On the day another cartoonist victim was buried at Père Lachaise cemetery, the pope came as near as dammit to suggesting that Charlie Hebdo had it coming. “One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith,” he said.
Oh yes, you can. You may not choose to. It may not be wise or polite or kind - but you can. And to show you can, without being gunned down, Charlie Hebdo has just gone on sale in the UK, in bolder outlets, proudly defiant with an image of Muhammad on the cover - though with a tear and a kindly thought: “All is forgiven.”
The pope pointed to his aide as he said “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
No, it’s not normal to punch someone who insults you; the pope’s Christ certainly didn’t think so. Verbal provocation is never an excuse for violence - that’s the wife-beater’s defence.
Is he saying we must respect any old cult: followers of Black Sabbath, Odin, Scientology, astrology? Or is it the size of a faith that earns it the right to gag mockery?
Whenever the faiths come together to protect their rights jointly, you should smell a rat. They don’t just believe very different things; their professions contradict one another. In real life, it’s Catholic against Protestant, Hindu against Muslim, except in the soup blender of Thought for the Day, where only gentle and similar voices preaching peace and understanding get a voice. Absent is the red-hot ferocity that fuels the Islamists of Isis as they slaughter Christians, or the proselytising Nichiren Bhuddists, or the extremists from Northern Ireland’s religious fringes. Religion is gentle only when it’s powerless, without secular influence.