Boessenkool: Crossing the line

Good self- and broader reflections:

As I reflect on vile attack on five members of the beautiful Azfaal family — Salman, Madiha, Yumna, Talat and Fayez — I was initially deeply angered by how quick some were to use this vile, hate-motivated act of terrorism to confirm their political priors. 

And yet. 

The fact that the alleged attacker, Nathaniel Veltman, is a young Dutch blond boy who could well have come from my own religious community hit close to the heart. 

Now let me be clear. I apportion no blame for this act on Conservatives, religion, or even the Dutch privilege in which I assume Veltman, like me, grew up in. If guilty of this crime, Veltman is a hate-motivated terrorist who committed multiple murders. That would be on him. May the justice system rain down. 

And yet. 

My reflection called to mind times when, as a religious social conservative, I should have felt more uncomfortable with some of the things my fellow conservatives have said in recent years about terrorism, culture and religion. Times when we too easily crossed lines that conservatives — and religious conservatives in particular — should not have crossed.  

The line got crossed when some seemed to weigh their critique of a terrorist act based entirely on the motivation for that terrorist act. To put it another way, they became more interested in combatting terrorism motivated by some beliefs than terrorism motivated by other beliefs. Compare, for example, the disgustingly light-hearted condemnation of the far-right, neo-Nazi terrorist act in Charlottesville by the same populist U.S. president that proposed banning all Muslim immigration as part of an effort to prevent domestic terrorism. Or those who called for a “values test” to root out radical Islam one day — and then stood with a street preacher who flagrantly breaks the law the next. 

The line got crossed when we got more concerned with the actions of individuals within the institutions of our liberal capitalist democracy than the ideas underpinning those institutions. As a religious social conservative I hold freedom of religion extremely dear. In my world of competing rights, religious freedom comes out near the top. But that means holding expressions of other religions — like a turban, kirpan, hijab or burka — as dear as holding symbols of one’s own religion. Banning or restricting any of these things should make me deeply uncomfortable. Religious freedom should be religion blind. 

The same goes for religious practices. If something is a criminal act, call it a criminal act and treat it as such. If something is a part of one’s religious practice or tradition, leave it at that and leave it alone. Blurring the lines by referring to “barbaric cultural practices” crosses the line. The use of the word “cultural” kind of gives it away. 

The line got crossed when some tried to use the power of the state to impose their own religious views. Now let me be clear. I attend a Christian church — honestly, I need it more than most — and I hold my religious views as truth. I’d not be much of a religious person if I didn’t. I don’t go to a mosque, a synagogue, a temple, or a Richard Dawkins book club to practice my religion. Yet I want my public square to have room for all of these, and many more.  

The investigation into the horrible attack in London continues. If the early information is confirmed, it appears that Veltman alone is responsible for the hate-inspired terrorism of which he is accused.

But an act this vile, particularly when its perpetrated by a member of your own community also warrants deep reflection.  

I spent the afternoon writing down the lines I have crossed. I pray others do the same. 


About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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