Charlie Hebdo March – Freedom, Religion and Trade: What does the data say?

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A Hungarian version of this post also exists.

There is hardly any person on the planet, who hasn’t probably heard about the 3.7 million people marching in Paris in solidarity to raise red flags on terrorism and freedom of press, following the Charlie Hebdo events. The crowds have been led by 47 world leaders (alternate source) marching arm-in-arm. However, a lot of controversy (1,2,3,4,5,6) has arisen around their intentions and people, bloggers and prominent figures of many countries have questioned whether their leaders’ actions reflect their nation’s viewpoint on this divisive matter. While some leaders have not been welcome, others have been reproofed for not showing up.

In this post we will try to look behind the curtain and see what could be the possible motivators for the world leaders to join the Marche Republicaine!

Charlie Hebdo March Leaders Map

Countries represented at the Charlie Hebdo March, Paris, 2015

We can see that Europe was well-represented, with virtually leaders of all EU countries appearing at the Champs Elysees. Other regions to have a good representation are Canada and the United States (although the US did not send the highest ranking officials), French Africa and the Gulf countries, to some extent – despite the fact that these are mostly Muslim majority countries. We can immediately see from the map that geographic proximity definitely influenced the solidarity visits, but let us look whether the religious majority of a country had any significant effect on the country’s appearance at the march!

Religious Majorities of Countries

Religious majorities of countries in 2014. Countries present at the Charlie Hebdo march are highlighted. Other category includes Atheism too. Bubble diameter corresponds to the press freedom index of countries in 2014. – click for interactive

In the above circular plot (similar to the RGB-plots presented in this post), we have plotted all countries based on their share in the world’s two largest religions. A country in the top right corner has a nearly 100% Christian population, a country in the top left is a fully Muslim country, while countries on the bottom are neither. At a glance it is interesting to observe that there are nearly no countries in the middle (far away from the solid lines marking the presence of only two religions in a country) of the plot, meaning that there are very few Christian-Muslim-Other equilibrated countries. Another thing to notice is that while there are quite a few almost exclusively Christian-Muslim and Christian-Other countries, the only countries significantly deviating from the endpoints along the Muslim-Other axis are Bangladesh, Israel and India.

Ever since the attacks, there have been enormous debates in both the official, as well as social media whether Islam should be associated (1,2,3)  with the attacks or should it be made into a story at all, considering what is happening in other parts (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8) of the world and the problem potentially rooting from far further back in history than we would imagine.. all the way until conspiracy theories. Despite many prominent Muslim scholars condemning (1,2,3,4,5,6) the attack, and many leading personalities pointing out the difference between terrorism/radicalism and a religion, Islamophobia in Europe has been already on the rise (1,2,3,4) since the attacks. Even French President Francois Holland himself couldn’t decide how to react (1 vs. 2). Under this aegis, leaders of many Muslim majority countries have decided to attend the solidarity march. On the above plot the white bubbles mark the countries represented in Paris: we can see that while there more Christian countries highlighted, the proportional difference is not that significant from Muslim countries and we also have two non-Christian, non-Muslim majority countries, Israel and the Czech Republic – although some Muslim leaders have been condemned by their people for attending.

Another controversy that has frequently come up is the low freedom of press level that some countries attending the solidarity march have. Freedom of press was one of the central tones behind the motivation of the march. In fact, if we look again at the circular plot, we can see that the size of the bubbles corresponds to the Press Freedom Index (original). The lower levels of this indicator signal higher freedom of expression. While the largest countries stayed aside from the march, we can still see some sizable bubbles: so clearly comradeship with Voltaire was not the only reason to say hi to the Tour Eiffel this time. Then, let’s get down to business: money.

Import Export France

Bilateral trade with France in 2012 [% of total imports and exports] – click for interactive

The above plot represents the share of imports and exports exchanged with France as a percentage of a country’s total imports or exports. While there seems to be a clear correlation between imports and exports, there is no clear advantage of either, but some countries are just vastly dependent on the French market. Niger exports more than 80% of its goods to the galls, while Tunisia exports and imports 30%! Gabon and Mali also heavily depend on French imports. No wonder that all of them showed up, in fact what is surprising is that the Central African Republic and Chad were not represented (probably due to the extremely severe ongoing humanitarian crisis and ethnic violence). While there are some big names missing from the very dependent countries, the economically highly-to-moderately linked countries (around the 5,5 region) were almost all there in Paris.

Could this be due to geographic proximity? Let’s see:

Total Trade vs. Distance from France

Total bilateral trade vs. Distance from France in 2012 [sum of % of total imports and exports] – click for interactive

As expected, geography clearly played an important role both in trade and in presence, with only 3 countries from far away, Russia, USA and Canada showing up, and the USA without any heavyweight officials. All other countries are within a 6000km radius or only a 6-7 hour long (let’s call this reasonable) flight. On the y-axis now we have summed the imports and exports share, so they can potentially go above 100%, as it is the case for Niger. The countries that have shown up at the march are those who are both reasonably close by and have strong economic ties (* not an independent phenomenon on its own either!) with France. The outliers have either a large export market share to France such as Gabon or Bahrain (Qatar and UAE possibly following) or have other geopolitical interests.(possibly Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, Georgia, Russia, USA)

Finally, we can combine all of the plots above into one to yield:

Charlie Hebdo March - Freedom, Religion and Trade Map

Charlie Hebdo March – Freedom, Religion and Trade Map

In this map we have changed the individual data bubbles of the previous map to piecharts, corresponding to the religious composition of countries! It is interesting to notice that the three largest dependents on France (Niger, Tunisia and Morocco) are Muslim majority countres, two of which were of course present in Paris – complicating the guess behind their leaders’ true motivation – from an economic perspective, they were almost obliged to go. We have discussed some of the other points observable on this plot already, but feel free to spend as much time on it as you wish – it has a a lot of packaged information!

One thing is for sure, not just leaders, but the end people had and still have some very strong feelings regarding the events of last week. People united as one and stood up against extremism. Let us hope that the future brings us a time, when we would do it in all cases, on all continents, for people of all colors!

The open data was taken directly from Wikipedia: here and here (based on this) and the Observatory of Economic Complexity at MIT and processed into JSON with this IPython notebook, using pandas. Visualizations were then made with matplotlib and with d3.js and projected onto the RGB color wheel using svg. The five main outcomes are the Countries represented at the Charlie Hebdo March map, the Religious majorities of countries in 2014 color wheel, the Bilateral trade with France in 2012 graph, the Total bilateral trade vs. Distance from France in 2012 graph, and the Charlie Hebdo March – Freedom, Religion and Trade Map. If you liked this post or have any questions or thoughts, Like, Share, Comment, and Subscribe!



  1. Pingback: A Charlie Hebdo menetelés – Sajtószabadság, vallás és érdek az adatok szemszögébõl. | SZÉKELYDATA
  2. Marvin · January 18, 2015

    Fascinating analysis. Somehow it always comes back to $$ hey

    Liked by 1 person

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