Nice: martyrs of a new era

Carlos M. Frota

Hatred is never the answer! Dialogue is always possible, mutual understanding the only way forward. And the real challenge for political and religious leaders alike is how to insist more and more on a message of fraternity among citizens of different faiths.

And  nevertheless hatred speaks  louder and louder nowadays! Nice: the old lady went to the basilica as she did every morning, to be close to God, to put her life in perspective, to offer to Jesus and Our Lady the sufferings of her poor health. It was time to stop her daily routine and to meditate, now, on the winter of her existence.  And suddenly it’s the end, in the mosy horrific and unexpected manner ! The young man … the knife … some words in a foreign language … THE END!

I am writing this text overwhelmed with emotion at the recent events in Nice, France, where three worshipers, attending Mass, were murdered inside the city’s basilica by a Muslim young man, 21 years old,  from Tunisia, recently arrived from Lampedusa, Italy.

If the French context gives some light on the motivations of the murderer to execute so coldly his crimes, the speech of Emmanuel Macron about “freedom of expression,” including the so called  “right of blasphemy,” at the fifth anniversary of the attacks against “Charlie Hebdo,” the weekly satirical magazine which published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, the re-edition some days ago of the same cartoons are the background of those crimes.

Explaining, understanding what is beneath these hideous acts is never to justify them, of course. But understanding is important.

I already wrote about this question in a previous issue of O Clarim. And if I come back with the same topic again it’s not just because what happened at Nice (and in the outskirts of Paris before) justify my insistence, but the idea of secularism itself which is, in my opinion, the wrong one.

 When I refer to  the French concept of secularism, what I mean in fact is the overall approach of the relations between the French State and organized religions or any other system of values practiced by French citizens (or others)  in French soil.

 Why do I feel myself entitled to have at least  a personal opinion on the matter?  For several reasons. First, beyond my own Portuguese background, I am much more close to French language and culture than to any other culture and idiom.

Secondly, I spent almost a decade observing French society, institutions, relations with foreigners inside and outside France.

Thirdly, people are more and more aware that French society has a deficit of integration of foreign elements that only now they, the authorities, understand the consequences. 

FAITH VS RATIONALISM

I’d like to pursue my brief reflection, this time, into two separate directions. First, analyzing   the absolute right of French “secularists” to invade the sphere of what  others consider sacred , just to impose their view of a social order where their premises always  prevail and offense against fellow citizens is never restricted, because it’s a right.

I can imagine myself, as a Christian and as a Catholic, to be subjected to the same degree of abuse in my spiritual feelings if one of the sacred figures of my religion were ridiculed by the same newspaper. What will be my reaction? Applauding the freedom of expression which offends me, hurts me deeply ?

I understand of course the philosophical problem of French secularism. It was inspired by the idea, since the French Revolution, that NOT believing is superior to believing. And to believe is a kind of old manifestation of intellectual disability. For them, the rights. For others (the believers) the gratitude of having some space in a post-religious society! The idea is not new at all! Many times, in the History of the Ideas,  we have heard and read that God was dead!

A CODE OF RESPECT

My starting point is the opposite. Multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious societies mean, in order to achieve an harmonious coexistence among all its components, the respect of a code  where my freedom stops when I start offending others. If we apply this rule observing total reciprocity, with no bias, we easily conclude that the so-called “right to blasphemy” instead of being the manifestation of a free society is in fact the right of a minority group imposing their absolute power over all the others. The trap is obvious: trying to defend and protect freedom, they only defend and protect their own freedom!

That’s why I am in favor of a code of mutual respect among believers of all religions and among those and  the non-believers. In this code, a major principle is obviously this: “my freedom stops when I start offending the others.” Modern laws of our modern societies are more than enough to protect the common good against strange cults and strange gurus that could ask legal protection for some hidden  goals of their sects or similar groupings.

EDUCATION AS MANIPULATION

French President Emmanuel Macron declared some days ago that “Islam is in crisis ” – a poorly written  message to say that political manipulation of Islam is today recognized by all, creating confusion and distress among peaceful Muslim people who are the majority of the faithful worldwide .

But what was unfortunate in the French president’s words was the explicit approval of Charlie Hebdo, a kind of invitation to do more, hurting other people of other persuasions eventually. You can offend everybody! It’s your freedom!

When by pure provocation the magazine repeated the publication of the infamous cartoons, a young Tunisian received the message that he was invested with the mandate of vengeance. I don’t know if he belonged or not to a network and received orders from “above.” The truth is that by education or training he was able to kill three innocent people!

On one side the absolute liberty to offend. On the other, the absolute right to eliminate. Of course, I know that the two realities are not at the same level and they are not morally equivalent. One doesn’t justify the other. But in practical terms, extremism breeds extremism, intolerance (even under the pretext of tolerance … freedom of expression, for example) provokes blind intolerance.

How can a young man be programmed to achieve his criminal goals, under the pretext that his act of vengeance is a “divine” one, with a prize waiting for him in paradise?

Here, we have a vast domain of education as manipulation – to analyze. And here Emmanuel Macron indicates the only way forward. In a diverse society as French or European in general, religion must be reconciled with the Law and obey. There is no other possibility of coexistence. And to eradicate focus of radicalism, the State cannot but be attentive to the way education is pursued within specific communities,  in order to avoid the construction of ghettos, the roots of “separatism” the French president denounced.  

Nice: martyrs of a new era. Yes, in the 21st century, our brothers and sisters are paying the highest price for attending Mass. In civilized France. (Photo: www.uncanews.com)

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