When asked to celebrate the conventual Mass today, St George’s day, I was a little conflicted. For our patron, St Edmund King and Martyr (†869/70), was the original patron of England, St George only being established in that role in 1348. In recent years there have been petitions to the government to restore St Edmund as English patron, to no avail. For not a few among the English, St Edmund is still the rightful patron.
At present I’m taking a week of holiday rest in a small cabin in Wiltshire. There is a TV and watching the coverage of the Paris outrages makes for a macabre but compelling spectacle. (On this point, discovering the free channel Euronews has been a relief. The constant repetitive drivel on the BBC and Sky is annoying. Euronews is not afraid to have short periods of silence with live footage, without someone using dozens of words to describe what we can see for ourselves on the screen.)
When a friend alerted me to what sort of rag Charlie Hebdo is things made more sense. Murder can never be the solution to insult. Militant Islam knows no other way it seems. They are truly vile, even demonic. They have no excuse.
Yet Charlie Hebdo is almost as vile. This magazine seeks deliberately to insult and provoke, especially with regard to religion, not least the Church. Laurence England on Facebook neatly described this tragic event as the clash between extreme Islam and extreme secularism, and this rings true, not just in this case but in general with regard to all the atrocities of IS and Al Qaeda. The innocent victims will be many if the current series of events continues.
Contrary to the rhetoric being constantly repeated, the Paris attack is not an attack on freedom of speech; it is an attack on, an appalling and disproportionate overreaction to, the abuse of freedom of speech. The employees at Charlie Hebdo are not martyrs nor heroes; they are victims. The police officers killed are more deserving of the labels hero and martyr.
So even as the West, and for the moment France especially, fights the hideous evil of militant Islam, perhaps the West, and France in particular, needs to understand how destructive is militant secularism. It will be futile to denounce the devil at work in militant Islam when at the same time we coddle the devil at work in our society.
Freedom of speech is not unlimited, as proved by our own laws of libel and slander. Its abuse occasionally provokes some to appalling acts of revenge. To speak the truth in love is the only legitimate use of freedom of speech. Charlie Hebdo speaks something else entirely.
So, je ne suis pas Charlie. Catholics mourn for its victims, denounce the murderers, expose the Islamist agenda; yet so too Catholics must expose the dangers of extreme secularism.
If only France had shown similar outrage at the slaughter of Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria, who provoked no one. Consistency would help.
May all the victims rest in peace, and those who mourn them be comforted.
Happy new year.
It is increasingly hard to find good news about Islam. The two most recent examples are the Muslim extremists Boko Haram in Nigeria kidnapping scores of Christian girls, forcibly converting them and enslaving them; and Meriam, the woman in Sudan raised a Christian by her mother and who married a Christian, condemned to death by hanging for apostasy because her father is Muslim, and who was forced to give birth in shackles. It is truly horrific some of the things done in the name of Islam.
So, in the spirit of lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness, we can take some heart from the news that Shia Muslim scholars in Iran have translated the Catechism of the Catholic Church into Persian. They teach at the University of Religions and Denominations in Qom, which seeks to understand other faiths and will translate their literature in order to do so. One of the scholars, Professor Meftah, offered some reflection on Christinanity in Iran, which if a little simplistic and idealistic, must surely reflect the prevailing attitude of the government in Iran at this time.
The relationship between Islam and Christianity in Iran cannot be compared with the situations of other Islamic countries,” he explained. Christians in Iran are safe (from attacks) and we can share a common purpose. If we look at each other as friends, we will not have problems. But if we look at each other as enemies, with suspicion or indifference, if we compete, trying to steal something, it will be like in other countries, including terrorism. Treating each other as friends eliminates terrorism, and makes us take steps towards peace.
Every little bit helps.