Most of those gathered at the Spire, around candles and images placed on the ground, as the soft rain sprayed their faces on a mild January night, sounded as if they were French, one of whom had just arrived in Ireland that morning from Paris. What a shock it must have been for her. She spoke of her fear but also of her resolve not to let it cower her. I scanned the crowd given that I have accumulated a few French friends over the years but to no avail.
I thought the Spire was a significant choice of venue. While I long dismissed it as an unimaginative piece of art, it never occurred to me to shoot the designer to a chant of “Rasta Pasta – Gun is Great” because I didn’t like it. I would acerbically quip that I found it more symbolic of a heroin needle graphically depicting the country’s drug culture. An alternative interpretation was that the Spire was emblematic of a phallus, subliminally telling us something about Ireland’s well established tradition of clerical rape. But last night it became the middle finger, a flipping of the bird at the theocrats and their “theolgoues”, who between them have crafted a blend of theology and ideology, which they strategically nurtured into the malaise of political Islam. The outworking of that monstrous mutation was all too evident yesterday in Paris in the demand that artists and writers embrace not creativity but submission or be murdered.
The blood had barely stopped flowing in Paris before the mutterings were being heard: Charlie Hebdo had pushed things too far. They had it coming to them. In so far as Charlie Hebdo had it coming, it is not because they were irreverent or offensive, but because they were isolated by a wider intellectual community who were never short of a reason for avoiding saying anything that might be construed as offensive to Islamic religious opinion, who masked their recreance as respect for diversity, and whose commitment to free speech was invariably followed by the ubiquitous "but." It is convenient to forget that the guarantor of even the freedom to say “but” is anchored in an unalloyed defence of freedom of expression. Try saying “God is great but ...” in some company as a fast track means of understanding this basic tenet of free speech.
There is an existential imperative that artists and writers must establish symmetry with if they are to fulfil their vocation and scrutinise power and authority. Their freedom to write and create needs to be limitless and not subject to the self-censorship occasioned by shared political space. There can be nothing other than an outright rejection of the blackmail contrived by the sociologist Tariq Modood that:
if people are to occupy the same political space without conflict, they mutually have to limit the extent to which they subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism.Freedom of speech allows us to say "blow it out your Koran Modood."