Wednesday, January 14, 2015

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Religion Will Censor You At The First Opportunity

John McDonagh (JM) and Sandy Boyer (SB) interview historian and author Anthony McIntyre (AM) via telephone from Drogheda, Co. Louth about reproducing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons on his blog, The Pensive Quill. A big thanks to TPQ's transcriber.

Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
10 January 2015

View image on Twitter
From Charlie Hebdo

SB: And were going over to Ireland to speak to Anthony McIntyre, former Irish political prisoner, who blogs at The Pensive Quill. So Anthony, thank you very much for being with us.

AM: Thank you for inviting me on, Sandy.

SB: And this week – just this past couple of days actually – on The Pensive Quill you have been reprinting many if not most of the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons that got them into so much trouble - led to them being assassinated. Why do you think that it was so important to reprint those cartoons?

AM: Well in 2006, when the Danish artists and cartoonists sketched a number of anti-theocratic cartoons we decided that we would also - when we were running The Blanket at the time - we would publish them, we would reproduce them. We were not concerned as such with content but we were concerned with form. And it's very important that freedom of expression is protected to its utmost so that we may have a better understanding of ourselves, of society and that we're able to monitor and scrutinise the centres of powers.

And this week we felt, in response to a call by American PEN and the Index on Censorship and the free speech (the freedom of expression bodies), they made a call in order to stand with the murdered cartoonists - and writers and also the police who died protecting them  - of Charlie Hebdo, that we'd publish those cartoons, those images. And I think it's very, very important that we do.

See, what we have here is: the British press is doing a lot of shouting about the right to free speech and really shying away from showing the cartoons. It took the German press to come out and put the cartoons out and reproduce them and say: we stand firmly with the artists who were murdered and we are prepared to show their work.

JM: Yeah Anthony, this is John McDonagh here. I read at the top of the show - and I want to thank you for running a lot of Brian Mór's cartoons – because it's amazing – Brian was the Toast of the Town within the Republican Movement when he was doing about the British and everything. And then when the peace process and Adams and them became at the front of his pen - I don't think many people liked the cartoons that you were putting up skewering them. But this is from the front page of The Sunday Mirror back in 1990 - and the headline reads: “MPs Attack IRA Cartoon”. And they called for the banning of the newspaper and the cartoons from coming into England and it had to do with the assassination of MP Ian Gow. So it's all these years later maybe the British have seen the light that it's not about them (the cartoons) but it's about the prophet Mohammed.

AM: Well, the problem with the British - Tony Blair tried very hard to put into effect the Blasphemy Law and he was backed by the members of the left - many left organisations in Britain. I know when we put up the cartoons the Socialist Workers Party organised against us, organised meetings, condemned us, withdrew their previous contributions to The Blanket website. And basically they made the wrong call. They sided with the clerical fascists and did not side with the artists, and they sided with the people who were effectively making racists attack on the people of Denmark.

So I'm very suspicious of the British. I mean, I do not trust the British on this issue. The British will do everything possible to curb free speech. I mean - the British are trying to curb – because free speech allows you to scrutinise, and the British do not want any scrutiny of their role in this country - they're trying their hardest to prevent the scrutiny of their torture back in 1971. Yet they want to scrutinise the role of everybody else as we have seen through their attempt to raid and sabotage the Boston College project.

SB: And we're talking to Anthony McIntyre who blogs on The Pensive Quill. And speaking of The Pensive Quill, Anthony, you have been recounting your experiences with vigils in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo in Dublin. Tell us a little about that.

AM: I'm just back from a vigil about an hour or two ago.  I was at vigil as such – it was organised by the NUJ - it was attended by the Minister of Justice, the Garda Commissioner, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the Tánaiste, senior NUJ - National Union of Journalists - officials, French people and the French Ambassador. And we stood and we held up the Ju Suis Charlie posters. We observed a moment's respect for the people who have been slain, both police and journalists – cartoonists. And (Irish NUJ Secretary) Seamus Dooley made a very important speech in which he referred to the absolute blasphemy, the abomination of murder in the name of a deity.

