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Left to fester at the bottom of the American conscience, a monumental issue finally resurfaced this year, and almost no-one doesn’t know the facts. August 9, 2014 marks the day a fatal shooting took place in Ferguson, MO, where Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer shot Michael Brown, an 18 year old black resident of Ferguson. The verdict produced by the grand jury who investigated the disputed circumstances, caused wide scale uproar nationwide. The night of the verdict, riots took place in Ferguson. Isolated retaliatory attacks began popping up around the country. America literally turned against itself overnight. Protests were held across several American cities, which spilled overseas and gave birth to a passionate, sweeping discussion about America’s unresolved race relations which have coloured the latter part of 2014. Initial talk began at the polar ends of the spectrum. But what began to pour forth as the dialogue sifted to the unthinking masses, was an awakening to several different versions of what Americans call ‘truth’. The Michael Brown tragedy began to point to other cases around the country bearing the same issues, most notably, synonymous with the names Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. Whistleblowing began online and translated to the streets. No nation is without fault, but it is here that the apparently lush and plentiful veneer of modern living has taken a beating; where many realities are exposed, where one old wound gives way to many others, until we are left with a map of creviced ground upon which the New World was built.

These complicated social issues spring from the way in which the initial injuries have been forced to heal. In a country which prides itself on entrepreneurialism, brokenness is considered an undesirable state to be in. Ironically, enforcing such a high initiative upon an entire nation means that for a huge majority, brokenness is an unavoidable circumstance. The competitive, gold rush mentality has transcended every generation in the United States, but when the casualties begin to outweigh the success stories, it no longer becomes about which side of the coin someone sees and more about how we live together on the edge of the knife. To ask how people live in the US, is to truly ask how they live together. A stark and very different America exists with regard to social cohesiveness. This became self-evident after the Michael Brown case when the loudest voices came from huge pockets of communities, clustered by race, all around the country. Besides a handful of multicultural cities, the wide majority of the United States is a composition of thousands of suburban landscapes. The few dense urban geysers speak from their cohesiveness, using their clout to encourage the rest of the country to diversify for the better. This produces an uncomfortable self-reflection for smaller cities; who attempt to build themselves with different tools.

It is here that there is a foundational disconnect between the old and new way. St Louis in particular, has worked to build its modern facade without changing much of its social thinking. A rebranding of the city’s image has been in the works for the last 6 years; more startup businesses, more arts funding, broader retail opportunities, a denser events calendar. There have been great successes to elevate St Louis as a growing environment, to widen its appeal. But as this Michael Brown case sliced through the mind of the city, it revealed how so much of St Louis’ thinking has yet to reform. And this is the point that so few St Louisans will concede. Often, the refusal to cave to a mass overhaul is a result of wanting to preserve a city’s history. But when that history is so tainted with the social mistakes that produced oppressive thinking, why on earth would anybody wish to cleave to that when you could be making your own history to leave behind?

I have lived all my life in London. I now happen to live 20 minutes from Ferguson. I find especially abhorrent the way in which many residents of St Louis and its surrounding counties, are unable to distinguish between riots and protests. Where I am from, London is a city constantly protesting every single day about some wider social issue, either locally or internationally. There is a clear distinction between rioting and protesting, largely because urban landscapes are made up of vocal people who understand the consequences of their actions before they take to the streets. There is a medium for everyone to speak. When I have explained this to St Louisans, some pine to afford such diversity, but the negative attitude I have gotten from many people in St Louis is astounding. The “Well that’s there, and this is here” discussion is precisely what keeps social progression from happening in America. And whether this is justified or not, the Michael Brown case means that St Louis is now unable to escape the outside scrutiny of being viewed as a microcosm of Middle America. With its convenient geography and untapped resources, it’s time St Louis changed the colour of its thoughts as an example of how America can begin to dress its wounds with proper care.

 

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It’s safe to say that in the last 10 years the world has rapidly become a much, much smaller place. People will accept that. Technology, travel and migration have brought most of this about. But what the last 10 years have also done is set everything prior to the technological revolution of the 2000’s in stone. There is little, to no evidence left of any existing Western thinking preceding 1999. Interestingly, people are less willing to accept that. Many respecters of Europe’s traditional ‘Judeo-Christian’ values insist they have not expired but are a perpetuum. This is even in the midst of a multi-religious society which loudly declares the values of ‘variety’ to be the dominant thinking of this age. In an age where the atheist, the agnostic and the skeptic are unwilling spectators to various explosive declarations of faith and religion, where is the ‘normal’ ground in Europe anymore?

Acknowledging the past is one thing. Declaring that your past as present is quite another. In this case, you’ve got to hand it to the French. As they bounded forward into the 21st century as a fully secular society, many Christians have protested that France’s zero-tolerance on all religion is an outrageous betrayal of it’s Christian roots. This is not necessarily so. The French have done what few Western countries can boast: create a society where the law makes favour and exception to no other belief system, in the interests of enforcing blanket equality and a standard of normalcy for all. In turn what this has done is to largely drive all religious belief systems underground; Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, Christian and all. Sociologists have observed in many societies that once a thought system is driven out of public view and underground, rather than disperse, the participating community take on a covert existence. As a result, the religion that is found in France is increasingly less inactive and non-participant. This is one possible commonality which covert French Muslims, Christians and Jews share over their other European counterparts.

By strange paradox, this has kept France’s reverence for the Christian thinking of the previous age, intact and personal. In a nation which does not enforce religious thought (as did the Edwardians and Victorians), people are more inclined to choose their beliefs based on personal conviction. A belief system becomes more tangible when it costs something; those who practice a religion or faith in France now, do so as more of a sacrifice and at their own risk.  As a result the French Christian church of today, are possibly far more passionate about their faith than those of the pre-secular age. Considering that Biblical teaching discourages against apathy and indifference, France have actually done their religious history a favour by offering it a second wind, a second chance to be everything it could never be. One could even argue that this kind of church would identify far closer with the ‘true’ church of Jesus’ day. Rather than declare their historical Judeo-Christian values a perpetuum, by driving the church underground the French have kept it alive. Equally so, all other faiths and religions have benefitted from this rule also. In a surprising counter-balance, it would seem that France have covered all the angles in a way that Britain and America have struggled to.

For the rest who choose not to participate in any such religion or faith, the peace is theirs to know that French law prohibits displays of extremism in the best interests of neutrality. And therein lies the formula; to have the freedom to believe anything one wishes to, anything within the law; for the law is the final word for every man, woman and child. If it’s democracy people are looking for, isn’t this an even pathway to some kind of normalcy in Europe?