Stepinac: champion of freedom of conscience


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There is an excellent review of Esther Gitman’s latest book ‘Alojzije Stepinac: Pillar of Human Rights’ by Marijan Gubic in today’s Hrvatski Vjesnik (Croatian Herald). For those of you who cannot access this Australian community newspaper, here are my favourite quotes (my emphasis throughout):

“Reading Alojzije Stepinac: Pillar of Human Rights it is as if at once, like a balloon that has no moorings, the entire apparatus of falsehoods and lies rises and vanishes in the upper air, where it rightly belongs, and it is now possible to see the truth from a single source without distortion.”

“The powerful image of Stepinac as a world historical figure was captured elegantly in an editorial of… L’Osservatore Romano, comparing the arrest and trial of Stepinac to the final persecution of Jesus Christ: ‘We think of him like His Lord, accused of having deceived the people, of not having yielded unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, for having said to be able to destroy in three days the Temple of Titus.’  This was a deliberate play on words and the theme of tyranny as Titus is Italian for Tito.”

“…the Vatican itself has cravenly dropped the chalice of truth.  There is no branch of history so controversial as the history of the second World War in Yugoslavia.  The ineluctable truth is that the heinous crimes… were perpetrated by fanatics on behalf of dictators.  The prevailing histories ignore the heroes and champions of freedom and human dignity.  Not Gitman.  Gitman’s contribution is critical to unravelling those controversies.”

“Stepinac would be shocked to learn that his life was reduced to a fact-finding commission that only served to alienate and divide Christians and hold truth hostage to nefarious political designs.”

I hope these quotes will encourage anyone with an interest in the bitter and divisive debate about Blessed Alojzije Cardinal Stepinac to buy Esther’s book from the publisher at:–pillar-of-human-rights

Something to ponder….

Evil is everywhere and none of us is immune.  We are all capable of evil.  That is the lesson so many refuse to learn.

Adolf Eichmann, to the very end, believed he was not responsible.

I am convinced that there are many among us who, persuading themselves that their lofty and good goals justify tweaking and obscuring the means, blind themselves to their complicity in wrongdoing.  And one sin leads to another.  One twisting of the truth leads to another deceit which leads to a permanent lie… all of which become ‘reality’ in our sin-riddled minds.  Again and again, I have seen little compromises mature into habitual corruption, so quietly in the background that they prompt little alarm or interference.  It’s the same old story from the little old lady on the parish council to the lobbyist hero to the valiant politician.  (It’s a story I tell in my novel, Wellspring.)  But some sins are more public than others and they get all the attention.

The only sins we’re responsible for (and can repent of and prevent), though, are our own.  Leave them alone, and they have the potential to lead us into great evil (often without us even realising it).  But we are still culpable.  We are the ones who set ourselves on such paths.

To quote St Maximilian Kolbe, “what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves”?

Good question.


In 1584, a “young Irish gentleman” by the name of Ailworth spent his last eight days of earthly life alone in the stench and filth of a dungeon in “the very worst prison in London”. His crime was that he had rented a “commodious” house for Catholics to gather in for preaching and Mass, for he and his brethren had “set more value upon what belonged to the honour and worship of God, than upon any earthly toys”. *

More than four centuries later, on the other side of the world but still technically in the realm of a Queen Elizabeth of England, I had an odd sense of what such gatherings might have been like. There was something clandestine about our tiny twilight assembly in a cold stone church in the middle of nowhere. The two previous clothing ceremonies had been standing room only, but this one was different. We were there despite – despite our island location, despite floods and fallen trees, despite illness and discouragement – and it was sobering to look around and see how few of us there were.


The magnitude of what was about to take place was etched on the faces of Dominic (the novice who was to be clothed with the Benedictine monastic habit) and the other monks.


Even the prior seemed to take an extra moment in prayer. What this ceremony lacked in the mass anticipation of a large congregation it gained in the quiet gravity and apprehension of a select few.


Then it began. Centuries of tradition embraced us in its gentle clasp and led us into the comforting familiarity of the Church’s sacred tongue and eloquent ritual.



