Joan Burton and Islamic cleric Dr Ali Selim clash over media use of cartoons

Tánaiste Joan Burton and a leading Islamic cleric are at odds over whether the Irish media has the right to show controversial cartoons featuring the prophet Muhammad in the wake of the Paris massacre.

The Labour leader insisted it was up to media outlets to decide how to handle the matter and she would not tell journalists how to do their jobs as she stressed the need for a free press in the aftermath of the attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo which left 12 people dead.

The comments were in contrast to Dr Ali Selim, spokesman at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, who warned showing such depictions of the prophet would be wrong.

“In a time when we talk about globalisation and peaceful co-existence, we should avoid things that might cause problems like that.

“I think a very important question that should be raised now is what common good would this achieve?” the cleric told RTÉ.

Dr Selim said he was prepared to take legal action against Irish media outlets showing the cartoons under blasphemy laws as he did not believe Charlie Hebdo had the right to publish material making fun of the prophet.

“If we are pro peaceful co-existence, we should take our understanding and others’ understanding into consideration. We are great advocates of freedom of speech, but the freedom of speech we support is that freedom of speech that is practiced responsibly. Everything has limits,” Dr Selim said.

“Let me ask you one question: Can this paper publish mockery images of the Holocaust? Can they do that?” Dr Selim asked.

Ms Burton said the issue was a matter for newspapers and TV stations to decide.

“My understanding is the people involved in this had some allegiance of extreme forms of Islam — that is not a fair representation of Muslims right around the world. Freedom of the press is central and something practiced in particular in France over the last couple of hundred years,” Ms Burton said.

“It is therefore very sad to see journalists butchered in this way. In Ireland we thankfully have a free press. I think anything that concerns the freedom of the press and indeed in this case the life of the press has to be of serious concern to everybody in the EU,” the Tánaiste said.

Agriculture and Defence Minister Simon Coveney said the events in Paris were “shocking”, but there was no need to bring forward a planned referendum on removing blasphemy from the Constitution in order to promote the right to freedom of speech.

“Having blasphemy in the Constitution is inappropriate and needs to change, but it’s quite a complex process to change. Changing the Constitution is always quite complex and needs a full referendum in Ireland,” Mr Coveney said.


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