Brexit… Not Armageddon

The results are in: the UK has voted in favour of leaving the European Union (with a very small majority) and for many of us, myself included, it has come as a shock…

This is not the outcome I would’ve chosen, but it is not the Armageddon some would like us to believe.

However, irrespective of how you voted, this entire process will hopefully serve as an eye opener as to how party politics and flagrant politicians drive their own agendas (on both sides of the fence!) and how fearmongering and misinformation can change opinion and sway power.

Yet, despite the outcome of this referendum, I’m not a fatalist and I believe in the power of democracy. And in my view, democracy is always in the hands of the voter.

While I believe Europe was used a scapegoat for many to express their utter dismay with the state of our government, politics and leadership, Britain has cast its vote. And Britain has made its choice (well, 51.9% of the country made the decision for the rest of us).

And today is new day.

I embrace change. I believe in unity. I believe in common sense.

Do I also believe Britain can be a great independent global power?

Yes! Without a doubt.

But not unless there is a political paradigm shift and overall political reform, as part of our exit to independence.

We no longer can afford to look at the current political parties and “leaders” for guidance to bring the change we want to see in Britain.

And let’s face it, whether you voted Leave or Remain, based on the manner in which the referendum debate was handled by both sides of the argument, only a fool would not want to see radical change (or realise the urgent need for it).

David Cameron’s resignation this morning (talk about a fall from grace or escaping through the backdoor) is the first step towards this change.

But be wary of him being replaced by one of the current political scarecrows all too anxious to enter the spotlight – like Boris Johnson who has been sitting eagerly in the wings, waiting for this moment to step up as Britain’s hero and saviour. He is not!

What we now need is for honest and trustworthy leaders, who act with integrity, to step forward. So, not Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage or Jeremy Corbyn.

We can no longer tolerate British politics (and this country) to be governed by individuals who have been selling us the same dead horse for too many years.


Because we’ve not seen a measured and reasonable political agenda from politicians or leaders in decades. Instead we’ve been suffer through divisive inflammatory political campaigns and party infighting, causing disarray and discontent – not just among ourselves but also among our European neighbours.

In fact, Labour and the Conservatives cannot be allowed to dominate the political stage for much longer.

We cannot afford any longer to be blindsided by the rhetoric of a stale dominant two-party political system either… And, god forbid, we cannot allow ourselves to be courted and deceived by the extreme and backward views of the likes of UKIP.

This new and independent Britain needs new political parties fronted by strong leaders with fresh voices, fresh political and economic strategies, and with believable and plausible manifestos, which they will and can deliver.

The hard truth for all of us is that this referendum was not won by a large majority vote.

The country stands divided.

This can either be a bitter pill to swallow or it can be a window of opportunity.

I choose the latter.

I choose radical political reform for the sake of lasting long-term prosperity.

And to achieve this, we should make every effort to undo the example set by our fallen leaders and flawed party politics.

And as individuals, we can start by counting need our words – taking heed – in the conversations we have around our kitchen tables and in our streets. We need to change our language and steer clear of engaging in damaging and hateful rhetoric. We are better than this.

Words can easily be misunderstood and twisted and turned into something hurtful and hateful. This can lead to tragic actions being taken. Look at the fate of Jo Cox.

If we want unity and progressive change, we cannot engage in language that hints at division, hatred and separation – not among ourselves, not when we talk about our neighbours and not when we speak of foreign nationals who are living among us  – contributing to our growth and economy.

Through my eyes, there is certainly hope and the potential of finding a middle-ground: one that is measured, intelligent and fair, creating equal opportunities and prosperity for everyone – taking care of the wellbeing and welfare of everyone in this country, including EU citizens who have chosen to make Britain their home before the referendum took place (and even those who choose to make it this beautiful country their home in the future).

As we strive to unite again (and we will) and learn the lessons from this experience, we will hopefully realise that the future of Britain’s greatness is really in our hands. And our success won’t be achieved by building walls, bullying, discrimination and promoting fear and intolerance – because it can easily rear towards that direction.

Instead, we will build strong bridges – form better relationships. We will be good neighbours, upholding the values that have always made Britain one of the most forward-thinking, diverse and multicultural countries on this planet.

So, if you voted Leave remember in the coming days, weeks and months why you made your mark: You were tired of how this country was run. You were tired of broken promises by self-serving politicians – whether here at home or in Brussels. You were fed up with the wealth-divide. You wanted your voice to be heard. You wanted change.