It is popular among Catholics to talk about being counter-cultural, but being counter-cultural defines us by what we are not. The focus is on what the herd is doing, how we’re outside of the herd. Sometimes we even fall into a self-pitying persecution mentality. Mr Ailworth and his fellow recusants were undoubtedly persecuted and defined by the heretical services which they refused to attend, but they did not leave it at that. Their focus was not their recusancy or their persecution but the altogether dangerous preservation and restoration of the Church of which they sought to remain part… and with which they remained in communion at the risk of death.

I wondered as Father Prior began his exhortation whether anyone else had found themselves plunged into such sombre ruminations, but it did not take long for me to be reminded that he had thought about it deeper and longer than me. The first mention of St Maximilian Kolbe sent an electrifying ripple through the church. By the second mention we were certain we had a Brother Maximilian kneeling before us.


“The real conflict is the inner conflict,” Father Prior quoted the Polish saint. “Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we are ourselves defeated in our innermost personal selves?” And that’s why we were there, participating in a quasi-secret ceremony at nightfall, not to be counter-cultural, but to fortify ourselves in the real conflict.

Dom Pius girded Dominic with the Benedictine leather cincture, symbolic of St Paul’s “belt of truth” in the epistle to the Ephesians, and in echo of the words of St Maximilian Kolbe we had heard earlier: “No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it.”


Dominic bowed his head in humility, his visage hidden beneath his cowl, suspended between his old life as Dominic and his new life as Brother Maximilian. Then Father Prior pushed back his hood and gave him his new name, bringing a smile to every single person’s face, for it was ordained and it felt so.


The next morning, there were even fewer folk at Mass, but that sense of providence lingered and intensified. We were not there to rebel against society but to rehabilitate the Church (and in so doing ourselves). This was ab initio, from the beginning, rather than contra, in opposition, restoration rather than revolution.

In the timeless and sacred light of tradition, the path ahead of us does not seem insurmountable, for we can see so many who have gone before us, and we know that we are not alone.



The full album of photos from Br Maximilian’s clothing may be viewed on Flickr.

* Henry Holland (d.1625) in Richard Challoner’s Memoirs of Missionary Priests, Vol. I, p. 414.

The Stripping of a Priest


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The first time I saw a priest take off his clerical collar was in a car park before we boarded a train to Boston.  Fr Al explained that it was too dangerous to be identified as a Catholic priest on public transport – he knew priests who had been bashed up on that same train line – and he placed the collar in his briefcase with a sigh.  I was unsettled, not just because of the threat to his safety but because it seemed improper, like the removal of a sheriff’s badge or an army officer of his epaulettes.  Without this insignia, Fr Al looked more like a Mafia don than my university chaplain.  It felt wrong.

Witnessing someone else take away a priest’s clerical collar, however, is profoundly more disturbing.

On Monday, the Feast of the Annunciation, the monks of Notre Dame Priory in Tasmania held their second clothing ceremony.  There was only one novice monk to be clothed, but in contrast to the previous novices Fr Mark Withoos arrived in the black cassock and biretta of a priest…



…and his guests included a dignified cohort of clergymen.


Father Prior recognised this distinctive and unusual circumstance in his exhortation to Fr Mark, noting that thus far he had “appeared to the world in black”, testifying to his “desire to die to the ways of the world”, and that St Benedict “warns the abbot not to readily receive a priest into the community”.  He explained that “the priesthood holds with it the greater burden of responsibility for giving examples of humility, obedience and strict discipline”.


Not unsurprisingly, Fr Mark seemed somewhat tense after this solemn exhortation. However, when he was given the name Brother Augustine Mary, his features relaxed into an expression of peaceful joy.


I cannot overemphasise what a privilege it is to witness this moment. Apart from the Father Prior and one or two monks, I am the only one who can see the face of the novice monk as he receives his new name.  And no photograph can capture the physical proximity and actual experience of being just a few feet away.  As one of the monks’ mothers commented to me today, “you can feel it even when you can’t see their face.”

[By the way, this is one of the reasons I am so grieved when guests insist on taking photos on their mobile ‘phones when there is a professional photographer present – quality aside, they miss out on the actual experience and make their own life vicarious by experiencing it through a lens.]

