The Vicar writes...
On Sunday 11th January an estimated four million people took part in a March for Unity in cities across France. It was a hugely impressive display of solidarity just days after the Islamist terrorist attack on the streets of their nation’s capital.
Most of those who took part did so in Paris itself. A sea of people, of different faiths and of no faith, followed over forty heads of state from across the globe who walked arm in arm. Many carried pens or placards stating ‘Je suis Charlie’, affirming their belief that the pen is mightier than the sword.
The attacks brought terror and bloodshed to Paris and its hinterland for three long days. It began with a massacre at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday 7th January, ending two days later with sieges at a Jewish supermarket in east Paris and at a printing firm to the north east of the city. Seventeen people lost their lives and all three terrorists were shot dead by French security forces. It was the most violent attack on French soil for many decades and sent shock waves across the world.
The slaughter at Charlie Hebdo was in retaliation for its publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. Religious and world leaders were quick to condemn the attrocity and to affirm that violence is not the solution to the challenges facing the world today.
Charlie Hebdo is much more than an anarchic, fun book of cartoons. It has widely been regarded as an extremely offensive rag. So much so that its circulation was very small and its long term future somewhat insecure. What the terrorists actually achieved, through the bloodshed, was the very opposite of what they had intended. They have strengthened the publication and ensured its continued existence. The Survivors Issue sold over five million copies within days and much of the profits from the sale will help the families of the victims of the attacks.
There are many things to reflect on in the wake of this and other similar terrorist attrocities.
For decades now the global Muslim community has been waging war on itself as its many different factions battle for domination of the Islamic world. There are Sunni, Shia and many other branches within Islam currently battling for control. As ever, it is innocent people who are caught up in the violence of it all. This infighting has occasionally spilled out into the western world, as we saw in the 9/11 attacks in New York, in the London and Madrid bombings and the recent atrocity in Paris. The disasterous ‘War on Terror’ has further destabilised the Middle East setting dictator after dictator against his people and unleashing a wave of evil and sectarian violence across the region in the form of Islamic State.
There is a dilemma for the West. Do we watch from a relatively safe distance as the Middle East tears itself apart? Do we do nothing about the millions of displaced and hungry refugees there? Do we care nothing for the indigenous minority Christian community in the region who are facing acts of unimaginable persecution and violence?
One thing is clear, offensive publications such as Charlie Hebdo only make things worse! As Pope Francis recently said, when something offensive is said about someone or something we love our natural instinct is to hit out. He demonstrated this to journalists with an impressive papal left hook! Our much cherished right to freedom of speech surely has to be balanced by sensitivity and respect for others.
A phrase from St Paul’s letter to the Romans springs to mind, ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ The world would do well to take the great saint’s words to heart as we seek to co-exist with our neighbours in peace.