Why burning a Koran may become your civic duty

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.

7 Responses to “Why burning a Koran may become your civic duty”

  1. […] MediaWatchWatch is completely accurate on this issue: As the video clearly demonstrates, these men are idiots. They are EDL supporters, and racists to boot. But what they did is not – cannot be – illegal. […]

  2. […] Freethinker, MediaWatchWatch and P Z Myers have all commented on this incident and all note the absurdness of charging the men […]

  3. Roger Pearse says:

    Your thought and mind. Book burning is awful as a general rule, but not the issue here. The issue is when burning your own Koran became a crime. Last Thursday, I guess. I never knew it was before. It probably wasn’t, until some unnamed informer squeaked to the police, and some unnamed copper decided to lock ’em up for Wrong Thinking.

    In this situation it might be our civic duty to make the protest. The issue is freedom of speech in our society. But do we dare?

    The eChurch blog has been collecting here links to the few people with the guts to comment, which includes you and me.

    The law under which they are charged is plainly an “enabling act”, of the kind used in totalitarian states. In a free country everyone knows the law and everything is legal unless explicitly illegal. In an unfree country everyone knows everything is illegal unless explicitly legal, and even then the police can pick you up and charge you under some general law. This seems to be what is happening here. Inciting violence should be a crime. But inciting emotions? How is that different, in practical terms, from “anyone who encourages people to disagree with my political programme can be locked up”?

  4. Newspaniard says:

    In the same vein, on the Freethinker site, someone pointed out that the Taliban had torched over 1,000 schools. As they were all Muslim schools they probably had loads of Korans for study purposes, say for argument’s sake, an average of 50 of these death cultist publications per school. This would mean that the Taliban had deliberately burned 50,000 copies. Where are the howls of protest against the Taliban? Where are the Taliban being burned in effigy? Is it only if an infidel burns this dreadful book that protests and arrests are made?

  5. barriejohn says:

    The best comment I’ve read on the subject!

  6. Epic Stache says:

    September 11, 2011 is Worldwide Burn a Koran Day.

    On this day people throughout the world will burn Korans.

    Until then, people worldwide will plan to burn Korans,
    they will publicize their intent to burn Korans,
    they will encourage others to burn Korans, and
    they will defend the right of all people to burn Korans.

    Happy Worldwide Burn a Koran Day!

  7. keddaw says:

    Unfortunately, in the UK, people believing the nonsense teachings of a tax-free institute are considered a protected minority along with people of one race, gender or disability. But that only applies if your cult is large enough to garner tax-exempt status, you have no protection if you’re a Jedi, which is not considered a religion.

    Burning books, like using certain words, only has power if we allow it to have power. The constant burning of books (or use of words) will water down the power so much that it will mean nothing.

    Burning books represents destroying the ideas contained within, which is what makes it such an emotive practice, but it is actually only a problem, historically, because people would burn other people’s books, or public books – and books were relatively rare. Nowadays anyone making room on their Kindle is effectively burning a book, but no-one cares.