I write this on the day after the attack by militant Muslims on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, where journalists, cartoonists and police were murdered in cold blood – all for the ‘crime’ of causing offence to the Prophet Muhammed. There is much lamentation at this turn of events and, worse, lots of cringeworthy hand-wringing from the politically correct and morally bankrupt who try to say that the cartoonists brought it on themselves, that perhaps they should have been more polite to the violent fascists. The contradictions in the modern secular West are bearing down upon us with a vengeance.
I have written before in these pages (September of 2012) about the ‘taking of offence’, and how that is understood as being a sin in Christianity, as it is a form of pride; and I have also pointed out in these pages (last November) that Jesus himself was often exceptionally rude, most often to those in positions of power and authority who were exploiting the poor and vulnerable. I have no doubt whatsoever that if Jesus had been gifted with the art of illustrating rather than the art of speaking then he would have portrayed the Pharisees of his day with images that were just as rude as those that the Charlie Hebdo journalists have produced.
After all, who are the people who are trying to rule by fear and intimidation? Of course we can point out all the ways in which the oppressive West acts with injustice in areas of the world, as we blindly allow the worship of Mammon to destroy all that makes for a joyful humanity. The point is, however, that we are able to say those things. The West has within itself the possibility of transformation. It is the very fact that we have a culture of open criticism that makes the culture of the West worth defending, even whilst admitting to its many and diverse sins.
What this campaign of intimidation against the West is trying to do is to force us to renounce our fundamental values, to put a boundary around what we can or cannot say. This is not something that the West can tolerate, on pain of self-dissolution. To be the West simply is to be the place where there is freedom of speech, where there is protection for the giving of offence. After all, where is the merit in allowing freedom of speech where that only applies to pleasant speech? No, it is precisely the speech that is rude and offensive and vulgar and obscene and blasphemous that is the speech that needs to be protected. It is only when that form of speech is protected that the dynamism at the heart of Western culture can flourish – and it is that dynamism which allows for so many of our blessings across so many different spheres.
This campaign of intimidation is not new. It has been in plain view for all astute observers since at least the fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989, and the origins run very deep in Islamic thought. This is not a campaign being waged by stupid people. On the contrary, the intellectual roots are profound and subtle, and not without merits from which we can learn. However, what we in the West need to decide is whether to confront the intimidation or to submit to it. In other words, do we actually wish to retain a culture which allows for freedom of speech or do we not? Let us not be in any doubt that this is what is at stake; that this battle has been waged for at least a generation; and – let us be very clear – we are losing.
After all, how many newspapers have published the ‘offensive’ cartoons this morning? Why so few? The answer is obvious – it is because they are afraid. They have already accepted the status of dhimmitude, which is the term given to those who are tolerated by Islam. Those who wish to subordinate the West can see that our cultural and political leaders lack the testicular fortitude required to stand up to intimidation, and so they pursue their course of action, confident of their eventual victory. They believe that the tide of history is with them and there is, as yet, very little evidence to say that their perception is wrong. They do not have to do much more – simply set the agenda of terror, and allow demographics to do the rest.
I have two questions following on from the atrocities in Paris. The first is: will the West ever recognise that not all religions are the same and that, in stark contradiction to the accepted narrative, the fruits of democracy and free speech in the West are the direct consequence of the deep action of Christian theology within our culture? The accepted narrative, after all, with its fetishisation of Galileo and Darwin, casts the Christian authorities as those who are hostile to free speech, to intellectual exploration, to the vulgar dynamism which is at one and the same time the most attractive and most alarming feature of our society. This accepted narrative is a travesty of the truth, but, much worse than that, it forms part of the intellectual blindness of our political and cultural elite which in itself prevents a full and effective engagement with the fascists who are attacking us. Unless our elite can recognise that we need to rest our values on a religious foundation then we will inevitably lose ground to those who can recognise that reality.
My second question is for those who wish to apologise for the Islamic faith. Does Islam have within itself the resources required to police the violent terrorists? Those resources are both doctrinal and practical. After all, the list of terrorist atrocities that have been carried out by Muslims over the last thirty years and more is extensive, and the YouTube beheadings carried out by ISIS are simply the latest example of a well-established trend. Those who carry out such barbaric acts are explicitly and avowedly doing so as Muslims, in the name of Muhammed, and they cry out ‘Allahu Akhbar’. It is not enough for other Muslims to say ‘that is not true Islam’. The links between the terrorists and long-established Islamic teaching are not trivial. The links between extremist behaviour and extremist preaching, such as the Wahhabi strand of Islamic thought financially backed and promulgated by the Saudi government, are not minor.
Yes, the situation has many complexities which I have not been able to engage with in this article, yet I do find myself wearying of those who take refuge in moral complexity and equivocation, when by so doing they give clear succour and encouragement to the enemy. We need to recover an awareness of our own religious roots, of the vitality and dynamism of the Christian faith – yes, even the Church of England! Without it, all that we most value in our society will pass away. The fundamental clash is clear. We either kowtow and appease those who wish to police what we are allowed to say, or else, with Jesus, we revel in our rumbunctious rudeness and tell the enemy where to go.