If you voted Remain, then you are part of the 48.1 % of Britain who stood strong in favour of our global and European economic participation and success. You too believe in Britain’s ability to be a force to be reckoned with. You know that we are a global leader that can achieve so much in the areas of economics, trade agreements, global peace and human rights.

We cannot undo the results of this referendum. The decision has been made.

All we can do now is to stand together, enforce reform and to say: Yes we can. Yes we will.

When The Last Tree Falls…

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

― Clare Boothe Luce

Today, our family is saying goodbye to the last surviving soul of a great generation – the backbone of our family: My aunt Hettie, who lived until the age of 94.

Over the past few days, since her passing on Thursday morning, I have been lost in the most comforting and beautiful memories of her in my childhood.

As an English teacher, she instilled in me a love for books, learning and languages. Visiting her meant no television, but rather picking up a book, drawing, building puzzles and figuring out crosswords and riddles… Knowledge is power. Use your mind. Think.

As a young woman, Hettie travelled a fair bit (an exotic luxury only a few enjoyed at the time). Her stories of foreign countries and strange cultures planted the seeds in me of wanting to discover and explore our wonderful planet. I still carry with me (and cherish) a pair of leather gloves she brought back from somewhere (I’d like to believe it was Paris) as a gift for me when I was 5 years old.

My bookshelves are bursting at the seams because of you Hettie and the travel bug inside me remains restless and thirsty for more places to see, foods to taste and people to meet… there is always more to experience, right?

Hettie was a dedicated homemaker with an impeccable sense of style – Africa with a hint of Scandinavia. The eclectic spaces she created, wherever she lived, told the story of who she was, where she had been and the beauty of how she viewed the world. She dressed simply – almost minimally. A wardrobe cut, sewn and knitted mostly with her own two hands. Linen. Cotton. Wool. Soft, pale and natural colours. Comfortable, practical and elegant.

When I look around my home, I can see your creative influence. I know a part of you has always been with me. Sadly, it’s only now that I recognise where that gift came from. 

She spent hours grooming her garden and flower pots, no matter what the season. We’d often arrive at her home and hear her talking to the tadpoles in her fish pond and gently (albeit it a bit impatient) encouraging her willow tree to grow. She had an astonishing talent to nurture plants on the brink of death back to life. Love. Care. Attention. Dedication.

Her dogs, Dandle and Jean, two Spaniels, were not just her companions and friends but four-legged soul mates who followed her everywhere. Spiders came to no harm in her home – they were regarded as friendly spirits who briefly visit. She adored all animals and was connected to nature in an admirable and almost Holy way — like we all should strive to be.

Hettie, your wicked and teasing sense of humour annoyed many of us. Your sharp and observational wit called a thing by its name and often caught us off guard. No nonsense. Just honesty. You made us laugh with your random quips and straightforward punch lines.

You always said to me: “You should find yourself a lovely English girl with rosy cheeks and blue eyes”, but you knew full-well that it was never going to happen. Accepting. Kind. Graceful.

As a single parent, she raised her children in an exemplary way. She loved her husband dearly. But once he passed away after just a short few years of being married, she never remarried and dedicated her life to living – not seeking, not wanting, not pondering. She knew who she was. She made her own rules and created a beautiful life.

There are so many things, Hettie, which I want to say. But ‘Thank you’ comes to mind first: Thank you for the impression you made on my life. Thank you for being a friend. I am so bitterly sorry that I let our relationship slip in the last decade, and that I carelessly neglected you. I did not forget you but I was selfish. I regret this. I am sorry.

May you rest in peace in a beautiful heavenly garden, among flowers and animals. I hope your reunion with all the others are joyful: Granddad Frankie (he did not like you calling him that… but you insisted), Grandma Tilly, Aunt Bella, Uncle Billy-Boy, Hector, Dandle, Jean, Dada and every single beautiful one that is no longer with us.

I know they’ve waited for your arrival with great anticipation – the same way we did when our family gathered for lunch on Sundays under the big old tree in Grandma’s front garden. You’d arrive a little late with sugar cookies, fruity fudge squares and Roly Poly – your signature dessert… and then the laughter started.

The last majestic tree has fallen in the forest. And now, all that remains for the saplings to look upon is the empty space it leaves behind.

7 Lessons Being 40 Taught Me So Far

“The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.”

