I have only just discovered Pope Francis’s remarks (thank you Mark Steyn) in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre: “Insult my mum and I will punch you.” Although this is fairly old news, it seems to me to be bizarre enough, coming from such a source at such a time, to warrant some further observations.
When I was at boarding school someone did insult my mother, and I did punch him, quite surprising myself. The sound of him sobbing over his broken teeth, and the cheers of the other boys, who had a sense of justice on that occasion at least, was music to my ears.
Of course it was dreadfully un-Christian and I suppose, many years later, that I am in a state of what the Catholics call imperfect contrition over it (sorry I’m not sorry). But then, I’m not the Pope.
However, there is a much more serious dimension to this. Here we are not talking about schoolboys in a bad and neglectful school where immature violence was common, but grown-up murderers who have declared war on Western civilization in the name of a blind, anti-rational, and of course anti-Christian fanaticism.
Someone might point out to His Holiness that there is a difference between the very human reaction of punching someone for an insult, which according to the universally accepted code of that particular environment they had invited, and the Satanically perverted act of murdering or maiming innocent people because of their race or because they have a tenuous connection to what is seen as an insult to a figure who lived in the 7th century. Furthermore, some of those who died, including the Jews killed in a separate attack in Paris about the same time, had no connection with the offending cartoons.
Christianity also contains injunctions, coming from what for a Christian in the highest possible authority, to “turn the other cheek” and “vengeance is mine.” (There is, however, a distinction between vengeance and punishment.) Unlike some varieties of Islam, Christianity does not value hatred, rage, and anger for their own sakes as proof of manliness. The reverse, if anything.
Certainly, the Pope denounced terrorism strongly and unequivocally (not, the cynical might say, a terribly difficult or unpopular thing to do) but he went on to state: “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.” But the medieval mystery plays made fun of faith, and faith did not seem harmed by it. He said that nothing could justify the massacre in Paris, but suggested the magazine had gone too far. He continued: “There are so many people who speak badly about religions, who make fun of them… they are provocateurs.”
And then he went on, very significantly, and to my mind inexcusably in the context: “And what happens to them is what would happen to (my dear friend) if he says a word against my mother.” Well, what does happen to them? Is having them stoned, beheaded, burned in a cage, shot or blown up with a suicide bomb, or run over or stabbed, like schoolgirls and infants in Jerusalem, simply a variety of punching them in the nose? Perhaps some Christians are grateful nobody punched, stoned or beheaded, those cocky young atheists C.S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton and T. S. Eliot, not to mention that well-known anti-Christian fanatic, Saul of Tarsus. (Well, he was beheaded eventually. But he’d changed his name by then.) Having speech a little bit unfree (except in instances like libel or subversion, which are guarded by the law) is like being a little bit pregnant: it doesn’t stop at that. The New Zealand writer Miriam Bell put it succinctly: “As a member of the Jewish community, I felt an increased sense of threat and concern. As a journalist, I was horrified by the attempted intimidation of press freedom.”
The Pope’s words, spoken before the blood of the Charlie Hebdo victims had dried, could only be taken as, if not a kind of attempted justification of the Charlie Hebdo murderers, then something in that area, contrary to the feelings of all the civilized world.
The fact that British and European Islamicists adopted his words for their own banners, not withstanding the fact that in other circumstances he would be executed by some of them as an arch-infidel, and a principal leader of the infidel world, makes the point plain. Someone might remind him of the politically incorrect truism of The Song of Roland: “Païens ont tort et Chrétiens ont droit.” (Pagans are wrong, and Christians are right.)
Further, the words contain an implied attack on all free speech, suggesting on these particular circumstances not only that it is right to punch someone for an insult, but to kill someone for the sake of a religion which, unless he is enjoying his position under false pretenses, the Pope is bound to declare is false. Pope John Paul the Great or Pope Benedict would never, I think, have said anything so crass.
Furthermore the Pope’s words in this context align him with those appeasers who are ready to compromise the institutions of Western civilization in large ways and small before the uncompromising demands of Islamism, those demands always being ratcheted further and further up: the compulsory serving of Halal food and the banning of pork in school lunches, the segregation of males and females at university lectures, the banning of Jewish and Israeli academics and students, the creeping imposition of Sharia law at least in civil cases in various parts of Europe, the rebuilding of bathrooms so the urinals do not face Mecca … It might even be said to align him, in an admittedly very remote way, with the sentencing to death of the Pakistani woman who drank out of a Muslim cup (thereby blaspheming against the Prophet) and the murder by his own bodyguard of the governor who tried to save her.
The Pope’s comments, when their context is considered, betray a confusion and unclarity of thought that ill-become one claiming the title Vicar of Christ.