‘Charlie Hebdo’ shootings
Sir, – We can’t all be in Paris to march in solidarity with the victims of terror attacks there. But we can make sure we stand by the values of freedom of expression and a refusal to be cowed by fanaticism. – Yours, etc,
Crumlin, Dublin 12.
Sir, – I refer to Dr Ali Selim’s warning to the Irish media of legal action if they publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoon he finds offensive and which others found so offensive that they killed 12 people (“Ali Selim urges media not to republish Charlie Hebdo cartoons”, January 7th).
Dr Selim has in the past argued against the abolition of the offence of blasphemy from our Constitution which, disappointingly it appears, will not be the subject of a referendum this year. His contention that satirising religious beliefs should not be tolerated is incompatible with freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Free and open expression is not only part of – but also essential to – a healthy democracy.
Humour, irony and satire are an integral part of this freedom and (save, of course, where there is for example incitement to violence, hatred or racism) should be protected.
Do we really want to live in a country where being involved in the likes of a humorous cartoon, Father Ted or The Life of Brian could result in a fine of up to €25,000? The law against blasphemy is an anachronism and should be removed. Blasphemy laws have fomented intolerance, prejudice and violence elsewhere. One need only look to other countries where such laws survive. In Egypt, insulting Islam and Muhammad has resulted in the death penalty – seven Egyptian Christians were sentenced to death in 2012 for their role in the “anti-Mohammad” movie. In Afghanistan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, blasphemy is also punishable by a penalty up to and including death. In Pakistan, two politicians, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated because they called for reform of the blasphemy law.
Embarrassingly, Ireland belongs to the blasphemy club. There may have been no prosecutions in Ireland to date, but this may change. Furthermore, other countries have cited Ireland’s prohibition on blasphemy in support of their own poisonous activities.
The Convention on the Constitution recommended that the offence of blasphemy be abolished. Such an offence has no place in a democracy which values freedom of speech and freedom of expression. These fundamental freedoms cannot be sacrificed in the name of a prohibition on causing offence to certain people’s beliefs. Religion is open to question, scrutiny and humour, just like any other set of beliefs or ideology. Nobody has the right not to be offended. – Yours, etc,
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.
Sir, – Richard Coffey writes (January 10th) that “satirists and cartoonists should not go so far as to intentionally offend, insult or incite people of other creeds and beliefs”. As the great Salman Rushdie, who had more cause than most to ruminate on the topic, declared “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend it does not exist”. – Yours, etc,