– Lucille Ball –

I never gave growing older a second thought, not until I turned 40. It’s been nearly 7 months since my 40th birthday and if there is one thing that holds true about reaching middle-age (a term I passionately resist), then it is this: Everything changes… even aspects of your life that you thought were a constant.

Apart from a momentary age-related anxiety attack and minor physical inconveniences — I passed my first kidney stones a few weeks ago (if there is a hell that must be it!), my right shoulder has a crick it didn’t have before and I now permanently wear glasses — so far my Naughty Forties have been a pleasantly revealing experience…

It’s like all the pieces of a delicate watch have been spread out on the floor for the best part of 30 years and now, by some greater mystical command, all those tiny nuts, bolt and wheels are slowly coming together. The process is not painless or without discomfort, but at least it feels like all those ‘character-forming experiences’ of the past 3 decades is beginning to pay off.

Don’t get me wrong, Life isn’t perfect all of a sudden. Far from it. However, embracing the fact that it never will be perfect makes it so much easier to accept all its glorious imperfections.

Here’s my observations of my journey into my 40s so far:

1. Being Miss Congeniality is simply too much effort:

During my 20s and most definitely in my 30s, I bonded ‘deeply’ with anyone who remotely had similar-looking tattoos and almost shared the same taste in music as me, and I went through great lengths to nurture these superficial relationships.

This dance for acceptance exhausted me and it led me… well, down roads less travelled of which some are best forgotten. (Like the time I got mixed up with a bunch of past-life regression junkies and ended up making offerings of chopped liver to a gypsy spirit, under a willow tree  — a story for another day.)

By the time I reached 39, I’ve tried and tested quite a lot of what Life has to offer: cigarettes, hot yoga, prescription sleep aids, recreational drugs, at-home hair colour, eyebrow threading, energy bars, acupuncture, sparkling water, tap water, Hair Metal, Celine Dion, cruise ship holidays, face masks, quinoa, hummus, chai tea, minimalism, beige, organic food, raw milk, Rodeo, body piercings, open relationships, monogamy, abstinence, bankruptcy, Christianity, Buddhism, anger management, grapefruit diets, fasting and Botox… to mention but a few.

So, it’s with relief that I now can comfortably say: “I know how I like my steak and how I drink my coffee.” 

In other words, I recognise when I am among my tribe.

We won’t be compatible with everyone we meet and we won’t always be ‘liked’ by everyone. It’s not worth the effort to try and fit in everywhere… and that’s okay.

2. Hitching a short ride:

That girl, the one who worked behind the bar of a restaurant and who ‘loved’ me ‘f-o-r-E-V-E-R’ because I promised to sell her my Vespa at a bargain price…

Well, she took the Vespa without paying for it, moved to Australia, got married, had a baby… and we’ll probably never speak to each other again.

And that’s fine.

She’s one of many who briefly came into my life and quickly left through the backdoor.

This and other similar experiences have taught me to recognise the people who are only hitching a short ride around the block and those who will stay by my side for the entire journey.

True friendships — the enduring ones — don’t cost much. They don’t come with a price tag, yardstick or a measuring jug…

3. Those sex rumours? They really are totally true…

My 20s and 30s was a cacophony of delicious experiences — apart from two very awkward years, which my friends promised to never speak about… Ever! (Think chopped liver, gypsy spirit, willow tree… another day, another time.)

Even though the first two decades of my adulthood were a lot of ‘fun’, once I turned 40 the way I express my sexuality has moved to a whole new level. The mechanics of sex (my body, mind and all the bits in between) finally clicked. I’m comfortable with the ‘messiness’ of sex. I trust my instincts more, I enjoy (and appreciate) my body for the first time and, best of all, I no longer feel the need to justify (or explain) my sexual proclivities.

My thinking is: Everybody has something that makes them a bit kinky — for some it’s a jug of whipped cream and a feather, for others it’s handcuffs and an eager audience.

If you can’t accept your desires by the time you’re 40, when will you ever?

4. You’re not necessarily wrong, but I’m always right:

I used to allow people to tell me how I am ‘supposed’ to feel. And I often believed it when I was told that my emotional experiences were ‘wrong’.

Talk about verfremdungseffekt.


I now know that my feelings are real (I have every right to feel what I feel) and my instincts are there for a good reason (it is okay to trust my gut). I don’t have to be perfectly pleasing all the time (this took me a while to grasp). However, it’s also my responsibility to own how I react to people and situations… and better still, I can change the way I feel, especially when my emotions aren’t serving me well.