I photographed Notre Dame Priory’s first clothing ceremony, so I should have been prepared for what came next. But there is good reason that these ceremonies have traditionally been private affairs.  The stripping of a priest of his cassock and collar feels almost sacrilegious to the onlooker.  Though rather fanciful on my part, I could not help thinking of the English martyrs being disrobed for execution.  Monastic camaraderie notwithstanding, the gravity of what was taking place was palpable.


This sombre stripping of a past life swiftly shifts, though… into the adoption of the “sweet light” of Our Lady and her mantle.  This is perhaps, I’m guessing, the reason it is not called a reception or initiation ceremony but a clothing ceremony.  For, in the sense that they are representative of what lies within, clothes do indeed maketh the man.  “If black symbolises death, white symbolises the new life of holiness.”  The prior, Dom Pius, replaced the priestly robes of which Br Augustine had been stripped with the bright and pure habit of the Benedictine monk: “Today, you will don the shining white of Our Lady’s habit, placing yourself in a very special way under her Immaculate mantle.”

NDP shining white of Our Lady's habit

The sun dipped behind the horizon as Br Augustine Mary completed his transfiguration, and the birds in the rafters continued their own song of praise.  The priest’s cassock, surplice, and biretta lay abandoned on the altar as an offering to Our Lady of Colebrook.


Nightfall usually brings calm, a lull in activity and a settling down to rest, but on this occasion the cool Midlands dusk heralded restrained ebullience and many expressions of joy.  I congratulated Br Augustine on his “demotion” and he voiced his wonder that he could be so blessed as to have a second vocation.


I do not claim to understand the calling to monastic life.  It is, I suspect, slightly beyond my ken.  There are, however, glimpses available to us, perhaps when we are on retreat, holding vigil, or in the company of these monks whom we cherish.  What strikes me every time I am with them is the immensity of their choice, not just to enter the religious life but to daily live the life of ora et labora.

Over and over again, in all things great and small, they choose what we in the secular world tend to avoid.  They embrace the contemplative life while we rush on thoughtlessly; they embrace the toil of labour with all its meniality and repetitiveness. They are not forever “trying to find time” in order to leave some mark on the world.  It is as if they understand that man’s “greatest desire, the desire for permanence and immortality, cannot be fulfilled by his doings, but only when he realises that the beautiful and eternal cannot be made”. *


My favourite moment of the evening, the point at which my throat caught and my photographer’s instinct raised the camera and took the shot, was in the quiet of the church afterwards.  One brother knelt before another, unthinking yet thoughtful, without hesitation yet deliberate in service.  Both smiled contentedly as they looked upon the shoes of a life Br Augustine Mary had just forsaken.



“The human condition is such that pain and effort are not just symptoms which can removed without changing life itself; they are rather the modes in which life itself… makes itself felt.  For mortals, the ‘easy life of the gods’ would be a lifeless life.” *


Click here to view an album of photos from the ceremony.

* Quotes from Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition.


The Benedictine Option


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In a world seemingly gone mad, where situations formerly inconceivable have become a reality, seclusion – also unthinkable once upon a time – has not only become alluring but within the realm of possibility. The age-old debate of how to live in the world without being of the world has been reignited in the form of The Benedict Option, a bestseller still sitting on my to-read list. However, here in Tasmania, there are whispers from the past amidst the chatter… about the original Benedict option: Benedictine monasticism.

Last Tuesday, the fledgling Notre Dame Priory held a clothing ceremony for its four novice monks. It was the first of its kind in Tasmania, and a new experience for all but the prior I suspect. I don’t exaggerate when I say that there was a timeless quality, for the ritual is well over a millennium old, and the setting was a (borrowed) church designed by the famed Augustus Pugin as he envisaged it would have looked in England in 1320. Indeed, from the southern crest overlooking the Colebrook Valley, St Patrick’s has the appearance of a pilgrimage destination.

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However, it wasn’t the beauty or ancient tradition that had a large number of us discreetly dabbing our eyes.

