And in particular, atrocity that touches you personally in some way. Carried out against other cartoonists, other satirists. Of course I am going to feel that more closely than the murder of say doctors or teachers or soldiers. It is only human.
But it would not be right to come to a different conclusion or demand a different response just because I feel it more personally. Maybe I shouldn’t even be writing this, considering that I haven’t stopped to lament any other atrocities recently. However there are more reasons to speak out here than the merely personal.
So what sane and just responses are available to us? Not many. In an understandable show of emotion, mourners are protesting the right to freedom of speech. But while a violent attack on any form of media is censorship, the right to free speech was never really the issue. When Charlie Hebdo decided to republish the “Danish cartoons”, there was no serious question of it being illegal. The question was whether it was justified or wise.
Nor do I think did the killers believe that they were going to defeat free speech. They must be as aware as anyone that their attack is likely to provoke more insults against Muhammad than ever before. The sort of person who wants to blame everything on Islam is going to do so twice as loudly now – to show how acts of terror cannot influence them in any way…
I’d say “And that’s exactly what the killers wanted”, except – I wonder if the real motivation here was even that sophisticated. To be honest, this feels more like an act of crude vengeance. They took offence on behalf of an idea and attempted to murder a magazine. Uncontrolled, almost infantile rage, without objective beyond the emotional release of smashing the face that laughed at you.
How do you react rationally to the irrational? You can’t. The only right response is to not react. Neither bend nor strike back. You cannot appease blind rage. You cannot avenge it either.
As any decision taken right now will be a bad one, we should take this time to contemplate. The West’s relationship with the Middle East is going seriously down the crapper. Recent history – decades now – seems like a litany of horrific acts from both directions, with absolutely no indication of it de-escalating. Does it have to be this way, or can we change our hearts and minds – on both sides?
A Muslim – an Irish man, not a furriner – was talking on the radio about a hold-up with the new Muslim graveyard in Dundalk. They’ve been campaigning for this for six years, and thought they had secured it – only to be told by the local authority that, according to a law of 1888, all burials are supposed to be in a coffin. Islamic practice is to bury a person directly in the ground.
It should be a human interest story about a community unable to bury their own family members in the town where they live. But, someone has to phone in to complain that Muslims “Always want things their way”. Ireland’s Mr. Creeping Sharia.
Now don’t get me wrong, I revile Islam. The religion is anathema to me because… Well, because it’s a religion. I pretty much despise them all. Religions are dangerous confusions of morality and mythology, systems of absolute authority founded on fear of the different and the unknown.
Which you have every right to believe in. A right, what’s more, that I will defend to the death. This is what religious activists pretend not to understand about secularism. We don’t want to stop you doing your religion. We want to stop you stopping other people doing their religion. The law should not impose one person’s faith on another. Freedom of conscience is sacrosanct. I might think that what you believe causes a great deal of harm to you, but as long as it doesn’t cause you to harm others I have to respect your right to believe it.
Of course there will be times when beliefs and the law conflict, and it goes without saying that the law of the land has primacy – whatever the Catholic Church chooses to believe. But the entire point of democracy is that law can be changed. It is not holy writ, it is decided by people to suit their will and their changing needs. So we can accommodate other people’s traditions – if we want it to.
It would be different if the tradition could harm others, if say there was a danger of disease associated with coffinless burial, but I don’t think anyone is seriously suggesting that. The law of 1888 serves no function now except to make life that much harder for a small minority. And it seems only to be supported by the sort of bigoted zero-sum shithead who phones into radio programmes to advocate making life harder for minorities.
He signed his murder manifesto ‘Andrew Berwick’. Why an English name?
Perhaps because England has a ready audience of hate groups and neo-nazis. He denies he’s any sort of nazi, but the manifesto is an appeal to the same old foreigner-hating urges. Though if anything, he’s too conservative even for the British far right. The rant really is a form of Christian conservatism, but taken well past the point of parody. He’s against sex outside marriage – and marriage for love. It sounds like he’d be happier under a traditional Islamic regime than most Europeans.¹
When it comes down to it though, I believe he took this English name for no deeper reason than that it was his fantasy. To be a mediaeval English Knight Templar. A bizarre image of himself as semi-mythical hero that he took far too far. I have to be clear here; I’m not casting aspersions on genuine fantasy roleplayers. Those people dress up and act out fantasies for fun, they know they’re doing that. Berwick dressed up and acted out his fantasy for hate and evil. He was willing to commit murder based on stuff that he had basically just made up.
This is tragic. Innocent people died over stuff that Dan Brown wouldn’t use in a novel. Stuff that is, to be blunt, just silly. A Marxist plot to make Europe Islamic.
