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The law against blasphemy must be removed

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Author Salman Rushdie was the subject of a fatwa because his 1988 book ‘The Satanic Verses’ was considered blasphemous. Photo: PA

Author Salman Rushdie was the subject of a fatwa because his 1988 book ‘The Satanic Verses’ was considered blasphemous. Photo: PA

Author Salman Rushdie was the subject of a fatwa because his 1988 book ‘The Satanic Verses’ was considered blasphemous. Photo: PA

I refer to Dr Ali Selim's threatening of the Irish media with legal action if they publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoon he finds offensive and which others found so offensive that they killed 12 people ('Islamic cleric threatens Irish publications with legal action if they publish offending cartoon', January 8).

First, how nice of Dr Selim to assure us that lives will not be in danger. It is reassuring that lives will not be in danger if a humorous cartoon is published in a democratic republic which upholds those essentials of democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

But, the reality is that people would have grounds to be worried if they were to publish the cartoon. We have been here before with the Danish cartoons, which were followed by hundreds of deaths and attacks on Christians, churches and European diplomatic missions.

When have also been here with the fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989, when the head of Iran's hardline theocracy backed the murder of a foreign national. Why? Because he considered the writer's work of fiction offensive. The book's Japanese translator was stabbed to death in 1991. Its Italian translator was seriously injured in a stabbing in Milan in 1991. Its Norway publisher was shot three times in an attempted assassination in Oslo in October 1993. The book's Turkish translator was the intended target in the events which led to the Sivas massacre in 1993, which caused the deaths of 37 people.

You reported that Dr Selim "insisted that he believed in freedom of expression and speech. However, he said that the image was offensive to equality". An explanation of how the cartoon is offensive to equality is not proffered. Perhaps Dr Selim might enlighten us.

This brings us to the related issue of blasphemy. Dr Ali Selim previously argued in your newspaper against the abolition of the offence of blasphemy from our Constitution ('Blasphemy offence is vital to our peaceful co-existence', February 10, 2014).

Dr Selim said that blasphemy laws are "abused" in other countries. It would be more accurate to say that blasphemy laws are not abused - but enforced - in other countries. In Egypt, insulting Islam and Muhammad has resulted in the death penalty.

Do we really want to live in a country where being involved in the likes of a humorous cartoon, 'Fr 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.

Rob Sadlier

Rathfarnham, Dublin 16

Aftermath of Paris attacks

The events at 'Charlie Hebdo' were shocking. Journalists and members of the public have showed solidarity with the journalists of 'Charlie Hebdo' by holding up "Je suis Charlie" placards. The sheer volume of people taking part in these acts of solidarity has been tremendous.

The deaths in Paris take place at a time when some divisions in society are increasing - yes, between peoples of different faiths (and none), but also between richer and poorer, between the older and the younger, between indigenous populations and newer migrants composed of a variety of colours, languages and creeds.

Europe finds itself in a tinderbox - the last week has seen demonstrations by the German far-right group Pegida, killings by people claiming to act for Islam, bombings and burning of mosques, and much else.

The principles of the French Republic are summarised in the slogan - Liberta, Egalite, Fraternite. There has been much talk about the first two, but what Europe and the wider world needs now is an emphasis on the third; we must as humans show humanity, and rise to be worthy of the acclaim we have granted ourselves.

We have been asked to show solidarity with those who died this week. Let us extend this idea further - let us show solidarity, and with it benevolence and restraint, to all participants of society.

Society can become stronger, but it will be tested before it becomes so. For it to become stronger, effort is needed. Or we can allow society to erode and fracture; and that requires good people to do nothing at all.

There will be a clamour from some portions of society to show 'strength' and solidarity in a particular way - by publishing offensive imagery and cartoons. I urge journalists and editors to not do so.

There is no doubt that we live in a society in which there is freedom of expression, but freedom of expression does not entail that there is a necessity of expression. We are already in a cycle of despair and hatred; we do not need to accelerate it. For those journalists and editors who are inclined to publish cartoons (of any subject matter), I urge them to engage in dialogue with those whom publishing will affect, and understand what the effects of doing so are.

Of course, dialogue requires a common language, hence those with whom such a dialogue will be undertaken need to be sought out - not the roughnecks, but the calm, quiet voices of wisdom which exist in every community.

Fraternite implies that we see others as having moral value; not that we see them as inferior, as the Other.

Dr Mobasher Choudhary

Northamptonshire, Britain

Following the threat issued to the Irish media by the Islamic scholar Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland - that the 'Charlie Hebdo' cartoons must not be republished - the Irish Government must immediately repeal the bizarre blasphemy law inexplicably foisted upon this state by Dermot Ahern and the Fianna Fail administration in 2009.

Bernard Guinan

Claremorris, Co Mayo

A culture of extreme and unjustified violence, combined with discrimination and racism, seems to be increasing in societies in the Middle East, the West, and in Eastern Europe. The atrocities committed in France are the most recent example.

There has been a significant increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia across Europe, as well as anti-Christian attacks and persecution associated with conflicts in several Middle Eastern states. In Eastern Europe, anti-Russian feeling is being fanned by the conflict in Ukraine and by Western propaganda.

The right to freedom of speech is being cited as justification for the publication of materials that are deemed offensive to people of certain cultures. All rights and all aspects of freedom carry responsibilities, and it is essential that responsibility is exercised by all societies, and by political leaders and media outlets, to avoid inflaming racism and discrimination.

'The Huffington Post' in an article entitled 'In Wake Of Charlie Hebdo Attack, Some Media Self-Censor Cartoons' criticises such self-censorship. Responsible editing and common sense sensitivity to the feelings of others should not be labelled as unacceptable censorship. It is unduly offensive to Jewish people, and to most other people, to make jokes about the Holocaust. Similar sensitivity should be applied to all communities internationally.

It is essential that we should all do our utmost to improve relationships, and to promote peace rather than conflicts, between societies and communities both internationally. It is essential that we should all do our utmost to improve relationships, and to promote peace rather than conflicts, between societies and communities both internationally and within our own countries. Racism and violence are two sides of the same coin.

Edward Horgan

Castletroy, Limerick

Irish Independent