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Hassan Faramarz, Dermot Hayes, and Kevin Quinlan, launching their Je Suis Charlie tee shirt campaign in Ennis. Photograph by John Kelly.

Protecting freedom of speech

AN Iranian author whose family fled from persecution before settling in Ennis seven years ago, will be giving away ‘Je Suis Charlie’ t-shirts near the O’Connell Monument from 12 to 1pm this Saturday.

The move is in response to the heinous murders of the staff of Charlie Hebdo magazine and their police protectors in Paris on January 7.

Friends Hassan Faramarz and Kevin Quinlan, who are passionate in their desire to protect freedom of speech, which they believe is under threat, had hoped to sell the t-shirts cheaply to recover their costs but, without a licence, they have decided to give them away and to hope for donations.

The friends will, “make a little bit of noise, hang around and make fools of ourselves”, while waving a larger than life pen inscribed with the words, ‘Ink not Blood’, said Kevin.

For both men though, this is a deadly serious matter.

“I come from Iran and I have already lost a country. I feel a similar thing happening here and I cannot afford to lose another country,” Hassan said.
“What happened in Iran, although there are many complex reasons, was that freedom of speech was massively suppressed by the government – basically for ever.

“In the absence of freedom of speech, some radical religious leaders came along and began surfing on the wave which was already there. People were going for more political freedom during the 1979 revolution, but Khomeini came along and, in the absence of freedom of speech – because there were no major parties to discuss everything rationally – the society was somehow drawn into an ideological belief system and nobody dared to analyse it or to criticise it.”

Born in 1969, Hassan was 10-years-old when the autocratic monarchy of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi was ousted by a broad coalition of opposition forces, including Marxists and constitutional liberals. The opposition ultimately became dominated by the mullahs of the country’s Shia hierarchy, ushering in Ayatollah Khomeini and his Revolutionary Guard.

Following the murders in Paris, which he says were based on the ideology of “whoever says something I don’t like, I will kill that person” , Hassan was surprised by the reaction of the media here.

“That ideology is dangerous and, unfortunately in Ireland, the media decided to ignore what happened in France by not covering it and not reprinting the cover photo of Charlie Hebdo magazine.

“I had the feeling that somehow the media and society is already threatened or afraid of speaking freely,” he claimed.

“As a foreigner, who has been living in Ireland for about seven years and is now an Irish citizen, I have a different observation of the society in which you grew up. My observation tells me that there is a fear here and the media don’t dare to criticise ideologies, simply because they are afraid that some people would be offended, and this offence has become a shelter behind which radical people are hiding and attacking freedom of speech in general.

“We are responsible. We have to act and to show that we value the rights we have gained in Europe. The fact that we express our views in Europe and we don’t get attacked – Jesus is mocked, Moses is mocked and the Pope is mocked – magazines don’t get attacked. But in certain religions, such as Islam in this case, magazines get attacked.

“To fix this problem, we have to admit that there is fear and there is a problem. We have to raise awareness that freedom of speech, if it is gone, it is gone. If we don’t defend it today then our children will have to fight for it. I already had this experience in Iran and I’m sharing my experience with you here. If you don’t take action, tomorrow may be too late,” warned Hassan, who fled persecution in Iran with his family and later wrote of his experiences in The Flagless Ones.

He is now completing a Masters in Peace Studies and Development in UL

Kevin Quinlan has called on Muslim religious leaders in Ireland to speak out publicly against the recent atrocities and to embrace the spirit of inclusion and understanding.

“In my opinion, such atrocities that we are witnessing here in the west, most recently in France, Australia, and Canada, confound any understanding of peaceful Islam.

“I would invite you to please speak out publicly about these atrocities and, thereby, to continue to embrace the spirit of inclusion and understanding,” he said.

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