Tuesday, 12 April 2011

A Tale of Two Books


Spot the difference.

On the left is a copy of the Bible, desecrated (at the taxpayer's expense) by Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art. On the right is a copy of the Qur'an, allegedly burned in the garage of BNP member Sion Owens (at his own expense).

Contrast the response of the police over this man's decision to burn a copy of the Qur'an with their complete indifference to the desecration of the Bible. The response to that 'exhibit' was measured, but the offence to many Christians was no less palpable. But Sion Owens has been arrested under the Public Order Act.

Since when has it been possible to commit a public order offence in the privacy of one's own garage?

The Home Office is reported to have ‘absolutely condemned’ the book-burning incident. A statement said: ‘It is fundamentally offensive to the values of our pluralist and tolerant society.’

Curious, that. For there are some who would say precisely the same about the Qur'an. Indeed, Dr Richard Dawkins might even say it of the Bible.

The state permits freedom of artistic expression, and the Bible is considered fair game. One cannot coerce the non-believer to revere that to which he or she is completely indifferent and, in an increasingly post-Christian and secular context, the Bible is perhaps no more sacred than the latest Harry Potter book.

But we are reminded time and again that the burning of the Qur'an is one of the most offensive acts to Muslims that could be imagined. Certainly, it is sacred to many millions, who assiduously wash even before touching it and keep it on the very top shelf in a place of supreme honour: they take the word of Allah very seriously indeed. And yet, for millions more non-Mulsims, it is nothing but a book, and for some of these millions, a vile book indeed. Certainly - how shall His Grace put it? - not everyone agrees that it is 'God's guidance' on any matter whatsoever.

In the UK, there is now pressure even upon public libraries to set aside the Dewy Decimal Classification and place the Qur'an on the top shelf.

His Grace has said many times that he is not one to condone the burning of books; that is, unless he is cold and has run out of logs. And he certainly would never condone causing gratuitous offence.

But there is an emerging state coercion here which is moving perilously close to the need for an 'I am Spartacus' moment: not, in any sense, either to support the odious BNP or to cause offence to Muslims; but to stick two fingers up to the ubiquitous, illiberal totalitarianism which denies freedom of expression by negating the right to offend against the supposed sensibilities of minorities. The doctrine of the state is compelling respect and enforcing reverence for that which the majority may consider profane. That is not only an offence against democracy: it is an offence against the conscience and a negation of the religious liberties for which (inter alia) His Grace laid down his life.

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