'Je suis Samuel' - a tricky topic.
Updated: Oct 30
Much of the world has been disturbed by the beheading of the French teacher Samuel. I began writing, wishing to defend of freedom speech, but a discussion with people I trust heated up and made me realise the difficulty the topic presents. Consequently, I haven’t known how to proceed.
Perhaps by stating that when I meet people, I genuinely admire their colour, culture and gender and see an interesting human being worthy of respect. For those who do not know me, let me assure you that I’ve felt this even when looking down the barrel of a gun. That sounds naive, mad, even more so when I admit to have ended up chatting with people who have previously wanted to harm me.
Perhaps the noble tribe I spent an important part of my childhood are to be blamed for my fearlessness. To their enemies they were fit, furious, but they were the gentlest, most loyal of friends. Growing up in near poverty in multicultural Kenya programmed my infant mind to be open to all creeds, clans and characters.
Working for a charity in a distant country, out of respect, my wife and I adhered to expected norms. It’s what you do when you enter another culture, and doing so is normal animal behaviour, apes, wild dogs, elephants adapt to groups they join.
When discussing my intended blog about the beheading, political correctness got in the way. It was felt that unpicking a sector of society which quietly condone the beheading is to castigate them, because they have the right to think as they do. Yes, but we all have the right to think as we wish so long as we don’t expect those who feel differently to behave as we wish and to threaten them if they do.
We know people who have been told to quickly boost their populations to ensure their host European countries adapt to the rules by which they wish to live. Many immigrants come to Europe because our lands are far, far safer than those they left. This safety grew out of the freedom to discuss, or democracy. It is sad that some now wish to impose the restrictions they escaped upon people who have welcomed them.
Another friend here in Europe told his Imam that Buddhism interested him. He was warned such thinking would cause a fatwa to be issued. He didn’t mind dying. It was explained that the fatwa would include his family. My friend went silent. He said he had been foolish.
If fear stops you saying what you think, what does that imply? Fortunately, until now, in Europe we have been able to express ourselves so long as we don’t offend or hurt others. In England, that has been our right since June 1215. Suddenly, however, we find ourselves being threatened when we debate free speech.
When discussion isn’t open, sharing, accepting, thought paths become separated by walls which grow ever more impenetrable as time passes. Deviation and free thinking is rebuked, rigidity is the new norm, society soon closes down, leaders are dictatorial. Where we once worked, entering voting stations on voting day people were offered coloured pencils - black for the government, red for the opposition. The next day the national radio named everyone who had voted against the returning government, community by community.
Samuel, the decapitated teacher, had suggested that pupils unwilling to engage in a discussion on free-speech could leave the classroom. Those who objected damned an activity they were not engaged in, in other words, they despised behaviour common in the secular country in which they chose to live.
This is a crisis, a clash of cultures. We need to work together and find a harmonious way forwards. Talking is the only way out. After all, although we might define it differently, we all want the same, whether we believe in a god or not. Not to talk leads to conflict and barbaric acts such as that inflicted upon poor Samuel.