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Friday, January 16, 2015

The Pen Is Sill Mightier Than Any Sword

Last Wednesday’s murderous attack at the Paris office of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo was the work of those who believe that cartoons can be so obnoxious that they justified the slaughter of 17 people, 12 at the magazine itself.
It is clear from the carnage that the perpetrators hoped to silence those responsible for the cartoons that gave offence to millions of Muslims worldwide.
Other critics of extreme Islamism have met the same fate. In November, 2004, the Dutch film maker Theodoor van Gogh was murdered for producing a short film which criticised the treatment of women in Muslim countries.

A year later, cartoons in a Danish newspaper depicting the Prophet Mohammed led to worldwide violent protests, resulting in more than 200 reported deaths, attacks on Danish and other European diplomatic missions and on churches and Christians.
This was not the first assault on Charlie Hebdo. In 2011, the magazine was renamed ‘Charia Hebdo’ for an issue that invited the Prophet Mohammed to be guest editor. Its cover included an image of the prophet with the headline: ‘A thousand lashes if you don’t die laughing.’
Fanatical Islamists did not get the joke and fire-bombed the magazine’s offices. Yet the perpetrators failed to terrify the journalists into submission and the magazine barely skipped a beat, publishing the following week.

This time round, they employed the ‘final solution’ by murdering as many as they could in the hope that extreme violence and terror would prevail.
They have, once again, failed miserably.

Not only is Charlie Hebdo alive and well but the murders have secured its future. It has now been transformed from an obscure magazine — largely unknown even in France — to a worldwide phenomenon ‘liked’ by tens of millions online on social media.
The magazine’s distributors initially planned to print 1m copies of the latest issue put together by survivors of last week’s shootings but said demand from France and abroad forced them to increase that up to fivefold.
The original paper printed 60,000 copies a week, selling 30,000, with the rest left for free in cafes, bars and restaurants around Paris. The latest edition of the journal had a print run of three million.
Yesterday, the paper’s distributors said they would print an extra two million copies of its latest edition to meet demand, after three million copies sold out in France at breakfast time.

You can multiply that by 10 or more, if you take the online interest into account. That’s at least 50m people directly supporting a bunch of obscure journalists bent on exhibiting a peculiar form of Gallic provocation.
It’s as if a scarcely browsed college magazine had suddenly become The New York Times.
The pen has proved mightier than the sword — even the sword of Islam.
The killers have failed doubly. Those who led the murderous crusade against the cartoonists planned to sacrifice themselves and to become martyrs for the Islamist cause. In fact, they have made Christian martyrs out of the journalists they killed.

In cities across Europe and around the world, marchers have taken to the streets to support freedom of speech and to offer condolences to the people of France.
Last weekend in Paris, more than one million people, including 40 world leaders, marched in solidarity and sadness, denouncing the violence, and proclaiming “Je suis Charlie!” and “We are not afraid!”
The reaction to the murders has been the same in many other places. From Boston to Brussels, Dublin to Dresden, tens of thousands gathered in support of Charlie Hebdo.
The sub-text to that is a declaration in favour of freedom of speech, a concept dear to Western hearts but alien to many Muslims.

Salman Rushdie, who is on the al-Qaeda hit list and received death threats over his novel The Satanic Verses, expressed his support for Charlie Hebdo. He told the Guardian newspaper: “I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity.”

He may be overstating things a bit. Satire is equally capable of being alienating and infantile.
In any event, freedom of expression is not an untrammelled right, even in the West. It is tempered by laws, convention, commercial interests, reasons of taste and a desire not to cause unnecessary offence.
Censorship is a part of daily life in many parts of the democratic world. On Monday, two political leaders were photo-shopped out of an image of world leaders showing solidarity in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks.

The conservative Israeli daily newspaper HaMevaser, (The Announcer) ran a front-page image of Sunday’s rally in Paris — minus German chancellor Angela Merkel and Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo.
In the original photo, Merkel was positioned between French president François Hollande and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. But in the printed version, the chancellor was wiped from the record.
Censorship is also part of the criminal law in many jurisdictions. In Ireland, blasphemy and incitement to hatred are unlawful while in Germany overt Holocaust denial can land you in jail.
Censorship has also been employed as a political tool, most notably in Ireland under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act (since repealed) that forbade radio and TV stations from giving voice to — among many others — Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.

The media also exercises restraint and newspapers do not publish everything simply because they can. Good taste, sensitivity and the desire not to be gratuitously offensive all come into play in editorial decision making.

Yet, it is incumbent on us all to defend the right to be obnoxious, even while we may disagree fundamentally with the views expressed.
For historical evidence of that, you need look no further than France itself. The novelist Francois-Marie Aroet — known by his nom de plume Voltaire — was a satirical polemicist famous for his attacks on the Catholic Church and the French establishment.

