On my way into work this morning, I was thinking about the riots in Sydney and around the world led by radicalised islamists.
All the reporting says that these riots were in reaction to a film posted on Youtube. When I first read the news last week that the US Ambassador to Libya had been murdered by a mob, I then read Fr Lombardi’s statement on the event, and thought “What?” Here’s what he said according the CNS report:
“Profound respect for the beliefs, texts, outstanding figures and symbols of the various religions are an essential precondition for the peaceful coexistence of peoples,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.
“The serious consequences of unjustified offense and provocations against the sensibilities of Muslim believers are once again evident in these days, as we see the reactions they arouse, sometimes with tragic results, which in turn nourish tension and hatred, unleashing unacceptable violence,” he said Sept. 12 in a written statement that was also translated into Arabic.
At that stage, I didn’t know that the rioting was supposed to be “about” that film, so I wondered why a statement about murderous violence began with a comment about respect for beliefs. Shouldn’t respect for human life and a denunciation of violence be at the top of the list?
Of course, since then, there have been endless denunciations of “that film” by western governments and Christian Churches. Here is the latest from Cathnews.
Okay, so back to this morning. On my way into work, I was thinking, “This isn’t about “that film”. Anyone who thinks that it is has got it all wrong. This is about something else.”
When I arrived at work, a colleague showed me a cutting from yesterday’s Age (I cancelled my subscription a fortnight ago!) of this article by Waleed Aly: “The Incredible Hulk proves to be no friend of Islam either”, in which Waleed says exactly what I was thinking, and then tells us what he thinks it really IS about:
It doesn’t matter that they object to insulting people on the basis of their religion, while declaring that Christians have no morals. This is baffling only until you realise these protesters are not truly protesting to make a point. The protest is the point.
It feels good. It feels powerful. This is why people yell pointlessly or punch walls when frustrated. It’s not instrumental. It doesn’t achieve anything directly. But it is catharsis. Outrage and aggression is an intoxicating prospect for the powerless.
Accordingly, it is not an option to leave an insult unanswered because that is a sign of weakness, rather than transcendence.
The protest is what the protest is about, not the film. This arises out of an honour/shame culture that is totally alien to our way of thinking.
Ironically, the solution, it seems to me, lies in harnessing the power of this “honour/shame” culture against this kind of behaviour. I was listening to a program the other day which was talking about so-called “honour-killings” in Pakistan. The way to combat this, said the commentator, was to make “honour-killings” collectively dishonourable, along the lines of “The world sees us doing this and says Pakistan is barbaric and stupid. Honour-killings result in dishonour, not honour. They shame Pakistan. Therefore, for the sake of our honour, we will not do honour-killings any more.” That isn’t a moral argument, but it is, I think a practical way of addressing that particular problem.
The same method can be used by the Muslim community in Australia (and elsewhere) to oppose these kinds of violence riots. “The violence brings shame on Islam, the Prophet and Allah, therefore, we as Muslims will not act violently.” If the Australian Muslim Community in particular, and the Australian community as a whole, can successfully brand this kind of violence (or any for that matter) as “shameful” it will no longer be a sign of weakness to refuse to act violently – it will be a sign of strength.
But of course, I am a Christian, and this has long been a part of our ethic. From “turn the other cheek” to “my strength is made perfect in weakness”, Christianity has long upheld non-violence as a strong (and hence honourable) way of reacting to the violence or offensive activity of others.
Fr Barron, in his DVD series, Catholicism, tells two stories, one about Desmond Tutu and another about Mother Teresa.
One day, Archbishop Tutu was walking on a boardwalk through a muddy area when a South African soldier was coming the other way. The soldier refused to make way for the bishop to pass and said “Get of the boardwalk – I don’t make way for apes”. Tutu stepped off the boardwalk and said “I do.”
Mother Teresa was asking for a loaf of bread from a baker for a starving child. The baker spat full in her face. “Thank you for that,” the saint replied, “now how about something for the child?”
Non-violence can turn the offensive action back on the offender. The best way to deal with silly offensive videos on Youtube is not to riot violently, nor to waste one’s breath denouncing it. It is to ignore it.