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The emotional intensity of the occasion was unexpected. As a photographer, I simply don’t cry at weddings because the images I’m creating blot out everything else that is going on. In contrast, Tuesday’s ceremony distracted me from my professional focus, and I found myself moved to tears. As the Priory’s photographer, I had the privilege of seeing the novices from the choir rather than the nave.

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Instead of white hoods or the backs of shaven heads, I gazed upon faces of poignant and tremulous joy. I had neither distance nor detachment from the momentous transformation of these young men.

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What struck me in particular was their quiet assurance. I spoke with one of their mothers beforehand and asked her how she felt, whether she had any doubts about her son’s decision, and she said she had observed how happy and peaceful he had become and that she could not help but be overjoyed.

The clothing ceremony accomplished a physical transformation, reflective of a general metamorphosis that had begun long before. I remember when their heads were shaved earlier in the year. It made recognition difficult, but it also made us all remember more of their faces rather than relying on their locks to tell them apart. And so too the shedding of their worldly garb has forced us to discern the person within rather than judge them by their attire. As symbolised by the discarded jackets and ties, they have forsaken career and status. Their conformity to the Benedictine Rule has made them more anonymous in the eyes of the world, but not for those who matter.

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These monks have abandoned the world, but make no mistake they are not running away. The secular world would perhaps try to belittle these men as too weak to survive in the real world but such caricatures come from insecurity and ignorance. If you had been there, you would have sensed the strength and masculinity of these spiritual warriors… and perhaps (if you are a parent of young children like me) you might have wondered how it is that such splendid young men are nurtured. I saw the answers in the rapport between these new monks and their parents and siblings. They clearly came from homes where the love of Christ and each other reigned supreme, where sacrifice was joyful and willing. It all begins in the home, with the family. These parents had not handed over their children to be brought up by society or the state.

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Fittingly, their prior, Dom Pius Mary Noonan, concluded his exhortation saying: “may these words of St Bede the Venerable become reality for you; if they do, you will have found beatitude on earth: I was no longer the centre of my life and therefore I could see God in everything.”  The beauty of it is that the death of self doesn’t only affect these novice monks but all those who know them. We are truly blessed.

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You can learn more about Notre Dame Priory in Tasmania at:

The Trump Parody

I was a teenager when I first realised that the media parodies those whom they do not like.  Growing up, John Howard (who later became our Prime Minister) came across as a stammering midget, a monkey-like figure.  However, I was fortunate to meet him on more than one occasion, and I found that he was not only taller than me but that he was an eloquent and dignified speaker with courteous manners.

The lesson I learnt was that we must be extremely wary of making judgements based on the mainstream media’s selective and skewed interpretation of events, even at the best of times.

Donald J. Trump is a case in point.  Instead of serious analysis of a key presidential speech, we find ourselves swamped with speculative drivel about the Polish President’s wife’s body language and gossipy denigration, e.g. “Reagan is nodding” and “religious paranoia”.

However, the tide may be turning.  Conservatives who have been keen to distance themselves are beginning to realise that there’s more to Trump than meets the eye.

For example, Johnathon Van Maren reconsiders his opinion of Trump:

It is now a media trope that wherever Donald Trump goes, he manages to embarrass us all. Considering his irritating proclivity for adolescent Twitter battles with figures in the media, this is an easy line to buy at times. But upon stumbling — completely by accident — on Donald Trump’s recent address in speech in Warsaw, I realized that there was quite possibly something else at play as well: Perhaps Trump is embarrassing the media elites.

Trump’s speech in Warsaw is perhaps one of the clearest calls for the defense of Western Civilization and its fundamental roots in Christianity and the culture and traditions it created delivered by any Western politician in several decades. He points out the enemy, warns that the West is under threat, points to our Christian heritage as both a defense and worth defending, and highlights the long struggle against the Evil Empire as evidence that where the will exists, good can triumph over evil. The speech was, quite simply, so eloquent I found it difficult to excerpt it for the sake of this column — and those who read my analyses of Trump’s campaign speeches, one of which I attended, will know that I found him generally callow, shallow, and crude.

You can read the full article at LifeSiteNews.  It includes extensive excerpts of Trump’s speech. Even better, watch the entire speech for yourself.

