Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Blasphemy and Bananas

In 1896 the American short story writer O. Henry – William Sydney Porter – exiled himself to Honduras to escape charges of embezzlement at a bank in Houston. While there he wrote a series of short stories, collected in his book Cabbages and Kings, in one of which, The Admiral, he coined the term ‘banana republic.’ It is worth quoting the passage:

“In the constitution of this small, maritime banana republic was a forgotten section that provided for the maintenance of a navy. This provision—with many other wiser ones—had lain inert since the establishment of the republic. Anchuria had no navy and had no use for one. It was characteristic of Don Sabas—a man at once merry, learned, whimsical and audacious—that he should have disturbed the dust of this musty and sleeping statute to increase the humour of the world by so much as a smile from his indulgent colleagues.

With delightful mock seriousness the Minister of War proposed the creation of a navy. He argued its need and the glories it might achieve with such gay and witty zeal that the travesty overcame with its humour even the swart dignity of President Losada himself.”

With equal travesty, in the midst of another banking scandal – I must be careful here not to be accused of the equally medieval crime of sedition – our own Don Sabas, Dermot Ahern T.D., the Minister for Justice in Ireland’s banana republic, has decided to insert a section on blasphemous libel in a proposed reform of Ireland’s defamation law, merely because the provision for such an offence is mooted in our Constitution (Article 6 1° i), albeit a 'forgotten section' having laid reasonably inert since the foundation of our Republic. 

What a load of codswallop! 

The Irish Law Reform Commission in 1991 recognised that in a modern secular world nobody knows what blasphemy actually is, nor indeed is there an adequate definition of what constitutes a religion, and advocated its removal from the Constitution. Similar reservations were also expressed by the Irish Supreme Court in the Corway case of 1999. 

All individual rights are a matter of trade off: the right to freedom of expression versus the right not to be the subject of religious hatred. Common sense alone will determine what constitutes religious hatred. Dermot Ahern with his offence of blasphemous libel will be re-enforcing (with €100,000 fines - enough for boatloads of bananas!) the archaic concept of a public-order offence for the protection of a Judeo-Islamic-Christian monotheistic moral perspective, a public order religious protection that is completely redundant in a pluralist society. 

Even Chaos theory will be unable to decipher the dangerous consequences of such an ambiguous presumption. 

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