TEXT messages are now the staple of salacious court reports, and
I sometimes wonder why people choose to be indiscreet in a medium
so very long-lived. Love letters could at least be burned, but
anything you write electronically is going to hang around more or
less for ever, until it turns up at a disciplinary hearing.
These melancholy thoughts were inspired by an assistant curate
in Staffordshire, whose entanglement with a woman parishioner was
given the full treatment by The Sunday Telegraph, and the
next day by the Daily Mail, which condensed the meat of
the story into a single sentence: "In June, three days after his
ordination, they met at a bar and afterwards had sex against a wall
in an alleyway."
According to the Telegraph, he claims this encounter
was in a courtyard and not an alleyway. On such details can our
ALL this is trivial, of course, compared with the sufferings of
some Christians abroad. The Guardian put Asia Bibi on its
front page on Friday, with an appeal by her husband that she be
freed: "Lahore's high court recently upheld the conviction against
Aasia Bibi, who is among the best-known victim of laws that have
been internationally condemned.
"In a public letter, Ashiq Masih said his wife's only hope was
for an official pardon from the president, Mamnoon Hussain.
"'No one should be killed for drinking a glass of water,' the
letter said, referring to the incident in June 2009 when Bibi was
accused of insulting the prophet Muhammad, after a group of Muslim
women in her home village of Itanwali, Punjab province, refused to
drink from a glass used by a Christian."
The story went on to explain that she is extremely unlikely to
be released from prison, not least because anyone who ordered this
might be murdered by their bodyguards. The only bright spot is that
she is also unlikely actually to be judicially murdered, since
Pakistan would lose trade privileges with the EU if that
What is so astonishing about the whole story is the way in which
Pakistan has reached a state in which it takes enormous bravery to
see, and still more to say, that the treatment of this poor woman
is entirely monstrous. It can't be unprecedented. "Witch children"
are treated with complete inhumanity in parts of Africa, and the
families of "Enemies of the People" were routinely shot or exiled
to the camps under Stalin. I don't suppose anyone much spoke up for
But the particular horror of Pakistani barbarism is that it
feeds on popular prejudice, just like the attacks on witches, but
uses it to fuel the apparatus of state persecution, as under
Stalin. Perhaps the nearest equivalent is some forms of
anti-Semitism in the 20th century.
RELATED to these were the flurry of comment articles after the
latest murders in a Jerusalem synagogue, asking whether the
conflict in Israel/Palestine would turn into a religious war.
The Guardian's leader said: "The fear . . . is that
what has long been a bitter and bloody territorial conflict will
escalate into something even more intractable: a holy war. By
attacking men as they pray - not, it is worth stressing, in the
occupied West Bank or in annexed East Jerusalem, but inside the
boundaries of pre-1967 Israel proper - Tuesday's killers risk
turning the conflict of Palestinian against Israeli into a battle
of Muslim against Jew."
But two days later the paper published a comment piece by the
Ha'aretz columnist Anshel Pfeiffer, pointing out that the killers
were from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine: "The
PFLP once portrayed itself as a staunchly secular, Marxist-Leninist
liberation movement. Founded by a Christian doctor, it even had a
handful of radical anti-Zionist Jewish supporters.
"PFLP today is a shadow of its former self, and no ally of
Islamic State (IS), seeking instead the patronage of IS's mortal
enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hamas, which has also been at
pains to distance itself from IS, also rushed to congratulate the
"Celebratory images of blood-stained cleavers, popularised in
Isis beheading clips, quickly flooded many Palestinian websites and
Facebook pages. It did not matter that the chosen targets were
elderly civilians inside Israel's pre-1967 borders.
"This is what a religious war looks like, and we should stop
kidding ourselves that this is not what has been happening in the
Middle East. In various degrees it's been going on for a
I think this is undeniable, and that the slow, tragic
transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle into a religious
struggle between Jew and Muslim is a testimony to the inadequacy of
secular frameworks to bear the sort of passionate, self-sacrificing
hatreds that wars require. Yet without passionate self-sacrifice,
how could any great thing ever be achieved?