He was a cartoonist with words and he is remembered and revered not only for his plays, poems, letters and essays but for his wit and his advocacy of freedom of expression.
He knew the dangers of satire, once writing: “Qui plume a, guerre a” — ‘to hold a pen is to be at war’. Yet, he persisted, risking persecution, prison or worse because of his beliefs.
His biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall captured his philosophy best, giving voice to it in this way: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” — a quotation sometimes mistakenly attributed to Voltaire himself.

He was funny and satirical to the end. On his death-bed a priest at his side asked him to renounce Satan. Acutely aware that the end was nigh, Voltaire responded: “Now is not the time for making new enemies.”

Dan Buckley

Photo Minute: Nature Is Best (press on photo for best results)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Analysis: Ambitious deadline for mother and baby inquiry

Coalition anxious to avoid repeat of decade-long inquiry into industrial schools 

Paul Redmond, spokesman for the Coalition of Mother and Baby Homes Survivors and David Kinsella who grew up in St Patrick’s, at the publication of the terms of reference for the mother and baby homes inquiry. Photograph: Collins

Three years may sound like a long time. But the 36-month deadline for a statutory inquiry into the operation of mother- and-baby homes is likely to be highly ambitious, given the scale of work involved.
The new commission of inquiry isn’t just examining mother-and-baby homes. It will also seek to investigate the complex strands of this dark chapter of Irish life, such as the pathways into these homes from other institutions, living conditions, care arrangements, infant mortality, burial arrangements, vaccine trials, illegal adoptions and social attitudes.
A thorough investigation into even one of these issues is a daunting task.
Take adoption. The inquiry will need to establish the extent to which children’s welfare and best interests were considered in making arrangements for thousands of adoptions in Ireland and abroad; the extent of mothers’ participation in these decisions; and whether children’s parentage was concealed illegally.

Huge numbers

The numbers involved are considerable. It’s estimated that at least 35,000 unmarried mothers spent time in the 14 homes run by religious orders in Ireland during the period.
As for burials, we know that at least 800 infants died at Tuam, Co Galway. But other homes, such as Castlepollard in Co Westmeath, are estimated to hold the remains of up to 3,200 babies.
In the area of vaccine trials, fresh data suggest that at least 3,000 children in 24 residential institutions and up to 40,000 children among the general child population were administered experimental vaccines.
In drawing up the terms of reference for the inquiry, the Government faced a delicate balancing act: ensuring an effective and comprehensive investigation into this dark chapter of Irish social history, but doing so in a timely and cost-effective manner.
The Government is all too well aware of how statutory inquiries have a tendency to expand into ever more complex territory.
The statutory inquiry into the mistreatment of children in reformatories and industrial schools, established in 1999, took much longer and costed far more than anyone ever anticipated.
It was a decade before the inquiry’s Ryan report eventually emerged.

Commission of inquiry

This time, however, there are crucial differences. For one, the inquiry is a commission of inquiry, a form of State investigation that offers a speedier and less costly alternative to a tribunal of inquiry.
In addition, there has been an extensive scoping exercise by Minister for Children Dr James Reilly and his officials to map out relevant issues in advance of setting the terms of reference.
And crucially, the inquiry is to be chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy, who has valuable experience in steering a thorough, focused and much- lauded inquiry into sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin.
Notwithstanding these factors, there may well be unforeseen legal roadblocks. Issues such as the co-operation of witnesses and accessibility of records are likely to emerge.
Ultimately, however, there is no escaping the need for a thorough inquiry, no matter how long or expensive it proves.
We have precious few reliable details on the precise nature of women’s and children’s experiences inside these homes, or the power structures used by society to confine them.
It is only by piecing together the fragments of their experiences that we can begin to develop a full picture of the complexity of forces that existed to punish women who were deemed to have broken the rules of society.
Carl O Brien

Over 1,600 women died in Magdalene laundries

Over 1,600 women died in Magdalene laundries — over double figure cited by McAleese report

Over 1,600 women died in Magdalene laundries — more than double the figure cited by the McAleese report.
The figures, compiled by Justice For Magdalenes Research (JFMR), are included in a scathing dissection of the McAleese report being prepared by the group — a draft section of which has been seen by the Irish Examiner.

In the lengthy critique of the report’s chapter on deaths, the group states it has so far identified a total of 1,663 who died in Magdalene laundries — almost twice the figure of 879 cited in the McAleese Report.

The JFMR study hits out at a number of the McAleese report’s basic findings, including the fact that it did not include the number of women who died before 1922 and those who died in the care of the religious orders after the laundry closed. JFMR says that some 565 women fall into the former bracket and over 220 women fall into the latter bracket.

