Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Je suis Louis

The violent events in Paris the other week and, more significantly in many ways,the reaction of the French political establishment and the media there and elsewhere have attracted considerable attention and comment.

Clearly such killings by terrorists are wrong and to be condemned - we certainly do not have a right to kill those we do not like or agree with. 

However being deliberately and provocatively offensive to others religious opinions is a dubious right to claim, and not easy to justify. Let's be honest - Charlie Hebdo is not Private Eye, and many of its cartoons were deeply offensive, indeed blasphemous, and I cannot imagine they would be published in this country in a magazine that would be available in newsagents. That they set out to offend Christians, Jews and Muslims alike does not mitigate this fact, rather it compounds it.

Not a few people have made these points in the media - on the blogs I read both Fr Blake (who reproduced some of Charlie Hebdo's deeply offensive covers) and Fr Hunwicke drew out these points in various posts.

Even the BBC pointed to French hypocrisy over freedom of speech when, in the name of freedom of speech the Hollande government proposes to prosecute the comedian Dieudonne M'Bala -in his own way as equally offensive as the magazine - for exercising his, er, freedom of speech...

The French, having avoided the various types of political and religious based terrorism that have affected the UK, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy in recent decades have been shaken out of their complacency - but only it would seem, to fall back into the assertion of republican values and secularism - to challenge that in any way is to be beyond the pale. Then they get so many European leaders to march through Paris - against terrorism, well and good, but also seemingly in support of an ironically narrow and bigoted version of "freedom of speech".

True freedom - if that is your cause - involves the right to say and write what you believe, but to offer respect to others different perspectives and to receive that respect in return. Freedom therefore requires self-restraint (i.e.good old fashioned good manners) and not to say you are curtailing someone else's right of free speech in the cause of free speech.
I am thinking these thoughts today especially as January 21st is the anniversary of the guillotining of King Louis XVI in 1793, the event which symbolises the repudiation of the Ancien Regime and its precursors.

So much of the contemporary French political ethos and discourse, founded on those shocking events over two centuries ago, seems to me sterile and stiffling, an insistant rejection of the past and its culture, an at times frantic denial of alternatives or of past crimes and failing by the revolutionary tradition. 

As a friend said to me the other day of the situation in France "Vive le Roi, a bas la republique"

** Having written this post I anm now given to understand that French monarchists have adopted a "Je suis Louis XVI" slogan for today.

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