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Niall McCrae: Even the ghastly Stephen Fry is a bedfellow in our defence of freedom


V for Vendetta was a film for its time. A dystopian picture of totalitarianism, which clearly meant right-wing and nasty. After all the lessons of the twentieth century, in the new millennium fascist parties were again rearing their ugly head in the darker corners of society, with nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiment on the rise. In Europe the Enlightenment held firm, but the leader of the so-called free world was George Dubya Bush, who had led Tony Blair astray from his new dawn. So the film reminded its audience of the liberal values we must preserve.

In the film a gay man, played by Stephen Fry, is arrested for possessing a copy of the Koran. This was 2005, when liberal society was at the zenith of multiculturalism. The recent terrorist incidents in New York, Madrid and London were neatly attributed to Western misadventure in Iraq: it was all about oil, silly (how unsatisfactory that argument seems today). Identity politics was ascending to cultural dominance, transforming the old class politics to a montage of minority group interests, packaged in the modern mantra of equality and diversity.

Stephen Fry’s character brought to mind Pastor Niemöller, whose poem was a response to German scholars who failed to oppose the Nazis as they purged one group after another.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

And now they really are coming for Stephen. On an RTE television show, our pompous national treasure told his Irish audience that God is an ‘utter maniac’. Someone complained to the authorities, and the police started their enquiries. As the old thespian sage has blatantly offended the republic’s law, he could have been fined £20,000.  Small fry to him, perhaps, and he will be relieved the Garda has decided not to proceed with a case.

Where would social conservatives stand? Unlike the Left, we prefer to play the ball rather than the man. As a booming largesse of metropolitan elitism, Fry has been a perpetually condescending and lampooning thorn in the side of tradition, patriotism and faith. Yet advocating for him is easy if you believe in the timeless principles of freedom of speech and democracy – you don’t need to be libertarian to cherish these hard-won assets of civilised society. Sadly, respect for the values that underpin Western civilisation is declining, particularly in our universities (at a debate last week, a lecturer brazenly urged us to ‘get rid of democracy’, because ‘the wrong governments get elected’ – before casting her vote on the motion!).

Obviously The Conservative Woman has a political slant, but we frequently defend those who disparage our world view: arch-Remainer Tim Farron, after an unreasonable attack on his faith; feminist Jenni Murray, on being accused of transphobia. A gay man has a right to express his opinion on religion, just as a Christian or Muslim has a right to refer to their beliefs on sexuality. Christians in this country have learned to accept that their creed may be satirised, as in Life of Brian. Yet while they are forgiving, members of the flock have been denounced for following scripture, with some prosecuted for ‘hate crime’. Since Fry was accused of a crime against Christians, we shouldn’t be partisan.

Nonetheless, we can allow ourselves some amusement in this little celebrity problem. Reviews for V for Vendetta made much of the apparent incompatibility of a gay man clutching the book of a religion that is arguably the most homophobic in principles and practice. That he was ‘moved by the poetry’ seemed like a hefty dose of liberal wishful thinking; only the smug intelligentsia can contort themselves in such mental gymnastics and remain standing. But we need Stephen Fry. He is an influential voice for creative and philosophical endeavour, which thrives on freedom.

For a modern European democracy to impose a blasphemy law is regressive, and this must be overturned. Otherwise, what rationale and prospects do we have in containing the onslaught of Muslim demands for Sharia law? I hope that this incident gets more attention, and I suggest that this well-travelled orator spreads his message more widely. Ireland is like a home game. Play some tougher away gigs in Turkey, Indonesia and Iran. For atheists and believers alike can agree on one thing: it is not God who is maniacal, but some of his followers.

(Image: Marco Raaphorst)

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