Here are the opening passages from a Guardian article by Giles Fraser published on June 6th.
Michael Gove, the education secretary, is apparently at war with Theresa May, the home secretary, over religious extremism. Gove thinks that May deals only with its consequences – ie, violence – and not with its root cause. For Gove, the May approach is some endless and fruitless game of whack-a-mole, just dealing with the consequences of religious extremism and not its ideological origins. He wants to drain the swamp and tackle the celebration of extremism long before it issues in violence. His target is Birmingham schools. But why not the Royal Opera House?
Opera, like religion, is obsessed with violence, often against women. Poulenc’s Les Dialogues des Carmelites – currently on a short run and broadcast live from the Royal Opera House tonight on Radio 3 – tells the story of a group of nuns during the French Revolution. Their convent is overrun by revolutionaries and desecrated. And the nuns are forced to choose between martyrdom and faith. By the end, all 16 sisters have been guillotined, defiantly singing the Salve Regina on their way to having their heads removed. The whole thing is beautifully presented, with minimal staging and extraordinary musical sensitivity. And the fact that Simon Rattle is wielding the baton will guarantee to pack in the genteel, well-heeled audience.
Keep the self-sacrificing nuns clearly in mind when you read the continuation of Fraser’s tale:
But I wonder if they would have turned up to an opera about Islamic martyrdom? Or been so enthusiastic in their applause if 16 shahida had chosen a violent death over conformity to their new and unsympathetic political/social norm? I bet there would have been walkouts. And I very much doubt that Rolex would have been a sponsor.
Yet nobody complained that Christian martyrdom propaganda was being staged at one of our elite cultural institutions.
And, he then asks:
But isn’t this also a version of Gove’s religious extremism, too?
No, it is not!
The nuns in the story are willing to sacrifice their own lives rather than defy the principles of their religious faith, while the Islamic shahida (suicide bombers) chose to take their own lives during the course of murdering as many innocent men, women and children as possible – in the name of their religious faith.
While you may want to read the rest of his meditation on martyrdom – as it includes another gem of moral equivalence – we’d like to know if it’s even possible that such a profoundly obvious moral distinction (between nuns and suicide bombers) can really elude the reasoning of those Guardian readers who share Fraser’s ideological persuasion.
Sometimes it feels as if the Guardian’s sole purpose is to sow moral confusion, and make the sensible majority doubt their own political sobriety. Indeed, we can think of no other explanation for their consistent pattern of running interference for the most reprehensible ideologies in the world by blurring the line between victim and victimizer – thus undermining the West’s natural instinct to resist the onslaught of homicidal and decidedly reactionary extremists.