Alex Massie

Even Goons Should Be Allowed to Burn Books

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As a general rule if you're minded to burn books you're probably trotting along the road towards losing whatever argument you may be having. You also look a fool. That was true of the nutters who burned The Satanic Verses and it's true of Terry Jones and true of this chap too:

A senior member of the BNP who burned a copy of the Qur'an in his garden has been arrested following an investigation by the Observer.

Footage of the burning shows Sion Owens, 40, from south Wales and a candidate for the forthcoming Welsh Assembly elections, soaking the Qur'an in kerosene and setting fire to it.

A video clip of the act, leaked to the Observer and passed immediately to South Wales police, provoked fierce criticism from the government.

"Senior member" is almost certainly over-stating matters but that's not the point. Nor is it really the point that this must have been an especially witless stunt that would have passed all but un-noticed but for the Observer's vigilance. No, the point is that burning a book in your own garden ought not to be grounds for arrest. Even in Wales and even if video of the "event" is subsequently accessible on YouTube.

As it cannot be said too often, even goons and other dreadful people have rights and these should include the right to burn books in their garden. Far better, in this case as in others of this ilk, to have a quiet word (if that be thought necessary) and deny the buggers the publicity they crave.

Trying to cause offence should not be a crime and nor, naturally, should causing offence be considered criminal. As is so often the case the Public Order Act and its successors is to blame. The former was not one of Mrs Thatcher's greatest achievements but to this day it's an authoritarian one that commands widespread support in parliament. For shame.

[Thanks to BW for the tip]

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietyfreedom of speechislam