I went down today to that as a member of the National Union of Journalists and Wednesday night, along with my wife and my daughter and an American friend, we went down to stand in solidarity at a candlelit vigil at the Spire in Dublin's O'Connell Street outside the GPO and there were many French people there. And again, we were simply there in solidarity with the people who have been killed by the fascists. It just seemed to me that seventy years after the first (second) World War the Nazis were back on the streets of Paris gunning down Parisians.

JM: Yeah Anthony, also: What about the reaction from the Muslim community in Dublin? I was reading one article saying – telling - the Irish newspapers from a Muslim cleric that they better not reproduce the cartoons. And then someone else saying that Ireland, The Twenty-six Counties, could come under/subject to attack because the Shannon Air Force Base (Airport) is used by American military aircraft as they re-fuel there on their way to bombing countries in the Middle East. What has been the reaction overall? Have the papers reproduced any of the cartoons?

AM: No, they haven't – not that I have seen but I have been busy reading other things rather than the Irish papers because the Irish papers have been quite silent over the years on these matters. I mean one of the things that the Irish papers should be campaigning for very vigorously is the repeal of the Blasphemy Law. And in this day and age in a modern European society – a supposedly modern European society – we have a Blasphemy Law!

JM: Yeah you know what, Tony – what exactly is that?

AM: Well it means that you can be prosecuted if you blaspheme, if you say something that the religious or the clerics don't like, and this is what this, the guy at Trinity College,  the lecturer at Trinity College – and I think it's a absolute disgrace - this Muslim person is threatening legal action on the basis of the Blasphemy Law and alleged hate speech or discrimination against religions.

On this basis he is threatening Irish newspapers and Irish websites that he will take them to court if they reproduce. Now, he isn't a great deal different in outlook from the people that carried out the Charlie Hebdo attack because he is trying his form of censorship here. And in response to him The Pensive Quill will be challenging him and we will be putting out more Charlie Hebdo cartoons and we'll be telling him - we will flip the bird at him very, very deliberately - because it's not that we want to be offensive but we are making a firm stand against people who try and censor and suppress and would like to impose some sort of theocracy or religious dictatorship in any aspect or any element within society.

But also the Irish government should never allow the US government to use Shannon as a means to bomb foreign countries – to go in and slaughter people in Afghanistan or Iraq. It's absolutely abhorrent. And the Irish government don't even balance the books by demanding that if the Americans are going to bomb people in Iraq and Afghanistan that they should bomb the Israeli Defence Force at the same time in order to stop the Israeli Defence Forces massacring civilians in Gaza. But we don't have any of that - we have an awful one-sided dimension here – perspective - and the Irish government refused, despite many calls from the ... politicians and parties, including Sinn Féin, to expel the ambassador, the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland. So the Irish government are very, very one-sided and I think they should desist from allowing the country to be used for the purposes of re-fueling so that other people may be bombed.

SB: Anthony, there are people taking advantage of the tragedy in Paris who I don't think have any interest in civil liberties. For instance, the director of MI5 said: oh, this shows we need more power – more power to spy on people. So and again MI5 has no great devotion to civil liberties. You were talking about Israel – Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, said: look, this shows why we are right in what we are doing to the Palestinians. And I would say these people are very cynically taking advantage of the situation.

AM: There was a great article – a great opinion piece in the Haaretz two days ago completely taking down Benjamin Netanyahu for the cynical manipulation of what happened in Paris and pretending that somehow what has happened in Paris is a result of some sort of widespread antisemitism because Israel is the good guy and they're surrounded just by people who hate them.

I mean, as abhorrent as the Paris attack was on Wednesday the two guys that carried it out pale in significance and into obscurity compared against the state terrorism of Bibi Netanyahu. Bibi Netanyahu - on his direction - massacred numerous thousands of innocent civilians in Gaza last Summer. And we stood in the streets protesting against it just as we've stood in the streets protesting against what happened in Paris and it seems to me it's an absolute disgrace that this man would try and exploit this issue but I expected and it's also - even before the event in Paris - we have seen Benjamin Netanyahu do his utmost to try and prevent the Palestinian Authority joining the International Criminal Court so that the Israeli Defence Forces cannot be taken to that court and tried for war crimes – war crimes which they undisputedly are responsible for carrying out.

