, was written in a tone which mocked the stuffy resistance many French citizens have against an increasingly modern style which is encroaching upon art and architecture in French cities. A pervasive notion, the average Frenchman is a staunch supporter of defending a distinctly French cultural identity that conveys only the most classic elements. To this end, the French are willing to constantly revolt, often taking to the streets en masse to protest unpatriotic top-down political decisions and business decisions, as well as any undesirable international influence. In this blog I aim to connect some major (and very French) concepts –  l’exception culturelle, the emphasis on France’s social model, their views on what public services should be, and their sense of entitlement to irrevocable benefits – which underlie the average Frenchman’s motivation to demonstrate against change in the way they do. In the process, I hope to demystify some things that Americans find odd about French politics and culture.

Background:  Participants in the 1789 French Revolution violently discarded the long-standing and often-abusive French monarchy, and made liberty something to proclaim from the rooftops.

This set the precedent which encourages the French today to be coup d’etat-crazy, capturing the state when necessary to defend human rights. The social and political commentator Montesquieu precipitated the Frech Revolution in the mid-1700s after he articulated “separation of powers” and insisted on a careful balance that would not threaten the freedom of the people. James Madison and the United States Constitution’s founding fathers adopted this principle, so Americans relate to it as it is an inherent part of effective democracy.

L’exception culturelle francaise, the French cultural exception, was developed through democratic France’s formative years to describe “resistance to the perceived effacement of French culture and criticism of supposedly foreign intrusions within that culture” (definition from a 2006 UCLA conference that was held about the topic). Some examples of outrage over public defiance of this cultural principle in modern art and architecture are detailed in my earlier blog post, entitled “France surrenders to Neo-classicism.” L’exception culturelle francaise of has pervaded French cultural output since the 1789 Revolution, as witnessed in numerous episodes of loud public outcry and subsequent government policymaking that effectively “kept it in the family” whenever concerns arose pertaining to dilution of the French arts by foreign influence. But how strongly the concept influences French business output is apparent in the high degree of sensitivity to nationalism displayed by French businesses in making trans-national decisions in today’s increasingly globalized market, so that the Frenchness of production is not diminished.

The concept of l’exception culturelle francaise is thus deeply patriotic, and is relatable to Americans’ outrage over things like corporate outsourcing of labor, and to the government bailout of financially irresponsible institutions. In France, players who don’t keep it French risk domestic backlash and revolutionary peril, the threat of which is apparently greater than that leveraged in America, as with the recent and failed Occupy Wall Street movement. It should be noted here that one source of anti-American sentiment originates from the general French disapproval of American hegemony (where Federal Law trumps State Law). That being said, Americans should appreciate the regularity of French riots and strikes as they preserve ideals of nationalism and democracy, like in the history of America, and they prevent the phasing out and replacement of quality domestic market goods and services with cheaper foreign ones.

Lastly, it is important to recognize the idyllic motivation with which the protesting Frenchman goes about exercising their voice. To illustrate the motivations on an individual level, I present three related concepts which are not as prevalent in America as in France – 1) the French social model, 2) the French view on public services, and 3) their idea of irrevocable benefits.

1)     The “modèle social français” is such that basically everybody on the political Left as well as many on the political Right are accustomed to free or moderately-priced public services like healthcare, education, a higher compensation for unemployed people, a minimum income for all, and some prices depending on income, as with utilities, school, public transport, swimming pools, and others. The French generally think it is more important to protect the weakest than to encourage the strongest, which sets them apart from the often isolating American concept of self-sufficiency, individualism, and the American Dream.

“Although very questionable now, this issue was decisive in the 2005 referendum on Europe: millions [in France] voted NO to protect the French society against what they considered a threat to the ‘modèle social’ by ‘the heartless Anglo-Saxon market economy’” ( It is notable that the French pay significantly higher taxes than Americans so that public services are maintained.

2)     French who defend public services believe that state-owned or state-run services should not try to maximize profits but should maximize the quantity or quality of service provided.

This is unlike the American corporation which, defined as a person, displays characteristics of a psychopath. French service standards are largely upheld according to the satisfaction of end-users, not just by beneficiaries of monetary investment.