The group points out that this figure could be larger but because of how the report presents the figures an exact breakdown is not possible.

JFMR says there are a number of factors contributing to the large gap in the figures, namely that the McAleese Report does not offer a breakdown of various burial sites in either public or convent cemeteries.

As the McAleese Report does not offer any breakdown of the number of women who entered each Magdalene Laundry, JFMR say this makes it impossible to calculate what percentage of women died in each institution. Furthermore, the report addresses laundries run by the Sisters of Mercy separately due to incomplete records.

All of the above complications make it impossible to establish the full extent to which deaths are excluded from the report.

The JFMR study said it had submitted a large amount of information gathered as part of its “Magdalene Names Project” which examines various archives and records — including gravestones, electoral registers, exhumation orders and newspaper archives — to the McAleese report but “all of these submissions were ignored”.

Survivor testimony about death and burials in Magdalene laundries was also submitted to the inquiry but was also ignored. JFMR also hit out at the investigation for “completely ignoring” the issue of unmarked mass graves.

Claire McGettrick of JFMR said the report left more questions than answers about women who died in Magdalene laundries and that the upcoming mother and baby Homes inquiry needed to look at the issue.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said the McAleese Committee no longer exists so could not respond and that it could not comment on research it had not seen.

It said the committee took into consideration the JFM research provided at the time of the inquiry.

It said many of the general allegations made by JFM were “not supported by the facts uncovered by the McAleese Committee” and that an analysis of its oral testimony “was not in fact testimony of persons who had been in the institutions or of persons who had direct knowledge of the facts”.
By Conall Ó Fátharta

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Photo Minute: Oughterard and Maam Cross in Galway 1961

Oughterard in 1961

                                           Coming from the mart in Maam Cross 1961

Wahlberg has not reformed: Lawyer

A former prosecutor who secured a civil rights injunction against a young Mark Wahlberg after he hurled rocks and racial slurs at black schoolchildren has said he should not be pardoned for an attack on two Asian men two years later.

Judith Beals, a former Massachusetts assistant attorney general, said she believed in "forgiveness and reconciliation" but Transformers actor Mark's request should be denied because he had not acknowledged the racial element of his crimes in documents he filed with the state last November.

"That acknowledgement of the crime and that facing of history is absolutely critical in the issuing of a pardon," she said.
Mark, who became rapper Marky Mark and then an A-list actor nominated for an Oscar, acknowledged in his pardon application that he was high on marijuana and drugs at the time. He said he had since dedicated himself to becoming a better person as an adult.
"I've been looking for redemption (since) the day I woke up and realised that I done some horrific things and was on a path of self-destruction, as well as causing a lot of people harm," Mark, 43, whose films include Boogie Nights and Lone Survivor, said in a December interview.

"When I decided to go and petition for a pardon, it wasn't based on the things I accomplished in my career. It's been the things I've been able to do in my personal life: giving back to the community and helping kids, especially inner-city kids and at-risk youth and kids growing up in that same situation."

Mark wants to be officially cleared of a 1988 incident in which he hit a Vietnamese man on the head with a wooden stick while trying to steal drink from a convenience store. Wahlberg, then 16, punched another Vietnamese man in the face while trying to avoid police.
He ended up being convicted as an adult of assault and other charges and was sentenced to three months in jail. He was released after about 45 days.

Judith said what made Mark's 1988 crimes unique was that, just two years earlier, he had been issued a court order triggering criminal charges in the event he committed another hate crime.

According to court filings in that 1986 case, which Ms Beals prosecuted, Wahlberg and two white friends chased three black siblings in Boston's Dorchester neighbourhood, throwing rocks and yelling racial epithets.
The following day Mark and a larger group of white friends harassed a group of mostly black children until an ambulance driver intervened.
Judith argued that Mark's status and wealth should not place him in a better position than others to erase his misdeeds. She also suggested hate crimes should be held to a higher standard.

Meanwhile Mark's film Transformers: Age Of Extinction is heading the nominations at this year's Golden Raspberry Awards, known as the Razzies.
The action sequel led all films with seven nominations, including worst picture, worst sequel, worst screenplay and worst screen combo.

Transformers is also up for worst director for Michael Bay, worst supporting actress for Nicola Peltz, and worst supporting actor for Kelsey Grammer, who was also recognised for his supporting parts in The Expendables 3, Legends Of Oz and Think Like A Man Too.
This year's other worst picture nominees are Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas, Left Behind, The Legend Of Hercules and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The Razzies, launched in 1980 as a spoof of Hollywood's awards season, has also added a new category this year called the redeemer award that lauds past honourees.

Press Association