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Violence, or the threat of it, should never stifle free speech

Letters to the Editor


Author Salman Rushdie stretchered away to be airlifted to hospital after he was stabbed during a lecture in Chautauqua, New York state, on Friday. Photo: AP Photo

Author Salman Rushdie stretchered away to be airlifted to hospital after he was stabbed during a lecture in Chautauqua, New York state, on Friday. Photo: AP Photo

Author Salman Rushdie stretchered away to be airlifted to hospital after he was stabbed during a lecture in Chautauqua, New York state, on Friday. Photo: AP Photo

The attack on Salman Rushdie serves as a stark reminder that freedom of speech is a right we dare not take for granted.

Mr Rushdie’s literary achievements are not, of course, to be confused with the hate messages we see every day on social media – or the racist or ultra-nationalistic rabble-rousing that aims to inflict maximum hurt.

There are common-sense and necessary limits to free speech – as, for example, the famous one that states we can’t cry “fire” in a crowded theatre if there isn’t a fire.

But the fact that a work of literature may contain elements that some readers find offensive surely doesn’t entitle critics to ban others from reading it, and certainly doesn’t justify passing a sentence of death on the writer, whether in his/her presence or absence.

Arbitrary and oppressive restrictions on the right to express ourselves are reasserting themselves worldwide, especially in totalitarian states and ones ruled or dominated by clerics.

We mustn’t let the vile attempt on the life of a gifted and courageous writer to deter us from giving expression to our own creative energies.

I have a particular view on religion that is not shared by many people. Every day I read and hear views expressed that contradict my view. But the idea of suppressing all those people who think otherwise is utterly abhorrent.

If I thought they were about to change their opinions out of fear I’d prefer that they went on saying what I disagreed with than capitulate to the heavy hand of censorship, let alone the threat of injury or death. It is legitimate to win them over by persuasion, but not by intimidating or muzzling them.

I note that all religions, without exception, emphasise the primacy of compassion...they tell us that God loves us all and is compassionate beyond our understanding.

How then could he/she/it (depending on one’s belief) want any of us to deprive another person of life or liberty just for having a different “take” on this wonderful, mysterious world and its relationship, real or alleged, with the supernatural?

John Fitzgerald

Callan, Co Kilkenny

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