You (and only you) are the master of your emotions.

5. How do you write your story:

We all have a little voice in our heads that gives a constant running commentary on EVERYTHING. Pay careful attention to it and you’ll find that this narrative is cynical, negative, judgemental, self-defeating, inconsistent (untrustworthy) and pretty much downright nasty — certainly not a friend!

Once I began to monitor this narrative inside my head — the stuff I say about myself to myself — and replaced the negatives of that ‘inner’ conversation with supportive and realistic affirmations, my relationship with myself improved radically, which had a ripple effect to all my personal relationships.

For the sake of how we show ourselves to the world, it’s much healthier to tame the psychological warfare inside our heads. However, for the sake of living with integrity, it’s equally important to ‘fact-check’ the so-called ‘truths’ we hold onto.

There’s no greater fool than the one who pulls wool over his own eyes… and sometimes it is difficult to be honest with ourselves about the ‘good’ and ‘not so good’ we carry within ourselves.

6. Nobody wins. Nobody loses:

Shortly after I turned 40, I went a bit bonkers — like a frantic bees trying to escape through a closed window.

I was wrapped up in a debilitating fear of not having ‘enough time left’, that I’ve passed my sell-by date, wasted the best years of my life on useless people and achieved nothing. (See psychological warfare.)

This mild hysteria gave me night sweats, panic attacks and anxiety tremors (not a good look on an early-morning commuter train… or on a treadmill). Eventually, on the brink of a mental breakdown, I expressed my concerns in a conversation with my stepmom (a woman whose empathy skills are slightly underdeveloped, but her heart is in a good place). This is what she said:

“You cannot resist Time. You are getting older. That’s all there is to it. If you fight it, you WILL lose. Rather work with it and enjoy what lies ahead. It will be a lot easier and in the end, you’ll see it is not at all as bad as you thought.”

Coming from a 70-year-old woman who still travels across the globe every year and who doesn’t wear a single wrinkle on her face, I took her words to heart and decided to chill the hell out…

When panic strikes, taking deep breaths. Distressing as it first may seem, the only certainty we have is that our time here on earth eventually runs out. It’s part of the deal… and there is nothing we can do about it.

Ultimately, we have a choice: Be a spectator or be a participant.

Either way, in the end when the clock stops, nobody is a winner… And that’s okay.

7. Getting down with the gods and goddesses:

I don’t care what your religious convictions are (mine aren’t great and this is not about religion anyway). There’s no denying the fact that we all carry a Divine Spark within us — the part inside us that makes us awesome, unique and resilient. It’s the Light of our Souls that attracts and creates every experience and relationship (good and bad) that we need during our lives to help us grow and to make our time on earth a worthwhile journey.

Giving myself permission (on a daily basis) to embrace and nurture my inner Light (or superhero, genius, god, goddess, artist, healer, creator… whatever you want to call it), is the best thing I have done to keep my sanity and attract ‘the right people’.

We cannot forever deny or hide who we are… the good and the not so good… eventually, through all the cracks and beautiful imperfections, our Light will shine through… and a little tiny bit of it might even cast a shadow.

Like RuPaul always says to his drag queen prodigies: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”

From Rebel To Oppressor, Demon To Survivor: 90 Years Of Afrikaans


“A riot is the language of the unheard.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr. —

Today, my mother tongue, Afrikaans, celebrates 90 years as an official language. Suffice to say it is one of the youngest languages in the world… and one of the most vibrant, beautiful and poetic.

Looking back at its history, there can be no doubt that it has always been (and still is) at the helm of political and social change in South Africa — sometimes serving as a tool of transformation and sometimes standing in the frontline of cultural conflicts.

The linguist Paul Roberge suggested the earliest ‘truly Afrikaans’ texts are doggerel verse from 1795. Afrikaans found its roots in Malagasys (Cape Malays) culture as well as the Khoi, San, and Bantu peoples (native tribes to Southern Africa) who lived in the Cape Colony. It was spoken as a stripped down version and gradual divergence from European Dutch dialects and because of its humble origin, imperial Europeans referred to it as a “kitchen language” or peasant language — spoken only in the homes of native tribes, slaves and servants.

The workers and slaves (under Dutch rule in the Western Cape), who contributed to the development of Afrikaans, were African creole people and in the early 18th century they were the first to call themselves Afrikaner (from Africa). So, historically, Afrikaners were not Caucasian, making it rather extraordinary that, a few hundred years later, Afrikaans played a key role in establishing the Apartheid government and fuelling racism in South Africa.

