As I’m writing this, there’s a wave of anger and sorrow over the recent events in France. And as usual, unfortunately, there’s also a wave of hate and prejudice riding piggyback on this; I’m not going to give these the benefit of linking to them.
I’m also not going to talk about the obvious cognitive dissonance of the haters wanting exactly the same thing as the terrorists: curtailing of fundamental democratic freedom.
I’m going to talk about the sneering, off-hand deriding of the “religion of love and peace”. One which even normally tolerant, level-headed people might succumb to. The obvious implication being that we, as good secularised Christians, would never stoop to violence.
Because I have personal experience of this.
Only 25 years ago, in what is now the European Union, I lived in one of the most pleasant places on the planet, a country that in many ways still fits Tolkien’s description of Shire. My brother, on witnessing an argy-bargy over a parking spot, exclaimed, incredulously, “they’re nice even when they fight”.
Still, there were a couple of occasions when I had to explain that even though my accent is suspiciously Protestant, I should count as a Tourist. The people I talked to explained, in a very nice and friendly way, that this was indeed lucky for me, since they were Republicans and they would otherwise have been lending me their hats so as I would have something in which to carry home my teeth. For being the wrong sort of Christian.
What is referred to in Eire and the UK as “The Troubles” (and in most of the rest of the world as the “civil war in Northern Ireland”) had calmed down since the most violent phase in the early 70s, but what the newspapers called “sectarian violence” was still alive and well. People did get murdered in Belfast on a fairly regular basis. I visited that city once, and the first sight that met me outside the railway station was the muzzle of a machine gun; our bags were searched when we entered shops because they never knew who was carrying explosives. There were even bombs going off back home in Dublin.
In case the message hasn’t come through yet: only 25 years ago, Christians were killing each other in Western Europe, for purportedly religious reasons. Murder, indeed, in the name of love. And while you might argue that these labels are simply lampshading of political divisions—after all, UK newspapers would always label the sides “Republican” and “Loyalist”—there were, in the same year, Muslims being massacred by Christians here in Europe; it is often described as “ethnic cleansing”, but the definition of ethnicity the murderers used was based on religion. Thousands were killed by Christians simply for being Muslim.
Some people find this easy to forget.
And no, this does not excuse anything. Firstly, I doubt there were any French cartoonists present at Srebrenica, and it was certainly not mentioned as the cause for the attack. And secondly, even if they had been there, revenge is no way to run our affairs. We have courts for meting out justice. And thirdly, the idea that a crime might be excusable because someone else also committed a crime is stupid beyond description.
But my point is that the Western world has, since the Enlightenment, been based on individualism. This is the idea that you are, generally speaking, responsible for your own actions. Not for anyone else’s. And nobody else can be held responsible for what you do.
This would appear to have been under challenge as of lately. Some people reason that although they are individuals, all unique and different, the others are all the same, and not only that, but they must all be exactly like this one person they read about in a newspaper.
Again, stupid beyond description.
Finally, of course, today, I am Charlie. I am also the victims of the Shoah, of the Bloody Sunday, of Srebrenica, and all those others who had the presumption to be different from someone who was wielding a weapon.