Monday 24 October 2016

Having the right to offer a different opinion on a matter of concern is a pillar of freedom

Kevin Myers

Published 20/10/2009 | 05:00

'I GATHER a repulsive nobody writing in a paper no one of any decency would be seen dead with has written something loathesome (sic) and inhumane," tweeted Stephen Fry to the 850,000 sad souls who follow his misspelt twitterings.

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The "repulsive nobody" is 'Daily Mail' journalist Jan Moir, who on Friday wrote a column about the late Stephen Gately which dissented from the general media encomium that surrounded the Boyzone musician. And why should she not? We must surely allow room for someone to take issue with generally agreed pieties. Having the right to offer a differing opinion, sensitive or otherwise, on a matter of great public concern, is a cornerstone of freedom.

Stephen Fry clearly does not agree. As a celebrity, a luvvie, a Jew and a homosexual, he is untouchable, Princess Diana, the Queen Mother and Oscar Wilde rolled into one. No doubt in his moral cosmos it is sinful for a "nobody" -- that is, a mere non-celebrity like Jan Moir -- even to offer an opinion that differs from his. No doubt this also makes her "repulsive". The fact that she writes in the 'Daily Mail' is, of itself, an indictment according to same "liberal" world-view of his. And that he had not troubled himself to read that dissentient view ("I gather ... .") will, of course, not lead to any criticism of his conduct.

Because, you see, being a "liberal", he has "virtue" on his side: and thus armed he has led his army in the great campaign to destroy both the 'Daily Mail' and Jan Moir (ah, yes, that "repulsive nobody"). Good. Things are a little clearer now. So when this Fry-creature appears on the airwaves expressing compassion on any topic, you know how authentic his words are.

In that dogmatic liberal way, he will defend to the death the right of anyone to agree with him. But woe betide anyone who says anything that upsets him, for then he will unleash his army of wrathful, hysterical twittering tweeters.

The word "homophobic" was freely used in the weekend's subsequent media-hatefest to describe the Moir column. Ah well, who ever failed to win an argument these days with that one? Like "misogynist" and "racist", it is the trump of trumps -- the allegation is the proof.

And what toe-curlingly abject cowardice the affair has provoked. Thus Damian Thompson, the blog editor -- God help us -- of -- God help us again - 'The Daily Telegraph': "I'm all in favour of criticising Moir for her spite," he wrote, "and especially the twisted leap of imagination that took her from Stephen Gately's dead body to an argument about the nature of civil partnerships. Not only is that criticism fair, but it has worked: Moir's reputation is in tatters this evening.

"But, my God, the social media world harbours some pretty smug and self-righteous individuals. The words 'I'm sorry, but you're not allowed to say that!' are never far from their lips -- or, to put it another way, only liberals are allowed to be offensive.

"Still, I've no sympathy for the ghoulish Ms Moir. And now excuse me while I turn on the telly to watch her squirm."

What an odious, snivelling, hypocrite -- he "defends" freedom of speech, in the same breath as he rejoices that he can watch someone with whom he disagrees "squirm" as her "ghoulish" reputation is torn to "tatters". And that is tolerance? At least the sanctimonious, sneering philistine Fry spared us the humbug.

OF course, the death of Stephen Gately was a tragedy for those who loved him, and the palpably authentic grief and devotion of the Boyzone members spoke volumes for their decency and compassion. Ronan Keating suitably referred to him as "my brother and my wingman".

But simultaneously, on the far side of Dublin, at the funeral of Air Corps Captain Derek Furniss, killed in the line of duty while serving his country, alongside Cadet David Jevens, the term "wingman" would not have been a metaphor. No, in such company, it's the real thing, whose implications extend to the entire Defence Forces. You take the lead, and I will cover you -- to the death, if need be.

The 'Sunday Independent' gave seven pages to Stephen Gately's funeral, including most of the front page, plus an attack on Jan Moir, and a poem from Joseph O'Connor (which even compared the dead musician to a soldier lost on the Somme: oh, please). Captain Furniss's funeral attracted about a fifth of page 2, and no poem.

Now it is futile -- even Blimpish -- to complain about the disproportionate reportage of the two funerals -- most readers prefer celebrity to the military, and showbusiness to patriotism. But we don't all have to accept the majority taste in such matters, in either commentary or coverage.

And parents of a young boy, contemplating the lives of the two dead men, of roughly the same age, may prefer that their son one day enter that world that was inhabited by Stephen Gately, RIP, or that inhabited by Captain Derek Furniss, RIP.

Society needs its rock stars just as it needs its warriors.

But I have no doubt about the kind of man I would want my son to become.

Irish Independent

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