3)     The concept of avantages acquis, irrevocable benefits, maintains that once any kind of advantage has been granted, it is considered unthinkable to suppress it, whatever the circumstances and the situation. “Reducing salaries or increasing labor time may happen but is extremely rare in France and it raises huge controversies; there is almost no example of workers accepting cuts in wages and unions refuse to sign any agreement of this kind: they prefer unemployment and the protection of the State” (

The powerful leverage of a workers strike is thus more immediately acknowledged and workers are not expected to make concessions. Ergo, labor unions are not as strategically necessary to resolving labor issues in France as they are in the United States.


The effect of these prevailing concepts is this: the French conduct labor strikes out of conservative principles and the voice of the people is usually acknowledged by the government or the respective French business. Resolution or revolution is the French way, as opposed to common coercion and placation practiced by American businesses. French people commonly support their fellow citizens in protest, and they are not led to immediate opposition from polarizing political parties, like in America. The most common illustration of French support and fellowship is seen during frequent transportation strikes in France, when average people have to walk to their workplaces yet still genuinely support the labor strikes.

Resolution of issues has to maintain a distinct Frenchness in style, not subjugate citizens or dilute the culture, and at a minimum maintain the status quo…or else there will be a riot. When national pride causes French workers to forego formal negotiation processes, the democratic voice of the people is best exercised by force. Understanding these ideas at the core of French culture can help to demystify many French cultural and political viewpoints which may differ from America.

The joke is found in the French paradox in business: “How do they manage to be the fourth or fifth economy in the world given the way they work and strike?” When French people are on the job, they’re really on it.

“It’s Houdini, not Thatcher,” wrote The Economist magazine in May, 1989, in reference to early attempts at a joint-European market. “France is spectacularly good at saying NON…. but behind the scene, more quietly and with no discernible romance, France can and does say OUI. In Germany and Scandinavia, change happens after considerable debate and lengthy analysis. In France by contrast, it tends to be convulsive and born of conflict: one violent leap backward followed by two surreptitious steps forward.”

It’s a bird, It’s a plane, It’s a brand-new song

No matter your location, language or taste, discovering new music is a fun experience for most people, and when it’s free—even better. Air France realized the appeal of this activity and looked to the sky to create an innovative app for discovering new music.

Air France is “known for its music selection in on-air entertainment,”according to In fact, its “Air France Music” Facebook page has more than 165,000 fans.  The airline is taking its reputation for good music to the next level with its new app, “Music in the Sky,” released on November 13.

The app is simple to use: point your iphone to the sky, aim it at the music note that appears on your screen and discover a new track. What will make users keep coming back is the fact that the songs that are available change with your location.  According to Air France Music’s Facebook page, “From Paris to Tokyo via Buenos Aires, every sky in the world has its own music with our Air France Music iPhone application, Music in the Sky. Make new discoveries every time you travel!”

Of course I had to try the app for myself. At first I was skeptical. There had to be a catch. Would I be able to use it without being an Air France customer? Would a track be available to me in the middle of Missouri? So I downloaded the app, pointed my phone up and “caught” the track. Within seconds I was listening to a new song!

The app is cool because of how easy it is to use and the access it gives users to undiscovered artists and songs, but it doesn’t stop there. Throughout the year, the airline will give users access to unreleased tracks, concert tickets and even plan tickets “by discovering undiscovered hidden games in the sky,” according to an article from

So far, users seem to be happy with “Music in the Sky.”  It’s got a five-star rating on Itunes, and all the comments on the app are positive.

User comments on iTunes

User comments on iTunes

Though I don’t think the app or Air France’s music selection would convince people to choose the airline over others, I think the app and interactive Facebook page are a great way to engage young travelers especially. The app will help Air France stick in the minds of travelers, so they log on to the airline’s website when they are looking for plane tickets.


One of the hidden games the app offers

One of the hidden games the app offers


Overall, I think the app is a great idea. It’s a smart move for Air France because it will help people become more familiar with the airline, and it’s a good opportunity for music-lovers to test their music knowledge and discover new music no matter where they are in the world.

I will definitely be pointing my phone skyward again soon to see what other songs I can discover.

