Events in France and throughout Europe are straining relations across the world. A couple of recent articles have been of help to me in gauging my own response (links to those articles are at the end of this post). I have been disturbed by the eurocentric view of the media which has until very recently all but ignored atrocities in Nigeria in favour of reporting on the terrible atrocities which have taken place in Europe.
I feel deeply concerned that defending free speech seems to extend, at the moment, to defending a right to say absolutely anything that we want to say and seemingly has little respect for those who might be offended. Yet we know that this does not work, that this does not build a fair and good society. We already understand that certain actions incite hatred and we have developed laws intended to prevent that kind of behaviour. There seems to be a lack of consistency in our approach to free speech. Provoking ridicule and hatred cannot be right, even in the name of free speech.
Events and actions leave me unsure of the ground on which I stand. I want to belong to a tolerant society which mirrors the love God has for all of the world and for all human beings. I don’t want to be part of a world, or a country, that sees point-scoring against others, or ridicule as a primary way of relating.
I understand the instinct which means that people are offended and hurt by words and actions of others. I guess that I still have prejudices which need to be exposed and dealt with, but I want to live in a world where all are respected and valued and not a world where people’s faith is ridiculed but I also want to say the strongest things about atrocious actions which take place in our world. Nothing can justify them. Nothing.
We cannot, and we will not, build a good society if we seek to do so on the basis of defining ourselves by what we hate. A good society will be built by defining good values which we share and seeking to uphold them in all we do. A good society will be built through seeking understanding of our differences, respecting those who are different from ourselves and learning from each other. None among us can claim the high ground – all of our societies have committed atrocities in the name of sustaining our way of life. Throughout history this has been our pattern of relating as human beings and a better world will only be built when we accept that own instincts for self-preservation and the instincts of our society are defensive rather than generous, and that we all, instinctively, seek to blame the someone else rather than engage with our own inadequacies.
I have found two articles helpful recently. They are:
1. An article by Giles Fraser in the Guardian that helps us understand that there is no neutral territory in these matters, a secular society is just as dogmatic as a society based on other values and just as likely to commit atrocities in defence of its own values.
2. An article by Quanta Ahmed in the Spectator – a Muslim reflecting on the actions of Islamists and clearly helping us to understand that the sense of revulsion at atrocious actions is shared by Muslim, Christian, humanist.