It was a friend I was visiting who told me the news of the murder of a French priest near Rouen and before she told me (she had just found out about it on the radio) she warned me to be ready for something "truly horrible". Her reaction, looked at logically, is absurd, after all is the murder of an elderly man any more horrible than the mowing down of over eighty people, many of them children out enjoying an evening's entertainment? And yet, it is true that this latest atrocity is calculated to shock and outrage in so many of its details: the age of the victim, his office, the act taking place in front of an altar during mass and coming as it does to a nation still reeling from other recent atrocities. The mix of shock, distress, fear and anger this engenders is certainly dangerous, France has said it is or feels "at war" and I cannot see how it can avoid increasingly wide spread demands for a radical response. Another friend of mine has recently moved back to France after many years in Britain and it depresses me to see on Facebook her blanket condemnation of all Muslims and her (very genuine) fears that there are thousands of jihadis just waiting for the right moment to "take over" France. Those have been her actual words and, although they seem extreme, the fear behind them is at least comprehensible given what France has faced since the Charlie Hebdo attack.
My facebook friend expressed her anger that "some people still defend Muslims" and yet it is clear, or at least it is to me, that it is right and proper to "defend" all innocent people who simply go about their business whether they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, of any faith or no faith. What worries me is that my friend's blanket condemnation reflects the prevailing attitudes in France, and that plays right into the hands of terrorists who wish to see political and social unrest and destabilisation which will lead to more radicalisation and more negative consequences for the country concerned. France has a long history of far right groups and activity and is a country very vulnerable in this respect.
Yesterday's atrocity certainly was "truly horrible" but what is also horrible is the repercussions of terrorism, the effect it has of creating fear and hatred in all of us and prompting us to be cruel rather than fair and equitable. I heard on the radio that recently Pere Hamel had written a parish newsletter about the recent terrorist attacks telling his parishioners to take time for themselves over the summer and to pray for a kinder world. I tried googling but I could not find that newsletter or any reference to it online. What my search did return was a copy of the video presumably of the priest's murder as it contained a warning and an invitation to sign up to receive newsletters from far right groups.
I think that says it all.