Having objected to his comments in this space at the time, it behooves us to follow up on how Pope Francis’ frankly stupid remarks regarding free speech and respect for religion have already been bearing bitter, if predictable, fruit. It was less than a week after the massacre at the office of Charlie Hebdo last month when Pope Francis, discussing those broader issues with reporters, helpfully explained that if someone insulted his mother “he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
In a protestin London on February 8th—about 3 weeks after the pope said this—thousands of Muslims took to the streets to protest Charlie Hebdo and the use of any expression by anyone to “slander” a figure known as Muhammad, who they believe was a prophet who lived in the 7th century. They bore signs, including many quoting Pope Francis: “Insult my mum and I will punch you.” (Images in Tweet embedded below.)
Although they would normally not be inclined to quote Pope Francis, as he is to them an idolater (and worse: leader of millions of idolaters across the world) these Islamic demonstrators very correctly observed the utility of having him rhetorically on their side in their demand to enforce codes of speech in Britain prohibiting anything that they might regard as blasphemous.
MUM: Taking offense again.
Pope Francis made a massive mistake by seeming willing to endorse in any sense the notion of responding to insults with violence (something the founder of all this Christianity stuff seemed not to advocate, given his well known “turn the other cheek” schtick). And to reiterate from the previous post: It was not merely a disservice to French and Scandinavian cartoonists, or to comedians, or to professional commentators, but to the very Christians the pope is supposed to be pastor of; that is, Christians who are being persecuted and killed daily across the world for allegedly (or actually) blaspheming against Islam in one way or another.
Now I’m a religious person, on my good days, and I don’t think it’s “nice” to make fun of anyone’s religion, and would that we lived in a world where everyone was “nice” all the time. But if it comes down to living in a world where non-believers in any particular religion (including my own) are standing on the corner each and every day screaming out obscene epithets against it, versus living in a world where we must submit under threat of violence to the concepts of blasphemy contained in Islam, then I will take the former.
Pope Francis met his moment, for sure, and he screwed it up horribly. I don’t care too much about him, and his place in history, but I do care about where history in general is heading these days, and (to quote a phrase) you don’t need a weatherman to tell you it’s blowing in the wrong direction.
A defense of Pope Francis would be that he was speaking lightheartedly about throwing punches in response to insults, but when the corpses of the latest victims are still warm (and globally there are people being slaughtered on any given day for “offenses” against Islam) there’s really nothing funny here at all.
Is this pope big enough to think again and to retract his statement and reposition himself as an upholder of the right of free expression (including when that expression is offensive to oneself), as the only clear line on which the current and coming battles can be fought?
No, for my part, I don’t think he is. Too bad for him. The outcome of this stage of history— which looks to be the long era of global jihad— will be decided in large part by how many others wake up to this fact, and how soon. Either we will increasingly surrender our freedoms, in order to placate those whose “mums” may be offended, or we will instead confidently invite others of good will to understand and share in those freedoms, if they wish to enjoy our society and prosper in it. That is, if we believe in any of it any more.
Addendum: Though I generally take a dim view of the voyeurism that takes place around violent or tragic events, I think that everyone should listen to the audio of the initial moments of today’s attack in Copenhagen, and note the distinction in real life between talking and “punching.”
So at that café this afternoon they came in shooting and yelling “Allahu Akbar!” – which is Arabic for “Can’t we all just get along?” Three policemen are wounded and one member of the public – a 40-year-old man – is dead. And, in a small hitherto peaceable Scandinavian kingdom, another little bit of European cultural life and artistic spirit shrivels and dies.