How very thoughtful of Dermot Ahern to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the proclamation of the fatwa on Salman Rushdie for blasphemy by introducing our very own blasphemy laws.
Not merely will this enable any group of nutters to claim their religion has been insulted -- well, by whom? Kevin Myers? Ian O'Doherty? -- but it will also enable our many Muslim immigrants to feel thoroughly at home.
Because that is a defining feature of every Islamic society throughout the world: an intrusive and punitive legal code which destroys the lives of those adjudged guilty of insulting the Prophet or Allah. In Afghanistan, it is the death penalty. Pakistan too. Egypt as well. And so on. Why not the same, sooner or later, in dear old Eirestan?
Christianity as a potent, political and legal force is dead in Europe. Islam is not. Christians do not expect their religion to be protected by law from religious insult. Muslims do. A blasphemy code will, in effect, turn out a new variant of a local shop for local people: but here in secular/Christian Ireland, it will become a Muslim law for non-Muslim people.
The minister's proposed bill declares: "Blasphemous matter ... is (that which) is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred to any religion thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of the religion; and he or she intends, by the publication of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage."
We know what "causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of the religion" means (and the minister's term, "the religion" really does apply here). For we saw it in 1989, when the Ayatollah proclaimed his fatwa on Salman Rushdie for 'Satanic Verses'. Over 40 people were killed in the violence that followed. We saw it with the Danish cartoons, which were so meaningless that they could have been of anybody: but label them "Mohammed", and yet again, more people were killed.
Religious "outrage" is an almost unknown phenomenon in our culture: but it is so common on the Islamic street that one often wonders: do Muslims know any other public mood? And whereas I can ask this question today, might it not be blasphemous under Dermot Ahern's new law? For some Muslims might hold that it is grossly abusive or insulting to things they hold sacred, to dispute their right to endless public anger.
Moreover, who decides whether Muslims get angry? Is it a spontaneous phenomenon, or does it depend on what they are told in morning prayers by the imam? And is that assembly, in effect, then the jury? For it clearly is a self-deciding issue, if the law says the something is an offence because enough members of the public consider it is so. The rule of law then passes from law-maker and lawyer to whatever rabble-rousing cleric is able to make enough people angry, and by their numbers alone they then decide whether an offence has been committed.
Dermot Ahern's justification for his dangerously silly proposals is that successive attorneys general have told their ministers for justice that the Constitution obliges the State to have blasphemy laws. Good. So if so many ministers for justice have been able to ignore that advice in the past, why should he now seek to heed it? And worse still, why should he do so by allowing the interpretation of blasphemy -- which is otherwise a piece of string of unknown length -- to be defined by the mob? This merely reduces the courts to being instruments of Barabbas-type justice.
Yet in one sense, the minister's proposals are irrelevant. For Europe already has an informal blasphemy law, which is enforced by Islamic cut-throats, with or without a fatwa.
We all know it. We just don't say it. So I can call the Virgin Mary, who most Irish people believe to be the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of Mankind, a whore, and no-one will open my carotid. But were I to make any such remark about Mohammed's wives, which is what Rushdie was accused of doing -- and I wouldn't: O believe me, I wouldn't -- then at best, I would be spending the rest of my life under armed guard, or at worst, I would be strumming my harp alongside Theo van Gogh. He was, remember, killed without fatwa, and his murderer, Mohammed Bouyeri, is now an Islamic hero.
That doesn't mean we should corrupt our legal code in order to propitiate Islamicists. Yet all media discussion on this and related topics is dominated by state-subsidised bodies -- the intercultural this, and the multi-ethnic that. The primary function of these quangos is apparently to be gravely insulted whenever their quivering multicultural sensibilities are offended.
And then they can institute legal action to silence -- or even imprison, which was the threat hanging over me last year -- those whose voices they disapprove of. These arms of the State now constitute a cultural Fifth Column, possessing a clear and dangerous agenda. The minister's proposed blasphemy law can thus only pander to the deranged instincts of an absolutist, intolerant immigrant minority, and its politically-correct, pseudo-liberal native allies: Lenin's useful idiots, yet again.