Koran burning in the UK

News has emerged that six young men in Gateshead in the north-east of England have been arrested for burning a Koran and posting the video on YouTube.

A couple of weeks ago, a Times reporter asked me if Pastor Terry Jones, who at the time was creating a stir with threats he would burn a Koran, would be arrested if he did so in the UK. I told them it was unlikely, unless he had gone out of his way to do so in front of a mosque on Friday, or in a location with a lot of Muslims around, in which case the Public Order Act could be brought into play, and/or the Incitement to Racial and Religious Hatred Act.

I was half right. The Gateshead men, apparently English Defence League supporters, were arrested on suspicion of inciting racial hatred. Not religious hatred.

Legally speaking, it is at least technically possible to arrest someone of incitement to religious hatred. So why did the police not use this power in a case where the target was a religious text?

Back in 2005, when the Incitement to Racial and Religious Hatred Bill was being debated, secularists campaigning against the bill (of whom I was one — I was working at New Humanist magazine at the time) worked to make the bill pretty much unworkable in practice. Consequently, Section 29j of the Act states:

Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.

We were quite pleased with this. And possibly right to be, as there have been very few actions under this legislation since it was introduced in 2006.

So are the police not even using this legislation? Were the Gateshead arrests made under the guise of racial hatred because they felt more likely to secure a conviction?

A source tells me the police are claiming that the burning of the Koran itself is the crux of the arrest: not the posting on YouTube. But I cannot imagine how the burning of a book, no matter how precious that book is to some people, is a crime in and of itself. And I certainly don’t understand how it’s a race crime.

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  1. Posted 23Sep10 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I like Dave Osler’s formulation:

    But Dove World Outreach Centre do not exercise state power. For much the same reasons as al Muhajiroon should not be banned from demonstrating at the funeral processions of squaddies and the English Defence League should not be banned from the streets of British cities, the lesser evil is to tolerate its cretinous intolerance.

    I would love to hear the police chief in question (Tyneside?) walk us through the process that led to this arrest. Was it in result of a complaint? By whom?

    It never ceases to amaze me how often the authorities ‘take the bait’ presented to them by groups like Islam4UK and the EDL. Stronger, more confident and reasoned leadership is required.

  2. Posted 23Sep10 at 4:05 pm | Permalink
    oscar carballo

    “But I cannot imagine how the burning of a book, no matter how precious that book is to some people, is a crime in and of itself. And I certainly don’t understand how it’s a race crime.”

    I also do not see it as a racial crime, unless this could have provoked attacks against a specific racial group of the nation, which is linked in this case to a certain religion. On the other hand, this can be seen easily as a crime by the adherents or believers of this book, because it is not a novel, essay or any other secular text for them.Good day.

  3. Posted 24Sep10 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    The crime is that in the name of “tolerance” this country has been turned into such a nasty little authoritarian place where you can be arrested for burning your own property. It is a disgrace that the police have taken this action, but it’s hardly the first such step. Arresting street preachers, taking down MoToons from office walls, demanding, as one cop did to me – Manchester’s head of ‘Diversity Command’ – that I “rethink the way I thought”.. none of this has any place in a free society. A scoeity where this happens *isn’t* a free society. People – muslims, homosexuals, PCers – just need to get used to the idea of being offended. The police need to get used to the idea that they are NOT the bloody law.And our legislators need to be kicked long and hard in the backsides, and told that liberty is a pretty fragile flower, and continually dumping this volume of repressive legislation on her is going to doom the entire nation.

    Seriously, arrested for burning a book – in *England*? How did it come to this?

  4. Posted 24Sep10 at 10:26 am | Permalink
    Salil Tripathi

    When some Bangladeshis threatened to burn “Brick Lane”, Monica Ali’s novel, I had gone to Brick Lane to see the demonstrations. I spoke to the police officers on duty, who told me burning a book is not a crime. Indeed, I don’t think anyone was charged with burning “The Satanic Verses” in 1989 in Bradford and elsewhere. So these arrests, per se, are unique. As well as the choice of “racial hatred”, since you’d find Muslims in all races. It would be good to figure out the thinking that went through within the police hierarchy.

  5. Posted 24Sep10 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Finding this story interesting when I read the first reports I searched the major digital news outlets for information and to my surprise found very little. In fact I don’t think the BBC reported this story at all.

    So I went to the Guardian thinking there would be a good comments section devoted to this as the issue raises so many questions. Nope. So in my frustration I posted a fairly innocuous post on an unrelated thread:

    ‘I am slightly confused as to why there is no article with comments on the burning of the Koran story?

    Is this censorship or am I perculiar for finding this bit of news interesting? Since when has burning a book been an arrestable offence in this country?’

    In the morning I checked the thread and the post had received 17 recommendations. It was the second most recommended post on the thread. By lunchtime the post had disappeared completely – not even a marker of ‘This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.’ remained.

  6. Posted 25Sep10 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Two issues here.

    1. People have been arrested for burning a book (their own property). When was the last time that happened in the UK? Has it ever happened? Is this not news?

    2. The Government have ordered all major news organisations not to report the story and actively kill any interest in it. These news organisations and journalists and editors have complied without so much as a whimper. In the case of the Guardian they have engaged in what can only be described as active censorship. What happened to the fourth estate, the free press, freedom of speech? It appears that these things are not important anymore. It appears news organisations in the UK have no backbone.

  7. Posted 12Oct10 at 3:55 am | Permalink
    Darren Jackson

    I have attempted to watch the video again on YouTube and it has now been censored under “technical difficulties”.
    I am in Australia I have friends in the UK who have not been able to view the video after I sent it to them via YT.
    The UK is a joke, no, I take that back, its not funny. How has it come to this?