The Mayor of Wycombe, Councillor Khalil Ahmed, echoed the feelings of the overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country in condemning the savagery of the fanatics in Paris last week.
It is tragic beyond comprehension that Islam, which preaches peace, tolerance and love, should be hijacked by a tiny minority who embrace none of those virtues. Islam is not the only religion that has been misinterpreted by the obsessed and deluded to justify depraved and insane acts. The Catholic religion, for instance, has been distorted in similar ways over the centuries.
I echo Cllr Ahmed’s hope that the people of Wycombe and the wider world will acknowledge the disconnect and resist any temptation to demonise Islam as a result of the behaviour of these purveyors of terror and death, or indeed the rabid fanaticism of the Islamic State.
Quite rightly, Catholics in the UK were not demonised when the IRA attacked civilians in the UK. That is because it was clear that the majority of Catholics were opposed to and appalled by the atrocities committed by those claiming adherence to that faith. Although the Church at the time, I believe, could have done much more to disassociate itself from their actions. And the more that Imams worldwide make it clear that slaughter of ‘infidels’ is no longer acceptable in a multi-cultural and tolerant world, the sooner all religions and peoples can co-exist in harmony.
Similarly the population of Norway was not asked to apologise for the actions of the white supremacist psychopath Anders Breivik.
But I also hope that the hard-won right to free speech that exists in most of Europe and the free world is not eroded by recent events.
‘I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it’ is an excellent starting point. Clearly the right to libel and defame must be curtailed by law, but the right to express an opinion – however much it may offend – must always be protected.
The use of satire and the cartoon to challenge the political, religious and social status quo of the day has been a powerful and peaceful form of agitation for change for millennia - from Horace, Da Vinci, Hogarth and Voltaire on to Punch and Private Eye.
And anyway surely our gods and prophets are made of sterner stuff than we are – by definition perhaps?