‘Charlie Hebdo’, blasphemy and freedom of speech


Sir, – Surely it is proper, certainly no less than polite, to respect a person’s right to believe whatever they want – so long as that belief does no harm to others. Whether we should respect the belief itself is quite another matter. If some people wish to, and are free to, perpetrate fairy tales in the guise of truth, why should not others be equally free to ridicule those fairy tales? The plain fact is – and open any history book or today’s paper to confirm this – religion breeds zealots, and zealots breed bloodshed. The sooner the concept of blasphemy is discarded, the sooner we might laugh fanatics into their grave. But I don’t think it will happen soon, people being as they are. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – I abhor the terrorism which has shattered the lives of people in Paris and previously throughout the world. Equally I am in wholehearted agreement with the finely balanced, non-confrontational views of both Edward Horgan and Richard Coffey (January 10th). Freedom of expression, yes; but freedom to provoke ill-feeling or insult, no. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – According to article 44.1 of the Constitution, “the State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence, and shall respect and honour religion”.

This clause does not differ at all from the fundamental tenet of Islam, namely, submission to Allah (the Arabic word for “God”).

If you accept article 44.1, you cannot logically object to the ban on blasphemy (article 40.6.1.i). – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Una Mullally displays jaw-dropping double standards in her recent column (“Why a referendum on blasphemy is long overdue”, Opinion & Analysis, January 12th). She argues in favour of freedom of expression and correctly says that “sacred cows are there to be slaughtered”; however she clearly doesn’t believe that freedom of expression should apply to the upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage, judging by her recent columns on that issue.

For example, in January of last year she used your pages to call for the establishment of a body which would monitor the views expressed by those opposed to same-sex marriage, saying that “there is a need for an independent homophobia watchdog to monitor the inevitable destructive rhetoric that will colour one side of the debate” (“Homophobia watchdog needed before marriage equality referendum”, Opinion & Analysis, January 20th). She went on to say that to oppose same-sex marriage publicly, in any terms whatsoever, was to inflict “psychological trauma” on gay people. So clearly, the establishment of such a “watchdog” would lead to all opposition to same-sex marriage being removed from the airwaves.

How do such sentiments accord with her views on freedom of expression? Is it the case that only those views with which Ms Mullaly agrees are worthy of protection? – Yours, etc,


Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Una Mullally’s article of January 12th is the first I’ve read since the Charlie Hebdo shootings that promotes the curtailment of free speech.

The author draws an unhelpful distinction between “freedom of expression” and “free speech” and takes solace from the fact that we don’t live in the US with an equivalent to their first amendment. Drawing the comparison to the United States should only be relevant to the extent that the American free speech provision is one to which we should aspire.

How is it justifiable, as Ms Mullally does, to call for freedom of speech for the ideas which you agree with and to insist on “hate speech” for those that you don’t? Or the position that the Catholic faith should be “knocked off its pedestal” but that “for some to criticise Islam, their enthusiasm is born from their own intolerance ”?

It’s clear that not only is the author comfortable to decide on what can and can’t be said, she also confidently intuits the real motivation informing what certain individuals actually say; criticism of Islam, she perceives, is an act of bigotry which bears no resemblance to the criticism of other faiths.

The correct response to Charlie Hebdo shootings should be to promote free speech to the greatest extent possible and to “knock off their pedestals” the illiberal liberals who wish to control it. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 8.

Sir, – I appreciate the point Una Mullally was trying to make in her column of January 12th, and I agree with much of what she said. But she glossed rather quickly over the distinction between “infringing freedom of expression” and “protecting from hate speech”.

In this debate I, like many others, find it difficult to see the difference: when people are attacked on religious grounds, it is in the name of “freedom of expression”, but if people are insulted because of their sexual orientation, social class or race, it is “hate speech” and must be banned and punished. Who decides the difference? Do not all people, regardless of race, sexual orientation or belief, deserve equal respect? What am I missing here? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – If there is still freedom of speech in this country isn’t it about time our Government taxed it? – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – Following last Sunday’s show of unity in France against terrorism and the demonstration of strength in numbers, could the newspapers and TV stations of Europe show a similar unity against real and implied threats by publishing cartoons from Charlie Hebdo on an agreed date?

I feel that self-censorship is already in place and we must fight this. Murderers cannot dictate what we read. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Sir, – After condemning the terror attacks in Paris, Dr Ali Selim bravely stated that he would seek legal advice if any sources in the Irish media published, or republished, an insulting image of Muhammad (“Ali Selim urges media not to republish Charlie Hebdo cartoons”, January 7th). This responsible act should be welcomed rather than berated. If an Irish media source knows that there will be a measured response to the publication of an insulting satirical image then perhaps it will think before it prints. On the other hand, if a senior Irish Islamic scholar is seen to be stepping up to defend a deeply held religious position in the face of a worldwide outcry in defence of “democracy and free speech”, then fanatical elements will also have reason to refrain from knee-jerk reactions. The question we should all ask ourselves is, what kind of society could possibly emerge when people request free rein to knowingly incite other sections of their community? – Yours, etc,




Sir, – Your online report on the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo – which depicts an image of Muhammad on its cover – is illustrated not by the cartoon but by a photograph of the magazine’s staff.

Would not a blank space have been more appropriate? – Yours, etc,




Sir, – There is much talk and comment lately on the so-called “right to offend”. I have always thought of this as a rather strange notion. I preface my comments by saying that, of course, publications such as Charlie Hebdo have a right to publish anything that they see fit.

However, surely there can be no such thing as a “right to offend” since offence is fundamentally something that is taken rather than given. One can no more insist on a right to offend than one can insist on a “right to amuse”.

I am not merely being pedantic here. If we insist on Charlie Hebdo’s “right to offend”, I think that we are legitimising the view that some of their images are objectively and universally offensive. This is nonsense, as many people, presumably including some who happen to be Muslim, will find nothing offensive about any of the aforementioned images. If other people desire not to take offence at Charlie Hebdo, they have a simple solution – don’t read the magazine. This is surely a much easier solution than attempting to kill everyone from whom you take offence. Of course, in reality the killings had nothing to do with the offensiveness or lack thereof of some images. – Yours, etc,



Co Galway.