Page 11, 22nd September 2006

22nd September 2006
Page 11
Page 11, 22nd September 2006 — The fear of fear itself

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The fear of fear itself

What really brought home the severity of the controversy over the Pope's speech was a phone call from the police. "What can I do for you?" I asked. "It's rather a case of what we can do for you," the officer replied. "You are no doubt aware of the comments by Pope Benedict. I just wanted to assure you that in the light of that we are stepping up patrols around the local Catholic churches. This is the number of the control room and if you have any problems, just give us a call." I was stunned. Has it really come to this, I wondered? Can some misrepresented remarks of the Holy Father mean that here in a relatively troublefree, affluent, ordinary suburb we are in actual danger from the attacks of Muslim extremists? I asked if there was any

intelligence, any reason to think there was danger in this area. "We are in the business of prevention," was all he would say.

I felt obliged to thank him even as I wondered whether this wasn't an over-reaction. I have been concerned ever since. I have to say that I did not think for a minute we were in danger. What's been concerning me is why and how was the decision made that throughout the country churches were to be visited, called and reassured of extra protection. There seemed to be such a lot of presuppositions involved.

The first 1 thing I noticed from the call was the assumption that I was in need of reassurance, suggesting that I would already be aware of danger here. Such an awareness might come from all kinds of things I was not in fact feeling, for example that Pope Benedict's remarks so manifestly incited religious hatred that we are bound to feel endangered; that we took the misrepresentations to be ex cathedra and now all believe Islam to be a religion of violence, or that significant numbers of our local Muslim brothers and sisters are radicalised and violent. I dislike all these possible implications.

But you start to worry; you can only assume that there is a threat. The police response seems to leave the picture o beautiful, multicultural Britain, like the portrait of Dorian Gray, suddenly shovring an inner, hitherto undreamt-of corruption and malady. I want to know wh t the political presupposition are behind such a decision t mount guard on Catholic churches. What is the min et behind such reassurance?

After all, to suggest that e might have something to fe from Muslims in general in other cases would be descri d

by the police and politicians as Islamophobia. Imagine that the local thugs had chosen this weekend to daub graffiti on the church wall, as happened a few weeks ago. How obvious, natural and wrong in the light of the warning, to decide this was a religiously motivated hate crime.

Isn't this just the consequence of what happens when you politicise crime and punishment, as this Government has done? By legislating aggressively for positivistic minority rights you in fact always end up taking sides, you must in some way identify with those rights, rather than with the idea of "common law". In a rights culture which dares to legislate for what people ought to feel, those charged with enforcing such laws are bound to begin to believe that they are experts in the matter of knowing what

people are feeling. • I don't wish to sound churlish; I am the first to want to support the police in the prevention of crime and would be the first to expect them to be there if the church was attacked. But the fact is that would see any attacks over the Weekend as crimes, pure and simple. I would not see them as "hate crimes". All crime is motivated by hatred of some kind — by contempt for others or their rights. Still less do I see them as "religiously motivated crimes", for precisely the reason that the Holy Father outlines in his brilliant address, where he says that you cannot justify acting unreasonably in the name of God.

The police haven't called to assure me that they are increasing protection from burglars or muggers, so why do they tell me they are protecting me from Muslims, unless they make some kind of radical differentiation in the perceived sensibilities of the people or the crimes involved?

Crime is just crime and needs to be dealt with impartially in terms of its actions and not in terms of subjective political ideas about the sensitivities of particular "communities".

In the same way, an attack on the Pope's speech is just an attack on free speech in general when it refuses to address the offending argument and voices hatred only for its utterance and the one uttering it.

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