31 July 2012

The Freedom of the Press

Well, the Irish Times is on form today. 

The Freedom to Have an Opinion
Here's Fintan O'Toole, for instance, talking about Seán Quinn:
'Fr Brian D'Arcy, who is supposed to be in the morality business, addressed the Ballyconnell rally and essentially credited Quinn with the creation of peace in our time: “He brought peace to the country by creating thousands of jobs.” 
Senior GAA figures such as Mickey Harte, Jarlath Burns, Seán Boylan and Colm O’Rourke threw that organisation’s considerable authority behind Quinn’s outright defiance of the courts and determination to hang on to public money. Thus, a formidable if unofficial nexus of Sinn Féin, the GAA and the church is giving Quinn comfort. 
 This desire to kiss the rod inflicting the pain is surely rooted in something older than the current fad for designer masochism – some twisted notion of ethnic and religious solidarity in which Quinn has to be protected because he’s one of us – a Catholic, nationalist, GAA man.'
This is after lots of valid stuff, it should be said, but still. Is it really right to say Brian D'Arcy supports Seán Quinn, therefore the Church is part of an unofficial triumvirate of forces supporting Quinn? Brian D'Arcy?

Remember what Fintan said about Brian D'Arcy a few months ago, when he took the view that D'Arcy having -- at his own discretion -- to have a fellow priest glance over his writings to make sure they weren't completely off the wall was the worst thing that had ever happened?

Fintan saw D'Arcy as being part a powerless priest, being sadistically humiliated -- no, really -- by a heartless and clueless hierarchy.  D'Arcy, more to Fintan's point perhaps, was a decent and admirable man, somebody who stood apart from the institutional Church.

But now? Well, now that D'Arcy's saying something that Fintan (rightly) disagrees with, he's been elevated in Fintan's eyes to an official spokesman for the Church. This is the kind of inconsistent, hypocritical nonsense that's rendering the Irish Times less relevant by the day.

The Freedom to Disturb Religious Ceremonies
It seems only fitting that it's sitting in an edition of the paper where an editorial begins by absurdly saying that a clear instance of disturbing the peace wouldn't be considered an offence in modern Ireland if it took place in a church, since we've all moved on from that auld religion hogwash now, thank God:
'It's likely that if three young women in balaclavas marched up uninvited to the altar of the ProCathedral to then perform a crude punk ballad lambasting the church and the Virgin Mary there would be calls for their prosecution. Disturbing the peace, blasphemy . . . Such appeals might well have prevailed a couple of decades ago. Not so, one hopes, today. We have as a society developed an understanding that the sometimes-uncomfortable price of democracy and free speech is the tolerance of speech of which we may disapprove, which may offend, which may be blasphemous – we’re even thinking of removing the offence from the Constitution.'
Yes, the Irish Times editorial line now seems to be that it would be okay to do this. I'm not saying that the Russian Orthodox Church's reaction to Pussy Riot's actions in a Moscow cathedral isn't a tad over the top, but really, is it really okay to interrupt a religious ceremony in this fashion? Does freedom of speech really mean a freedom to interrupt other's worship? Does the Irish Times believe that freedom of religion so irrelevant that people should be allowed to interfere with it whenever they want?

The Freedom to Drive Out Jews
Oh, and then there's another piece about circumcision, which describes one of the defining Jewish and Muslim practices as barbaric, wonders whether Germany should hold a referendum on children's rights, and insists that in a secular society the rights of children -- as the author sees them -- should always trump religious freedom.

He's basically saying that the right of a child to retain its foreskin is more important than the right of a child to be Jewish.

I'm not sure what thought he's given to what Jews and Muslims should do in any country where children cannot be circumcised. Sure, there's much more to Judaism, say, than circumcision, but then there's more to bread than flour; it's still an essential ingredient. Maybe he'd just rather there were no more Jews. 

I do wonder if the author, the Thailand-based Kenneth Houston, is aware that Germany doesn't do referendums, mainly because of Germany's bad experiences with Nazi demagoguery using them to steer the mob. Or maybe he just doesn't care. 

That said, I'd be curious to see some serious large-scale surveys asking people, simply, whether they'd been circumcised, and whether infant circumcision should be illegal. I've a very strong feeling that the vast majority of those who'd been circumcised would have no problem whatsoever with the practice continuing, while those opposing it would probably be, in the main, people who've merely heard about it.

As for those who'd ban it, what do they think Jews should do in a country where infant circumcision is illegal? Leave altogether? Engage in circumcision tourism, ensuring their children are born in countries where infant circumcision is practiced? Arrange for backstreet circumcisions? Or just abandon their ancestral faith?

(Illustrations, for what it's worth, are from the anti-circumcision, anti-semitic, and deeply improbable comic Foreskin Man. He's a bit of an advert for Aryan supremacy, really. He's also neither well-written nor well-drawn. Offensive on so many levels...)

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