France surrenders to Neo-Classicism

French architectural firm Atelier Zündel Cristea (AZC), has proposed formal plans to build an inflatable trampoline bridge across the Seine River in Paris. AZC claims, “the bridge in Paris, allows us to locate an architectural reflection within the same realm of contemporary urban enjoyment.” And despite protests that the audacious modern design would be a blemish on classically-styled Paris, AZC’s bridge won an award in a 2012 design competition hosted by the progressive ArchTriumph competition series. The bridge is obviously unsafe and completely gaudy, but to award such bold new style is to evoke the essence of the revolutionary Frenchman.

Paris trampoline bridge – full-time lifeguards needed

To quote the chief argument against the audacious bridge proposal: A writer for BuzzPatrol says, “One wonders where the on-call paramedic will be located, because as anyone who has used a trampoline regularly will know, there is going to be lots of bloody noses, busted elbows, twisted ankles and sore brainpans!” (via

In support of the trampoline bridge, designer AZC says: “The sides of each [of three] section[s] flip up to keep people from falling over… the design is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than building a new bridge.(via

But to the French, there’s a bigger issue than public safety at stake. French citizens who support the classically-styled projection of their culture claim that allowing the construction of such modern-style architecture is offensive to the visage, or “face,” of France. Meanwhile, artists who are progressive and modern in their style continue to encroach upon the refined classicism of Paris. A closer look at the proposed architecture reveals that even some of the new designs are indeed respectful of the classic style’s definitions, parameters, and values.

Oh! The French cultural identity! Viva la France!!

For a perspective crash-course, classicism is defined by worldly ideas originating from antiquity which “primarily express and set standards for taste which the classicists seek to emulate”, that is “formal balance, clarity, manliness, and vigor in art”. Yes, manliness. Today, arts and sciences are still considered “Classical,” while modern movements overlap, which still see themselves as “aligned with light, space, sparseness of texture, and formal coherence.” (Wikipedia, Classicism).

Refer to a related case, where the French have gone ham on matters of cultural identity: The French have formed prominent committees to investigate, regulate, define, and refine language and art as representations of their distinguished culture. They’re all about refinement in enrichment. The Académie française (French Academy), which is part of the French government, arose in 1635 during the height of classicism. The French Academy still wields the same authority today as it did upon its inception. Its members are known as “immortals.” As a statement, an ex officio member of the Academy is The French Association for Standardization. Also notably, the French Academy has a Law Commission permanently assigned to the Academy of Sciences.

Contextually, it is important to credit Cardinal Richelieu with all of this, under French King Louis XIV, a.k.a. the Sun King. Louis XIV was the epitome of the absolute ruler, Hobbes’s Leviathan, and a great patron of the art. His most famous achievement was the building of the grand Versailles Palace, and, according to french philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), is responsible for the French Revolution. Big time.

So, by the 1970s the French Academy was tasked with ensuring that terminology within France, such as is found on labeling, in advertising, and in broadcasting, was Academy-approved French terminology. No new slang. But a complete overhaul of French language law in the 1990s brought about the creation of Paris’s General Commission of Terminology and Neologisms as a prominent new major player on the cultural enrichment scene. The Commission is tasked, in every department and profession in France, with the responsibility for keeping current the new day’s words, that is to say, “to establish an inventory of cases where it is desirable to complete the French vocabulary, taking into account the needs expressed.” So it’s the old Academy dueling with the new Commission. It’s a big job to “ensure harmonization and relevance” of your cultural legacy.

There was a big fuss when the modern technological term “cloud computing“ arrived on the Commission’s agenda in October 2009.

Sacré bleu! Revolution is as French as baguettes and Louis Vuitton.  The French take pride in their people’s repertoire for fighting for a cause. The defiant spirit exists in today’s neo-classic artists. Revolution is in keeping with French heritage. Although pride likely doesn’t stem from how many wars France has won, the people pride themselves on acknowledging, defining, understanding, and appreciating the human person and their existence. This notion has been popular since Pascal’s provocative Pensees in the 1600s. Since then, existentialism has been an undeniably pervasive quality of modern French culture. As culture is dynamic, to describe the surge in audaciously modern proposals by architects in Paris today, one might allude to the spirit of the cultural Renaissance, or “rebirth.”

