The Star today defended its decision to publish a controversial cartoon which has offended Muslims across the world.
The Dublin-based tabloid is the latest media organisation to show the drawing of prophet Mohammed, which is among a group of cartoons which have sparked unrest in the Middle East.
The BBC, Channel 4 and ITV – as well as several European newspapers – have re-run the cartoons, although no British newspapers have published them.
The Star today said it printed the image to defend freedom of the press and to explain to its readers what had sparked the controversy.
The newspaper published a caricature of Mohammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb, which first appeared in Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten,
The Star columnist Joe O’Shea, who wrote an article accompanying the cartoon, said: “We wanted to give our half a million readers a chance to actually see this infamous cartoon. There has been a huge international story about it but not a lot of people have seen it.
“We thought it would be a good idea to make a stand for freedom of the press and democratic rights. We thought our readers deserved to see this infamous cartoon.”
A spokesman for Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern said today that the minister fundamentally believed in democracy and freedom of speech.
“Editors are entitled to publish what they want, but in expressing these rights, it must also be recognised that not everybody in the world would necessarily share Western points of view,” the spokesman commented.
“We must all be tolerant and respectful of other religion.”
Mr O’Shea of The Star admitted that some of his newspaper’s readers may be offended or hurt by the cartoon.
But he added: “All religions are entitled to respect but in a secular society in which we live, religious dogma should not be be allowed to override the most basic principle that we have – freedom of speech.
“Islam should be at least strong enough to allow debate about what is going on in the religion and what is going on in the wider world.
“While we respect Islam and we would hate to inflame passions in this any further, we think it has gone beyond the issue of the cartoons and has become a much wider story and people have a right to see what kick-started this whole international affair.
“The reaction from the Muslim world has been totally over the top and it is only damaging Muslim interests."
The cartoons have already been reproduced in newspapers in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy to demonstrate their support for free speech.
Mr O’Shea denied that the lives of Irish aid workers in the Middle East would be under threat by The Star’s actions.
“We are, in truth, a very small part of this huge international story. I think all Westerners in the Middle East seem to be under threat in any case from the total over-reaction to what has gone on,” he told RTE Radio.