At THE various points in the Christian calendar, thousands of people gather in Rome to hear the words of the pontiff. Hundreds of millions more will hear the greetings and sermon through various media outlets throughout the world.
No doubt Pope Francis and his predecessors choose their words wisely after consulting both their conscience and their colleagues. But I agree with Stephen McGinty’s broad analysis (Perspective, 17 January). He did not think carefully before making his recent remarks about the Charlie Hebdo atrocity. He should not have used the analogy of reacting with a punch to someone who has insulted his mother.
Out of the recent tragedy a consensus does seem to be emerging. It is that freedom of expression can never be absolute; however, where there are infringements of the boundaries of good taste or religious or social sensitivities, there can be no excuse for reacting with violence or murder.
Pope Francis’s remarks cut right across this. They could easily be interpreted as a justification for violent reaction if the provocation is strong enough. How much more edifying it would have been if, perhaps, he could have invoked the principle of non-violent resistance.
He could have simply stressed that there does have to be some limit on what we say and print, and even how we say or print it.
He could have stressed also that all of us are diminished if we resort to violent reaction – be it in the form of a punch or anything else. As it is, he may well have given succour to those who feel differences can be resolved in a crude, physical way.
We have heard much about liberté in the last ten days, and égalité has had much attention, particularly in the economic sphere, but where is the concern for fraternité? Particularly in the context of the most recent edition of Charlie Hebdo?
Pope Francis is right. The right to free speech should have self-imposed limits that stop short of causing gratuitous offence to people’s faith and feelings.
If we are to live together peacefully in a pluralistic society, the fraternal concern for each others’ feelings are as important as our own freedom.
The violent response to offence can never be justified, but if we set out to offend people on purpose we should not be surprised if we generate anger and criticism.
Alongside freedom, a peaceful society also needs fraternal concern for our brothers’ and sisters’ feelings. It is part of what a caring society should be about.
Living in France, it has been easier for me than perhaps most of your readers to buy a copy of this week’s Charlie Hebdo.
The front page, of tabloid size, carries a simple outline cartoon of a man’s head, together with ten words, none of which, individually or collectively, indicate, in any way, shape or form, the subject’s identity.
The head is of an elderly bloke with a big nose and a straggly beard and, indeed, were I to wrap my head, it could easily pass for a caricature of me.
Whether this is funny or not, is really irrelevant. Where were the Kalashnikovs when Billy Connelly gave us his irreverent take on the crucifixion all these years ago? What about Monty Python and The Life of Brian, or Dave Allen’s regular poking fun at the Catholic church? Some people were amused, others found it in poor taste, yet others were indifferent. At least, unlike this week’s front page of Charlie Hebdo, we knew what they were going on about.
The same magazine also published a cartoon of two very angry men, one holding a copy of the Koran, the other a copy of the Bible, with the heading “One God – Two Suspects”.
But that wouldn’t make headlines, much less cause thousands to leap about in the streets in their anger. Indeed, I very much doubt if even a minute number have even seen the subject of their protest.
A quick glance at the eBay auction website offered the opportunity to buy nearly 5000 Charlie Hebdo items, 4000 of which are copies of the last Charlie Hebdo magazine – some with asking prices of up to £3000 and the invitation to “buy it now”.
So the next time you see the photographs of lines of Parisians queuing up to buy a copy of the magazine from their local kiosk (I still miss the kiosk selling The Scotsman and Evening News in front of New Register House) ask yourself how many were there to show solidarity with the murdered journalists, and how many were there to stroke their “I was there/I want a piece of this” soap opera egos, or simply there to grab what they could for a quick profit.
Nothing could more clearly validate the decision of newspaper editors – which I regretted at the time – not to reproduce the Charlie Hebdo cartoons: why should newspapers make a moral, and maybe risky, stand for a European population which is too shallow and venal to deserve it?