Sport Rugby

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Neil Francis: 'Changing the name of Crusaders will do nothing to stop terrorist attacks'

People walk past flowers and tributes displayed in memory of the mosque massacre victims outside the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch
People walk past flowers and tributes displayed in memory of the mosque massacre victims outside the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

A week on from the atrocities in Christchurch, I was listening to Today with Sean O'Rourke on RTé Radio 1. Paddy O'Gorman had been sent out to a mosque on the South Circular Road to ask if Muslims felt safe in Ireland after the dreadful happenings in New Zealand.

My interest was piqued by the last interviewee, a woman from Pakistan living in Ireland for the last 10 years, who expressed an opinion that there was no sanction for hate crimes or speech in this country - something which I am not sure is necessarily true. She also stated that something must be done to stop these attacks on Muslims. In fairness to O'Gorman, he pressed her on the Bataclan outrage and her response took my breath away. She said: "What happened in New Zealand was a terrorist attack. What happened in the Bataclan was revenge." The fault lines are still visible in both communities.

The murder of 50 people in New Zealand - quite apart from the grotesqueness of yet another slaughter of innocent people - was the moment that country got a taste of the madness that has been going on in a lot of the rest of the world. Innocence and peace was lost forever in the space of an hour. Evil lays its clammy hand on everything, and distance or seclusion is not an insurmountable hurdle.

I have written previously about my disdain for guns and gun laws. Quite how in the civilised world automatic and semi-automatic weapons are readily available to anyone who wants to purchase them is beyond me.

In the wake of this atrocity, New Zealand set about passing legislation to prohibit the sale of such weapons. No inquiries, no tribunals, no committees. The ban came within a fortnight of the event.

Another small footnote is that nobody is mentioning the perpetrator's name, a small mercy.

Inevitably there will be another mass slaughter somewhere else some time this year where the criminally insane perpetrators snuff out the lives of women and small children as if the act was part of a video game. Only the gods we purport to worship know whether the next victims will be Christian or Muslim.

There are many consequences of the shootings in Christchurch. One is a minor matter, but still enough to provoke me to write about it.

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The Canterbury Crusaders have been in existence since 1996. The symbol chosen was that of a knight with a sword drawn over his right shoulder with a Christian cross on his chest, the symbol emblazoned on a shield. The image is unmistakeable and not unrepresentative of the vast majority of citizens in Christchurch, who profess that they follow a religion, Christianity.

Now there is a move to have Canterbury Crusaders change their name. It is still unclear who is pressing for it.

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand's Premier, has made it very clear that she is not calling for a name change, nor are any of her cabinet. It is after all an irrelevancy given what has happened. So where is the pressure coming from? Well social media. What constitutes a Twitter storm these days? A dozen people? One hundred?

The movement demands that the name change come about because the name 'Crusaders' is offensive to Muslims and the connotations and implications would not sit right in the community.

After poring over articles and press releases, none showed any evidence of any research done on what actually happened in the crusades in the Middle Ages. If anyone did such research they would realise that Muslim people have no cause to be offended.

In the Council of Clermont in 1095, Pope Urban issued a clarion call to arms. Two-thirds of the old Christian world had been taken over by Muslim forces and "Christian culture had to defend its land or be subsumed". Most people's perception is that the crusaders took Jerusalem, but Muslim armies had control of the Holy Land long before the crusades were finished. The Muslim armies controlled the whole of the Iberian peninsula except for the Basque Country and in the 1600s were only a series of thunderstorms away from taking Vienna. The Muslims won the crusades/religious wars. There were atrocities on both sides.

Why would Muslims feel offended about the crusades when it was the Christians who came off second best? History is written by the winners, so how can there be such a misconception about what happened in the crusades? Quite apart from the 'offence' aspect of the name change conundrum, there is also an element of the tail wagging the dog here.

There are 46,000 Muslims living in New Zealand, just under one per cent of the population. To put that in perspective, a glance at the most recent census in New Zealand showed that 45 per cent of the population professed to be agnostic or atheist (they are all going to burn in hell apparently); 55,000 people in the census stated their religion as Jedi - yes from Star Wars.

Religion it seems is not something the Kiwis spend a whole lot of time following but they may be better exercised in how their country is governed and how democracy, real democracy, works in practice.

The horror of what happened in Christchurch will always remain and the fall-out and the way it gets played out is what we are left with. Already there is a petition in place in Christchurch with over 25,000 names on it to oppose any proposed name change. You are, I believe, in a democracy allowed to protest and express an opinion in public that reflects your views on a matter. Or maybe not . . .

The Crusaders have already canned the five 'knights' who rode around on horseback in AMI Stadium in their chain mail with swords and Christian cross shields as part of the match-day experience.

The issue of the name change has been dodged until the end of the season, when a special committee will consult with the Muslim community to see whether they think it is advisable to change the Crusaders' name to something else.

While they are at it why not change 'Christchurch' to something else?

The islands of New Zealand are in mourning - 50 of their citizens had their lives taken by a lunatic. The fall-out will continue for years. Changing the name of a sporting body will not solve anything and will, I feel, only inflame things further.

The only thing that is certain is that there will be more mass slaughters between the two cultures carried out by people or organisations that represent none of us and the people of that land have to deal with the consequences.

Nearly all will call such outrages terrorist attacks. Some, however, will see them differently.

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