Burning books is not illegal. Much as it rankles to defend book-burners of any stripe, be they BNP racists, halfwit Christian fundamentalists, or anti-Rushdie rage-boys, the act of converting paper to carbon through combustion – provided the paper is yours and you are not endangering life or property – is harmless.
So when news comes from Gateshead that six men have been arrested after filming themselves burning copies of the Koran, you know that something is seriously wrong.
As the video clearly demonstrates, these men are idiots. They are
probably EDL supporters, and racists to boot. But what they did is not – cannot be – illegal.
They were arrested on suspicion of “inciting racial hatred”. Not only is Islam – represented here by its holy book – not a race, but the only hatred that such an act is likely to incite would be directed at themselves, and would come from a particular kind of Muslim.
The racial and religious hatred law, for all its faults, was not designed to prevent you from committing acts which make other people hate you. Otherwise every homosexual, fornicator, and abortionist would be under arrest for inciting the hatred of some religious loon.
There cannot be a law against burning books. There especially cannot be a law against burning one particular book. If these men are convicted, then such a law is exactly what we will have.
If these men are convicted, the best course of action is a campaign of civil disobedience. Korans must be burned – but not as a protest against Islam, or Islamism, or “Islamisation”. The new wave of Koran burning will be about something much more important than any of those things: the laws of this country, and the defence of freedom of expression.
It is the only time that book-burning is a defensible tactic: to show that it can be done.