An open letter to the editors of Honi Soit

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Dear editors of Honi Soit,

It probably wasn’t your intention to invite an open letter of thanks when you published anti-Semitic, anti-Christian and generally anti-religious items designed to insult Jews and Catholics (and apparently to provoke religious hostility between them as well) in the student newspaper you produce at the University of Sydney. But here it is. On behalf of Catholic students at Sydney University, staff attached to the Catholic chaplaincy and Catholics in general, I write to thank you for what you did.

Vile, juvenile and obscene

Normal people everywhere would describe what you published as vile and juvenile for the sexualised and crude language you used which is still regarded by many as obscene. Your reported behaviour in communication with Jewish student representatives was especially reprehensible. This presents me with a unique challenge: how do I respond to people who are – apparently – obstinately unwilling to understand what they have done? How does one respond to seeming brats who are convinced they are cleverer – and therefore more entitled – than those they attack?

Honi Soit’s editions to open the student year at Sydney University. Articles ridiculing Catholics and Jews caused controversy. The editors have refused to apologise despite calls from Jewish student representatives and Catholic students.

Insult their faith and you insult them

While you may not care at all (and judging from what you have published in your Orientation edition, that seems highly likely, at least), you need to understand that while a searching scrutiny and criticism of any religious faith or philosophy is entirely justified, insulting it is not. There is an enormous difference between the two things. In fact, it’s probably likely that it should be intellectually off-limits. Why? When one insults and ridicules another’s religious faith or the faith of whole communities, one insults their very identity. For billions around the world their religious faith is the single most important fact in their daily lives. It is the compass by which they seek to live, which also provides an understanding of the meaning of their existence, their destiny and those around them. To insult it is to insult them.

Intellectual pretence

Although it’s not my role, I should also apologise here to our Jewish brothers and sisters in the wider community on your behalf. Jews are especially sensitive (for historical reasons you should understand clearly – but really, do you?) to having their identity subjected to ridicule and, by implication, hostility. And to pretend that there is no implicit hostility in what you published would be an exercise in intellectual dishonesty. To ridicule the faiths of others, especially by way of misrepresentation and distortion is to attempt to bully (although I note, in passing, that there are some faiths you have not tried to insult, which is interesting in itself. Bullies, after all, only attack those they perceive to be weaker, who pose no threat). But for we Christians, the Jews are our ancestors in faith – and one should always treat one’s progenitors with the deepest respect and affection.

You confirm those you ridicule in their faith

So you may wonder why I write to thank you? I suppose the answer lies in something about all true Christians and Christianity which I seriously doubt that you know. All that you have done is to insult us, subjecting us to public persecution by distortion of the truth. But you’re not being original at all. “Blessed are you,” Christ famously told his first followers, “when men persecute you and revile you and speak all kinds of calumnies against you on my behalf. Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” When you ridicule and persecute us you make us stronger in our faith. We Catholics, we Christians, are proud of Jesus and, yes, proud of our Church and our faith.

Peter Rosengren was the editor of the student newspaper at the University of Western Australia for two years.

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