Media Aftermath: The Easter Attacks in Sri Lanka

Sam Fitzgerald 30 April 2019
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Find Allison Pearson’s column in the Telegraph here

I’m not an avid Telegraph reader, but Allison Pearson’s column piqued my interest this week. She wrote about the refusal of many mainstream media outlets to use the word “Christian” when describing the awful terror attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, and argued quite convincingly that the preference to refer to attacks on “Churches” or “Easter worshippers” is part of a wider reluctance to discuss discrimination against Christians. She then contrasted this with the coverage of the attacks in Christchurch in March, which didn’t hesitate to describe the events as motivated by hatred of Muslims. Like her, I found the way the faith of Easter Sunday’s victims was removed from the discussion concerning.

However, I disagree with her assessment that this is simply drawn out of a fear of admitting that “Islamists are at war with Christianity.” The media were reluctant to use the term “Christian” to describe the victims on Easter Day because the idea that someone might place their identity primarily in their faith is a strangely alien concept: we in the West expect religion to be a private affair, so when someone declares themselves motivated chiefly by their faith (or indeed the faith of another), the reaction is one of discomfort. Far easier is to describe the victims of the attacks simply by where they happened to be or what they happened to be (privately) doing than to recognise that they were targeted and died for what they believe. Similarly, the media’s readiness to use the term Muslim when describing the victims of the Christchurch attacks was not out of a respect for their belief in Allah, but simply shorthand for their cultural and ethnic difference to the attackers.

The number of terror attacks and hate crimes against various religious groups worldwide is rising, and there is an apparent failure of religious integration and tolerance in this country. This failure to respect different religions shouldn’t be attributed to one specific group or another, but is in fact part of a more basic problem which has been developing in the UK for much longer: a failure to respect religion at all. The rapid secularisation of British society over the last century has arguably moved Christianity in the public consciousness from a respected religion to a set of quaint old traditions, with the result that people are unable to relate to those with sincerely held-beliefs of any kind. People cannot fathom the extent to which faith defines the self-identity of believers.

If we are to foster a genuine culture of religious tolerance, we must not ignore people’s religion but take it seriously. Pretending someone doesn’t have a faith is not the same as respecting them whatever their faith. Rather than blandly focusing on people’s identity as ‘human’ we should relate to one another and respect one another by engaging with who each other is. Our society is multi-faith, so let’s not rob it of faith altogether but embrace each one. Tonight, I’ll be praying for the Christians killed for their faith in Sri Lanka on Easter Day, and I’ll be praying for those of all faiths in the UK, that their beliefs might be recognised, respected and valued by those they meet this week.