Liberty, Equality … Essence and Existence

Published May 22, 2013 by Katy J Went

All very Samson and the Philistines, except one wonders who the philistines are in this case. Award-winning military historian Dominique Venner, a far-right activist, Islamaphobe and anti-“gay” marriage campaigner in France shot himself dead beside Notre-Dame’s altar in front of 1500 people yesterday (21 May 2013). Although a note was found beside him, police have not revealed its contents. The only clue was left on his blog, criticising the twin evils of same-sex marriage and Islam:

Il faudra certainement des geste nouveaux, spectaculaires et symboliques pour ébranler les somnolences, secouer les consciences anesthésiées et réveiller la mémoire de nos origines. Nous entrons dans un temps où les paroles doivent être authentifiées par des actes.

“It certainly will require new, spectacular and symbolic gestures to shake the somnolent sleepiness, stir anesthetized consciousness/consciences and wake up the memory of our origins. We are entering a time where words must be authenticated by acts.”

He saw himself as a modern day western Samurai – the theme of his next book. In the 60s he had fought to oppose Algerian independence as a member of the Secret Army Organisation (OAS) which had then attempted to kill President Charles de Gaulle.

He scaremongered about Islam quoting an Algerian blog that predicted Islamic rule in France within 15 years, which would paradoxically overthrow the new French law on same-sex marriage, signed this month.

25 years ago at university I remember the same predictions being made about several of Britain’s cities: Birmingham, Bradford, Leicester, Luton. Extremism of all hues and colours is the problem. But it is Venner’s, not that of laid back liberal lesbians and gays, trans, intersex and gender and sexuality queering. The “aggressive homosexual community”, to quote Sir Gerald Howarth MP, is a myth, certainly no danger to life or liberty, when we want liberty for all not less.How does equal marriage reduce straight liberty? If you are that worried by it, “stop having gay children”, to quote a viral internet slogan – the problem is, that one day some extreme heterosexists might do just that, all very Brave New World, if a gay gene could be eradicated as a disability in the womb.There is no contradiction here between giving religious conscience equal freedom with those whose “lifestyle” offends them, for it is not religion that sets one free, even Jesus condemned religion that bound, laws that multiplied, whilst justice and mercy were forgotten – no, it is the truth that sets one free. And truth evolves, or rather unravels. Indeed, this week the Church of Scotland voted to allow active gay ministers, the Church of England may lag behind but will surely follow. The BBC ran an interesting piece on how religions justify changing their mind, in the light of the dogmatic “unchanging” word of God/guru/saint/prophet.
Venner’s final paragraph was typical of French existentialism, yet mentioning the far right German philosopher Heidegger’s 1927 work Sein und Zeit, “Being and Time”, who influenced Sartre:

C’est ici et maintenant que se joue notre destin jusqu’à la dernière seconde. Et cette seconde ultime a autant d’importance que le reste d’une vie.

“It is here and now that our destiny is played out to the last second. And this final second has as much importance as the rest of life.”

Heidegger argued that how we question defines who we are, and that the being we seek should not be lost sight of in the philosophic questioning. He also wrote that the essence of being lies in its existence which Sartre interpreted to mean that existence precedes essence. Far from it, I would argue, humanity’s essence is free, we must question and campaign until our existence and laws (paradoxically and anarchically – why do we need laws to be free?) match our essence. Liberté, égalité, fraternité … ou la mort! I guess Venner chose la mort, “death”.

Rather than end on a morbid note, it is worth drawing attention to the fact that over 2 centuries ago, in the closing decade of the 18th century, the French were fighting for equal rights. Well fighting anyway!

The 1789 French Revolution adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. It asserted and assured that all men “are born and remain free and equal in rights” and that these rights were universal. The Declaration became and is a key human rights statement. It condemned discrimination and prejudice on the grounds of gender, race, class or religion. Protestants and Jews were for the first time given close-to equal rights with Catholics, thereby reducing the power of the Church. The new republic failed to extend those rights to women (LGBT rights was barely a public concern then). Nicolas de Condorcet said, “he who votes against the right of another, whatever the religion, color, or sex of that other, has henceforth adjured his own.” The lack of female equality led playwright Olympe de Gouges to publish her own Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen instead in 1791, highlighting the failure of the extension of equal rights across genders. So, liberté, égalité,.. but only for the fraternité!

We no longer debate slavery, at least in the West – except economic slavery, so why are racial and religious disharmony still prevalent, albeit we no longer condemn mixed race or religion marriages? Why are gender and sexual equality still being questioned over 200 years later? Why is our essence and existence not yet free, for all? If one is not free then we all are not free.

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