There's a theme running through the Far Right's responses to Sion Owens' arrest for burning a Koran.
“He wouldn't have been arrested if it was a Bible !” they yell. “What makes the Koran so special?”
The answer is, of course, nothing. The Koran, in Law, is no different to the Bible, the Talmud, the Guru Granth Sahib Ji or (let's say) an artificial flower. If Mr Owens were to be charged, it would likely to be for a public order offence, either “Outraging the Public Decency” or “Incitement to Racial Hatred”, but not for specifically attacking Islam.
The argument that the Law thinks more of Islam than Christianity falls apart as soon as you look at the history of blasphemy law in this country.
The offence of Blasphemy, which was abolished in 2008, used to cover Christianity only. Later on, it covered Judaism, too. The only times anyone were ever charged under the offence though, were for “attacks” on Christianity – like the infamous Gay News Case, when the Editors were convicted for publishing a (poisonously bad, on a Lee-Barnes-the-Poet level, if truth be told) poem about Jesus, a randy Centurian and an unusual crucifixion.
Then Salman Rushdie wrote his Satanic Verses novel in 1988 and all hell let loose. And yes-I read it. My God, did I read it. If ever there was a book I'd be tempted to burn just for sheer, inpenetrable, bloody awfulness... There were calls for Islam to also be protected under the Blasphemy Laws, but these were (thankfully, for us Atheists) rejected and instead led to the ultimate demise of the 16th Century Law.
So now you can't be prosecuted for offending a religion, be it Islam, Christianity, Judaism or Jedi. And you can't be prosecuted for burning a book – any book.
But you can be prosecuted, and you very probably will be, for setting out to offend as many of your target group as you possibly can with a deliberate attack on something which you know they hold dear. Burn a Koran, a Poppy, or take a leak on the local War Memorial and – chances are – you'll be up before the Beak.
Because intent is everything.
That's why the idiots who torched the Poppy last year got done: Not because they burned a paper flower, but because they did so knowing that it would upset a lot of people.
Conversely, that's probably why the Ringleader was fined only £50: Just how much can you fine someone for burning a paper flower without looking utterly ridiculous?
If it were the majority view that Jackie Collins is a Living National Treasure and Hollywood Wives the finest flowering of her godlike genius, I might expect to be charged if I had myself filmed torching a copy. Unlike the actual state of things, where I may actually be thanked for keeping the shelves of my local Oxfam free for stuff people might actually want to read...
A couple of years ago at the BNP's Red White & Blue “family festival” here in Derbyshire, one John Coombes hit the Papers when he presided over the burning of a Golly.
Except he wasn't doing it to keep warm, to provide illumination or because polyester filling - correctly prepared and alfresco - makes a tasty and nutritious snack.
He was recreating, in a jovial, family-friendly and lighthearted manner, the trial and murder of a Black person.
What larks, eh?
I've destroyed soft toys myself. Anyone with kids will recognise the horror of small creatures from McDonalds gradually taking over the house, and the relief at dropping a binbag-full of the sodding things at the tip to be summarily mashed, ground, buried and otherwise ill-treated (although possibly not incinerated – not unless you want to see Chernobyl-like clouds of poison gas floating across Derby...). I don't think I've ever done so with the express intent of upsetting anyone, though:
Of course, there's a darker irony to Mr Owens' alleged stunt. We all saw what happened in Afghanistan last month when the idiot redneck “Pastor” Terry Jones put his Koran burning video on the Webs: The Taliban took a dim view of it and used the footage as the spark for lethal attacks on United Nations workers and their projects. Terry Jones now has blood on his hands – he even seems quite happy about it.
The BNP have spent the last couple of years strenuously identifying themselves with “Our Lads”. Photo's of “Our Lads” appear on their literature and Griffin rarely misses the opportunity to bang on about how his outfit is the “only party” to “support” our soldiers. In fact, if he can't find a real “Our Lad” to pose with, he'll get one of his Oppo's (that'll be you, Mr Walker) to dress up as one and hope no-one asks any embarrassing questions...
So Mr and Mrs Taliban (well – Mr Taliban at any rate: He probably won't let Mrs Taliban learn to read) will look at the paper and see reports of an official Candidate of “The Only British Political Party Who Supports Our Troops”, burning a Koran; he might even get to see pictures of this Heathen Koran Burner looking very chummy with Party Leader Nick Griffin, a British Member of the European Parliament.
And, guessing that Mr Taliban possibly isn't much of a sophisticate when it comes to the finer nuances of UK political fringe movements, he'll have his hatred of his country's Occupiers nicely topped up for the next time a foot patrol comes to his village.
And how much blood will the likes of the Koran Burners have on their hands then?
“Supporting Our Troops?” Yeah. Right.