I’m saying, “Hey, Frenchies,” if language is making slow progress, go big through architecture. And they had best get to it! After all, one mustn’t forget how the French were slighted during the London 2012 Olympics, when The International Olympic Committee defended the sparse use of French, even though it was the official language of the Games.  Ouch.  What else is new?

Returning commentary to the realm of architecture, recall there was a fit when the glass pyramid was added to the Louvre museum in Paris. The striking contrast of architectural styles speaks volumes, in itself, about the depth of the controversy surrounding it. Opponents claim it is too modern while proponents explain its classic virtue.

1989 Controversial modern pyramid addition to classical Louvre Museum, Paris

The same arguments were made surrounding the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1887. It is difficult to accurately gauge the existing support for the emergence of such audacious modern-classical architecture in a classically-dominated France, although news media coverage of new defiant art and architecture proposals has increased considerably in recent years.

A recent example of efforts to preserve French influential progressive architecture comes from an American Atlantic Cities article, “France should Honor Le Corbusier like we honor Frank Lloyd Wright” (Oct 11, 2012. Atlantic Cities).

Frank Lloyd Wright vis-à-vis Le Corbusier architecture


Le Corbusier’s work should be in (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) UNESCO’s World Heritage status so its influence on modern art and architecture is preserved.

It’s that little bit of… “Je ne sais quoi?” the French selectively imbibe and exude which we are attracted to. The concern of the citizens in maintaining quality control over their established cultural benchmarks is as admirable a characteristic as the importance today placed on continuing to introduce new French ideas to the gauntlet today. It’s all about enrichment. The people will fight to ensure it. This influence is reflected on to architecture as an outlet of cultural expression in which the people have a vote, and is also the source of controversy surrounding progressive neo-classic artists. I love to see bold designs defining a new era in France while strict classicists squirm at the sight and toil over antiquated perspectives.

Louvre Islamic Art Exhibit: Perfect Timing?

The Mona Lisa recently got some new company at the Louvre in Paris. In September the Islamic Art wing of the world-famous museum opened in a time when racial tension in France is high.

The aim of the wing is to “showcase the radiant face of a civilization,” according to museum director Henri Loyrette. It also aims to heighten a cross-cultural understanding at a time when tensions are high in France, especially after a French weekly publication published lewd caricatures of the prophet Mohammed.

The wing, which cost about 130 million euro and took ten years to complete, is the museum’s largest development since the completion of I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid 20 years ago, according to an article from CBS News. The exhibit  features works from 632 A.D. all the way up to 1800.

Before this new addition, Islamic art was only displayed in the museum sporadically, according to an article from Al-Ahram Weekly. In the new gallery “the pieces have been inserted into a chronological and thematic display.” The article criticizes this organization because although its size and permanence is significant, the gallery does not give visitors proper context for the pieces.

Obviously the gallery has a high cultural significance because of its showcasing of Islamic art, but the political significance was emphasized when French president Francois Hollande paid a visit to the exhibit before its opening last month. Hollande was joined by the presidents of Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan.

Hollande called the gallery a “political gesture in the service of respect for peace,” according to the CBS News article. “The best weapons for fighting fanaticism that claims to be coming from Islam are found in Islam itself,” he said. “What more beautiful message than that demonstrated here by these works?”

I agree with the president. I think the gallery is an excellent way to educate Europe about the rich Islamic culture, and I think it’s great that the French president is supportive of the new wing. France has the largest Muslim population in Europe and tensions are high recently after the burqa bill and the cartoons in the French newspaper. This exhibition could serve as a way to unite the western world with the Muslim world through creating tolerance and an understanding of Muslim culture.

The Al-Ahram article points out that the Louvre is a perfect venue for a large Islamic art display because of its fame and prestige. The article states that the Louvre will attract a long list of donors and a lot of attention from the public. I agree with this statement. Visitors will come for the pyramid and the Mona Lisa, stick around for the new exhibition and will hopefully leave with a greater understanding and respect for a culture that has faced quite a bit of adversity in France and throughout other parts of the western world.

