A little bit of Latin always raises the tone of an article, so here (with thanks to the classical correspondent of the Observer) is a sentence that may prove useful to Pope Francis: “agite tentaque si fortiores vos putatis”. It means “come on then, if you think you’re hard enough”.
It’s the manly thing to say if you have just punched somebody, and he looks like he’s thinking of hitting you back. Francis has recently expressed the view that “if anyone says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch”. So he should be ready for some retaliation, and saying that in Latin might deter the victim from hitting the Supreme Pontiff back.
In real life, of course, the Swiss Guard would give the poor sucker a good kicking for attacking the Pope’s knuckles with his face, and then drag him off to jail. But Francis was not really talking about himself. He was just saying that the satirists of Charlie Hebdo who were massacred in Paris last week had it coming.
“It’s normal,” Francis explained. “You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.” He was defending the right of believers of any faith to be exempt from harsh criticism, caricature, and indeed any comment that hurts their feelings—and also their right to use violence against those who transgress.
I’m exaggerating, of course. Francis didn’t say that he would shoot the person who insulted his mother, or blow him up. Just punch him, that’s all. (I’m assuming it’s a “him”, since I’m sure the Pope would not punch a woman.) But does he think that violence is justified in defence of the honour of your mother, or your religion? Yes he does. Or if not actually justified, at least quite understandable.
At this point in the discussion, western journalists normally wander off into an extended debate in which some defend freedom of speech at any cost and others insist that you must refrain from mocking other people’s religious views, either because you shouldn’t hurt their feelings or just because you’re afraid they’ll kill you.
It’s a great opportunity to pontificate about weighty philosophical matters (even the Pontiff himself could not resist it), but it has almost nothing to do with the case at hand: the terrorist attacks in Paris and the various western responses to them. Or do you really think that the attacks would stop if everybody promised to say only nice things about Islam?
It is unlikely that Said and Cherif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly were regular readers of Charlie Hebdo. The target was picked for them either directly by some operational controller in al-Qaeda, ISIS, or some other Islamist jihadi group—or, if they were acting independently, then indirectly by the editor of some Islamist website who was highlighting that magazine as particularly insulting to Islam.
The fanatics who run the extremist networks and websites need insults to Islam, threats to Islam, attacks on Islam in order to recruit and motivate the impressionable young men and women who will do the actual killing and dying for them. If Charlie Hebdo didn’t exist, they’d have found something else. It probably wouldn’t have been quite as crassly insulting as Charlie, but it would have served the same purpose.
As a popular slogan on the extremist websites has it, “media is half of jihad”. High-profile targets that will upset the western public are what they want, and nothing gets the western media’s attention like an attack on the media.
For most of a week, that one event in Paris—17 people killed by three young fools with guns—virtually monopolized international news coverage in the European and North American media. But what was so surprising about it? That you can get Kalashnikovs in Paris? That there are quite a few foolish, lost young Muslim men in Paris? That some of them will be seduced by Islamist propaganda?
This was a small skirmish in a long...I was going to say a long “war”, but actually the strategic objective of France and all the other western target nations should be to prevent it from turning into a real war. It’s the extremists who want a war in which the West “attacks Islam”, because that is the best and probably the only route that might bring them to power in the Muslim world.
Unfortunately, western media cannot resist turning stories like the Paris killings into a media circus. To make matters worse, western leaders cannot resist the temptation to do little pantomimes of defiance for the cameras. “We’re not on our knees. We’re standing tall. In fact, look: we’re bravely walking down the streets together.” As if the terrorists wanted them on their knees.
And so you get the ridiculous demonstration of “solidarity” among 40 world leaders that led the march in Paris. At least Barack Obama had the good sense to dodge that event, although he was sharply criticised for it by all the useful idiots at home who think a war with Islam is just what the West needs.
Come to think of it, Pope Francis didn’t go to Paris either. Maybe there’s hope for him yet.