Muddled Thinking About Violence

Apparently, more than half a million people have signed a petition asking for the BBC’s reinstatement of Jeremy Clarkson. Although neither they nor I was present at the incident that caused the uproar (presumably), the allegation that Mr Clarkson punched another person must be taken seriously and investigated. Workplace violence is not acceptable, period. So, what is going on? Are we really saying that the loss of Mr Clarkson as a presenter of a popular programme matters more than requiring him to act in a decent and civilized manner towards BBC staff?

I think we have another instance of the way in which public opinion applies different standards to different people and expects to act as judge and jury — and sometimes executioner as well. A celebrity footballer behaves abominably and there is much humming and hawing about the impact his suspension will have on team results, with pleas that he be treated leniently; a well-known politician whose politics many dislike is hustled and manhandled, but that is all right because his views are so objectionable; someone caught up in a nasty criminal case can be hounded and abused, as Christopher Jefferies was, not because he is guilty (he wasn’t) but because he is odd and the crowd wants someone to blame. We condemn the terrible violence of IS and its allies but turn a blind eye to that wreaked by the use of drones. We ignore the dreadful reality of domestic violence, comforting ourselves that the attitudes revealed by some of the speakers in ‘India’s Daughter’ are the exception and not likely to be found here (alas, they are, as those who run women’s shelters will attest).

A civilized society is only as civilized as its care of the weak and vulnerable; as its restraint of greed and violence. The words of Jeremiah in today’s first reading at Mass make me uncomfortable as I hope they make you (Jeremiah 7.23–28). They challenge us to examine our own conduct and root out of it anything unworthy of God. Surely violence of whatever kind — thought, word or deed — must be among the chief.

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