Calling (almost) all Responses to Hebdo (Warning: Explicit Content)

Leave it to the French Charlie Hebdo to stir the pot during this time of worldwide tension. Just one year ago the weekly journal published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed which led to their studio being caught on fire. And if you think they’ve learned their lesson, guess again. It seems that Charlie Hebdo, a liberal, French satirical newspaper,  just can’t help but come back for more.

Charlie Hebdo has, metaphorically speaking, added fury to last year’s fire with an even more offensive cartoons this year. When the U.S. ambassador to Lybia and three other Americans were shot in response to the anti-Islamic film, Innocence of Muslims, people near and far were ringing in to voice their opinions about the situation. One such response came from by Charlie Hebdo. It arrived in the form of a series of cartoons, which mocked the Muslim extremists, once again depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a crude and blasphemous manner.

The issue of Charlie Hebdo containing the chariactures of Mohammed was released, conveniently, one week after the angry protests in Lybia of the movie Innocence of Muslims led to the deaths of four Americans.  Charlie Hebdo must have thought the increasingly violent situation was an opportune time to practice their freedom of speech drawing, which is protected in the French constitution.

(Warning: Explicit Content) This YouTube video is a slide show of the various
cartoons issued by Charlie Hebdo along with approximate English translations

If  a reaction was what Charlie Hebdo was seeking by publishing the mockery of Prophet Mohammed, that’s exactly what it got.

Many people called Charlie Hebdo’s actions irresponsible. Why would they publish something that could potentially ignite a violent reaction from those in French. Since France has the highest population of any western European country, the journal seems to be asking for trouble. And with violence already breaking out after the killings in Lybia, why would they do something that could potentially provoke more violence?

The French government was actually so fearful of violence that they shut down 20 French Embassies during the Islamic day of prayer as a preventative measure and had the Charlie Hebdo property  guarded by police.

One American had his own opinion about why the police stepped in. “THE MOVE on the part of French officials to pre-emptively outlaw demonstrations against such racist caricatures shows that the key issues here have nothing to do with free speech or a defense of enlightenment values against reactionary extremism–and everything to do with the increasing prevalence of racism and Islamophobia, in France as well as in Europe more generally.”

-American Jonah Birch of

Still yet, other French citizens sang the praises of Charlie Hebdo for fearlessly practicing the right to of freedom of expression.

Some cartoon artists even responded with their own drawing to counter those of Charlie Hebdo.


This cartoon, which I found from a link in a tweet about Hebdo, says on top, “After the Charlie Hebdo fuss, the salafis are boiling.” The quote bubble reads, ” We also want to feel!”

A cartoon that criticizes that “Freedom of Speech” is being used in France as a cover up for Islamophobia.

This cartoon, also a response to Hebdo’s depictions of Mohammed shows religious leaders of Judaism, Christianity and Islam saying, “We must veil Hebdo!”















Regardless of the numerous opinions presented on the subject, I noticed that I was actually unable to find the response of the group that I was looking for: French, Muslims. And then I got to thinking, isn’t it ironic that the free speech debate sparked by Charlie Hebdo is summoning the opinions of multiple French perspectives in the media, but excluding those in the potentially offended party? In fact, the only media reporting that I could find that interviewed muslims in France about their reactions to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons was done by a non-French news source and thus the language was incomprehensible to me.

I personally felt very irritated about the lack of Muslim voice in French reports over the Charlie Hebdo conflict. From an outsider’s perspective it just seems so blatantly obvious to me that the group of people whose opinion we should be seeking is the group that is being insulted. Is it that Muslims in France are denied a voice, or are they choosing not to respond?

While I was unable to dig up any responses from the muslim community in France, there was a global response by Muslims that perhaps reflects the attitude of some of the Muslim population in France. On twitter a hash tag was started,  #MuslimRage, as a platform for Muslims to speak out about what actually makes them mad, in a humorous manner. This non-violent reaction by Muslims is the way in which mainstream Islam is peacefully standing up, both against Islamophobia and religious extremism.

