One of the core values of liberal democracy is tolerance. ‘You are entitled to your views but please respect mine’. In a multi-cultural society this is really important in terms of maintaining good relationships and harmony amongst different neighbours with different views. This is great in principle but what happens when friction occurs between neighbours? For instance, I read of examples of sad court cases between neighbours who are at war with one another, often sparked off by some trivial incident or argument that turns to spite and malice and eventually all-out war. Tolerance begins with respect towards our neighbour, or in biblical terms, ‘loving our neighbours as ourselves’.
I love comedy, spoof and farce, in the great British tradition of self-deprecation where humour is aimed at pricking our own blown up self-importance (Blackadder and Yes, Prime Minister). However, there is a fine line between self-deprecating humour and sarcasm mixed with mockery aimed at others. We cross a fine line when we attack our neighbour using the cover of humour to hide our intentions. I feel uncomfortable and even distressed when pundits express their views in the media and aim sarcastic attacks at Christians, especially when there is a complicit silence or agreement by others. We need to beware of any drift in our society towards a social acceptance of denigration of groups within society.
But other nations do not share the same understanding of British self-deprecation. I think Hollywood overstepped the mark portraying the assassination of Kim Jong-un. Dictators tend to be very sensitive towards criticism and are likely to react badly. Similarly, Charlie Hebdo cartoonists lampooned the prophet and Islam mercilessly, causing distress to Muslims. In the long term we play into the hands of the extremists by further alienating the Muslim community. As one commentator I read recently reminds us “Freedom of speech is a right, but not a duty”.
Do not mistake me, I abhor the horrific slaughter by jihadists and I am not condoning their behaviour nor am I saying we should give in to their demands. What I am saying is let us remind ourselves what is needful about tolerance and respect and to bear in mind we are called to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. Respect does not mean that I have permission to insult persons or groups holding views that differ from mine.