There's been much in the news about liberty, freedom of speech and democracy in the light of the shootings at the offices of the satyrical jounal Charlie Hebdo in Paris last weekend. There's a sense of outrage at extremist groups who plan and perpetrate such violence in cold blood, stating that they are doing so in the name of God and religion. And there should be outrage and horror at such things. Politicians, religious leaders and members of the public have been very clear that this has nothing to do with Islam. Muslims have decried the atrocities in the name of God as debasing and distorting their faith. Islam is a religion that offers a way of peace and faithful muslims want to live in peace with their neighbours. For them the idea of jihad is to fight against our own evil inclinations to live an upright and principled life, not to kill other innocent people. So we are all standing up for - what? Democracy, freedom of speech, the right to say what we want and satirise other people and institutions that they hold dear?
This weekend a Muslim member of the Scottish Parliament wrote in a Sunday newspaper that satire was not an excuse for murder and while all right minded people know he is right and would, I am certain, agree with him I do feel a bit concerned about absolutising freedom of speech - particularly when it happens in a public space or is spread by the media. Do we not have the duty to use our freedom of speech responsibly and to avoid encouraging hate of those who are different? In this country we have legislation which outlaws hate crimes. I'm not sure about France. But why would people deliberately publish cartoons that they know will cause real offence to some people and that there might well be a violent reaction to them. Why provoke people like this? Laughing at what people hold dear is akin to laughing at them, akin to dismissing their commitment to their faith as foolish, akin to suggesting they and what they believe are not worth respecting, are in fact stupid, akin to turning them into the other, the enemy. And it's this approach which leads to violence. Cartoons of the Pope during the Reformation contributed to anti- catholic feeling and a hatred between Catholics and Protestant that has taken centuries to overcome. Cartoons against Jews contributed to the anti-semitism which led eventually to the Holocaust. So why not use satire to laugh at ourselves and use the media to inculcate respect of others? We know that relationships with the Muslim world are fragile and yet we never seem to ask why young Muslims are so disaffected by life in the West that they go to join the Islamic State. We never seem to want to dialogue or consider their concerns, or feelings of alienation or marginalisation.
Wouldn't it be great if the 40 heads of Government walking arm in arm in Paris on Sunday had done so for peace, for dialogue, for understanding and respect for other faiths. The attack on the Kosher restaurent and the murder of four Jews has not had the same publicity as the attack on the offices of Charlie Hasbo offices. They were not murdered because of anything they had done but simply because they were Jews who happened to be shopping at that time. Today a Jewish friend pointed out that the BBC in reporting the situation in Paris talked about alarming trends in France : Jews leaving for Israel because they do not feel safe, more hate crimes against Muslims reported, armed police men in front of Synagogue, 2 not armed, plain clothes policemen outside Mosque but no mention of what had happened to the Jews in the supermarket and James Naughtie said, talking to the person of The Active Change Foundation:” The man who lost his life in the supermarket taking hostages” - no mention of the man being a terrorist or killer or that it was Jews who were taken hostages. Language is powerful in forming attitudes - in what is said and what is not said. As are atlases sent to the Middle East by Harper Collins that simply omits the State of Israel from maps of the area.
And let's not forget those 2000 old, young and sick people who were massacred in Nigeria by Boko Harem last week or the people who continue to suffer in Syria and Iraq. Somehow they don't arouse our sympathy or outrage in quite the same way. Perhaps too far from home