I've had quite a black day today. Overwhelmingly, I feel uneasy about this. I feel uneasy that the world has just taken another scary step towards darkness and chaos.
Looking at my Facebook timeline I am disturbed by the number of anti-religious comments in reaction to what has happened. I know that we immediately want to find someone to blame (this helps us to understand) and I can recognise that for many peaceful people, going about their day-to-day lives quite without malice or hatred, the sudden and brutal events of Friday night leave them looking for a reason why? How could any human being do something so irrational? The answer? To all intents and purposes, the only tangible explanation would appear to be a murderous ideology which demands fidelity and threatens death or at least, enslavement, for those who refuse to 'submit' (Islam literally means 'submit').
To the modern secular mind, the only thing that matters is that the madness used to justify the killing is a divine mandate. And after all, aren't all wars caused by religion?
And yet the congregating, the candles, the singing of the Marseillaise even, point clearly to a need for something greater, something everyone can get behind, call it national pride, or social solidarity or sense of community, or whatever you like really—sometimes, we need to reach beyond ourselves to find what we need. The only argument tends to be over what we might reach for.
In reality of course, Jews, Christians and most Muslims would say that it is deeply blasphemous to use the name of God to justify hatred and violence, as Pope Francis pointed out at Mass today.
The World Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (considered heretical by mainstream Muslims), the Fifth Khalifa (Caliph), His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad has condemned last night’s terrorist attacks in Paris and gave a more reasonable view on the teachings of Al Qur'an. Speaking from London, His Holiness said:
“On behalf of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community worldwide, I express my heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the French nation, its people and government following the heinous terrorist attacks that have taken place in Paris. This brutal and inhumane attack can only be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
I would also like to reiterate that all forms of terrorism and extremism are completely against the true teachings of Islam. The Holy Quran has said that to kill even one innocent person is akin to killing all of mankind. Thus under no circumstances can murder ever be justified and those who seek to justify their hateful acts in the name of Islam are serving only to defame it in the worst possible way.
Our sympathies and prayers are with the victims of these attacks and all those who have been left bereaved or affected in any way. May God Almighty grant patience to them all and I hope and pray that the perpetrators of this evil act are swiftly brought to justice.”
All our hearts have been touched by the recent horrendous terrorist attacks in Paris. It is yet another scar on the collective European conscious. Our prayers go out to the families that have lost loved ones and to those injured in the hope of a full and speedy recovery.Almost as if to bear out the prevalent Western meme that says religion is the root of all war, I find myself equally disturbed by the number of comments calling for some kind of Crusade. Suggesting that the real problem is Muslims and a war against them, to drive them out, is the only answer. This really makes me shake my head in despair. Have we learned nothing? The reason certain Islamic factions have joined together as Daesh; al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham (Arabic for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is to fight the perceived Crusade of the West on the Muslims. The deep irony is that if you say this to most people, they haven't got a clue what you could possibly be on about. The existential reality of the effect of western policy in the Middle East is so utterly foreign to them, they are so convinced that we are right and the good guys, they can't even comprehend a world where that is questioned.
These terror attacks were yet another example of people invoking God's name to justify violence against the innocent. Let us be very clear: this is not an act of sanctity, but one of sacrilege.
Terror is the epitome of idolatry. It's language is force, it's principle to kill those with whom you disagree. In these attacks, as in so many others, the victims were chosen at random, arbitrarily and indiscriminately.
ISIS - who has claimed responsibility for these attacks - is, at its core, a religious Islamic ideology. It is not the true face of Islam, but to deny its connection to Islam is to deny the reality we face. It seeks to divide the world into two: the children of light and the children of darkness. Those who agree with its path are the children of light. Those who disagree are the children of dark who must be eliminated from the face of the earth. This ideology presents those in the West who value our way of life with the most pressing challenge of our lifetime. [Emphasis mine]
Today our hearts are with the people of Paris, just as they have been with people in every city on any continent around the world wherever terror has raised its ugly head.
We must stand together - people of all faiths and of none - to show those who would seek to pursue a different path from ours that their terror will not shake the very values on which a free society is built: trust, security, civil liberty, tolerance, and the willingness of countries to those genuinely seeking asylum. There is no route from terror to a free society.
If you live in Syria, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Russia, that narrative is not the dominant one. It is reversed. Realistically, what can we hope to do to reduce the threat, let alone actually stop the reality of this kind of terrorism? It is a violence which is perpetrated by an enemy whose language and culture is largely alien to all but a small minority of us. An enemy who, despite this cultural distance, knows us intimately and easily and comfortably moves among us, at home in our multi-cultural social melee, unremarkable and unremarked on. This is an enemy who is happy to die, even seeks death, if such an act will bring about the death of a few of us. An enemy who targets not those who threaten his community, but irrelevant targets, anyone really, people going about their lives: it is not important as long as killing them brings about the carnage and discord sought (Daesh sounds like the Arabic words Daes ("one who crushes something underfoot") and Dahes ("one who sows discord").
There are certainly many Muslims who value all life but the poisonous dualistic ideology which allows some—not a minority—to justify horrific murder must be confronted and challenged, not embraced and accepted.
We fool ourselves when we accept the simplistic notion that we are the good guys and they are the bad guys. As Peter Hitchens points out in this article, we are the ones conducting summary executions by pilotless drone (a technology not currently available or utilised by our enemy, but what when it is?). We engage in lawless confinement of untried men in Guantanamo and 'extraordinary rendition' as well as all manner of other dark things normalised & justified by our fear of 'the foreigner who wants to kill us'.
Now, naturally enough I suppose, Francois Hollande speaks in pugnacious tones about executing a final solution on those who would attack France. What has the war waged in the Middle East wrought so far, apart from a tide of desperate young men washing up on Western shores with nothing to loose and tales of murder and death from Africa, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
We have a choice here—we have a chance to show them what compassion, tolerance, integrity and social justice look like in reality—in a way they have probably never seen or experienced—from the perspective of a society forged by Christian values. Or, alternatively, we can lock the gates and provide them with one more reason to hate us.
From the very beginning of the conflict in Iraq (so from the moment I began paying attention really, I was 19 in 1990) I have argued against this course of action. I have constantly wondered what would be gained if we had taken all the money invested in weapons and used it to build homes and schools and hospitals in these countries. I firmly believe that Pope John Paul II was right when he said that social justice cannot be attained by violence, violence only destroys what it intends to create. Yes, all it takes for evil to conquer is that good men do nothing, but I am unconvinced that there has ever been any really justifiable plan in any of this, let alone that doing nothing would facilitate greater evil than already existed.
Yesterday, in a small and insignificant act of defiance of terrorism and solidarity with Paris, my son Mike & I went on the train to Westminster Cathedral to see Cardinal Burke. It would have been easy to stay away from the capital but I had been to Confession and figured if today's the day I'm as prepared as I can be.
I feel desperate about an enemy that targets civilians in restaurants and bars, who slaughters innocents and televises the executions, who seems to have no empathy, nor any understanding more than to commit as much murder and bloodshed as possible.
But we should not be pointing fingers, we should be united in our humanity first and foremost.
I fear for the those fleeing from this terror as migrants who will now find it harder to find shelter, I fear for the inevitable back-lash that will fall on the innocent in Syria as well as the wraith-like Daesh, and most of all I feel the pain of all the families grieving the loss of a loved one today.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us all.