I will leave you now, with some of those tweets:


  • “I’m having such a good hair day. No one even knows.#MuslimRage” — Hend (retweeted 2900 times).
  • Lost your kid Jihad at the airport. Can’t yell for him.#MuslimRage — Leila (retweeted 1000 times).
  • “When you realize that if you have a 5 o’clock shadow it can be deemed a security threat.” — Taufiq Rahim.
  • #muslimrage when you order halal chicken and find out the chef cooked it in alcohol!” — Hassan Sultan.
  • “You go to a football watch party and all these is to eat is pepperoni pizza and beer battered chicken wings#MuslimRage” — Waliya.
  • “i dont feel any rage….does that mean i am not muslim?#someonegetmeadrink #MuslimRage ” — Ramah Kudaimi.


Relevant Links:

Muslim Rage Explodes on Twitter:

The Charlie Hebdo Affair: :Laughing at Blasphemy:

U.S. Ambassador Killed:



Suburban-French Hip-Hop?

Banlieue, the word seems harmless enough, even pretty, when pronounced. And when looked up in a French-English dictionary it translates most commonly as “suburb.”

Into my head images pop up instantaneously of cookie cutter houses with finely manicured lawns, cars in the driveways, fences securing dogs, and the occasional kid outside hula-hooping while their younger sibling practices writing their name in sidewalk chalk.

But what if I told you that French banlieues do not look quite the same as American suburbs. Imagine this picture instead: tightly scrunched, low income  apartment buildings, run-down government housing, riddled with graffiti, violence, and the more than occasional drug deal.

A photo of a government housing in a crowded, Fench banlieue


I will be the first to admit that the term “suburb” in English does not bring me an overwhelming sense of joy, however, I do not associate it with poor living conditions and social unrest.In fact I think of quite the opposite.  So what are banlieues, really, if they are not truly suburbs? It seems that they are more or less ghettos, or areas where North African immigrants are shuttled so as not to disrupt the pristine image of the of French cities. Left on the margins, they are seldom thought of.

Colombe Brossel, a French activist for educational reform who keeps a blog spoke about her discontent for how the balieues are so often ignored in politics. She said that during this past election the word balnlieue diappeared from the French vocabulary altogether and that it “seemed to have become a dirty word that should be avoided when speaking.” She both criticizes and calls to attention the fact that nobody is willing to deal with the banlieues, even though they are in need of urgent attetntion.

A photo that I took from the lookout point described in the video of Lyon, France.


Likewise in this video, a man in Lyon points out that on the map of the city, shown at a tourist point that looks over the sprawling urbanization, the banlieues are completely left out from being labeled, even though they are clearly visible from the lookout point.



While there are few people living outside of the banlieues speaking up about the conditions inside, voices from within the social confines of the benlieue not only speak about their lives, they rap about them. Paradoxically enough while politicians may be trying to muffle the cries of immigrant populations in banlieues, some of the most famous French hip-hop and rap artists have risen to both fame and popularity by reciting lyrics about the realities of their lives.

Hip-hop artists in France are most often find their roots in the Moroccan or Algerian working class population. They see their work as a means of reporting about the seldom-mentioned slums that they once called home growing up, as a way of getting their perspective out to the rest of the francophone world, since the French media often chooses to ignore them.

Since their beginnings, French hip-hop  and rap have been highly controversial. From its rapid popularization in the 1990s it has been both loved by French youth and protested against by French adults. Due to its often  graphic content, the music gets blamed for encouraging violent behavior.

L’espoir des Favelas, the song title of the popular French hip-hop artists of Algerian descent, Rim’K, translates to something like, hope for the slums. In his lyrics Rim’K speaks about the conditions of French Banlieues. He does not refrain from using graphic language or profanities, and while the picture he paints of the slums is not attractive, he does also pose hope that with knowledge and education, one can break free from the cycle of crime in which they were born.

Hip-hop artist, Rim’K, a member of the group Maghreb United


A blogger from NationPresse, a blog which supports the conservative, French right-wing, does not like Rim’K, not even a single bit. He says in his post that Rim’K’s music is “racism (against whites) expressed freely on the radio in rap songs that dome intellectuals dare to call ‘music’ or ‘culture.'”

His blog post struck me as funny. How can somebody from the position of white, male privilege, write a racist blog post about the so-called racism that he feels is coming from a French-African, a group notoriously  and often brutally discriminated against in French history? How can you accuse someone of being racist, when you yourself are also racist? While perhaps I could agree  with the author, that violence is never a good answer and I do not really appreciate listening to violence in songs, I found his post to be highly contradictory considering that in his posts, he describes himself as favoring militant action.