Around 1815, Afrikaans began to replace Malay as the language of instruction in Muslim schools in South Africa, written with the Arabic alphabet, and the first Arabic Afrikaans Islamic instruction book was published in 1877.

Only much later, in the second half of the 19th century, did the Boers (Caucasians descendants from Holland and France) adopt the attribution Afrikaner as well as the language. The Boers used Afrikaans as a form of resistance against British rule — who took over from the Dutch in the Cape Colony. This “new” language offered an opportunity of a new identity and independence from British colonialism.

Striving for their freedom, the Boers left the Cape Colony in the 19th century and settled in the Orange Free State and Transvaal to escape British rule and extract themselves from the constant border wars between the British imperial government and the local tribes on the eastern frontier. This exodus is known as The Great Trek, in which the Boers took their families and trekked into the unknown with nothing more than a few cattle, chicken and other livestock, an ox waggon and whatever little provisions and possessions they could take with them.

Afrikaans became the Boer’s language of choice and among the Boers English was referred to as the language of “the oppressor”, and it was considered a betrayal to speak English if you were an Afrikaner. Their language and new identity was something the Boers vehemently protected and the freedom to speak their own language was something they were prepared to die for.

Afrikaner Women & Children in British Concentration Camps During The Anglo Boer War

Afrikaner Women & Children in British Concentration Camps During The Anglo Boer War

Animosity toward the English language persisted well into the 20th century. Even in my own family, being brought up in a conservative Christian Afrikaner household during the 1970s and 80s, I was forbidden to “mix” my language — replacing Afrikaans words with English ones — or even to read English comic books.

The First and Second Anglo Boer Wars further strengthened the position of Afrikaans and in 1925 it was finally recognised as a language in its own right.

The first Afrikaans feature film Sarie Marais, tackled the atrocities of how the Boers suffered in British concentration camps during the Anglo Boer Wars. Sarie Marais was released in 1931 along with the film Moedertjie, which dealt with events in 1914, when large numbers of young Afrikaners migrated from rural areas to towns and cities (abandoning the Afrikaner farming culture) in search of a better life. The films were also the first ever shown in South Africa that had sound and even though they were only 30 minutes long, they were still considered “full feature length”.

The first official Afrikaans translation of the entire Bible was published in 1933. This monumental work was a landmark accomplishment and established Afrikaans as “’n suiwer en oordentlike taal” (a pure and proper language) not only for religious purposes but it also firmly cemented the Afrikaner’s religion — puritan Calvinism — as a cornerstone of the Afrikaans identity and culture.

It’s worthwhile to note that some verses in the 1933 translation were carefully rewritten (by means of ‘selective’ interpretation) to justify the Afrikaner’s superior attitude towards other races… they viewed themselves as “chosen people by God”. Later these verses were used to rationalise and defend Apartheid. And so, a language once spoken by servants and slaves — considered a language of rebellion — gradually transformed into being the language of the oppressor.

In the late 1960s and early 70s, after South Africa gained independence from British rule, over 60,000 inhabitants of District Six — a neighbourhood situated on the foot of Table Mountain — were forcibly removed from their homes by the Apartheid government. District Six was a relatively cosmopolitan and interracial neighbourhood, with a large population of Cape Malays (Muslims) — the very people who spoke Afrikaans when it was a mere “kitchen language” a few hundred years ago. The neighbourhood was also inhabited by a substantial amount of black Xhosa residents and a smaller number of whites, and Asians. The majority of  District Six’s inhabitants spoke Afrikaans.

The Apartheid government gave four primary reasons for the removals. One of which stated that in accordance with Apartheid philosophy, interracial interaction bred conflict, necessitating the separation of the races. They deemed District Six a slum, fit only for clearance, not rehabilitation. However, shortly afterwards, the government declared District Six a whites-only area under the Group Areas Act, with forcible removals of other races and demolition of buildings starting in 1968… the entire neighbourhood was taken to the ground with bulldozers, leaving only a handful of churches and Mosques standing.

It was not until 2003, 37 years after its entire community was destroyed, that the redevelopment of District Six started.

Cape Malays Dancers In The Streets Of District Six

Cape Malays Dancers In The Streets Of District Six

In 1976, African secondary school pupils in the Soweto Township began a rebellion in response to the Apartheid government’s decision that Afrikaans be used as the language of instruction for half the subjects taught in non-White schools (with English continuing for the other half). During these tumultuous times, Africans refused to speak Afrikaans, because of how they were discriminated against by the Afrikaner under the stringent Apartheid laws.

