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Commentary

‘Including migrant workers’

/ 03:34 AM January 17, 2015

If a reporter were to ask Pope Francis to comment on the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris, the Pope would surely express his sorrow at the deaths, and then say something like this: If I were writing my Apostolic Exhortation “Joy of the Gospel” all over again, I might insert the words “including migrant workers” every time I use the word “poor.” The migrant workers that pack the world’s cities, especially the foreign workers, are definitely to be included among the poor about whom I spoke in my Exhortation.

The Pope has an essentially theological position, but his basic message is also quite realistic—namely, that the total liberation and wellbeing of the well-off, the poor and the migrant workers are the way to cultural peace. The native French and the migrants have near totally different cultures, so the road to peace and mutual respect is through empathy, tolerance and solidarity, not through the coercion of one culture by the other. Hasn’t this been said, memorably, in the words “Liberté, egalité, fraternité”?

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The Pope’s strategy or mission in these matters is to improve the poor Muslim communities of Paris that are the source of the angry young Muslim men and women who become easy recruits for the jihadists. The Pope suggests that we treat the Muslim poor with respect and compassion; that we help them gain housing, jobs and education; and that we show a special regard for their culture. The Pope would remind us that the Old Testament constantly reminded the Jewish people “to care for the widows, orphans and foreigners among you, since you were once foreigners in Egypt.” Care for the stranger and the alien is in our tradition.

The Pope does not deny the need for increased security, but he holds that security forces by themselves will not stem the problem of jihadist violence at the source—that is, in the poor communities. Unfortunately, the plans announced by the French government the day after the huge unity march spoke only about security, and not at all about cultural healing. The Pope believes that young people who feel they have a full share in all the riches of soul and body that France offers will be less likely to turn to violence.

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As for free speech, it is clearly not an absolute right. It is dangerously immoral, for example, to cry “Fire!” in a crowded theater. There are limits also imposed by common sense: It is not wise to ridicule Islam’s prophet when it is well-known that such an act may provoke a violent response from some Muslims.

We can ask: Is it wise to ridicule anyone or anything held sacred by other peoples? Are there clear limits to what we can say if we wish to live in peace in our modern, very pluralistic societies? And is there a special need to limit satire and ridicule that can be cruel? Satire often contains elements of racism.

For these many reasons, the plan to reprint the Prophet cartoons seems incredibly provocative.

I remember that in the early 1960s, the student newspaper of the City College of New York (CCNY) ran a cartoon on its front page of a nun masturbating with a crucifix. All hell broke loose. No one was killed; the editorial office was not fire-bombed, but thousands of Catholics were deeply insulted and angry. The university never apologized, as far as I know.

I wondered then if freedom of speech, which is one of the pillars of democratic government, was meant to cover such a cartoon about a nun. It was hard to imagine George Washington or Thomas Jefferson supporting the CCNY students’ right to print it.

I find among the poor in Baseco, Tondo, a great tolerance for people of different religions. Muslims and Christians belong to the same people’s organization and struggle together for housing and other services. When Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada came last Dec. 18 to discuss housing for the people, a Muslim woman was chosen by that people’s organization, Kabalikat, to speak for all the members.

French thinkers broke new ground in the late 18th century when they offered the world that shining standard, “Liberté, egalité, fraternité,” as a guide to social life. Where are the thinkers now who can tell us how those words should apply today? It seems that we have only politicians speaking, which is not good in any country.

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I think of Notre Dame Cathedral on its island in the heart of Paris that it shares with the Louvre Museum and the ancient chapel of the French kings. I don’t think that the saints of France, or its artists or its kings, would be very happy with the way the Muslims are treated.

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates ([email protected]).

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TAGS: Charlie Hebdo, column, Denis Murphy, Pope Francis
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