Something about the French hip-hop scene seems eerily similar to the American hip-hop culture. I wonder, since hip-hop appeals first and primarily to youth, is it creating a future in which people will be more aware of the social disparities that exist in banlieues and will therefore more inclined to take action? Or, are the banlieues being glamorized in their minds, while creating even more tension and amubition for French people to call those living in the banlieues violent and dangerous?

In my opinion, the fact that music has been a platform for a marginalized group of people to share their story is pretty exciting. It is simply my hope that as hip hop and rap artists from banlieues rise to fame, that they would give back to the communities that they came from and act as a positive voice of change.

Writing this post made me reflect on the complicated history of North Africans living in France and this quote from a blogger who writes about the common misconceptions of Islam wrote this about France, which I found to be thoughtful enough to share.

“If the challenge of ‘integrating’ French Muslims appears to be a throwback to the old colonial paradox (to ‘civilize those unable to be civilized’), it is only because people have made it that way themselves by defining France’s ‘integration’ problem as a question of culture and religion rather than social immobility, housing policy and educational inequality. Discussions of the banlieues themselves can also get transformed into complaints about culture (e.g., “speaking in slang”, wearing hats backwards and the like). Until the real issues are addressed, and until we stop framing the discourse on French Muslims as a cosmic clash of religion and secularism, things will only get worse. Perhaps, in time, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”



Across Borders: A Parkour Generation


Human motion need not be delimited by carefully-set sidewalks nor inhibited by obstacles. Leap over walls, swing from the rafters to get to your next destination via le method naturelle. The spectacle often leaves average pedestrians awestruck in the dust. Parkour enthusiasts, called traceurs, draw unique lines of approach to this sport of urban free-running and develop their philosophies from the spirit of it. The movements evoke practitioners’ primitive sides while the discipline places them vis-à-vis with moments of fear and truth about the psychological and physical limits. The conceptualization of parkour breaks down ideas of spatial and social confinement, which have restricted our harmony with our environment. As one enthusiast put it, “The idea that the only way to get to the second floor is from the inside of a building is preposterous.”


The community’s consensus is that this adrenaline-pumped martial art was born in Lisses, France, where modern legends-in-the-making like Sébastien Foucan and Jérôme Ben Aoues expressed their free-flow style by jumping, flipping, scaling, leaping along their own paths with exceptionally acrobatic, and distinctly defiant, French flair since the 1990s. Here, skateboarding was not allowed and public playgrounds had rules against this type of play. They developed a sport that complemented surrounding architecture in creating alternate, and often impressive, routes of transit for the nonconformist traveler. The style quickly spread throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Americas. Parkour Generations America started in 2005 with a runabout rendezvous – here is their showreel:


The most spectacular stunts are done among rooftops, but fundamentals should be learned at ground level. Today, online organizations like and seek to inspire young French traceurs by providing tips, tricks, and testimonials from those who have become proficient in the art of creative movement. The masters teach use of fundamental and natural motions, mental rehearsal, and hard work to become fluid in the art of manipulating your horizon, because after all, “the art of moving is about hard training.” Exercise regimes challenge cardiovascular systems, build core strength and improve muscular endurance. The essence is in the footwork, the hand placement, the unique flow of the individual in their route and how they assess obstacles. Uncontested sensei Sébastien Foucan explains that, in his experience, “practice is best done alone…to be focused in yourself. When you are alone you’re a little bit afraid and you need to find why and the solution.” And urges hopefuls in its introduction not to put the cart before the horse. “The flow comes from years of hard work. Even apes and monkeys practice all the day long during their childhood learning from their parents.”


Groups like UrbanFreeFlow and Freemouv display skill at international competitions, most recently this July in the French Alps and in August in Wisconsin, USA. Their talents have also been displayed in such recent films as 007 James Bond: Casino Royale and Jump Britain. Foucan recently helped K-Swiss develop the Ariake, the first freerunning and parkour shoe. Nikon and GoPro have contests to sponsor amateurs in creating parkour videos for the web.

