From laicity to indifference?

The provocations of the comedian Dieudonné, an offense against Christianity and other faiths

There isn’t just the anti-Semitism of the French comedian of African origin Dieudonnè M’Bala M’Bala. There aren’t just the offenses to Jews and Muslims. Also Catholic churches in France over the past year have been targeted with acts of vandalism. The past two episodes occurred within a two-week timeframe in Paris. The first took place in the Madeleine church past December 20, a few days before Christmas, carried out by an activist member of the Femen movement, feminists who expose their bare breasts in emblematic places. In the Paris church the woman, after having unclothed before the altar, simulated an abortion shouting “Annulation de Noel”. The same group of Femen, on February 12 2013, broke into the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris with aggressive slogans. The other act of vandalism was carried out past January 4: a “determined” man walked into the Sainte-Odile church, and despite the presence of two faithful who tried stopping him, destroyed six candelabra, the Paschal candle, smashed the tabernacle, poured on the floor the baptismal water and threw a statue to the ground. The memory of the acts of vandalism carried out in Nantes where Nazi and Satanist graffiti were sprayed on the walls of the Cathedral is an open wound.Catholics’ voices. Although a complaint was immediately filed to the police, the cardinal archbishop of Paris, André Vingt-Trois postponed a public condemnation of the episode so as to prevent useless tensions, and most of all not to attract attention on the case of the Femen. A few days ago, speaking about his archdiocese over the radio, His Eminence sent a message that was put into writing: “My wish for 2014 is the pacification of our society.” He added: “provocations and derisions have become a second culture. It’s an insane process since the culture of derision is an open door to all excesses.” What surprised the archbishop was the lack of reactions in support of the Catholic community on the part of politicians. “We have received a few messages”, the cardinal said, “but what surprises me is that the great defenders of laicity did not speak out. It was the right moment to show that laicity defends believers and religions alike. Some have remained silent. We would have appreciated, if not public demonstrations, at least gestures of condemnation. I am surprised there were so few.” On the issue intervened also the spokesperson of the French Bishops’ Conference Msgr. Bernard Podvin: “The request – he said – of many Catholics offended in their faith to be treated as equals with other citizens is legitimate. Public authorities should take a firm stand: decisions and sanctions are needed.”The reassurance of Hollande. The question of intolerance was at the centre of the meeting of religious leaders with president François Hollande, who on January 24 will meet Pope Francis for the first time. “Intolerance – he told religious leaders on the occasion of the traditional exchange of greetings for the New Year – is amongst us. Anti-Semitism has taken new shapes, although it conveys the same kind of infamous speech. There have been increasing attacks against Muslims. And I don’t forget the acts against Christians. I condemn them all with equal firmness.” Pastor François Clavairoly, president of the Protestant Federation in France, gave a truthful picture as he underlined the present “hard times”, when “many contemporaries feel lost before the changes brought about by the crisis.” The texts of the comedian Dieudonné under certain aspects mirror a France in difficulty. His words are ever more marked by anti-Semitic language and are growing into political slogans. The notorious “Quenelle”, a gesture made with a folded arm (imitated by sport champions like Nicolas Anelka and Tony Parker) is becoming a popular gesture among the youths. A phenomenon representing 5200 tickets for the show sold in Nantes. The stop to the comedian’s performance was welcomed by Interior minister Manuel Valls, as “the victory of the Republic against anti-Semitism.” But the question that hit the front pages on the press and on TV reveals the face of a suffering France. On the one side that land is the symbol of multiculturalism; on the other it’s intolerant and fearful.

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