In the wake of the dreadful events in Paris, it is hard to know how to react. In the first instance, of course, we pray for the dead. We pray that grace was triumphant at the moment of their death, and that on meeting the Risen Lord, no doubt to the surprise of many of them, they find it in themselves to recognise Him and accept the forgiveness He offers, and for which He took flesh and surrendered His life.
An immediate emotional response, of course, is one of sympathy and solidarity with the victims. In its easiest form, that is with the police officers, one a Muslim, and one defending a Jewish school, who were murdered in the course of their duties, and the people in the supermarket murdered for being Jews.
And then there are the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. The huge outpouring of solidarity that was exemplified by the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag that swamped Twitter and other social media was a completely understandable response. The idea of being murdered for drawing cartoons, and the associated idea that free speech is under attack, clearly - and rightly - struck a nerve with vast numbers of people.
Then there has been a small backlash, not least from Catholics, of people busily pointing out that they do not identify with Charlie Hebdo, as it has viciously blasphemed the Blessed Trinity, and attacked the Holy Father, the Catholic Church - and also Jews and anyone else whose beliefs they did not like.
In truth, I don't recall having been aware of Charlie Hebdo before this week; I may have seen their stuff, but am likely to have wiped it from my memory as distasteful. The more I see of it, the less I like it. But that is not, of course, to say that they should be murdered for drawing or publishing it. It may be that I would not die for their right to trample on the sensitivities of others in a brutish and largely humourless way, but that may be a moral failing in myself. There are probably far more worthy causes I would not die for, and that may say more about my lack of moral vision, and my cowardice, than anything else.
However, it does strike me that in one respect - and one respect only - the people who drew such cartoons and the people who murdered them had something in common; and that is a complete failure either to sympathise with, or to see the legitimacy of, a worldview that differed from their own. That lack of perspective is truly dangerous: the Other becomes the Enemy. And whilst I think it is probably right that society tolerates a publication predicated on such an offensive approach as Charlie Hebdo's, (as the alternative of censorship of ideas is far worse) I do not think that people should necessarily avail themselves of such rights.
Our instinct, quite naturally, is to distance ourselves from the outrage of the murders; quite rightly and understandably. That, I think, lies behind the #JeSuisCharlie outpouring. For some our secondary instinct is also to distance ourselves from the bile of the cartoons. That is also understandable.
But for the Christian, and indeed for the true humanist (and I am not using those words as mutually exclusive, of course) I think the responsibility is to look in the mirror.
If it is wrong, as I believe it is, to trample on the sensitivities of others, I must look to myself: do I ever do that? If it is wrong to cultivate a system of thinking that is predicated on the hatred of the Other, do I ever do that?
Suis-je Charlie Hebdo?
Suis-je Said ou Cherif?
Pray for them all.
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