17:44 GMT, 15 January 2015
19:08 GMT, 15 January 2015
Tomorrow, a Saudi blogger will be viciously flogged 50 times in the
second of 20 such weekly punishment sessions he will receive this year.
Raif Badawi’s crime? Suggesting reforms for Islam.
A more compelling, sickening example of the suppression of free speech it would be hard to find.
just as I was about to pen an outraged column attacking the Saudi
regime for such an inhuman, outrageous act, my attention was diverted to
something equally troubling a little closer to my own spiritual home.
Today, the Pope, leader of the Catholic Church – of which I am a member – endorsed violence as a way to respond to insults.
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Outrageous. While flying to the Philippines, Pope Francis told
journalists that he defended freedom of speech as not only a fundamental
human right but also as a duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of
Shocking: Then came the analogy: ‘If my good friend Dr Gasparri
says a curse word against my mother, then a punch awaits him. It’s
normal. One cannot provoke. One cannot insult the faith of others. One
cannot make fun of faith.’ Gasparri is pictured at left
I could barely believe what I was reading. But he said it. It’s there, in plain language.
for his response to the Paris terrorist attacks, Pope Francis – flanked
by his Papal trip organizer, Dr. Alberto Gasparri – told journalists on
a plane to the Philippines that he defended freedom of speech as not
only a fundamental human right but also as a duty to speak one’s mind
for the sake of the common good.
But then he clarified this, by saying there were ‘limits’ to how far this freedom extends.
are so many people who speak badly about religions,’ he said, ‘who make
fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others. They are
Then came the analogy which shocked me to the core:
my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, then a
punch awaits him. It’s normal. One cannot provoke. One cannot insult the
faith of others. One cannot make fun of faith.’
To illustrate his point, the Pope then threw a pretend punch towards Dr Gasparri.
The imagery was startling.
was my Holy Father, supposedly a man who espouses the philosophy of
turning the other cheek, telling us all to whack someone in the face if
they insult us.
Well, isn’t that exactly what Al Qaida did in Paris, metaphorically speaking?
claimed the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists had insulted their religion, and
reacted with physical aggression. Albeit aggression of a deadly,
By the Pope’s yardstick, weren’t the Charlie
Hebdo staff guilty of being the very ‘provocateurs’ that he says are
unacceptable and thus worthy of violent response?
And in similar vein, what’s the difference between punching someone for insulting you or lashing them 1000 times?
Violence is violence, it’s just a question of degree.
like this Pope. He’s been the biggest breath of fresh air since John
Paul II, and I find almost everything he does both invigorating and
inspiring – whether he’s calling for gays not to be marginalized,
kissing the feet of AIDS patients, or just declining the traditionally
lavish trappings of Papal life at the Vatican.
Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia, blogger Raef Badawi is going to
publicly flogged for suggesting reforms to Islam. In September, a Saudi
court upheld a sentence of 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for
Badawi, and he is expected to have 20 weekly whipping sessions until his
punishment is complete
The pope has been a breath of fresh air, and he can be a true reforming leader with a common touch
proven himself to be a true reforming leader with a very special common
touch. And boy did we Catholics need someone like him to rescue the
brand of our Church from decades of corruption and child abuse.
to mention one of my own personal bug-bears: the shameful refusal of
the Vatican to advocate condoms as a prevention to disease rather than
just a form of contraception. Something that would save potentially
hundreds of thousands of lives in places like Africa.
Pope’s comments on freedom of speech today are ridiculous and dangerous.
And if my critique qualifies as an insult in his book, then so be it.
clear message from what he said is that nobody can mock, insult or poke
fun at any religion. And further, that if someone insults you, even
over non-religious things like your family, you have every right to use
violence as a response.
Pope Francis was keen to stress that nobody should kill in the name of religion.
But what if the punch he advocates for exacting revenge on an insult kills someone, as many punches do?
I were a non-violent Muslim, who has had to put up with a week of
people demanding I apologise for the actions of a bunch of cowardly
terrorists, then I would feel perfectly entitled right now to ask what
on earth the Pope is thinking by defending the use of violence to
suppress free speech?
All religions should be held up to scrutiny,
mockery, and the occasional insult. When my own Church covered up the
widespread abuse of young children by many of its pedophile priests,
that was behaviour thoroughly deserving of every insult thrown its way.
And Charlie Hebdo did exactly that, incidentally.
apologise for those priests, by the way, but I will loudly condemn them
as evil monsters who have no place in a civilised society, let alone a
pulpit. Which is the same response I’d expect from every decent Muslim
to terror attacks by people hijacking their religion to commit
So, Pope Francis is entirely wrong on this.
And as someone who admires him hugely, I regret that very much.
The Bible may cite an eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth, but it also advocates stoning for adulterers.
I don’t want my Pope, or any religious leader, to ever endorse any form of violence for anything.
Their job is to promote peace, and they should stick to it.
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