The news media today are full of coverage of yesterday’s incredibly horrible events in Paris. Unless you’ve just landed from a holiday on Mars you’ll know that I’m referring to the massacre of 10 people (plus 2 police officers) allegedly because their ‘newspaper’ Charlie Hebdo published cartoons which appeared to mock the Prophet Mohammed. To be honest my schoolboy French isn’t now up to reading a publication, so my knowledge of the paper is limited to memories of the reports of its office being firebombed some years ago for similar reasons. But from what I’ve seen of it in the past day it seems to be a less funny, more offensive version of our own Private Eye or the leading French satirical magazine Le Canard Enchainé. It doesn’t appear to be anti-Islamist: it is anti anything it can be offensive about – including, for example, the Catholic church!
No matter how unpleasant you or I may believe it to be, I am at a loss to understand how this means that its cartoonists, editor and other staff can be brutally assassinated, apparently in the name of Islam. Yes of course I know that those who commit such atrocities are fanatics, brainwashed into believing that such actions can avenge the slurs they believe to have been cast on their religion. Yes of course I know that truly religious people from all faiths condemn such abhorrent actions. Surely, any decent, rational-thinking person will also be unable to comprehend what these people do? Religious teachings focus on goodwill, compassion and caring. Murder and terrorism are not, to my knowledge, espoused by any ‘proper’ religion. For the past decade and more we have seen the response to 9/11, but that was far from being the first such act of barbarism to take place. For as long as I can remember there have been conflicts which have at some part of their roots a religious divide: Israel and Palestine, Northern Ireland, to name just two examples. I’m not that naïve that I’d blame everything on religion – there are major political factors at work too – but try as I might I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a conflict with a religious element somewhere in the world.
I’m not a religious person, as you may have gathered. I have been baptised into the Church of England – i.e. I’m a Christian – but I do not practise. I’m not against anyone who does, though: my step-mother is a vicar so I can see at close hand the good that it can do for those who want to. But yesterday has got me thinking about the negative side of religions. I had a vague idea that religious wars dated back to the 11-13thC Crusades but wanted to know more. I found this article on Wikipedia which, despite the site’s reputation, I see no reason to doubt, and it really is quite eye-opening! Although religion may not be the primary cause of wars, the analysis that since the Christian era began there have only been 440 years without some form of religious conflict is frightening, particularly as the last year without one was apparently 1080!
If the problem has been with us for nearly a thousand years it may be optimistic to hope that it can be resolved soon, if ever. But is it too much to want to live in a world free from terrorism, bigotry of whatever type, fanaticism, and people whose life is dedicated to inflicting suffering on others? Sadly, I don’t think that will ever happen, nor do I think I’ll ever understand the mentality of those who commit atrocities like yesterday’s. I’m left where I began, with one seemingly impossible question: