The arrest of six men by Gateshead Police for burning a Koran doesn't show the UK in a very favourable light for a number of reasons. The men have it seems been charged with "inciting racial hatred". Given that the only people who could logically have been the target of this book burning are Muslims this charge of inciting racial hatred is a strange one. I'm not the first one to point out that Islam and Muslims are not a racial group.
It seems to me that, unless this particular law is framed in a very loose way, these men will have a clear defence that there is no offence because no race can be identified which is the subject of any act of hatred. This will depend of course on the detail of what was actually said and done in the video.
I have mixed feelings about this whole affair though. Like PZ Myers over at Pharyngula I find myself quite disturbed not only by this ridiculous equating of race and religion but also by the special defence of religious symbols and religious sensitivity. Where I differ from Meyers is that while I think we should have the right of free speech and be able to burn books ( publicly or privately) as we wish that doesn't mean that it is a sensible or rational thing to be doing. Neither does it mean that there won't be consequences.
There are undoubtedly risks to Koran burning given the irrational and often violent reaction of some Muslims to this kind of thing, We have troops in Afghanistan who might be targeted. That for me is the main reason why the actions of these men is reckless.
Interestingly it's not actually the burning of the Koran that is the act that causes all the trouble or which may be prosecutable. Lets say that these men had burned the Koran privately and simply then told everyone about it in a blog post. Would that be inciting racial hatred? What if it turns out that the book which was burnt was not actually the Koran but some other book given a false cover to make it look like the Koran?
If it is only the actual Koran that when burnt gives rise to the offence of inciting racial hatred then are Gateshead police accepting that the Koran does in fact have some special properties? Would burning a Bible be an offence of racial hatred? If not then why is burning a Koran?
Clearly it's the public nature of the act which the police must rest their case on. The men though are reported to have claimed that it was a private act filmed for their own purpose and that they did not intend for it to go on YouTube.
I could claim here publicly that I had a Koran which I burnt some time ago. What is the essential difference between that "confession" and the posting of the video I wonder. Whatever the twists of the logic of all this I know that I am now much clearer about what is going on in the UK.
Big Brother is watching and the Thought Police will keep us safe......