Mark Stephenson confessed at a February 28, 2014, United Kingdom trial “threatening behavior” while watching a December 7, 2013, Birmingham soccer game. Stephenson’s behavior involved Koran desecration, merely the latest case demonstrating deferential British censorship with respect to Islam’s holy book.
According to one news account, a woman gave pages of a Koran taken from her handbag to Stephenson and about 20 other soccer fans during the game. Stephenson ripped the pages and pretended to burn them with a lighter while saying to a stadium worker that he had the “Muslim bible, we hate Muslims.” Another worker overheard fans shouting “Koran, Muslims and burning.”
Stephenson received a £235 fine for a “religiously-aggravated public order offence,” a British hate crime that, among things, encompasses “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behavior.” “We hope that in the future you will not ever, ever participate in any such incident,” Judge Ronald Healey declared in sentencing Stephenson. It is “considered extremely offensive to some members of the community.”
“It’s disgraceful to allow pure hatred to come to an area like” Birmingham “with a high Muslim population,” Muslim Member of Parliament Khalid Mahmood had said of the incident in his hometown in December. The “culprits should be dealt with severely and be charged with incitement,” he demanded. A Middlesbrough Football Club spokesperson also condemned the incident involving the club’s Koran-desecrating fans as violating a desire to “eradicate racism in all its forms.”
Other Britons have also had legal difficulties due to Koran desecration, even when, unlike Stephenson, their behavior has not involved possible questions of property violations or individual insults and threats. Six men faced racial incitement charges in September 2010 for their burning of a Koran behind a Gateshead pub on the September 11 anniversary of Al Qaeda’s 2001 attacks, a burning filmed and placed on Youtube. A group spokesman declared the burning a “private joke” and that they were unaware of who filmed the incident.
The men responded “to historical images of Muslim extremists burning American flags and effigies of western leaders,” the spokesman said. The group was also “sick of British soldiers being killed out in Afghanistan and then being spat at and called baby killers” domestically. The self-professed “English nationalists” also expressed “frustration” over “one law for Muslims” and another for Caucasians. “Our community is one of mutual respect,” local Gateshead officials stated in condemning the incident.
The following November police arrested a 15-year old Birmingham girl for placing on Facebook a video of her burning a Koran at her school. “All involved have reacted very positively,” local councilman Robert Badham qualified, however. The “children at the school know how serious it is.”
Subsequently on January 19, 2011, a former soldier burned a stolen library Koran stolen on a Carlisle street in an event reported as “witnessed by shoppers and schoolchildren.” Admitting in court theft and “religiously aggravated harassment,” Andrew Ryan expressed being “shocked” by a Muslim burning a memorial poppy on the British equivalent of Memorial Day, Remembrance Day. Condemning Ryan’s “theatrical bigotry,” Judge Gerald Chalk noted that Ryan sought “to cause maximum publicity and…distress.”
The following April Welsh police arrested Sion Owens, a senior member of the far-right British National Party, for burning a Koran in his garden, an event filmed in a video leaked to the press and then transferred to authorities. A Home Office statement said that the “government absolutely condemns the burning of the Qur’an” as “fundamentally offensive to the values of our pluralist and tolerant society.” Authorities, however, withdrew charges against Owens.
Atheist Peter Crawford came next on May 12, 2012, when he ripped up his own Koran in front of an Islamic information booth in Leicester while telling the booth’s Muslims staffers that Islam was a “load of bollocks.” Prosecutor James Bide-Thomas questioned whether Crawford engaged in a “legitimate” free speech or violated the law against “harassment, alarm or distress by insulting behaviour, basically upsetting people.” Crawford’s prosecution collapsed with a hung jury.
Yet per famed English political essayist George Orwell, some religions in modern Britain are more equal than others. A pro-gay church contributed a Bible to a 2009 exhibit at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). Visitors could write their names in its margins, the church explained, to demonstrate how LGBT people “have been marginalised by many Christian Churches and also our desire to be included in the love of God.” Yet many visitors wrote in the text what a Christian organization called “obscenities and atheist ramblings.” Would the exhibitors “do the same if it was the Koran?” the Christians wondered.
An exhibit video, meanwhile, showed the singer Roxanne Claxton ripping pages out of a Bible and stuffing them into her knickers and bra as well as eating them. As a “bisexual woman,” Claxton declared, “I wanted to celebrate both the masculine and feminine aspects of my identity in relation to my faith as a Christian woman.” By contrast, the video appeared “disgusting and offensive” to a Pope Benedict XVI advisor, who echoed comments about the defaced Bible in saying that the exhibitors “would not think of doing it to the Koran.”
“[C]omplete indifference” marked official reaction to GoMA in contrast to the schoolgirl Koran burning, an Anglican blogger noted. Under this modern British double standard, the Koran, a religious book, enjoys vigorous protection against defilement as a form of racial bigotry, while the Bible, along with other revered items, is subject to criticism like anything else. In the face of Islam, British justice has sunk even further.
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