Wednesday, April 29, 2009

DON'T call me Jeezy Creezy!


'Blasphemy' comes from the Middle English word, blasfemen, which comes from the Latin word blasphemare, which comes from the ancient Greek  βλασφημέω’ (which comes from βλάπτω = "I injure" and φήμη = "reputation") so it’s fair to say that people have been (or have been accused of) taking the piss out of their god(s) since the days that people thought casual pederasty and marathons were the way to go about business.


Yesterday in the Dáil, the Irish parliament, the Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Ahern, proposed an amendment to the current Defamation Bill; extending the ambit of the proposed law to create the crime of criminal blasphemy. Mr Ahern is a qualified solicitor and has served with distinction in the Cabinet, but I believe that this law is very clearly a pile o’ wank.


The Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann) at Article 40, guarantees the right to free speech but qualifies it by allowing for the restricition of several types of publication:

“The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent material is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”

The Court has said on several occasions that the crime of blasphemy is almost impossible to define, and in practice, speech relating to religion (such as the case of Murphy v. IRTC) has only really been restricted when there was a perceived danger of public unrest and  and only used with the utmost reluctance. Wee Dermy describes what'll happen to the blaspheming riff raff,

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.”

“Jesus, what a ridiculously vague and overtly broad piece of proposed legislation.” (I hear you all yell, angrily, and not realizing the irony) and you’d be right. The Minister does, however, try to placate our worries with a lovely, and not-at-all-fuckwitted, definition of blasphemy as language…,


“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,”

and establishing that a fine up to €100,000 may be imposed, upon conviction.


At a first glance, this could be seen as an attempt to allay fears that our print- and broadcast-media could inadvertently, by clumsiness or negligence, stumble into the kind of scenario that led to the “Mohammed Cartoon” controversy, and the ensuing tsunami of global rioting and hatemongering, and to protect religious minorities from persecution.

However, the “substantial number of adherents” and “intent to outrage” requirements of the above definition leave us in a position where one right is being created in the vaccuum created by the destruction of another. As the right to freedom of speech is being curtailed, the Minister hopes that those substantial adherents will feel that their religious convictions are being vindicated.

Whilst these sentiments of diversity and plurality are obviously commendable, and completely necessary in modern Ireland, the Minister’s ham-fistedness and short-sightedness may irrevocably damage our fundamental freedoms (or make for a painful wank). Instead of cauterizing the problems of disaffected minorities and religious intolerance, he is attempting to apply a flamethrower in the hope that the remaining charred wreckage will strike an elegant balance between the rights of religious liberty and free speech


I am NOT trying to say that speech and publication should never be restricted. There are times when certain types of speech needs to be restricted, or even banned. When radical Muslim cleric Abu Al-Hamza Masri was convicted, it was (amongst other things) for owning a copy of The Encyclopedia of Afghan Jihad, for glorifying terrorism, for stirring up racial hatred, and for soliciting murder, in contravention of Public Order and Terrorism Laws. His speech had been used, as Hughes J stated,

“to create an atmosphere in which to kill has become regarded by some as not only a legitimate course but a moral and religious duty in pursuit of perceived justice"

and thus he was prosecuted.


In the UK, there have been several attempts to lobby for stricter blasphemy laws, all of which have ended unsuccessfully. As with Ireland, the word ‘blasphemy’ is still enumerated in law, but not prosecuted in practice. This is, in my opinion much better than overly draconian punitive laws as proposed by wee Dermy.



1) This will not be the first time that Ireland has dropped the ball regarding censorship and restrictions of speech. Publications glorifying homosexuality, advertising abortions or suggestion the best brothels in Dublin have been all ripped from the shelves and on occasion (as with the Students Unions of Trinity, and University College Dublin, Dublin, Dublin) successfully sued. When the film The Cider House Rules was released the film was given an ‘18’ rating, as opposed to a ‘12’ rating in the UK, because of oblique references to abortion and incest. If this blasphemy shite is taken then we’ll be scrubbing the bowl for a long time trying to get rid of the smears, without or without Cillit Bang.


2) It is possible to have freedom of speech and maintain dialogue with religious groups who could potentially be offended. There are incredibly intelligent and articulate people from both viewpoints in this argument who want to find a way to appease both sides. The solution lies with rational conversation and mature debate, not by acting like the political equivalent of a horny teenage boy, trying to pop his cherry. By attempting to shoot his “we’re all cool here guys” load without any real thought, into any political orafice, at the first opportunity, and with; Mr Ahern’s spaffing a load of salty, bitter and potentially unconstitutional man-batter into our eyes, instead of being a good boy and waiting ‘til it feels right’. Pig.

(N.B. fucking overdid that metaphor!)


3) In 2006, Reporters Without Borders named Ireland as global joint first in terms of Press Freedom. However, a mere year later, the Press Freedom Index had relegated Ireland from the number one spot down to eighth. While 8th is so much better than, say, 24th or 48th, it’s a worrying trend. For a young nation, but with an ancient and celebrated tradition of writers and scholars (think Book of Kells, an ecclesiastical newpaper, or the Annals of Ulster) it is fitting that we are one of the leading nations in the world of the arts and media. For a sophisticated and progressive democracy, it is also fitting that we follow and defend the social democratic model of press freedom with zeal. This proposed bill will not only damage our rankings in the Press Freedom Index, but will likely lead us down the Rupert Murdoch shit-slide of a bipolar choice between sensationalism and meekness. That bollocks, we do not need.

That’s the rant over, and I’m sorry for it’s length, but I’m massively worried about the potential that may exist for it to be criminal for me to raise issue like Yahweh doing lines of blow in the toilets in Coppers, or Jesus beating lepers with a bag of doorknobs, or yes, even Mohammed choking hookers with a bin-bag. If freedom to be a satirical wee bastard is threatened then I’m going to get my Blessed-Mother’s titsworth. Also, as a friend has pointed out, members of the Jain community are averse to eating meat and to do so would offend them, so for most of the BESS-girl community, and the rest of us carnivores, it’s the end of Steak n’ Oyster Thursdays, so we’ll ALL be humous-eating cunts like the Avoca posse.


One good thing, which is heartening, is the outcry that has sprung up in the hours since Mr Ahern’s facehole got the scoots. Bloggers and surfers of the blagonet in Ireland (from foul-mouthed misanthropes to clean-cut students) have all raised their voice. It's a good cure for overt cynicism to see the students, who the government constantly tries to shaft with a barbed-wire dildo, standing up for their freedoms. Also, look out for comment from some academic and legal heavy-hitters. They're sure to have a much more succinct, informed and reasoned approach to this bollocks than I could ever have. Or you could watch a funny satirical cartoon. Better hurry though, before the creator is killed for affronting Mu...


Again, sorry for the rant, but Ahern’s a prick.

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