To date, the writer has personally adopted many movements of Animal Planet in conquest of free-running basics. Visualize me at 25, meditating at dawn and practicing throughout Missouri’s karst landscape during my frequent hiking trips. I still get the urge to climb to the top of the playground tower and every other imposing structure I come across. As a novice, I hurt my ankle while leaping between platforms last month and haven’t been as spry since. I should have been wary of encouraging instructions that included the phrase, “various opportunities to jump off the roof.”


Ultimately, parkour is for hard-chargers, fast runners, young kung fu masters, trapeze artists, and those kids who grew up having the most fun on the school playground. It continues to be rapidly embraced by a generation of unprecedented physicality and philosophy: a parkour generation.


Priority Security Zones in France lead to increased ethnic conflict

The night between August 13th and 14th was neither quiet nor peaceful for the residents of Amiens, a town located just north or Paris, France. Riots broke out in the streets, reportedly started by a group of approximately 100 youth of North African origin. The violence that erupted in the area left dozens of cars torched, two buildings burnt and ransacked, and 16 injured police officers. This resulted in an estimated 1.23 million US dollars in damage.


The aggressive response of youth in Amiens toward police has been speculatively related to the recent designation of Amiens as one of 15 Priority Security Zones (ZSP) in France, areas in which crime rates are the highest. These so-called “no-go” zones are described as Muslim dominated areas of immigrant populations that are largely off-limits to non-Muslims. French law enforcement hopes to regain its authority and make things safer in these closed off neighborhoods by increasing its presence within them. According to the French government, there are 751 of these no-go zones that have popped up all over in areas of French cities.


As you can imagine, some think that the policy to increase security in these areas is a good idea and that stricter laws should be enforced, while others strongly disagree with this attitude toward the situation. Nonetheless, this is a topic of controversy in France and most people have an opinion about it, especially in light of the recent election of socialist party president, Francois Hollande, who identified Amiens as a Priority Security Zone.


VENITISM says, “The city is infamous for high unemployment, racial tension, and brutal police force” and believes that Hollande’s government is not equipped to handle the current climate of violence and that it would best be handled by the right-wing politician, Marine LePen, who is known for her French nationalism and “continues to fight against the subversion of the country at the hands of Muslims.” VENITISM critiques Hollande as being too hesitant with his actions in the ZSPs despite his pledge to be tough.


Conversely, Walter Russell Mead of Via Meadia calls into question the way in which the French government has been both vague about what exactly broke out in Amiens, and who was involved. His criticism is that the blame is being both ambiguously and unfairly placed on the shoulders of Muslim, North African immigrant youth as a sort of cop-out to the many social issues taking place in France right now. “If the ‘community’ happened to be of North African origin, that would not make us think that all immigrants in France of Muslim faith and North African origin share these attitudes. We have met far too many thoughtful, educated, well-integrated French citizens with this background to smear a whole ethnicity with the actions of some.”


On one hand, I see the need for the French government to pay attention to no-go zones with increased police presence in order to keep peace and protect the safety of citizens. Whenever there is an environment conducive to crime and destructive riots that injure people their property, it should be investigated.  On the other hand, I also disagree with the way in which Priority Security Zones have been pigeon holed as “Muslim,”  “immigrant,” and “North African,”  implying that all people that fit into these categories are  violent, dangerous and inferior to “French” citizens and thus require increased surveillance and fewer social freedoms.  The story of Amiens has been told from the side of the French government and media only, however it would be valuable to hear the story of the riot told by those youth who were actually involved, in order to even out the bias and understand the conflict better.


Personally, I would like to see the investigation of  no-go zones extend beyond the surface description of what is happening in order to figure out why it is happening. Is it a strong sense of French nationalism and perhaps even racism that drives clumps of North African immigrant populations into segregated communities, giving rise to hostile relations? Or, could is be the opposite, a North African nationalism that drives the segregation and violence? Or, more likely, is it a combination of nationalism on both ends? Furthermore, how does the complicated history of France and North Africa still affecting relations today? And is there a solution for moving past these social conflicts, without denying citizens their rights to freely express themselves both religiously and culturally? It seems in this case, that there is much more going on than meets the eye.