Has there never been a Muslim plan to take over Europe? Of course there has. Loads of them probably. Muslims have their fantasists too. There are no doubt counterparts to Sir Andrew composing their unhinged manifestos about how they will reconquer Spain or personally lay siege to Vienna right now. And though his claim to be a member of a covert organisation is in all probability self-delusion, there will be other Berwicks too. Hopefully none of these assholes is quite deranged enough to launch another act of pointless barbarism, but it’s not something we can bet on.
What I am willing to bet on is that Europe right now faces more danger from its racist, far-right murderers than it does from their pro-Islamic equivalent.
In passing, his manifesto also contains a surprising amount about the the cultivation of sugar beet. It’s in the context of course of using it as a cover to obtain nitrates for explosives, but the level of detail seems excessive. I think he kind of got into it.
The extremists of all flags, whether they laughably describe themselves as Christians, Muslims, nationalists, or what they will, have far more in common with each other than with those they claim to represent. They can hate and kill who they choose because they cannot or will not identify with them as people. This is not fighting for a cause, this is failure of humanity; self-involvement on a horrific scale.
You have to wonder about their mental processes. What does a man think he will achieve by murdering cold-bloodedly? Did he seriously believe that Norway could be terrorised out of allowing immigration? Maybe he thought he could spark a nationalistic uprising by the heroic shooting dead of teenagers.
It seems he wrote a 1,500 page document to explain his actions, but I doubt it will tell us anything – except the incredible lengths an insecure man will go to, to justify himself.
Anti-Muslim and anti-women, or pro-freedom and pro-women? Or indeed, anti-Muslim and pro-women, or (here’s a combo) pro-freedom and anti-women?
It’s hard to take sides on this unusually crucial issue of French couture. I am against people hiding their faces in public, whether they choose to or are forced. I’m against Islam – and indeed religion in general.
But I am in favour of the freedom to practise whatever religion you choose, no matter how strongly I disagree with that choice, as long as you do no harm to anyone else. And I can’t really accept that hiding your face in public is harmful to others. Rude certainly, but France isn’t introducing any law against rudeness.
I will have no truck with When-in-Rome arguments. In this Rome, they do religious freedom. Or did. And it is a matter of religious freedom. There is no point claiming that the veil is not a genuinely Muslim practice. Are you really going to say to someone “Your religion is not what you think it is”? Your beliefs are what you believe they are, I think.
Does the veil oppress women? Certainly if someone is forcing a woman to veil herself that is oppression, but there is no need for a law against forcing people to do one specific thing. Indeed, it’s a very poor precedent – do we need separate laws for everything you can’t force people to do? And if she chooses it herself, then this law is oppressing her. In practice there will be winners and losers. While some may seize on this as an opportunity to unveil, it will make others prisoners in their homes. No one can say that the net effect will be liberating.
When it comes down to it, the real motivation for this law is discomfort. France is uneasy with the number of Muslims who live there, but is willing to tolerate them – as long as they aren’t too blatant about it. So they ban the practice of a small minority, basically because it’s highly visible. A country has a right to outlaw things it considers foreign to its way of life I suppose. But rather than protecting France’s revolutionary ideals, this betrays them.
In 2003, the USA, UK and sundry allies invaded Iraq on the pretext of bringing democracy, while simultaneously supporting regimes throughout the Near and Middle East that wouldn’t know democracy if they buggered it with an electric cattle prod. And they did. Egypt was one such of course.
The West had been happy to turn a blind eye to this during the Cold War because previously Egypt had been getting awful close to Russia. Better it be one of our oppressive failed states, right? That stopped making sense after the fall of Communism, but Egypt was somehow converted into a bulwark against revolutionary Islam. Hell, dictatorship is pretty much a bulwark against any sort of change, right? And change is scary. Scary is bad, so therefore dictatorship is good. The logic is watertight. Mad, but watertight.
What we are seeing today in Egypt and across the region is a movement comparable, in both scale and moral significance, to the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe. Social media told the people what the conventional media was forbidden to tell: That they were many, and the government’s minions were few. If we ever needed an argument against allowing censorship of the Internet, there it is.
These people who are angry in Egypt are people like us. They have Twitter accounts. They’re on Facebook. Our governments may have colluded with their government in the past, but we must tell our governments to stop being stupid. You can’t bomb people into freedom. Freedom rises upwards.
We are either on the side of freedom or we’re on the side of oppression. In Egypt right now, Christians are standing guard to protect Muslim protesters at Friday prayer from the police. Check out #Egypt on Twitter. Express your solidarity.