Thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo murders

This blog is purely a personal view (somewhat confessional) but I wondered if I was alone in it:

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo were utterly appalling. The idea of terrorists attacking innocent defenceless people making a satirical cartoon is dreadful: a gross perversion of any decent religion or ideology. So why is it then that I am annoyed despite myself, not just about the attack, and I condemn it utterly, but also about the international outcry which has followed?

Certainly it is not because I have any support for the attacks. As an evangelical Christian who is comfortable to describe myself as in many ways a fundamentalist I am not happy when people satirise my religion. I also have a certain sympathy for Muslims sticking strictly to their religious positions. At some level I prefer Muslims to be strict about their faith: as someone of faith I prefer people to take their religion very seriously. Furthermore I accept fully that being insulted by cartoons of The Prophet does not mean one wants the insulters murdered. The vast majority of strict Muslims I have met are entirely peaceful and opposed to jihadis. The fact that a leading Muslim in Belfast made bizarre and unpleasant remarks praising IS simply shows that not just homegrown NI spokespersons are capable of daft statements. Overall I tend to George Galloway’s analysis that IS, Al-Qaeda et al. are not really Muslims but a death cult.

I can see that it must be somewhat annoying when the secular irreligious western elites demand of Muslims that they accord to their values. I am highly ambivalent about the banning of the Muslim hijab in France. I dislike the thought that it (the hijab) is used to subjugate women. However, I am also uncomfortable with the suggestion that so concerned are the French about Muslim women being forced to wear the hijab and not being allowed to express themselves freely that they er…. stop them from expressing themselves freely. The aggressive secularism of the French state has also come remarkably close to persecuting evangelical Christians in the past. One gets the impression that in France nominal Catholicism is fine but just about anything else far from acceptable: certainly not acceptable if it results in any public manifestation of faith or criticism of the prevailing culture. That does not in any way justify any violence let alone murder.

Any Franco-phobia, inspired by religion or not is, however, in no way the explanation for my irritation. If someone (God forbid) proposed attacking Michael Palin or John Cleese because of the Life of Brian I would jump to defend their right to produce the film. I dislike a bit (hate is too strong a word) the Life of Brian but would defend to the death their right to make it (if I were in such a hypothetical position I hope I would be brave enough to put that boast into action).

Some of my annoyance about the reaction to this attack is about the way it has been singled out as a cause celebre. It is clearly utterly unacceptable to murder cartoonists for producing images some dislike. However, it is no more unacceptable to murder cartoonists because of a perverted analysis of religion than to murder anyone else for any other reason. In the last few days many more people have been killed by Islamist terrorists in Nigeria than in France. The fact that those innocent Nigerians were not political cartoonists does not make their murders any less awful or wrong. This week also there is no doubt in areas ruled by Islamic State many more people will have been murdered on assorted grounds by the IS fanatics.

Much of my irritation, however, relates to home and the Troubles. Reports of the murders of the past were a constant feature of my and many people here’s childhoods though no one closely connected to me was ever affected.

The deaths of the Troubles never seemed to attract such international outrage and shows of solidarity. Certainly the Enniskillen Poppy Day massacre attracted condemnation from the then USSR and Mrs. Thatcher and various others visited. However, that was a bit of an exception. The international media circus did not record Presidents and Prime Ministers coming to offer support during our worst days. The churchgoers of Darkley, the Collie dog owners at La Mon, the sports fans at Sean Graham’s shop or Loughinisland or simply the partygoers at the Dropin Well or drinkers at the Rising Sun never received such international recognition. Yes maybe compassion fatigue was part of the problem but those innocent souls were just as valuable as the journalists in Paris. Furthermore to add insult to injury years later we saw politicians like Mo Mowlam hugging the loyalist thugs and all manner of international statespersons lauding the godfathers of terrorism.

I felt a bit the same after September 11th and the irony of American senator Peter King transitioning from apologist to neo McCarthy-ite opposer of terrorism was as rich as it was nauseating. However, on that occasion so great was the loss of life and so ghastly was the spectacle of that mass murder played out as it was in real time on our television screens that one felt that it was a singularly important event and its victims deserved to be marked internationally.

So personally I am left with a lingering sense of annoyance despite myself. I totally oppose what happened in Paris last week and I want to stand in solidarity with the victims. Yet I am strangely a bit miffed that these victims: mainly articulate European liberals; seem more to be worthy of international empathy and support than so many of their predecessors as victims of murderous extremist thugs inspired by ideologies of hate.

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