JM: Yeah and Anthony also, this magazine – which to me from an American point of view - it's a cross between Mad magazine and Screw magazine by Al Goldstein – I mean they do go over the top. But they've been sued by the Catholic Church over thirteen times for the cartoons that they've ridiculed the Catholic Church, the Jewish religion, Islam. I mean they seem to be an equal opportunity offender. And that was part of the tradition that's going on in France.

Now you would think if you had a political agenda - France is part of the bombing coalition that's going on now in Syria and Iraq - that you might want to pick a military target. But this was so specifically designed - from my point of view - a religious point of view – they went there and what they said when they went in about to “avenge the prophet Muhammed” – with so much going on that you're going to go after some guy sitting with his pen in the middle of Paris drawing something as compared to the drone attacks, as compared to the bombings that are going on - it's mind-boggling what religion can do to your mind.

AM: Well, if we think back to the 2004 – 2003 killing of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam. His killer made it clear after he was arrested that it wasn't because Theo van Gogh was slagging them with terms like “goatfucker” or maligning them when he was on television shows or doing radio interviews. He said they decapitated him - they murdered him because he was a free speech advocate. And it seems that the Al Qaeda in Yemen has released a statement through a magazine that I was reading this morning on the internet before I attended the vigil in Dublin and it had said that it's totally opposed to free speech and journalists – that it has a contempt for free speech.

As A.C. Grayling said: this is what religion will do - Anthony Grayling the British philosopher said that religion will censor you at the first opportunity. And it's not on its own! The political class will censor you at the first opportunity. In the North of Ireland at the moment they do not want the Libel Reform Law brought in from Britain. And the reason they don't want it in is because it protects the censor. It allows people to suppress. It allows the rich and the powerful to sue for libel against those who may call them to account.

SB: Anthony, there seems to be no end to what can be done in the name of religion. I mean in Israel, Baruch Goldstein killed twenty-six Palestinians in the name of Judaism. And right now we have in Burma we have Buddhists attacking Muslims in the name of Buddhism and we could go on and on of course – what happens in the name of religion.

AM: Well there's an old maxim which I hold to: You know God's on your side when He hates the same people you do.

JM: Well Anthony, we thank you for coming on but one final question: have you gotten any reaction yet to the putting up of the cartoons – and like I said I want to thank you for putting up Brian Mór cartoons that's skewering former Republicans on your website - but have you gotten any reaction?

AM: No, we haven't – now I've been away all day and I don't know if there's anything late today - but we have not gotten any reaction that I'm aware of unlike the last time.
I mean what I did get was I got an email from a former Sinn Féin member saying to me it's very funny that Ireland is now for free speech when they hung you out to dry and pummeled you eight years ago when you were involved, along with your wife, in promoting the anti-theocratic cartoons that came out of Denmark. And now all of a sudden it seems that you were doing the right thing when then you were a pariah for doing it.

So, I mean this time the hostility will be less. I have no doubt that there will be people who will be angry and will simply try and accuse me of being a racist and all the usual nonsense because they do not have a free speech perspective. They believe in the philosophy of Conor Cruise O'Brien - to suppress and censor anything that you disagree with – anything that you find politically, intellectually or ideologically unpalatable.

Well, The Pensive Quill is going to make a stand here – it's not going to sit down. It is going to make a stand on behalf of free speech. It's minimal what we can do. We are not in a position where we have the power to stop the type of thing that's gone on in Paris or to stop the censors but we are certainly going to bear witness.

SB: Anthony, thank you very much. We've been talking to Anthony McIntyre who blogs at The Pensive Quill and Anthony I'm sure we'll have you here again in the very near future.