Taoiseach must hold Saudi Arabia and Iran to account over support for extremism
Published 20/11/2015 | 02:30
In his speech in the Dáil this week dealing with the murders in Paris, Taoiseach Enda Kenny did something that was surely unique in all the speeches delivered by all the politicians in all the world on this topic. He, or rather his speech-writer, managed to work a reference to the Knights Templar into his address.
What, you might ask, is the relevance of a mediaeval Catholic order like the Knights Templar to a speech about the Paris killings?
Enda informed us: "Back in 1307, almost to the month, the Knights Templar were arrested, interrogated, tortured and charged with heresy."
Flash forward to 2015, Enda continued, and "in the particular blue - the cobalt blue - of an evening in Paris, ordinary yet extraordinary men and women, so many of them young, paid with their lives, their futures, for another kind of religious fear and loathing,"
He then quoted Voltaire to the effect that "those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."
Nonetheless, Enda assured us, the suppression of the Knights Templar and the murders last Friday night in Paris had "nothing to do with any God or any faith."
This was Enda trying to have it both ways. He said the murders in Paris last Friday and in 1307 had "nothing to do with God or any faith", but at the same time each was motivated by "religious fear and loathing".
Whoever wrote that speech for our Taoiseach probably thought the reference to the Knights Templar was very clever. It showed a certain historical awareness and reminded us that cruel things have been done in the name of the Christian faith as well, so it's not just Islam that's on the hook for religiously inspired violence.
As a matter of record, the suppression of the Knights Templar had very little to do with religion. The French state at the time was bankrupt and the then French monarch had his eye on the financial assets of the Templars.
Charges of heresy and what have you were concocted against them, confessions of same were extracted under torture, and the Pope, who was then in Avignon in the south of France, was strong-armed into signing an order suppressing them.
So it wasn't belief in "absurdities" that led to the destruction of the Knights Templar, but a desire to get at the loot, a desire that is not yet banished from human affairs, I believe.
If Enda wanted to trawl French history for a better example of undoubted religious violence he could have cited the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572. Indeed, he might have cited the Terror that accompanied the French Revolution, or the massacre of tens of thousands of Catholics in the Vendee by the revolutionary army for examples in more recent times of atrocities being committed in the name of absurdities, although this time by absurdities of a far more secular kind.
The quote from Voltaire seems like a nice flourish. Voltaire is presented as a liberal exemplar. If only we would heed Voltaire, all would be well. But Voltaire, while a great opponent of religious fanaticism was often fanatical in his anti-religious zeal, and especially in his anti-Semitism.
Here is just one example of what he had to say about the Jews: "They are, all of them, born with raging fanaticism in their hearts, just as the Bretons and the Germans are born with blond hair. I would not be in the least bit surprised if these people would not some day become deadly to the human race."
This kind of attitude has often fuelled anti-religious violence.
Enda finished his speech by praising Islam. He stated: "It should be remembered that Islam is a religion of peace. It is a religion of truth, kindness and compassion. It is not a religion of hatred, violence or terror." I never remember Enda being so nice about Christianity.
It is true that Islam can be a religion of peace, and that it can be a religion of "truth, kindness and compassion". But like all religions, indeed like all ideologies, it can turn violent and significant strands within it are in a violent phase now.
The fact is that terrible things are being done in its name, and not just by Isil or the Taliban but by very well established, very important Islamic regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.
In the Saudi kingdom, which holds itself up as a model Muslim society given that is the custodian of Mecca and Medina, public executions and floggings in the name of Islamic law are commonplace. Women and gays are treated in a way that would make Christianity at its worst blush. Religious freedom is non-existent for non-Muslims.
No one can pretend that the interpretation of Islam found in Saudi Arabia is completely outside the Muslim mainstream, given the pivotal importance of Arabia within Islam.
Much the same kind of regime exists in Iran, despite it being Shia, not Sunni, except that in Iran rule by clerics is more direct. Iran is a wholesale exporter of violence, and the Saudis bankroll Wahhabism, a particularly strict and aggressive version of Islam.
As mentioned, there are far more peaceful versions of Islam and we have to hope that these versions eventually fully prevail in the battle for the hearts and minds of all Muslims. But for the time being, the world, not least the Middle East itself, plus much of Africa, Asia, and increasingly Europe, have a very big problem on their hands thanks to highly militant interpretations of Islam that we cannot pretend are restricted purely to the likes of Isil.
Why are we so reluctant to point this out? An excellent reason is that we don't want to stoke up public resentment against Muslims.
But it is curious all the same that many of the same people who are most exercised about, for example, women's rights are so reluctant to publicly criticise Islam when women are treated so badly in many Muslim countries.
Mr Kenny also quoted Voltaire to the effect that "to the living we owe respect but to the dead we owe only the truth."
So what is the truth here? The truth is that a very militant interpretation of Islam has become extremely widespread. Isil is an especially extreme example, but no-one can claim that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the Islamic Republic of Iran are aberrations within the present Muslim world.
Mr Kenny was praised for his "bravery" when he attacked the Vatican in his Dáil speech in summer 2011.
It would be much braver if he was willing to criticise the two countries that are responsible for a great deal of the Muslim militancy we are currently having to deal with, that is to say, the aforementioned Saudi Arabia and Iran.