The sad murder of a British Member of Parliament by a man of extreme right-wing political views was surely not a surprise, coming as it did after years of vilification of minorities, years of bigotry masquerading as free speech, years of plain visceral hatred assuming the mantle of a political manifesto. No-one who lived through the Troubles in Northern Ireland can have been surprised that violent words led to violent actions.
As late as October 2000, the rhetoric was continuing in Northern Ireland:
“So the slide is on. The downgrade is about. Well thank God my Saviour still reigns. It says He is consuming Antichrist. At this very moment what does He consume the Antichrist with? With the Words of His mouth, the Power of His Holy Word, for Rome cannot stand up to the Word of the Living God. That is the sword that penetrates even the entrails of the Pope and brings him down, the Word of the Living God.
He will destroy him, with the words of His mouth, He will consume him and He will destroy him with the brightness of His coming.
One day that old hoary Rome, hoary with sins and idolatries, will perish and a cry will resound in heaven “Babylon is fallen”. There will be a hallelujah as that great deceiver of the nations comes to the day of final and total judgment by the true Christ whom I love and serve”.
Anyone who had lived in Northern Ireland between the 1960s and the turn of the century would have had no problem attributing those lines of a sermon to a particular religious figure. His roaring voice would be familiar to millions around the world. “No Pope here” will echo around Irish history books for decades to come.
The men and women of integrity in the North, those men who sought to build peace, those who tried to follow the path Jesus and of reconciliation, had to endure years of vilification and insults from the so called “big man.” Where I served as curate, the local follower of the champion of anti-Popery used to take out half page advertisements in the local newspaper denouncing the Church of Ireland as “apostate”and my Rector, a good and kindly man, as a “traitor.”
The rhetoric of the anti-European movement has been similar to the rhetoric of Protestant fundamentalism: identify an enemy; attribute every wrong and problem to that enemy; encourage the vilification of that enemy; use every opposing argument as evidence that one’s views are the right ones. Then, when someone pursues the logic of the words, hold up one’s hands and disclaim all responsibility.
Perhaps a tragic death will bring a change of heart, perhaps, though, Britain is heading down the path trod by Northern Ireland and there are painful years to come.