British authorities have arrested a 15-year-old girl from the Sandwell Council area for burning a Koran, according to a BBC report. The Beeb also says a 14-year-old boy was arrested on “suspicion of making threats.” The girl posted her Koran-burning video on Facebook, making this the second time in recent weeks the social-networking site has been used as a vehicle for offenses against Islamic law. A 26-year-old Palestinian was arrested earlier this month for using his Facebook page to post heretical speech mocking the prophet Mohammed. He’s facing life in prison, but the girl from Sandwell will probably suffer less terrible penalties, since the British police are marginally less enthusiastic about prosecuting violations of sharia law, at least for the moment.
The BBC quotes Catherine Heseltine, chief executive officer of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, explaining why quaint Western notions of free speech should not be allowed to interfere with the arrest and punishment of the young heretic from Sandwell. “The Koran is the most sacred thing to over a billion Muslims worldwide. You can see that in the way Muslims treat the Koran, washing before touching it, and in many Muslim homes you will find it on the top shelf above all other books and we will never destroy the Koranic texts. We believe it is the word of God, God’s guidance for us in this life.”
Obviously the girl who burned the Koran doesn’t believe that, but the imperatives of Islamic law have absolute priority over her freedom of expression, which ends exactly where the Muslim Public Affairs Committee says it does. The nominal accusation against her is “inciting religious hatred,” a standard that would empty half the mosques in England if it were applied within their walls. Precocious kids with Facebook pages don’t launch bloody riots, so it’s no surprise they would feel the pinch of the law at the command of those who do.
Fellow pupils helped this girl videotape her act of “religious hatred,” so the authorities sprang into action, arranging a visit to the school by the group which published this edition of the Koran. Fortunately, the local bureaucrats feel “the atmosphere was generally good among pupils,” and there was no “deeper problem” in the area.
This is not the first saga of tolerance from the Sandwell area to make headlines. A couple of years ago, the local Labour party tried to ban observance of St. George’s Day, the British national holiday, on the grounds it was attracting “racist elements.” They ended up withdrawing public funding for the observance, but private donors chipped in to provide the racist elements with their clowns and Punch and Judy shows. Don’t waste your time trying to imagine any comparable Islamic observance being treated with the cavalier contempt shown to the patron saint of England.
Free speech is an essential component of democracy, because the power to decide what constitutes “unacceptable” speech places immense power over thought and discourse in the hands of the State. Islamic law is very clear about what cannot be said and done, and it is not shy about imposing these dictates upon everyone, not just Muslims. It’s distressing, but not surprising, to see British law enforcement lining up with these absolute decrees. We may wonder what would happen to someone who burned a Bible, Torah, or British flag, but there is no question about what happens to people who burn Korans in England.