The African community’s opposition to Afrikaans and preference for continuing English instruction was so severe that the Apartheid government was forced to rescind the policy one month after the uprising: 96% of Black schools chose English (over Afrikaans) as the language of instruction… and so the seed was planted setting in motion the slow process of transformation leading to the first free, non-racial, democratic elections in South Africa, in 1994.

In the new democracy, under the new South African Constitution of 1996, Afrikaans kept its status as an official language, and currently has equal status to English and nine other ethnic languages. The new policy means that the use of Afrikaans is now often reduced in favour of English, or to accommodate the other official languages.

Today, Afrikaans is spoken by 4,740,000 people as a first language and by 10,300,000 as a second or a third language in South Africa. Sadly, the number of Afrikaans speaking people is decreasing. Yet, it still remains a language that keeps transforming itself — finding new ways of expressing itself in the ever-changing political landscape of South Africa… and along with its own transformation the people who speak it, transform as well.

An urban dialect (or pidgin), called Fanagalo, incorporates three of the official languages in South Africa: Zulu, Afrikaans and English. Fanagalo is mainly spoken as a second language in the gold, diamond, coal and copper mining industries in South Africa and to a lesser extent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Considering how national pride was drummed into me as a child, my grandfather — a man who played a pivotal role in establishing the Afrikaans school curriculum — will probably turn in his grave if he knew that I’m making a living as a writer in Britain, writing in what he considered to be the “language of the oppressor”. (Let alone the fact that I’m writing this article about Afrikaans in English!)

However, I have no illusions  about my mother tongue and I also carry no shame about its history. Like the language, I now stand with my feet firmly in the present. For me, in its essence, it will always be humble and earthy “kitchen language”. It’s the language that links me with my past. It keeps me grounded and reminds me that sometimes it’s necessary to change and adapt to your changing environment. It connects me to the people I love the most and when I hear it unexpectedly in the streets of London, I instantly feel comforted. With its simple, direct words and poetic turn of phrase it best captures everything about me, in a way no other language can.

Afrikaans once was a rebel and it turned into an oppressor. Throughout its short existence it was either demonized or embraced and as a result one thing is certain: It knows how to survive and accommodate change… just like the all the people who speak and have spoken it.

Having travelled all over the world, I can safely say: If you want to really understand the people and cultural nuances of a particular country, learn to speak their language… it will tell you everything about them you want to know… and much more.

A case in point, when the British design magazine Wallpaper described Afrikaans as “one of the world’s ugliest languages” in an article in 2005, the South African billionaire Johann Rupert (son of business tycoon Anton Rupert and chairman of the diamond luxury goods company Richemont Group), permanently withdrew all advertising from the magazine for brands such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Montblanc and Alfred Dunhill from the magazine. The author of the article, Bronwyn Davies, was an English-speaking South African.

Mors met my taal en jy mors met my land, my mense en met my siel.

Text: FR Lubbe

Teach Them About Charlie Around Your Kitchen Table


“I fear this is the beginning of something much bigger.”

— Eileen Horowitz Bastianelli, Paris resident at Charlie Hebdo Demonstration —

On Wednesday 7 January 2015, two brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, stormed the offices of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and gunned down 12 people. Eight journalists, two police officers, a maintenance worker and a visitor were killed in the attack, including the newspaper’s editor.

Charlie Hebdo — already under police protection after receiving death threats from Islamic extremists — is known for its provocative and controversial (often inflammatory) satirical social commentary and has been warned in the past by the French government to tone things down, especially when provoking the religions of the world.

However, freedom of expression and freedom of speech is a value (and a human right) the French hold very close to their hearts… One they will defend to the death — something that became a reality last week Wednesday as the terrorists shouted Allāhu Akbar (God is greatest) as they committed their cold-blooded tribal savagery. The massacre, they claim, was in retaliation of the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

The drama came to an end on Friday when raids were conducted almost simultaneously on a printing plant in the town of Dammartin-en-Goele, north-east of Paris, where the Kouachi brothers were holed up, and a Paris Jewish supermarket where Amedy Coulibaly (the third terrorist, who had already shot dead a policewoman south of Paris) killed four hostages.

France, the rest of Europe and the World was left in shock and yesterday, Sunday 11 January 2015, 3.7 million people gathered across France in a moving tribute to the 17 people who were killed during these horrific three days of mayhem.

