The Pope just said that, if the limits to free speech are exceeded, then violence is to be expected. In spite of his separate statement that violence in the name of God was never justified, he has effectively condoned a violent reaction if and when some limit to “free speech” is exceeded.
Pope Francis has defended freedom of expression following last week’s attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo – but also stressed its limits. The pontiff said religions had to be treated with respect, so that people’s faiths were not insulted or ridiculed.
To illustrate his point, he told journalists that his assistant could expect a punch if he cursed his mother.
But his handlers at the Vatican soon realised that he was effectively saying that at some level of perceived insult, a violent reaction was to be expected and, by implication, justified. They tried to put the cat back in the bag, but they cannot get away from the fact that even a playful punch at an assistant was, and was intended to, represent a violent reaction:
Yahoo News: The Rev. Thomas Rosica, who collaborates with the Vatican press office, issued a statement early Friday stressing that the pope was by no means justifying the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
“Pope Francis has not advocated violence with his words on the flight,” he said in a statement.
He said Francis’ words were “spoken colloquially and in a friendly, intimate manner among colleagues and friends on the journey.” He noted that Francis has spoken out clearly against the Paris attacks and that violence in God’s name can never be justified.
Leaving aside this Pope’s attempts at populism, he does not address the fact that all organised religions – and not least Catholicism – are fundamentally opposed to and deny free speech. They are all concerned with telling, and imposing on their members, what to think and how to behave.
Those who like to quote Voltaire and his “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”, need to admit that what he actually said was not that “free speech” was a right, but that “free speech was worth dying for”.
It could be argued that the Pope was saying the same thing. You cannot kill for free speech but you have to be prepared to die for it. The terrorists in Paris were killing because they felt insulted not because they were for or against free speech. The Charlie Hebdo journalists died for their right to express whatever they wished.
(Sometimes I wonder why something so simple is made so complicated. Of course, every individual can say or express whatever he likes. And of course he must take responsibility for that. He is not immune to the consequences of what he says. The problem comes only when the “free speaker” demands immunity from any prosecution and protection from any unpleasant consequence. The risk of retaliation – whether legal or not – must be taken by the speaker. Equally, the retaliator has no “right” not to be offended. The offense lies in his mind and he must take responsibility for his actions.)
But the Pope is not alone in being confused. His confused message is just an example of the many confused responses to the brutal murders at Charlie Hebdo’s office and the Jewish supermarket in Paris. Initially, there was universal condemnation of the killings and the “Je suis Charlie” meme was used to show solidarity with the victims and as a manifestation of support for free speech.
But it soon became clear that the manifestations of support were not as simple and unified as all that. The Left were – in their confused minds – supporting free speech and condemning violence by Islamic terrorists. But by some mental calisthenics they were also showing solidarity with moderate Islam. The confused Prime Minister of Turkey went to Paris and stood arm-in-arm with Hollande and other leaders and then went home and condemned the journalists for their insults to Islam and for the new Charlie Hebdo issue. The confused members of Pegida suppressed their dislike of the media and joined the wave of manifestations, to demonstrate their opposition to the Islamicisation of Europe. For them the attack was proof of the evil in Islam. They tried not to show too much sympathy for the Jewish victims but focused on the evil attackers. A confused Barack Obama did not know what to do and so – as usual – did nothing. Confused orthodox Jewish papers removed all women from their pictures of the Paris manifestation. A confused Angela Merkel joined the Paris manifestation and then went home and joined a pro-Muslim demonstration for balance. A confused David Cameron joined the Paris manifestation and then was quick to point out that he was only against the Islamic terrorists.
Al Qaeda in the Yemen claimed that they were responsible.
After a few days, while the support for free speech in the face of Islamic barbarism continues as the main theme, the message has now started to be diluted. Charlie Hebdo had gone too far and the reaction – while not justified – was to be expected. In other words the irresponsible journalists were – to some extent – culpable. By their racism and irresponsibility they had invited retaliation. The co-founder of Charlie Hebdo accused the editor of dragging himself and others to their deaths. The Pope said much the same.
Salon: The previously ubiquitous hashtags of #JeSuisCharlie were suddenly replaced by declarations that “I am not Charlie Hebdo”, and torn commentators searched for alternative symbols to cling to in the wake of tragedy, such as Ahmed Merebat, the Muslim police officer killed by the terrorists as they made their getaway.
In the matter of three days, the staff of Charlie Hebdo had transformed from heroic symbols of free expression to the latest in a long line of racists whose right to say what they say we’ll defend to the death, even if we don’t particularly like what they’re saying.
But the events of Paris were not about free speech. They were – primarily – about Islamic terrorists who killed to satisfy their warped and twisted view of the world. They killed innocent Jews in a supermarket and journalists with a rather juvenile sense of humour. And while the Islamic fanatics may not represent the main body of moderate Muslims, the fringe that is radical Islam exists where it does because the main body of Islam exists where it does.
And the origins of most of the Sunni Islamic extremism are still rabid Saudi Arabian clerics and Saudi Arabian money.