Pope Francis is wrong to endorse revenge in wake of Paris attacks, says David Cameron

With Britain on terror alert and Greece making arrests, PM clashes with pontiff

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Indy Politics

David Cameron has suggested the Pope was wrong to say people who mocked Islam and other religions could “expect a punch”, with the PM insisting no one in a free society has the right to “wreak vengeance” on individuals who insult religion.

Pope Francis caused controversy last week when he said “provocateurs” such as the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who mocked religion should expect a response akin to a punch – comments seen as coming close to justifying the terrorist attacks in France. But in an interview with the US channel CBS, to be broadcast today, the PM said the right to cause offence was part of a free society.

In his interview with Face the Nation, recorded during his visit to Washington last week, Mr Cameron said: “I think in a free society, there is a right to cause offence about someone’s religion. I’m a Christian; if someone says something offensive about Jesus, I might find that offensive, but in a free society I don’t have a right to wreak vengeance on them.

“We have to accept that newspapers, magazines, can publish things that are offensive to some, as long as it’s within the law. That is what we should defend.”

Speaking to journalists on the papal aircraft last week, the Pope  said: “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

Mr Cameron’s comments were echoed by Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford. Writing for The Independent on Sunday today, Lord Harries says: “I am a great admirer of the Pope, but when, to make the proper point that we should not insult the faith of others, he said his assistant could ‘expect a punch’ if he cursed his mother, I was aghast. The reference to a punch could easily be taken for a justification of violence in response to insult.” But the crossbench peer adds: “There is no justification for deliberately belittling any community that already feels marginalised and vulnerable, as does the Muslim community in France.”

The Prime Minister was appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation (AFP/Getty)

Opposition to Mr Cameron’s attempts to resurrect the “Snoopers’ Charter”, which was blocked by the Liberal Democrats in 2012, is building. David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, told The IoS that the charter “may be in the party manifesto, but it won’t be in mine”.

With the UK on high alert, British officials will hold talks with allies in London this week to discuss tackling Isis. Belgium has deployed hundreds of troops to guard potential targets, such as government buildings and Jewish schools. Germany carried out raids on suspected militants on Friday.

British police were continuing to question 18-year-old Silhan Ozcelik, from Haringey, London, yesterday after she reportedly travelled to Syria to fight with the YPJ Kurdish group against Isis. She was arrested at Stansted airport on Friday suspected of preparation of acts of terrorism and membership of a proscribed organisation.

Last night, Greek police arrested several people in connection with the foiled terror attack in Belgium. Police said the arrests followed information from the Brussels’ prosecutors office.

Charlie Hebdo’s distributors said its print run had been increased to seven million copies, despite violent protests about its depiction of the Prophet Mohamed in Algeria, Pakistan and Niger, where churches were burnt and five people killed. About 15,000 people demonstrated in Russia’s Ingushetia region yesterday with the area’s president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, saying that publication amounted to “state extremism on the part of some Western countries”, according to Radio Free Europe.