Either way, set aside your prejudices and judge this speech on its own merit.

Good-bye, Justice!


If you had any doubt that political correctness reigns in the corridors of power, read this article about blind recruitment and digest the implications.

Apparently, employing people based on merit, without knowing their gender or ethnic background, doesn’t bring about the desired result (diversity): “Introducing de-identification of applications in such a context may have the unintended consequence of decreasing the number of female and minority candidates shortlisted for senior APS positions, setting back efforts to promote more diversity at the senior management levels in the public service.”  Reported in another article, Professor Hiscox said blind policies should be paused and caution exercised so as to avoid damaging diversity efforts.

Translation: making the recruitment process fair won’t bring about the desired end result of more women in high-ranking jobs.

This policy of ‘positive discrimination’ is far from positive for men or women, and here are a few reasons why:

  1. It is not desirable to recruit more women if those women aren’t as capable as the men who also applied.
  2.  The end never justifies the means.
  3. Such policies assume that women can’t do as well as men without special treatment.  You don’t have to be a feminist to believe that women are capable of holding high level jobs on their own merit.
  4. Women will not reach their full potential if they have a lower ‘pass threshold’.
  5. Discrimination is discrimination.  There is no ‘equality’ in being given a job because you’re a woman. Imagine the outcry if we had such a policy for white Christian men.

None of this is new, but the open readiness to jettison a ‘blind’ policy communicates the lengths those in authority are willing to go in order to achieve their goals.  In the past, there was always a nod to fairness in advocacy of ‘positive’ discrimination.  Indeed, the very idea of blind recruitment was theoretically based on the idea that if we removed bias then women and ‘minorities’ would thrive in this fairer environment… but it’s “making things worse”.  So we now see (as we suspected) that it has nothing to do with fairness.  The end goal is all that matters.  In fact, “the public service has a long way to go on gender equality” we’re told, even though the study showed the APS discriminated in favour of women and minorities (by a whopping 22.2% when it came to indigenous women) and women comprise just under 49% of executives.

Lady Justice has always been represented as blind-folded, and there is good reason for this.  When government and society unashamedly advocate stripping her of her impartiality, beware!

Is this how I’m going to die?


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Is this how I’m going to die?

That was the inconvenient question that popped into my mind this morning as the nurse told me to relax and plunged a syringe into my upper arm.

You see, I’m one of a rather significant number of people who receive a free ‘flu’ shot each year. It’s free because my immune system is a tad dodgy. I’m one of those people who are chronically ill, constantly in pain. It’s not something I like to talk about – indeed, I try to soldier on, as no one likes a wet blanket – but there are moves afoot to legalise euthanasia where I live, and my medical condition makes me a potential victim.

Victim. That’s right, victim, because there’s no other honest way of putting it. Euthanasia is the administration of “prescribed medication” to kill someone. I don’t think I’m “eligible” yet according to the provisions of the bill that’s currently under consideration by the Tasmanian parliament, but a clever lawyer could argue it. After all, I already suffer from an “incurable and irreversible” disease. As much as I don’t like to admit it, it does cause me “persistent suffering”. There’s also no “reasonable prospect of permanent improvement” in my medical condition.

The truth is: every day is a battle. If it weren’t for so many people depending on me, I might slide into a malaise that would gradually poison my mind into thinking that life is not worth living. (Parenthood is hell, but it teaches you that self-sacrifice is worth it.) If it weren’t for the fact that I’m stubborn and implacable in my determination to experience life (even with all its pain and suffering), I might have given up living with this disease a long time ago. I look back at my younger self and recognise that twenty years ago I would possibly have chosen oblivion over the daily battle I now face.

You may wonder why I am not bothering to elucidate all the moral arguments against euthanasia as is my usual wont, but at the end of the day it is our personal experiences that shape us. Perhaps we shouldn’t, but most of us make decisions based on the way we feel, and as rational as I am I can’t and won’t ignore the power of gut instinct. It is gut instinct (or conscience) that often tells us something is wrong before we even know why it is wrong, and that is where I want to begin.

