Just after midnight local time on Monday, June 19, a man deliberately ran an oversized van into a crowd of pedestrians in London, seeking to crush out as many lives as possible. The scene has become familiar, from Jerusalem to Berlin to London’s seat of power in Westminster. This time, though, it was a British driver targeting Muslims exiting a mosque after Ramadan prayers.
An elderly man had collapsed outside the Muslim Welfare House, not far from the Finsbury Park mosque and was receiving CPR. At the moment one person was trying to save life, 47-year-old Darren Osborne tried to end it, plowing into the crowd of worshipers. After impact, Muslims restrained Osborne, and an imam reportedly kept him from being seriously injured until police arrived about 15 minutes later.
Osborne reportedly showed no remorse after his arrest – smiling, blowing kisses, and screaming, “I want to kill all Muslims.”
He injured 10 people and the elderly man later died, although it’s not clear the attack caused his death.
That is to say, as a terrorist, Osborne was a failure.
He did not even succeed in dissuading Muslims from attending Ramadan services the same day. Saide Ottman, a 27-year-old Muslim, told The Telegraph, “I’m scared, we’re all scared, but I’m going back to the mosque tonight.”
His act of barbarism succeeded only in verifying the Islamists’ narrative of “infidel” society, clawing at cherished fundamental rights, and undermining the high conception of human dignity that has lain at the heart of Western civilization for centuries.
“The freedom to worship without fear is a right we cherish as a nation and was won at great human cost over many years. The appalling attack on Muslims in Finsbury Park is an attack on us all and on the culture and values of our country,” said the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
Freedom of religion sprang from the traditional Christian view of human anthropology, which sees others as rational beings created in God’s image. Freedom of conscience emerged as a patristic teaching to displace pagan persecution. Safeguarding members of all religions – and their property – is a long-established legal custom that grew out of Christian teaching.
Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote to the Bishop of Naples in the sixth century that those who wish to restrain non-Christians “from observing the customary rites of their religion are clearly acting for themselves rather than for God.” Non-Christians should “have full liberty to observe and keep all their festivals and holy days, as both they and their fathers have done for so long.” To Bishop Peter of Terracina, he wrote that “those who dissent from the Christian religion” must be converted “by gentleness, by kindness, by admonition, by persuasion,” not by force.
His teaching continued to hold sway for centuries. At the cusp of the thirteenth century, Pope Innocent III insisted that those who convert “unwillingly” are “not considered to possess the true faith.” Therefore, “in the celebration of their own festivals, no one ought to disturb them in any way.”
Religious tolerance spanned both Eastern and Western Christendom. The Patriarch of Constantinople Metrophanes III wrote to the Church in Crete in 1568 that one may never act immorally toward a non-Christian “under the pretext that the injustice is done against a heterodox and not to a believer. As our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels said do not oppress or accuse anyone falsely: do not make any distinction or give room to the believers to injure those of another belief.” Christian anthropology and a healthy respect for private property instilled by the Ten Commandments benefited all religions.
At this point, readers may be tempted to cite the familiar litany of infractions Christianity perpetrated against presentism, endlessly rehearsed in some quarters often with lavish embellishment: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the witch hunts, etc. Religious persecution undoubtedly attended every medieval society, including those dedicated to Christ.
However, pre-Modern Christianity was far from uniquely cruel compared to contemporary Inca or Aztec rituals, or even state religions that promised enlightenment. The Taoist Emperor Wuzong’s destruction of 4,600 Buddhist temples and displacing of 260,500 monks and nun in ninth century China, or the centuries of tension between Hindus and adherents of Jainism in India (which, according to disputed legend, included the mass impaling of Jains) come to mind.
When it comes to dark moments in Christian history, truly, familiarity breeds contempt.
Moreover, anti-Christian persecution has flared up more recently, often with state backing. From 1899 to 1901, China’s Yihequan (the “Righteous and Harmonious Fists”) combined shamanism and martial arts into a cult dedicated to driving out Western influences. The London Times recorded the leaders of the Boxer Rebellion shouting “kill the devils” before “massacring the native Christians and burning them alive in their homes.” In all, they killed 32,000 Christians.
Indeed, Buddhist monks led angry mobs into Christian services with threats of physical “assault” in Sir Lank multiple times within the last two years.
Darren Osborne is no monk. He is, according to his mother, a troubled man who took medication to treat mental health issues. He represents no broad sector of British society nor any accepted form of Christian teaching. (It is not immediately clear that he was religious.) He was not known to UK security. And his actions have been roundly condemned by all. There is no social movement eager to follow Osborne’s deadly footsteps. Allowing people to live in harmony by respecting individual rights has allowed society to prosper.
Despite its occasional failures, the seeds of liberty within the Judeo-Christian tradition have flourished, and their roots run deep.
However, the same day as Osborne’s attack, a 31-year-old died while committing the fifth terrorist “incident” in Paris in four months. He tried to ram a car full of explosives into a police vehicle outside the residence of French President Emmanuel Macron, the Champs-Elysées. Unlike Osborne, “he did not cause any injuries,” an investigator said, except to himself. The perpetrator of the attack was a known extremist but not under continual surveillance – much like Khuram Butt, one of the jihadists involved in the van attack on pedestrians on London Bridge on June 3. These kinds of “incidents” have a significant cultural following and, Europeans believe, are destined to become a regular occurrence in the continent’s large cities.
And so the two cultures, with two different conceptions of human rights, individual prerogatives, and divine imperatives, continue their interaction apace. One distances itself ever-further from the religious culture that created its respect for religious liberty, private property, and the integrity of conscience. The other increasingly sees its adherents radicalized into a fundamentalist version of its own faith, which holds the mirror image of those social values. Determining which vision will dominate the future of the transatlantic sphere is the great drama of our time, a drama which too often lapses into tragedy.
(Pictures: London’s Finsbury Park mosque. Photo credit: Shutterstock.)