Michel Houellebecq’s novel “Submission”, which appeared in the press so often in connection with the Charlie Hebdo massacre, is to be published in Hungarian in the coming days. The book, which tells of the rapid spread of Islam and its perching on political power in a country so proud of the traditions of laicity and the Enlightenment, seemed like a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy in the mirror of the bloody attack. The novel’s Hungarian cover features the Mona Lisa in a niqab, which is provocative enough for the Western press, which so keenly voices abrupt opinions on Hungarian politics and especially Viktor Orbán, to misunderstand – with Le Nouvel Observateur’s reporter claiming that the anti-Islam graphical solution aims to appeal to the “nationalist” Hungarian Prime Minister’s followers.
I sometimes feel that we appropriate too great significance to utterances that should be branded the type of stupidities that occasionally tempt all of us. But usually this is not what happens, because simplification and false formulation of opinion begins to live a life of its own, opening the door to poisoning or rendering impossible of handling and discussing very important issues. In connection with the book cover, luckily the director of the Hungarian publisher prevented the spread of the French journalist’s false concept on time, but still, who knows how many opinion pieces will be written based on the original article.
The debate concerning Islam, or, more broadly, dialogue between religions is beginning to step into a highly sensitive phase in Hungary, and of course across the whole of Europe. The “Je Suis Charlie” banners were meant to demonstrate clear solidarity towards values of the Enlightenment and freedom of speech. In the past several months, Charlie has become interchangeable with the numerous victims of radical Islamic terror, primarily members of the Christian diaspora of the Middle East, or the Ethiopian Christians on the horrifying video published yesterday. However, we cannot pass by the fact that the fate of caricaturists who had no respect for anybody or anything save liberalism was followed with incomparably larger expression of compassion also in the Hungarian press and public discourse than that of the Jewish victim in the Kosher store or the slaughtered Kenyan university students.
If it is genuinely worth talking of common European values and this is not thought of merely as an endlessly repeated cliché of political speeches, the events of the period behind us are a dramatic reminder of the importance of the details of this much-cited se of common values.
One can philosophise lengthily on Europe’s Christian roots, but the unfortunate fact is that the paralysis of the Christian community was most apparent precisely dring the tragedies of the 20th century, and seeing the general levels of secularisation, we cannot be hopeful that Christians alone are able to protect their values.
It seems that the system of liberal democracies also feels its powerlessness, because – as demonstrated best by the example of France – the anointed priests of Enlightened values are themselves unable to protect what they long believed untouchable in the drift of modernity.
The much-quoted notion of common European values can probably be defined most closely if we attempt to locate the narrow balk between Christian belief and tradition and the values of the Enlightenment as established during the past centuries, while paying careful attention not do drift off or consciously depart from this narrow path, which is often truly difficult to follow. This requires greater self-discipline on both sides, but especially representative of the Enlightened thought. Liberal opinion multipliers cannot confine religious belief to the circle of anachronisms living with us, but the religious “camp” also has to seek connection with the secularised masses with more up-to-date vocabulary and reasoning. Pope Francis’s pontificate has produced so many surprising novelties precisely in this area.
This is why the commemoration on the 25th anniversary of Hungary’s diplomatic relations with the Vatican in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, held roughly at the time of the parliamentary debate on Hungarian participation in the military effort against the Islamic State, was so instructive. The conference made it clear again that the Vatican’s diplomacy is one of the world’s best-informed foreign services and Hungarian diplomacy would also be wise to delegate experts and diplomats to the Holy See with impressive professional credentials. The spectacular steps of papal diplomacy in the prevous period, such as the speech delivered in the European Parliament, the initiative aimed at improving relations between Cuba and the United States, or commemorating the Armenian tragedy, clealr yshow that the protection of the Catholic community’s interests can bring about steps of global significance. This will undoubtedly increase further with the situation of Christians in the Middle Eastern diaspora worsening.
Calling for a Christian foreign policy is not an ideological grace but rather is synonymous with solidarity towards the world’s most-persecuted religious community. Otherwise, it protects the values also championed by Enlightened thought.
The fight against the Islamic State can only be successful if the camp willing to act in protection of the Christian community and those ready to protect Enlightened values realise that they are dependant upon each other in this historical situation.
The author is Deputy State Secretary at the Ministry of Human Resources.
Click here for the original article (in Hungarian).