A teenage girl has been arrested on suspicion of inciting religious hatred after allegedly burning an English language version of the Koran – and then posting it on Facebook. The 15-year-old, who lives in the Sandwell area of Birmingham, West Mids, was filmed two weeks ago on her school premises burning the Islamic religious book. Police have confirmed the video was reported to the school and has since been removed.
Yes, the girl’s act was graceless, and not to be condoned, but the principle of free speech should not have some sort of opt-out designed to protect religious sensitivities, and the principles of common sense and budgetary restraint should have meant that there were better uses for police time than the arrest of a fifteen year old for an “offense” of this nature.
Doubtless David Cameron will soon speak up to condemn this farce, but until he does there’s always Cranmer:
Contrast the response of the police over this girl’s decision to burn a copy of the Qur’an with their complete indifference to the decision taken by Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art to desecrate the Bible. The response to that ‘exhibit’ was measured, but the offence to many Christians was no less palpable. Yet the state permits freedom of artistic expression, and the Bible is considered fair game. One cannot coerce the non-believer to revere that to which he or she is completely indifferent and, in an increasingly post-Christian and secular context, the Bible is perhaps no different to the Conservative Party’s last manifesto. They vie equally in a public library for the bottom shelf.
But Catherine Heseltine of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee reminds us that the burning of the Qur’an is one of the most offensive acts to Muslims that she could imagine. She said: “The Qur’an is the most sacred thing to over a billion Muslims worldwide. You can see that in the way Muslims treat the Qur’an – washing before touching it and in many Muslim homes you will find it on the top shelf above all other books. We will never destroy the quranic texts. We believe it is the word of God. God’s guidance for us in this life.”
And so in public libraries it must sit on the top shelf. Even though not everyone agrees that it is ‘God’s guidance’ on any matter whatsoever…
[T]here is an emerging state coercion here which is moving perilously close to the need for an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment: not, in any sense, to cause offence to Muslims; but to stick two fingers up to the ubiquitous, illiberal totalitarianism which denies freedom of expression by negating the right to offend against the supposed sensibilities of minorities. The doctrine of the state is compelling respect and enforcing reverence for that which the majority may consider profane. That is not only an offence against democracy: it is an offence against the conscience and a negation of… religious [liberty].
Over to you, prime minister.