The return of religious nationalism

, by Michal Jarski

The return of religious nationalism
Tomasz Terlikowski, Polish journalist. Photo by Bartosz Zieliński on flickr (

In the last months right wing and populist parties all over Europe have been on the rise, with Geert Wilders’ PVV in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France, Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star Movement in Italy, and others. Their main agenda is that against the “islamisation of Europe”, and opposition to socially leftist ideas. Their main claim is that they don’t want religious extremism in their countries, but what they don’t want to acknowledge is that they are also creating a new Christian religious extremism, which earlier almost disappeared from European countries - including Poland where its presence was low before the presidential election.

The newest Polish case

In Polish schools during the Lent there’s a week of “Lent retreat”, which is organised by religious instructors (mostly priests and nuns), so that the headmasters have almost nothing to say in terms of the content - during the week there are workshops about multiple aspects of religion, and screenings of religious films. It’s usually not a problem that everything is organised by the instructors, because the headmasters are happy that they don’t have to take care of everything. And there are usually no problems - until this year. The nun working in one of Warsaw’s (and Poland’s) most well-known high schools, 14 Stanislaw Staszic High School, invited with her the far-right and pro-life journalist, Tomasz Terlikowski, well known for his anti-liberal and pro-life (at least that’s what he calls them) views.

After protests by the students and Liga Młodzieży Wolnościowej (Youth Liberty League) [1], the school’s headmistress decided to block his workshops [2] [3] [4]. While it should have been the end of the case, it wasn’t, and he wrote a comment on the case on his Facebook page. Nothing would be wrong with it if only the comment hadn’t argued that he would have been talking about abortion, while he was invited to conduct workshops about the clash of civilisations, what was a clear disparity in the plans.

Attack on the school

Terlikowski’s post not only suggested ludicrous things, like that if the schools decide what the programme of the retreat will be, it will be the first step of bringing leftist hit squads to churches, but also attacked the headmistress for being a “coward” by not letting him conduct the workshops , and the school for being a bulwark of extreme, liberal, anti-Catholic left [5].

Even if I did like him before, I wouldn’t accept attacking the school for resigning from this extremist’s workshops. I just can’t see the reason behind it - it could have been commented in a more diplomatic way. But it wasn’t.

Despite his bullying words towards the school, some of the students didn’t agree with the headmistress’ decision and ran a campaign against blocking the freedom of speech by not letting him conduct his workshops [6]. Unfortunately, I see this fight as already lost because of his unfortunate comments on the famous Facebook post.

Free speech vs. hate speech

This takes me to the point about the difference between free speech and hate speech. Is the latter one only a creation of leftist propaganda? Is it something non-existent, but pumped by the media?

Actually no, and there’s a very thin line between free speech and hate speech - a statement can be classified as either, depending how it’s formulated, and that is exactly what the right-wing media are exploiting. They call themselves “the last bastion of the free speech”, but instead of promoting their view, they attack the left-wing media and leftists in general for their views. I agree, there’s hate speech on both sides, and fools and fanatics are everywhere, not exclusively on one side of the debate. And even more, they are destroying discussions on all sides. But far-right people are especially dangerous, because they create the problem of religious fanaticism - in a form less dangerous than crusades several centuries ago, but still unhealthy for any community.

Part of a broader problem

We, as a society, are used to the fact that murders happen occasionally, and car crashes occur every day. They are usually not being associated with religion, but being mentally ill, desperation, or the will of revenge - but also referred to as accidents. Apparently, things change drastically when we introduce an “external” source for the accidents - for example a person of different faith. The accident now becomes a muslim terrorist attack, and attacker becomes a fanatical islamic bomber. No, I’m not against stigmatising terrorists, I just believe that we should associate attacks with attackers not religions, and if we associate them with religions - we should do it with all cases. Fanatical catholic bomber should sound as bad as fanatical islamic bomber, not make people laugh and stop taking you seriously. We should classify the cases and take them all to the same level of evilness, not make one group worse than the other, because that’s what leads to a new wave of religious extremism on the Christian side (or whichever religion has a majority in a country).

Not stigmatising all bad people is what created the new wave of “religious nationalism”. One can believe in any god (or not believe at all), and be a good person or a terrorist. Terrorism knows no barriers and religions. That’s what politicians and the media should acknowledge and start taking into account.

Since the publication of this article, the original Facebook post has been removed, and there’s only a copy cached by google:

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