Here and there…on September 30

With hindsight revolutions can look very organised things. We think of them as great turning-points. They may be that but the way they turn is never something certain and determined – as it might seem to have been when we get down to writing history.

The so-called “Arab Spring” is one such phenomenon. There is no question but that what we are watching there is a kaleidoscope of turning-points across North Africa and the Middle East. But who can dare say what the final outcomes will be in those diverse locations. Some might prove to be a flourishing Springtime indeed, but there are real and justified fears that others will result in long cold Winters.

A conference of 30 representatives of Justice and Peace commissions representing European Bishop’s Conferences met in Malta recently to work out some policy options on this phenomenon but failed to solve the quandary which these events always present to outside interested parties when it comes to doing something practical.

But there is good advice. Firstly, don’t apply “trivialising stereotypes” to these events which for so many are literally a matter of life and death. So perhaps we should drop the simplistic “Arab Spring” altogether. Secondly, – and this is where the quandary appears – respect the right of other nations to define democracy in accordance with their traditions and religious beliefs but  at the same time don’t ignore the “need to protect dignity and human rights.”

We could do with a little more of this respect on our home turf as well.

It was all precisely what  the Pope stressed in his visit to the Lebanon – the  importance of working to ensure “that cultural, social and religious differences are resolved in sincere dialogue, a new fraternity, where what unites us is a shared sense of the greatness and dignity of each person, whose life must always be safeguarded and protected.”

Reports are that Pope Benedict XVI is getting it hot and heavy in cyberspace. Andrea Tornelli, the sharpest of sharp Vatican journalists tells us that the Italian reputation management company Reputation Manager has demonstrated this in a study published recently. Using its software system and a dedicated team of editorial staff for the analysis of data relating to the Italian web world, including social media, Reputation Manager compared the digital identities of Pope Benedict and the Dalai Lama. The Buddhist leader gets a much easier ride. Surprise, surprise.

I don’t know what Buddha promised his followers, but we do know what Josef Rattzinger signedup for when he nailed his colours to the mast: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6, 24-26). The true disciples of Jesus are, in fact, a sign of contradiction: “If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world (…) therefore the world hateth you- (…) If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15, 18-20).

So popularity is not what this is all about. Nevertheless, perhaps we need a few more cyber-Christians out there taking on the detractors.

Jeremy O’Grady, editor-in-chief of The Week, draws our attention to an interesting contrast in media coverage of two recent events.  While there are general cries for “free speech” in the commentary on the trailer for the film The Innocence of Muslims which has provoked such outrage across the Islamic World and the deaths of many, including the US ambassador in Libya, there is a whiff of cowardice on the part of the media as well.

There is, he says, much talk about the appropriate policy reaction. Some say governments are is unduly restricting freedom of expression but others that there is too little restriction. But he points out that government are not the key players in this hue and cry at all. “Scouring newspaper web-sites,” he point out, “I can’t find one that has embedded an extract of the offending trailer, an Exhibit A that would let viewers gauge why and whether it warranted so much fuss. Contrast that with the treatment of Piss Christ, the 1989 work, deeply offensive to Christians, of a crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine. It’s being exhibited in a Manhattan gallery this week, and to illustrate the news story behind it, every other website has a picture of it. Free expression? This isn’t a question of policy; it’s a question of fear. The sword is mightier than the pen: that’s the truth journalists prefer to deny.” Well said Jeremy. As George Orwell said, to see what is in front of our noses requires a constant struggle.

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