He spoke about freedom of expression and said that while it is a fundamental right, it does not give a person absolute liberty to do as he or she pleases. He noted that there is a limit to the freedom of expression. Regarding religious beliefs, the Pope said every religion has its dignity. “I cannot mock a religion that respects human life and the human person,” said the Pope. I did not laugh at that statement as it made total sense.
Pope Francis went on to condemn the killings in Paris and speak about holy war. “One cannot offend, make war, kill in the name of one’s own religion, that is in the name of God. To kill in the name of God is an aberration.”
I felt the term “aberration” was a little soft and mushy when it comes to killing human beings, especially in the name of God. Killing another person is plain and simply wrong. We were never intended to deal with killing or murder, especially large scale terrorist acts or worse – a war. If you don’t believe me, just ask war veterans, grieving families and friends, and the soldiers (and civilians) who live with the horrors of war that are so deeply burned into their memory that they regularly come to life. It is called post traumatic stress syndrome. So it is that I commend Harry Forbes for speaking out in a letter to the editor about the mental anguish he endured after the Second World War, and how his wife, friends and neighbours helped him through those difficult times.
Getting back on track, below is the statement from the Pope that made me laugh. He said, “If a close friend says a swear word against my mother, he’s going to get a punch in the nose.” His words tickled my funny bone and imagination. He went on to say, “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.” His statement was made after the Charlie Hebdo massacre while on the way to visit the Philippines. It caused spokesmen at the Vatican to scramble and explain the Pope was not condoning the Paris killings.
I laughed at the Pope’s frank disclosure about what would happen to someone who cursed his mother. I could imagine him slowly clenching his fist and suddenly punching the perpetrator in the face, and then calmly explaining the rationale for his actions. It seemed like an unusual statement for any religious leader and I certainly don’t recall any other Pope making such a disclosure.
The Pope could have easily blasted the Islamic radicals who waged war on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish kosher supermarket, but he remained reserved which is surprising considering he is apparently on an Isis hit list himself. According to the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican, one of Isis’ goals is to assassinate the Pontiff. “What has been declared by the self-proclaimed Islamic State is clear – they want to kill the Pope,” said the ambassador as he noted that the threats are credible. The Pope may have ended up in the terrorists’ sights after he endorsed the idea of shutting down the organization and their persecution of 40,000 Christians in northern Iraq.
Meanwhile, senseless fallout from the Paris attacks continues. A Moroccan man was savagely attacked and killed in his home in a small village in southern France. He was stabbed 17 times as his wife tried to stop the attack and then fled with their child to get help. The 28-year-old attacker apparently broke in shouting, “I am your god. I am your Islam.”
The man was charged with murder, possession of drugs and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. It is believed he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia since he claimed he had heard voices and was found at the scene in an incoherent state.
The murder is one of at least 60 incidents that are being blamed on Islamophobia. Other unsavory actions include attacks on 26 mosques in France. The buildings were subjected to firebombs, gunfire, grenades and pig heads in the wake of the Paris attacks. Businesses owned by Muslims have also been the target of bombs, racist graffiti, intimidation and threats.
It is interesting to note that the French foreign minister said the word “Islamist” should not be used to describe the murderers who killed 17 people in Paris. He said the term terrorist (which I objected to in last week’s column) is more accurate. Other French politicians asked residents not to link the gunman to peaceful Muslims.
Meanwhile, a 20-year-old Muslim man was stabbed to death in Germany. The killing is believed to be a backlash to the so-called Islamification of Europe. Aside from the way the tragedies occurred in Paris, the aftermath seems reminiscent of the racism and paranoia that accompanied the rise of fascism prior to the Second World War.
There were two positive aspects to the massacre – a Muslim employee at the kosher supermarket held hostage saved several people by putting them in a freezer. Second, the Pope made me laugh when he described how he would deal with anyone who insults his mother. I thank him for his honesty and humour at this dark time.