In Paris alone, 1.5 million tear-streaked faces slowly shuffled through the streets of the grieving City of Light — white, brown, black; left-wing and right-wing. United. There were old men in berets; Jewish people in yarmulkes; Muslims in headscarves. They marched for France… against hatred… against extremism… for history.

In the crowd there were cries of Je suis Charlie (I am Charlie), Je suis Ahmed (I am Ahmed — a reference to the Muslim police officer who lost his life in the attack), Je suis juif (I am a Jew — in memory of the Jewish supermarket victims).

The mood of the crowd was a mixture of sombre defiance, determination and even joy. One sign in the crowd read: “They wanted to bring France to its knees. Instead they brought Europe to its feet.”

Forty-four world leaders linked arms and led the masses down Boulevard Voltaire. Among them were Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestine’s Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Britain’s David Cameron, France’s François Hollande and Germany’s Angela Merkel.

Speaking with passion, France’s President François Hollande said: “Today, Paris is the capital of the world. Our entire country will rise up towards something better.” The people chanted, Liberté, egalité, fraternité (Freedom, equality, brotherhood).

Trafalgar SQ, London. Image by: Rob Stothard - Getty Images

Trafalgar SQ, London. Image by: Rob Stothard – Getty Images

And so we reflect.

We have to reflect. It’s our duty as citizens of the World — Muslims, Jews, Christians, Liberals, Free-thinkers, Conservatives and everybody in-between — to carefully digest this travesty. In order to make sense of the spider’s web of raw emotions and frustrations, complex opinions, and conflicting beliefs, values and ideologies that burst open like an infectious boil during the past week, we must think, we must make sense and we must make better. Collectively.

The picture of unity and togetherness we saw on Sunday, heart-warming and reconciliatory as it was, is not the initial reaction many of us showed in the wake of this tragedy. In fact, the tone of news reports and social commentary quickly turned into flagrantly offensive Islamophobia as it emerged that the terrorists committed these hideous acts in the name of Islam.

After all, in the West, aren’t we conditioned to see Islam and the Muslim Community as a threat to our Secular multicultural values? We are subtly fed a fear for this secretive culture with its veiled religion where women hide their faces, practicing medieval customs and where men dictate almost every aspect of life with a brutal and unforgiving force.

There is certainly enough proof to sustain our phobia. Terror in the name of Islam has now become endemic. There is no refuting the fact that it has reshaped the world over the last 20 years: The twin towers. The Tube bombings in London. A nightclub in Bali. A memorial in Ottawa. A café in Sydney. A magazine in Paris.

It’s a harsh reality.  It exists.

However, the mistake we make is that we believe Islam lies at the heart of this onslaught against our values.

However, on Friday night, sharia official Harith al Nadhari from the branch of al-Qaeda in Yemen, claimed the group directed the attack on the Charlie Hebdo Paris offices, saying: “The leadership of AQAP (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) directed the operations and they have chosen their target carefully… It is better for you to stop your aggression against the Muslims, so perhaps you will live safely.”

The truth is, al-Qaeda has very little to do with Islam… if anything at all. In fact, if Islam really is as radical as these bloodthirsty militants want us to believe, we certainly would’ve seen a civil war erupt between the French and Muslims, in the past few days. Muslims would’ve joined them in their droves to avenge their Prophet. But this didn’t happen, for the simple reason that these extremists are part of a minority death cult that uses Islam (and being Muslim) to achieve their goal: They want to cause division and they want to separate us.

I believe the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly were not really offended by the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. They don’t care about satire. For all we know they may not even care about the Prophet Muhammad.

Instead, they merely pretend to be offended by the West’s freedom of speech and expression, as a pretext to commit murder in the name of Islam. Murder so horrifying, so unWestern, that non-Muslims – blinded by grief and rage – turn on innocent Muslims. Blame them. Persecute them. Burn the Quran, attack their Mosques, threaten them in the street and demand their expulsion from Western societies. Actions that, in turn, scare Western Muslims, isolate them, alienate them. And thus drive some of them to support — and even become — terrorists.

Result: terrorists swell their ranks for a civil war they long to provoke non-Muslims into starting.

Divide and conquer, right?

Besides, has religion not been used throughout history to wage many a war?

