Respect the Paris Victims: Stop Waving the French Flag!

People who posted their profile pictures in social media with the French flag as a background and also those who projected its colors into buildings all over the world are either lazy or ignorant. I guess both!

France has a long history of aggression, killings and acts of terrorism against civilians around the world in its former colonies, including an extensive record of economic extortion and political destabilization.

Paris has been attacked many times before: in the 1950s by the Algerian Liberation Front, in the 70s and 80s by the Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine, and by the Armenian group ASALA in 1983. Most recently, the staff of Charles Hebdo was targeted by Al-Qaeda in early 2015. France has invaded many regions throughout the world, exploited and divided them (eg. the Sykes-Picot agreement, where the UK and France divided the Middle East in 1916 into colonies of their own). The exploitation and killing in the former colonies is still going on, but it is now disguised as private corporations and peace keeping missions, both directly injuring innocent civilians. A country that has caused so much suffering and division should not be surprised when it is attacked itself.

The French flag is a symbol representing a nation-state. The state is a political and geopolitical entity, and a nation is a cultural and an ethnic one. Governments, if you read the news just this week, have been under attack all over the world: aggressive protests in Italy, Finland, Brazil and South Korea. There is a reason governments are attacked: these are entities holding the monopoly of violence. They have an inherently oppressive character as such. The French flag represents nationalism, which can be considered as a form of racism as it projects the importance of one nation above others. Such jingoistic feeling is achieved via numerous symbols and rituals within the nation, such as the national Anthem: the Marseillaise.  This is a song written for the war against Austria in 1792, the lyrics of which are filled with hatred, violence, weapons and killings. What kind of symbolism does one want to achieve with it, one of violence? Is that what one should be singing about, especially children? Are those our values and morals?

Despite being Portuguese, I personally abstain from singing the Portuguese national anthem due to its similar lyrics calling out to sacrifice one’s life in a long forgotten conflict against England. I find it difficult to understand people who defend national anthems only due to their presumed cultural value when their lyrics in no way correlate to our beliefs and ideas today.

During the November 13th 2015 attacks, people immediately sang these words of violence at the National Stadium and the day after, at the National Parliament. The population chants a song filled with words of revenge and for the call of arms. They are either unaware of it or deliberately ignoring its content for the sake of nostalgia and tradition! We need to be both more aware and honest about it. We need to learn how to read, not just the “anthems” across Europe, but also the different history interpretations and our own logical reasoning (and illogical reasoning for that matter). As Voltaire accordingly noted: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities” – violence comes from disempowerment. Most of us civilians have no voice whatsoever and many of us feel marginalized and powerless in the face of inequalities and injustices. A voice through elections, via a cross on a paper every 4 years, is utterly meaningless.

Half of the 3000 Europeans that fled and joined ISIS are of French origin. These citizens resorted to crude violence as it guaranteed them that their voice is heard. Governments fight back such violence with more violence, labeling it as acts of terrorism. But “If you want terrorism to end, stop participating in it” as Chomsky said. The problem lies within our governmental structures that closed their doors to citizens. We must mobilize ourselves to make governments more inclusive, open, a shared ownership that would include everyone in the decision-making process. We need to strengthen institutions and create new ones that do not exclude any of its citizens.

There are far many better ways to pay tribute to the innocent victims of Paris than raising a flag of a nation-state that bears a great deal of responsibility in the violence witnessed.

Pedro Aibéo is a trained Design Architect (M.Sc., Dipl. Ing., TU Darmstadt, Germany) and Civil Engineer (M.Sc., Licenciatura, FEUP, Porto) with over 50 buildings designed and built on 15 countries currently practicing at "AIBEO architecture". He is also a Kone Säätiö Research Fellow, a Visiting Associate Professor at UNAM University, Mexico and at Wuhan University of Technology, China, and a Lecturer, Research Assistant and Doctoral Candidate at Aalto University, Finland on "Architectural Democracy". Read other articles by Pedro.