I am a firm supporter of freedom of speech and of expression. Debate is essential. Even when a saintly person is being considered for canonisation there is the tradition of ‘the devil’s advocate’ – to give a hearing to the adversarial view. Ideas have to be tested. Even wrong ideas deserve an airing because we can learn from error.
Thus, the brutally slain French schoolteacher, Samuel Paty, was only doing his job when he was imparting a lesson on freedom of speech to his pupils at Conflans St Honorine in the Paris region. And he was doing an important job – 14 and 15 year olds need to learn about freedom of speech, and respect for others’ views, especially in an era when social media so often closes down debate, and drives a prevailing, dominant narrative. (Google and Facebook have been proven to manipulate material to their more left-wing perspective.)
However, part of any lesson on freedom of speech needs to include the premise that there are certain moral, ethical and legal restrictions on free expression. The most famous one is that you do not shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre, when there is no fire. You do not publish a claim that someone is a thief if you do not have full proof. In France, there are restrictions on invasion of privacy. There is broad agreement on the principle that there are certain boundaries.
So I do wonder if there were other ways of teaching about freedom of speech than showing the young adolescents the cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a particularly obscene way? Murder is heinous, and never justifiable: the slaughter at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in 2015 was evil and horrible. Yet, was it wise, prudent, or sensitive of the magazine to republish them again, as they did recently? A ghastly tragedy had occurred: wouldn’t it have been better to mourn the victims with dignity, rather than repeat the provocation?
The aftermath, too, will have a profoundly unsettling and divisive impact on France’s multi-cultural society”
The killing, by an almost unspeakable method of decapitation, of Mr Paty was atrocious; absolutely nothing excuses or mitigates this crime, evidently by a young Chechen Islamist, Abdullah Anzarov, subsequently shot dead by the police. The aftermath, too, will have a profoundly unsettling and divisive impact on France’s multi-cultural society.
Uphold freedom of speech and of expression. But liberty isn’t licence to publish anything. Je ne suis pas Charlie Hebdo.
One of those old-style Hollywood movie stars, Rhonda Fleming [pictured], died last week, aged 97. She sure was ‘old-style’: a committed Republican, a lifetime friend of Ronnie Reagan, and deeply religious. She was also married six times – twice widowed, four times divorced. In Hollywood, even back in the day, being deeply religious and divorced four times was never seen as a contradiction. If a marriage fails, you gotta move on!
Yet Rhonda (born Marilyn Louis) did many charitable deeds, and was pleased to say she never had to remove her clothes to seem alluring. She also made some fine movies, including Gunfight at the OK Corral and Hitchcock’s Spellbound. How nostalgic we are, in the time of Covid-19, for the fine old days of the cinema!
Swede dreams of being at Mass
l It’s sad that people in Ireland cannot go to Mass – in an actual church – for the next six weeks, especially since Ireland has been the only country in Europe where churches have not been open for Mass since mid-September.
Catholic Mass is now more accessible in Lutheran Sweden than it is in what was once Catholic Ireland. In Stockholm, on a recent weekend trip, I visited the beautiful Catholic Church of St Eugenia’s, on the Kungstradgarden [pictured], near the former Royal Gardens, and just a short walk from the harbour. It is identified by a glittering gold cross outside of a terrace of classically designed buildings.
Inside, there was much activity for individuals and families, and during the afternoon, women – mostly young, I noticed – sat in prayer or in reflection.
There seemed to be a special devotion to St Therese of Lisieux, and a focus, too, on St John Newman. There were many candles lit by the side of the altar. There was devotional literature available, and pro-life texts as well.
St Eugenia’s is a Jesuit-run church, and although this building was only open in 1982, it stands on a site occupied by the oldest post-Reformation Catholic church in Scandinavia. Masses are in Swedish, English, Polish and Arabic.
Sweden has the lowest level of religious practice in Europe (according to Pew research) but it still has more Mass attendance than Ireland. What a thought.