Belfast Telegraph

Sowing the seeds of hate jeopardises every freedom

Hate-speech should not be tolerated under any circumstances, says Garry O'Sullivan

Hate is a rare phenomenon to witness up close. But when we do, it literally takes one's breath away.

It crosses all religious and secular divides and is usually born out of ignorance and deepened by adult egos out of control.

Julie Burchill's comment piece in this paper last Thursday demonstrated a profound hatred of Catholics and Christianity.

It is not something I say easily. It was shocking, but then that was what it set out to do; to 'shock and awe', so that Ms Burchill can retain her reputation for a 'firebrand' style of writing.

However, if a Protestant clergyman said some of the things Ms Burchill wrote, most people would call him an anti-Catholic bigot. Yet, when the writer is a secular 'firebrand', she is merely 'outspoken' and 'controversial'.

For most Catholics and Protestants, the response to hate-speech is not to respond in kind. Clearly, Ms Burchill has led a life that appears more bitter than sweet - a simple Google search will reveal her very public past - and the woman is more to be pitied than scorned. Of course, the Pope and the Catholic Church are easy targets for hate-speech.

That bishops would cover up abuse by paedophile clerics is utterly shameful and unacceptable. But we must also remember that studies show that 4% of all sexual abuse of children is by religious brothers or priests.

So society has to come to terms with the fact that it is non-priests who account for 96% of abuse and much of that abuse is covered up by families who don't want the shame and publicity.

It is right and proper that Pope Benedict's visit to Britain is scrutinised and intelligently criticised.

But a cartoon which illustrated Ms Burchill's article depicted the Pope as someone physically evil, with pointy ears and long fingernails and black teeth, reminiscent of the Punch cartoons that depicted Irish people as ape-like. Yes, the Pope was a member of the Hitler Youth, because it was made compulsory. It was a fascist dictatorship after all. But Ms Burchill is not going to let a fact get in the way of a slur.

She also alleges that Catholics believe Anglicans will burn in hell. Again, not true.

Ms Burchill has her own reasons for her hate and anyone reading her vitriolic, anti-Catholic bigotry will surely see it for what it is.

Readers can read this trash online any day of the week. If it's bigotry you want, the internet is full of it.

What you won't see in the same newspapers is Ms Burchill writing about Islam. You won't see a cartoon of Mohammed depicted as evil; you won't see her condemning Muslims, or their holy book.

For extreme Islam, it is patently clear that violence works. The whole world seemed to condemn the US pastor intent on burning the Koran, with little reflection on the fact that, although he was wrong, why should innocent lives be lost because a religious book is burnt?

Hatred promotes further the cycle of hatred.

Yet writers like Burchill place moderate religious people in a bind.

The moderates are told by the extremists that only violence or the threat of violence will win the day for respect. Yet, if you are a violent fundamentalist, your views of what can be written about or drawn will be respected. Hate-speakers share the same dark space as the religious fundamentalists.

Until newspaper editors realise this, they will continue to damage freedom of speech by giving in to the threat of violence and ignoring the demands of decency.

For the Julie Burchills of this world, when it comes to hate, as Jesus said, as you sow, so shall you reap.

Garry O’Sullivan is editor of The Irish Catholic

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