Freedom of expression, murderous retribution and common human decency

On October 16th a teacher was beheaded near Paris and on October 29th, three people attending a Catholic church in Nice were stabbed to death [Reuters reported one was actually beheaded]. 

These deaths were retribution exacted by extremists adhering to a radical, militant and fundamentalist strand of Islamic belief. They were punishing the use of cartoon pictures denigrating the founder of Islam.

In Turkey President Erdogan has gratutiously insulted Emmanuel Macron. Erdogan  suggests Macron is mentally deranged and that France is a fascist country. I leave it to your judgement as to which of these two men is mentally suspect and which country might resemble a fascist State. 

Protests  have taken place in some Muslim countries objecting to comments made by Emmanuel Macron in his tribute to the murdered teacher during the ceremony of national homage to Samuel Paty on October 21st.  They objected to Macron’s comments that free speech necessarily gives a licence to gratuitously denigrate the founder of Islam. 

Now that raises an extremely important and fundamental issue.

There is, of course,  no excuse for such murders. Many Muslims in France have said so publicly. To justify barbaric behaviour on the basis of belief is perverse.

Religion should surely cause us to live at peace with each other in the sight of God our Maker. 

So why is this happening in the 21st century –  an age where we believe we are beyond barbarism ? 

For some years there has been a conscious strategy on the part of States like Saudi Arabia – and more recently Erdogan led Turkey – to propagate a very militant, radical and intolerant version of Islam. There has been extensive financial investment in Mosques propagating such views in leading cities around the globe over the last 30 to 40 years. 

We are seeing such teaching bearing its fruit in the minds of young people seeking a purpose and meaning in life. The killer of Samuel Paty was just 18 and the 3 Catholic worshippers in Nice were killed by a 21 year old. 

What a waste of young lives, warped by a perverted interpretation of a world religion which seeks to worship our common Creator – a Creator who by definition gives every one of the 7 billion people on the planet the right to life.

Fundamentalist and militant interpretations of any belief system will give rise to such wicked deeds. If we consider the history of religions – indeed political  ideologies too – we find this to be true. 

The issue, then, is psychological.  The problem starts when people grab hold of an absolute principle or idea as THE ANSWER to this world’s ills, in such a way that they then cease to respect any deviation from that ANSWER. The fanatic decides to impose that ANSWER, and punishes any deviation. In effect, he usurps the right to be God in peoples lives. 

But we in the non Muslim West are experiencing our own version of intolerant absolutism – of an ANSWER to all social problems.  

In the West, we now suffer from what Edmund Burke identified as the spirit of atheistical fanaticism. In his day, it was a new phenomenon, but two centuries later it is triumphant. To believe in God sincerely with all that means is now regarded by the western intelligentsia as ridiculous and superstitious at best – at worst as requiring re-education and indeed eradication.  Note how our children in primary school are to be taught about LGBT etc; the revolutionary reinterpretation of sexuality; the persistent eradication of the notion that we are made in the image of our Creator, but are fallen from grace and therefore sinners – the very cornerstone of our traditional western civilisation and liberty. 

This explains the clash we are witnessing now in the 21st century. The Materialist conception of Man is confronted by fundamentalist, militant versions of Islam. 

The 21st century Materialist Intelligentsia has little respect for anyone who disagrees with their Man oriented and God denying worldview. They have successfully denigrated Jesus Christ and removed all Christian meaning from our western culture – in academia, law and judiciary, media, politics and yes, even the Established Church. Jesus Christ is an outmoded, even dangerous superstition. Such ideas merit only contempt in a world now enlightened by scientific, rational REASON. 

So, mocking the revered founder of a world religion comes naturally. They are long accustomed to treat Christianity with contempt – Islam is just another example of superstitious nonsense.

But that, of course,  fails to recognise what other peoples beliefs mean to them. What does the founder of Islam mean to Muslims ?  Refusing to respect sincerely held views is to start down the road to intolerance and to alienation. It fails to exercise the most elementary good manners. It is to decide that your personal worldview is the ANSWER and that all other views are to be discounted entirely. 

Indeed it is hypocritical. France does not have absolute free speech, as President Macron suggests. It is illegal to deny the Nazi genocide of the Jews. And if you try to justify Petain’s Vichy France you will quickly find yourself in serious trouble. To me,  the mass murder of Jews by Nazis is a fact of history, and I suspect  there should be a more realistic comprehension of Vichy France. But my point is that France inhibits freedom of expression when it comes to issues which contemporary culture holds sacrosanct

The Advocates of Reason and Enlightenment are as prejudiced and sensitive as anybody else. To wit, political correctness. They fail to realise that their obsession with Reason is their failing. The question does not only concern intellectual principle, but practical reality in a world of understandable human sensitivities. 

Christian doctrine addresses the actual issues at stake, simply and practically: Treat others as you yourself wish to be treated in return.

Love and forgive, and you get love and forgiveness back. But if you show contempt, don’t be surprised when you get contempt in return. 

Today’s Enlightened Intellectual Elite has gone beyond such simple practical advice, however. They know far, far better, don’t they !

Ray Catlin