My point is that being unwell affects the way we see the world and our place in it. When I am sick – or, more to the point, when I am extra sick because I am sick all the time – all I can see are my failures. I’m useless, hopeless, and everything is pointless. I think my children would be better off without me, I imagine no one reads what I write, and the household chores are not only endless but impossible. I imagine I am the ugliest and most repulsive woman on the planet.

Chronic illness takes those periodic feelings of depression and magnifies them. It draws them out… forever. It makes us vulnerable to the most destructive of thoughts.

The lure of suicide, of escape from it all, is enough of a problem in our society. I think we all know someone who has succumbed. We wonder if we’d spent more time with them, listened more, or simply not left them alone, that perhaps they might still be with us. So why would we want to validate it, enable it, and empower it? Why would we want to not only endorse suicide but legislate a raft of measures that disguise killing as mercy?

A friend of mine lost her husband not so long ago. He was not euthanised, but he wasn’t resuscitated. Despite her tearful pleadings, and even though they were newlyweds with a beautiful two-year-old son, medical staff decided his chances of a full recovery at his age (early fifties) were too low. He adored his wife and young son, and I am certain he would have gladly lived bedridden or in a wheelchair in order to watch his son grow up and be part of their lives, but the doctors decided it would be more merciful to let him die. And that’s the sort of mercy I think we can do without.

The euthanasia mentality is already with us, poisoning the way we think about life and the people around us. So many of my friends suffer from depression. I know I am not alone. But there are people who lift me up and give me strength. Some of them are concentration camp survivors. Their passion for life was strongest when they were suffering most. In the midst of the most unspeakable torture, they clung to life and fought for it with a strength they had no idea they possessed. They fought with every last breath to stay alive, because it was worth it, even to see one more ray of sunlight on the wall, a patch of blue sky through puffy white clouds, or the face of the one they loved.

They’re not small-minded politicians whose response to human misery is to get rid of the problem. They defied their pain and suffering and embraced life, and that’s the sort of person I want to be. That’s the sort of person I want all of us to be. I don’t want to put a metaphorical gun to someone’s head and put them out of their misery. I don’t want to turn doctors who save lives into state-sanctioned killers. I want to help people enjoy life, despite the pain, throughout the suffering. I want them to appreciate the small mercies that make it all worthwhile. Is that really too much to hope for?

Tommy Robinson Rants

There’s considerable vitriol being aimed at Tommy Robinson for his comments at the scene of today’s terrorist attack. Many articles are posting selective excerpts, videos cut to emphasise certain aspects of his commentary. However, he was being interviewed, so here is the interview fyi.
I’d also add that what Robinson is saying is (or should be) common knowledge. I decided to randomly check some of his claims.
1. “450 ISIS fighters been allowed to return to our country”. According to an article yesterday in the BBC, there are at least 850 British “jihadists” and approximately half have returned to the UK.
2. “4 terrorist attacks last week in France” I can find evidence of three such incidents after a two-minute search.
3. Al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine “was downloaded by 50,000 British Muslims last year”. Actually, this is an underestimate. It was reported in early 2015 that 54,723 people downloaded it in a three-month period.
4. “3000 Muslims” being monitored for suspected terrorist activity. On 18/9/2015 the Times (amongst others) reported that MI5 and other security services are monitoring 3000 “homegrown Islamist extremists willing to carry out attacks in Britain” and that six plots had been foiled that past year. As for cost, the Australian reported in 2014 that the cost of monitoring just one jihadist in Australia was $8 million per year.
Robinson’s remarks are heated, but they’re based on solid easily-verified facts, and four people had just been brutally slaughtered. Many more (including school children) will be maimed for life. He has good reason to be angry.
The media seem determined to condemn Tommy Robinson for ranting and raging, to discredit him because he is emotional, but what I find disturbing is the selectivity. Apparently, it’s okay to be emotional about Muslim refugees but not about slaughtered Christians in the Middle East and Africa, to get upset about Clinton losing an election but not the murder of a police officer. I’m sure Tommy Robinson has his faults, but I’m not willing to censure him for getting upset about yet another horrific terrorist attack in heart of western civilisation. I’m pretty upset too. We all should be….