Patrick Hayes over at Spiked (12th April) had a closer look at that Observer story:-
Something very odd happened at the weekend. A 40-year-old member of the far-right British National Party (BNP) was arrested for burning a copy of the Koran in his own back garden. Yes, it is apparently now a crime to express your disdain for a certain religious faith in the privacy of your own home. But that’s not the end of it. What makes this case especially odd is that the man in question - Sion Owens - was reported to the police by a broadsheet newspaper that claims to be liberal: the Observer. Since when has it been the job of the respectable, left-leaning press to grass people up to the cops for alleged speech crimes?
It’s worth reading the whole article. Henry Porter, the freedom of speech campaigner who writes for the Observer, had this to say:-
On the face of it, though, it would seem a doubtful decision because handing over the video, which appears to have been made for private use and was in a sense a private expression of this individual’s views, is likely to inflame feelings more than if the matter was simply ignored. That is the practical aspect.
‘If there is evidence that the individual was about to publish the video, then I think there is perhaps cause for police action because of what happened a few days ago in Afghanistan where several people lost their lives. It is a delicate issue and by no means clear cut. However, it is the case that prohibition of an act, whether in public or private, often makes that act more likely to occur. That is why I am against the ban on the burqa in France.’
Spiked is predictably robust on this matter:-
Unlike Porter, I believe that Sion Owens should also have had the freedom to release the film into the public domain, if he so chose. Freedom of speech, the cornerstone of all our freedoms, is too often compromised on the grounds that people might be harmed as a result of it. But people should be trusted to make up their own minds about whether to act upon footage of some idiot burning the Koran, rather than prevented by the state from seeing such footage in case it drives them crazy. To censor is to treat the public as a pogrom-in-waiting, whose eyes must be protected from offensive words and imagery. It is an updated, perhaps slightly more PC version of the same patronising assumptions that were exposed in the Lady Chatterley Trial: ‘Would you let your wife or servant read it?’ The question some are implicitly asking in relation to the BNP Koran video is: ‘Would you let the white working classes watch it?’ or ‘Would you let angry Muslims watch it?’. Perhaps that is what Townsend was getting at when he said the video could have ‘serious violent repercussions’.
Spiked does love leaping on liberals for their patronising assumptions about the violent tendencies of the canaille. But in this case it’s a reasonable assumption after the reaction to Terry Jones’s burning of the Qu’ran. These incidents are opportunities that are ramped up by religious and state leaders and violence and deaths are the result.
Arresting people though for acts which if publicised are likely to cause violence and harm somewhere in the world is untenable. There’s nothing much we can do about it. The lynch mobs led by the witch denouncers are going to have their days of rampage in the global village.
McLuhan coined the phrase “global village” to describe the hyper-networked world that was already taking shape. He had no illusions, though, about the nobility of village life. Our newly TV-, telephone-, and radio-enwebbed multiverse could just as easily be ruled by “panic terrors … befitting a world of tribal drums” as by any bright pastoral harmony. And so it was and is.
The latest news I could find about the case against the Qu’ran burner was (12th April):-
Sion Owens, aged 41, was charged with a public order offence on Saturday.
When he appeared at Swansea Magistrates Court the Crown Prosecution Service said it was withdrawing the case against him.
But it said that investigations would continue and that "almost certainly other proceedings will ensue."
And of course I would never have googled this guy if the Observer hadn’t handed his video of the book burning to the police.