Being rational in the face of irrational hate


Reaction to the horrifying slaying of Fr Jacques Hamel while celebrating Mass in a church in
northern France last week was swift and understandable. Catholic voices from the Vatican down denounced the killing and expressed grief, outrage and horror.

Many other voices expressed sorrow and solidarity.

But there were other voices again, notably on social media and on radio talkback in the West, which were quick to decry the irrationality of religion in general, stating that this butchery is the latest, inevitable result of such a shortcoming.

It is an accusation which goes all the way back to the Enlightenment, as stated by Bishop Robert Barron in the current issue of this newspaper. This charge has enjoyed something of a resurgence since 9/11.

But to claim all religion is irrational and therefore violent is to play into the hands of zealots whose religious outlook really is irrational and which looks to violence as a way to achieve its ends.

Over its history, the Catholic Church has tried to temper the Gospel ideal of non-violence with the imperative to protect the innocent and do justice. Some of the greatest thinkers in history have turned their minds to devising ethical frameworks which try to give due weight to these aims, while acknowledging how problematic this can be in reality.

Political reaction in recent times to the threat posed by religious radicalism has thrown up other frameworks which would once have been seen as fringe.

For instance, US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wants, upon being elected, to “immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place”.

This is an evolution of Mr Trump’s call in December last year “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on”.

And in Australia, a senator, Jacqui Lambie, has called for a royal commission into Islam in that nation, to discover the truth about hate preachers, radicalisation and terrorism.

As slayings of the innocent in the name of radical Islam multiply not just on the West’s doorstep in places like Syria and Iraq, but within its borders, such fringe frameworks will seem more and more like viable options.

And that plays into the hands of groups like ISIS.

As Nihad Awad, the leader of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said after the Nice atrocity, “let us not help the recruiting efforts of ISIS and other terror groups by blaming all Muslims for the murders in France”.

US President Barack Obama made a similar call last month, in a speech marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

“Singling out Muslim Americans, moreover, feeds the lie of terrorists like ISIL that the West is somehow at war with a religion that includes over a billion adherents. That’s not smart national security.”

The challenge, as always, for governments and communities is how to maintain the security of citizens while respecting the hard won freedoms they all enjoy.

It is not a case of “either or” — it must be a case of “both-and” as much as possible, despite the price of freedom being, as some say, eternal vigilance.

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Michael Otto

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