Letter to the Editor: Testing the limits of freedom of expression

I was very interested in your editorial ‘Fundamentalist excluded — Ban on hate preacher is appropriate’ (Irish Examiner, May 14). I always assumed the word fundamentalist came from the word fundamental.

I don’t see anything fundamental about this hate-monger, for indeed this is what he is, and he shall remain nameless, I note that he calls himself a preacher, and is an American.

Nothing coming from the USA surprises me anymore in the age of Donald Trump. He should not be called a preacher either, because preachers advocate love and peace. This man does neither.

The phrase “freedom of speech/expression” always cause me a little discomfort. I believe that “freedom of speech”, just like everything else, comes with terms and conditions. Slander is not allowed under freedom of speech; it’s an abuse.

I’m sure people can remember the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris in 2015. France is a secular society, it is a country in which any religion could be subjected to ridicule. In this particular instance Muslims were the target of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists.

I can recall one cartoon which showed a man wearing a turban with a lighted bomb on top of his head. I am aware that no one has the right not to be offended and I know people line up to be offended — it happens.

I am sorry that anyone died but what value has free speech if it ends in death. The predators, the gunmen, identified themselves as belonging to the Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.

Charlie Hebdo should have left sleeping dogs lie. I would think that common sense should be to the fore, instead of freedom of speech, which I have shown is a misnomer. In a civil court those who died might be regarded as “authors of their own misfortune”.

In a more recent incident Dan Baker of BBC Radio 5 Live, London tweeted a picture of a chimpanzee in child’s clothes, with the words “Royal baby leaves hospital” days after the birth of Prince Harry and Meghan Merkel’s son.

Baker was sacked immediately. He withdrew the tweet and apologised but to no avail, or to no surprise. How foolish can you get? And he viewed himself as a victim of his employer (BBC).

He may have thought there was nothing wrong with what he had done emboldened by freedom of speech/expression and he may have thought this would cover him. Here’s to common sense, and a “little” knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Bernard Naughton



This reader's opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on May 21, 2019.

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