Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stop the blasphemy ban

Alarmingly for those of us who value Western freedoms including speech, the Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, has revealed his intention to make "blasphemous libel" a crime, punishable by a fine of €100,000. From the Irish Times:"Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern proposes to insert a new section into the Defamation Bill, stating: “A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000.” “Blasphemous matter” is defined as matter “that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.” Where a person is convicted of an offence under this section, the court may issue a warrant authorising the Garda Síochána to enter, if necessary using reasonable force, a premises where the member of the force has reasonable grounds for believing there are copies of the blasphemous statements in order to seize them.What is interesting so far is the relative silence of the Left on the fundamental question of there being a blasphemy-ban. Even Labour Justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte, who wants the fine reduced to €1,000, and to exempt from the definition of blasphemy: "any matter that had any literary, artistic, social or academic merit." does not appear to call into question the wisdom of introducing such an offence into law in the first place.

It has to be asked where the impetus for this legislation is coming from. Is it from the Catholic Right, which has been fighting a losing battle for political-influence since 1992 (when the Irish people voted to legalise travel and information related to abortion), including the defeat of the 2002 Abortion-referendum, or is it from what the Left like to call "the new communities" i.e. particularly foreign-nationals of the Islamic faith in particular? In that respect, we would do well to bear in mind research across Europe on the attitudes of Muslim communities to questions pertaining to traditional Western freedoms, notably freedom of the press and of speech - and in particular, the question of blasphemy. With respect to British Muslims, an ICM opinion poll in 2006 revealed an astonishing 40% of them want Islamic Sharia law to be introduced in Muslim parts of the country. In relation to the Danish cartoons: The full figures on ICM’s website reveal some interesting bits and pieces that weren’t reported in the Sunday Telegraph. British Muslims surveyed by ICM were almost unaminous (97%) in thinking that the publication of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed was wrong, 77% said they personally were very offended by the cartoons, 9% said they were a little offended and 11% said they were not offended. Moreover: "Regarding reactions to the cartoons, 14% of British Muslims thought it was right for protesters in Muslim countries to attack Danish embassies and 12% thought it was right for “demonstrators to carry placards calling for the killing of those who insult Islam”. 13% said it was right “to exercise violence against those who are deemed by religious leaders to have insulted them”. The Left were at the forefront of dismantling decades of theocracy in this State, notably in the struggle against the bans on divorce and homosexuality. It would surely be ironic then, if in the name of Political-Correctness and a wish to appeal to a minority of newcomers to our shores, they were to take a step backwards from Enlightenment ideals of Western freedom in order to get us to a place at least as bad as where we started in the first place. All true liberals and democrats should oppose this bill, and make their views on it known to the powers that be - particularly on the Green benches in Leinster House. They forced Fianna Fáil's hand on the by-elections - maybe they can do the same with the Defamation Bill. For the email addresses of your TDs. see here.