Secular Right | Reality & Reason



Blasphemy Laws by the Back Door

To describe public burnings of the Koran as uncivil behavior is an understatement, but this piece of news doesn’t say much for the state of free speech in Britain:

Six people have been arrested on suspicion of inciting racial hatred after videos emerged on the internet apparently showing copies of the Koran being burned.

Officers detained two men on September 15 and four more yesterday and all six were bailed pending further inquiries, Northumbria Police said. ‘’The arrests followed the burning of what are believed to have been two Korans in Gateshead on September 11,’’ the spokesman said.”The incident was recorded and a video placed on the internet.’’ In a video still accessible on YouTube, six young men in hooded tops or wearing scarves over their faces can be seen pouring petrol on a book and setting it alight, before burning another. On the video, which appeared to have been filmed behind a pub, they cheer as the first book bursts into flames.

Northumbria Police said the men were not arrested for watching or distributing the video, but on suspicion of burning the Koran.

The actual facts of this particular case (at least as reported) are interesting. The burning appears to have been designed not as some sort of live spectacle, but rather as something to be put out onto the Internet later (the perpetrators are wearing masks, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that they were planning to circulate the footage), but “distributing” the video does not seem to have been what it was that brought the wrath of the law down upon their heads. Rather (and, again, if this has been correctly reported) it was the burning of the Koran itself.

(Cross-posted over at the Corner)

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  • Bob Smith · September 24, 2010 at 6:00 am

    I note they don’t bother mentioning what alleged crime they were arrested for. This smacks of an intimidation effort more than anything else.

    The craven dhimmitude of the public officials involved is in your face, however. “Community relations” are the code words dhimmi populations in Muslim countries, subject as they are to summary beatings, rape, and murder at the pleasure of their Muslim overlords, always use when trying to forestall violence against themselves.

  • Panglos · September 24, 2010 at 9:23 am

    The suspects should have burned King James Bibles – they might have gotten an advance from Hollywood as a new sitcom or reality show

  • Ibn Sina · September 24, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Such back doors are frankly unnecessary in a society that fails to guarantee basic freedoms. You might call the back door approach a courtesy. There’s no reason that blasphemy laws couldn’t be declared by fiat overnight in the UK, from a legal perspective.

    The “unwritten constitution” affords you nowhere near the protection that an actual document does (admittedly, a real constitution isn’t a complete guarantee either. Before the dogma of National Security, no right is inviolate. But American conservatives are curiously supine and AWOL on this matter of late.). Ultimately your only protection in the UK is the Magna Carta, the 1998 law, and European Union treaties. Thin soup.

    This is a good example of why American exceptionalism is not only justified, but necessary.

  • Ibn Sina · September 24, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Panglos, your affected sense of persecution and victimhood is well-honed. But there’s a grand tradition of burning Bibles in Christianity. I invite you to research the fate of John Wycliffe’s followers in the 14th century. Also, in the 16th century, Mary Tudor went on a bit of a burning spree herself.

    Of course, in those days they burned both Bibles and Christians alike. “They” being other Christians, I mean.

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 24, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    the laws in england were only abolished 2 years ago anyhow

  • Polichinello · September 24, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Panglos, your affected sense of persecution and victimhood is well-honed. But there’s a grand tradition of burning Bibles in Christianity.

    That’s a non-sequitur. Panglos’ point was that an equivalent act directed against Christianity would have been met with a yawn. That you can find examples of Christians burning what they felt were erroneous of unauthorized versions of their own holy book says nothing about the current state of things, where Islam has become something of a state-protected religion in the West, either officially as we see in Britain, or unofficially here in the U.S., where it seemed every high level official felt it a duty to badger some storefront preacher over his publicity stunt.

  • Polichinello · September 24, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Morally, it makes no difference, but, technically, Mary Tudor and Wycliffe’s opponents didn’t think they were burning the Bible, but an erroneous impostor.

    As I’m sure you’re aware, no language maps perfectly onto another, so this can lead to serious disputes over differences (let us not get into the problems of getting the right manuscript!). So, when John the Baptist called on people to metanoiete, was he saying resipiscite, or repent, or poenitentiam agite, perform penance, as Jerome translated it. This would make a world of difference in the centuries to come, even igniting wars.

    In this case, we’re not dealing with what’s thought to be an erroneous work. No one doubts the authority of the Qurans in question. It’s meant to be a refutation of the religion as a whole. Had someone pulled the same stunt with the KJV Bible, it would have been seen in the same light.

  • ajh · September 26, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    They should have burned copies of The Satanic Verses instead.

  • Nikolai · September 26, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    I don’t know; where do you draw the line? In America there are idiots from some goofball fundamentalist church who protest soldiers funerals with signs saying the soldier deserved to die because of the military’s “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. Personally I’d like to see them all kicked hard, right in the ass, but not arrested. Unfortunately though, If I kicked any of them in the ass, I would be the one arrested.



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