Like many others, I took their bait in a knee-jerk reaction. I spoke angrily and harshly. I felt unforgiving. Fortunately, it’s a relief to see that the message is beginning to sink in that the enemy is not Islam but a wicked group of people trying to stir hatred among people who can and have been living side-by-side in peace.

I hope, as a lesson, we will remind ourselves in the future (because these attacks are far from over) that these men of violence and hatred are not just a minority, but a fragment of a fragment.

We are stronger. Our common enemy is radical, extremist Islam – not normal Islam.

However, I also believe that both sides — the West and the Muslim Community — must take stock and own responsibility for a few things before we can move forward in our united war against extremism.

Paris, Charlie Hebdo Demonstration. Image by Stephane Mahe, REUTERS

Paris, Charlie Hebdo Demonstration. Image by Stephane Mahe, REUTERS

It’s evident that in a liberal and free society we value our freedom of expression and the right to free speech. This is why the attack on a newspaper, a symbol of these freedoms, wrenched our guts and why we cry out in defiance: We will not be silenced.

We are indeed prepared to die for this liberty. But with this freedom and fundamental value comes a great responsibility.

I don’t think (and many believe the same) that any religion is immune to being questioned and satirised. No one has the God-given right to be offended. If that was the case, then we all should be silent because one man’s silly cartoon is another man’s existential threat. However, our commentary, satire, and questioning of people’s religious beliefs should be measured and balanced. There are boundaries that must be respected. Certain things should be granted sanctity.

For a truly devout Muslim, the Quran demands that the image of the Prophet must not be recreated. According to their scriptures, the Prophet is an immaculate being of perfection, purity and beauty, and it is impossible and indeed blasphemous to even attempt to depict Him. Standing in their shoes (no matter how archaic it may seem for outsiders), Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons must’ve been shocking (if not nauseating) to see.

Even I think, as a non-religious person, they were a bit too much — too provocative — and designed to cause harm.

Is that what we want in a Secular society? All for the sake of pushing boundaries, under the guise of upholding our rights and freedoms? Are we not wise and cunning enough to still say what we want to say without being blatantly crude?

There is a great big difference between fear and ignorance. Censoring ourselves for the greater good cannot be seen as caving into the demands of a small militant group of terrorists.  In the words of Martin Luther King: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

Out of respect for others, surely we can give deities, saints and Holy men amnesty from ridicule… even if we don’t believe in them ourselves.

Among the crowd, in Paris on Sunday, a man said: “I am Kabyle and I am Muslim. The killers were not true Muslims. I am here to say that I support the democratic values of France and I am also a devout Muslim.

That’s a beautiful statement. It demonstrates the willingness to integrate into a society with starkly different values from your own.

For all the hand-wringing about Western society’s decadence, it is still a society that retains core values of decency, compassion and tolerance. Muslims need to understand this and should be willing to integrate with our values and abide to the laws that uphold them when they choose to live among us and share in the freedoms we enjoy, in the same way that Westerners must abide to the laws and customs of the land in Muslim countries — there is nothing racist, phobic or discriminatory to the notions of ‘give and take’ and ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do’.

It is all fine and well to walk with us in solidarity after a terrorist attack and to claim: These actions are not representative of our faith and religion… The Quran does not teach violence… etc… etc.

However, the fact remains, these extremists hide in the dark corners of the Muslim Community and they are damaging the image of the peaceful majority of the global Muslim community. It is therefore the responsibility of Muslim leaders and the community they lead to show us what Islam really stands for. Set the example. Teach us. Educate us. Move into the mainstream. Not to convert or dominate us but to help us understand the essence of your beliefs and customs.

There are times when silence equals consent. The time to be silent has long passed. Action is now required. Stand up against extremists and weed them out in your communities. Speak out against your hate preachers. Tell them they are not welcome. Expel them. Expose the darkness. Teach Muslim parents how to protect their children from being radicalized and spread your message of peace, love and unity. Do it consistently… not just when tragedy strikes.

Knowledge is power. For all of us. We have a lot to learn from each other.

Now that the banners are down, the flag-waving politics are over, the chants are silent and the streets are empty again, we must cherish this truth: It is within the walls of our homes, around our kitchen tables, in our schools, Churches, Synagogues and Mosques that we plant the seeds of unity, peace, love and tolerance no matter what our religious convictions are… but these places can also be where we breed fear and hatred.

The choice is ours. Everyday.

Charlie Hebdo Vigil. Image: Reuters

Charlie Hebdo Vigil. Image: Reuters

Images: Open Source see credits
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes