Emer Costello, Gay Mitchell, Paul Murphy, Liam Aylward, Nessa Childers, Mairead McGuinness, Brian Crowley, Seán Kelly, Phil Prendergast, Pat the Cope Gallagher, Marian Harkin, Jim Higgins - their profiles can be found here
I write to you today as a very concerned citizen of the European Union. You probably have heard of a lady called Catherine Ashton – she’s the European Union’s Foreign Affairs minister. A few weeks back she issued a joint statement with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Arab League, on the “importance of respecting all prophets”. The joint statement came about due to the violent reactions caused by the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’. I, like many others, worry greatly that the statement included only a passing reference to freedom of expression and that its main focus was on the point that we should be expressing respect for all religions and all prophets. I wish to briefly highlight some very worrying points which I hope as a Member of the European Parliament you can bring to Ms. Ashton’s attention and help persuade her to think otherwise for the sake of the freedom of expression, speech and thought for Europe’s citizens.
My first concern is regarding one of the organisations she issued the joint statement with – the OIC. This is an organisation that has, along with others, been attempting to introduce an amendment to the UN charter that would make defamation of religion a crime. If they succeed (which thankfully at this moment in time they have not) they would be criminalising my right as a European Citizen to question anything to do with religion. Why does Ms. Ashton wish to associate Europe with this organisation? Now please, do not misunderstand me – I am all for respecting the beliefs of people that are religious; but why then are my beliefs as an atheist being targeted? Why are my rights to question the messages, rules and contradictions in the teachings of ‘prophets’ being eroded? The old saying ‘history repeats itself’ is never more accurate than it is now and I will use the example of the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages to highlight the importance of freedom of thought when it comes to religion.
I ask you, where would women be if no one was ever allowed question the religion taught by the Roman Catholic Church? Take the views of one of the Church’s most revered saints:
"The woman is subject to man on account of the weakness of her nature . . . Man is the beginning of woman and her end, just as God is the beginning and end of every creature. Children ought to love their Father more than they love their mother." – Thomas Aquinas
Do we still respect this view? I should hope no one does.
Would we still have to respect this view if we were not allowed question, challenge and criticise the Catholic religion? I imagine the answer to be “yes”.
Another of the Church’s fanstastic modern views relates to homosexuality.
They are of the view that homosexual acts are contrary to the natural law. The church believes these acts close the sexual act to the gift of life; that they do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
Do we as citizens of the European Union respect this stance of the Catholic religion?
Again I should hope not. But if Ms. Ashton’s statement is allowed to stand, our ability to question archaic beliefs like the two examples I’ve given becomes all the more difficult. Where would we be as a society if we were never allowed question the Church’s belief that the Earth was the center of the Universe and that the sun orbited around us?
Where would we be as a race of people if we never questioned anything that the Roman Catholic Church deemed to be blasphemous?
It is only by questioning the religious that we the people help to make it freer. By challenging Saudi Arabia this summer, the Olympic Council persuaded them to allow women to participate in the games. If Europe aligns itself with an organisation such as the OIC it is entering dangerous territory. Should they ever get their defamation of religion law passed, it means we lose our right to question their interpretation of their prophets’ teachings. Look at Malala Yousafzai, this week shot by extremists because she wishes to be educated. We lose the right to question the extremist’s motives if we respect their interpretation of their prophets’ teachings. They are after all merely carrying out their interpretation of Islam and punishing those who counter the teachings of their prophet.
My second concern is that by issuing statements with the aforementioned organisations, Europe gives increasing credence to some of these Islamic states and their use of the blasphemy laws currently on their statute books. Here are five examples that Atheist Ireland’s Michael Nugent gave when writing on his blog:
· In Indonesia, Alexander Aan, a 31-year-old atheist civil servant, has been jailed for two and a half years for sharing material on Facebook about the Prophet Mohammad and writing that god does not exist.
· In Pakistan, Asia Noreen Bibi, a 41-year-old Christian mother, has spent three years in prison and faces execution by hanging after a farcical blasphemy conviction. And last year two Pakistani politicians who questioned her sentence were murdered.
· Also in Pakistan, Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian girl, was recently arrested for allegedly burning pages from the Quran. An islamic cleric was later arrested for planting the Quran pages as evidence.
· In Saudi Arabia, Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old Muslim poet, has been jailed for blasphemy for publishing tweets saying that he would shake Muhammad’s hand as an equal if he met him.
· And in Iran, Youcef Nadarkhani, a 35-year-old Christian Pastor, has just recently been released after spending nearly three years in prison facing execution on charges of apostasy and evangelising Muslims.
The European Union’s focus should be on getting these people released from prison and forcing these countries to repeal their ridiculous blasphemy laws. I say again that by aligning ourselves with oppressive organisations, it makes it very difficult to speak out against their crimes when Europe is a partner in their statements on what they interpret to be crimes against their beliefs.
Lastly, I ask where is Catherine Ashton’s voice, or indeed any high-ranking EU politician’s voice, condemning the following hate speech coming from the institution of the Roman Catholic Church? Again I quote from Michael Nugent’s blog because he puts it far more succinctly than I could hope to:
“Pope Benedict recently said that to truly live up to our being we must recognise that we are dependent on God. And Pope John Paul II said that a culture which rejects God cannot be considered fully human; that spiritual values are ultimately what make us fully human; and that Jesus came to teach us what it means to be fully human.
This dangerous arrogance is spread by Cardinals and Bishops and theologians. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor has said that atheists are not fully human because we leave out the search for transcendent meaning that he calls God. Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo has said that we will be fully human when we see the shining face of God. Cardinal Paul Poupard has said that there does not exist a fully human culture that is not open to the dimension of faith;. Bishop Patrick O’Donogue has said that the fundamental needs of the human person can only be truly fulfilled through encounter with the deepest truths about God and the human person.
More disturbingly, this dangerous arrogance is embedded in the principles of Catholic education of children. The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario says its Fully Alive program was created to help Catholic parents teach their children to be fully human. An Archdiocesan Board of Education in Iowa says that a Catholic school’s program must concern itself with the whole child in development that is fully human and thoroughly Catholic. Roncalli Catholic High School in Nebraska says its students become more fully human by becoming more deeply aware of God, self and others. Pope John Paul II Catholic School in Chicago says that it fulfills a person’s right to be fully human. Holy Cross Catholic College in Bury says a Catholic College strives to be fully human. These are only some examples.”
This is a far more serious matter than people wish to acknowledge. In Europe’s recent history, can you remember back to the teachings of a particular political party telling its citizens that a certain part of society were less than human? What were the consequences of those teachings? What was Europe built for if not to counteract intolerance and bullcrap like that?
Words have massive influence on people’s thoughts and it is for this reason that I await Catherine Ashton’s joint declaration with leading secularists, atheists social and religious leaders on the need to respect all people from the threat of religious institutional and interpretive man made intolerance. All people are important and should be respected.
I thank you for taking the time to read this.
I should point out that when I emailed an MEP of whom I am not a constituent, I added the following:
'I write to you today, not as a constituent, but as a......'
And I signed off with my name! Not (me)!
Please feel free to use this letter as a template if you wish to email the MEP's. The more that do, the more they realise this is how we the people feel.