They Got Arrested for This? September 24, 2010

They Got Arrested for This?

Wait, they burned their own copies of the Koran and they got arrested for it?

In a joint statement, Northumbria Police and Gateshead Council said: “The kind of behaviour displayed in this video is not representative of our community as a whole.

“Our community is one of mutual respect and we continue to work together with community leaders, residents and people of all faiths and beliefs to maintain good community relations.”

In the video a group of men are seen pouring fuel over what appear to be copies of the Koran and setting light to them.

They may be jerks. I’d rather they burn holy books and unholy books from all over the place instead of picking on Islam specifically. Intention is important in the court of public opinion, but there’s no reason they should get in legal trouble for an act some people find offensive. That sounds like a slippery slope.

MediaWatchWatch makes the case for why this should not be an issue:

As the video clearly demonstrates, these men are idiots. They are probably EDL supporters, and racists to boot. But what they did is not –- cannot be -– illegal.

They were arrested on suspicion of “inciting racial hatred”. Not only is Islam –- represented here by its holy book -– not a race, but the only hatred that such an act is likely to incite would be directed at themselves, and would come from a particular kind of Muslim.

The racial and religious hatred law, for all its faults, was not designed to prevent you from committing acts which make other people hate you. Otherwise every homosexual, fornicator, and abortionist would be under arrest for inciting the hatred of some religious loon.

Burning books that some people respect is not a crime. Burning books that you own is not a crime. (Burning people? That’s a crime. Don’t do that.)

But destroying your own property? No one should have the right to stop you.

(via Pharyngula)

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  • The only way I can see any crime being committed here is if they needed a burn permit for an outdoor fire. They’re jackasses for doing it but that’s not a crime either.

  • Brian C Posey

    This video is such a tragedy.

    I mean, come on, the production is just terrible — grainy pictures with crappy sound. You can’t even make out what the idiots are saying half the time.

  • Welcome back to the 15th century -_-

  • CBC

    It’s shockingly current law:

    There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which has never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or ‘fighting’ words-those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.

    Chaplinsky v. State of New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 571-72 (1942)

  • CHAVS. England’s version of white trash. The males all look like rats and the women all look like Peter Stringfellow (if blonde) or petulant shih tzu dogs (if brunette).

    I’m not even kidding. This took place 30 minutes from where I live, this is probably their idea of Oscar Wilde.

  • Richard Wade

    Yes these are assholes. And the police screwed up. In a free society, you can’t make being an asshole with your own property a crime. I hope the case is thrown out and the judge takes some time to clarify the law.

    I also hope that after celebrating the dismissal in pubs, every one of these assholes stumble out drunkenly and fall into open sewer manholes.

  • Richard Wade

    I wonder if some religionists burned some atheist books in Northumbria, if the police would arrest them too.

    (breath not being held)

  • ATL-Apostate

    (Burning people? That’s a crime. Don’t do that.)

    Thanks Hemant! You are my moral compass. I’m making a note to self as I type. THIS is why I come to friendly atheist day in and day out.

  • Matt

    (Burning people? That’s a crime. Don’t do that.)

    That wouldn’t happen if people didn’t ask for them to be well-done.

  • Meg

    The entire issue reminds me of the flack over burning the flag from a few years ago.

  • Richard P.

    They’re jackasses for doing it

    Yes these are assholes.

    I watched the video and I will admit they did a fairly good job of mocking the crazies.
    But, I feel I really must be missing something here, what exactly is it that makes these guys jackasses and assholes?

    Was it the burning of a mass produced book made from cheap paper?
    Was it the costumes?
    Was it the crazy screaming and imitation of the crazy screaming crowds?
    Was it the disrespect to a delusional belief system?
    Was it their disrgerard for the threats the crazies were spewing that are trying to infringe on our rights to free speech?
    Or Was it that a large number of people that hold in high regard a delusional belief system were offended?


    Since when do we hold religion and it’s offended in such high regard that we are now supposed to curtail our mockery of such garbage?

    Maybe be we should shut down all atheist websites and go crawl back under the rocks so as to not be jackasses and assholes and offend someone. Or is it only the muslims were are not to offend? I wonder if now that we have begun picking on the real crazies, we are starting to cower in fear? Is this really all it takes to get us to scurry back into the bush?

    Of course I could be just missing something??

  • anne

    Richard, it’s a question of semiotics.

    In the north of England, where these young men are from, there are large concentrations of Pakistani immigrants. In poor white areas there is considerable hostility to incomers whom they perceive (wrongly, IMO) as taking “their” jobs and homes, and changing the face of the regular shops on the high street. Some Brits even talk of finding themselves living in a foreign country. Moreover, in the immigrant community there is vocal opposition to British military action in Afghanistan, and that opposition is resented by many of the whites. In this context, the action of these boys is (rightly, I think) interpreted as a deliberate “attack” on their Pakistani neighbours, and for that reason is regarded as racist.

    It turns out that the young men are members of a far right anti-Muslim outfit called The English Defence League, but I don’t think this Koran-burning was aimed at Indonesians or Turks, Iranians or Black Muslims, or the ummah as a whole. And if they’d burned a bunch of other holy books (bible, Torah, Gita etc) while they were at it, I doubt they’d have been arrested.

  • they are assholes because they are publicity hounds. this is all about timing, and the freedom youtube gives everyone to jump on a bandwagon and be famous for five seconds. how many converts to atheism or a non-muslim religion did these guys make? how much world peace did this create? none. this is classic “look at me! i’m pissing people off!” and in that sense it’s pointless and pathetic.

    however, i agree with richard’s other points. i don’t care if people burn their own property unless they are large corporations destroying the atmosphere by doing so.

  • definantnonbeliever

    I’d have to agree with Richard P. The production values were bad and the cackling makes them sound like idiots, a good campfire would have been better than gas for burning it. I’m not sure it isn’t an appropriate tradition to start, a 9/11 burn a koran day, easter for bibles, and choose a date for other pernicious holy books. The assholes are the cops and people here who have called them assholes and wished them harm, it seems to me.

  • Philbert


    Yes these are assholes. And the police screwed up.

    The police enforced the law. The British people screwed up by making bad law.

  • jose

    Apparently doing stupid things just because we can is becoming trendy this season.

  • Richard P.

    how many converts to atheism or a non-muslim religion did these guys make? how much world peace did this create?

    I would say none, but I see no intention by them to convert.
    What I do see is someone standing up for their rights. I see them showing a disregard for stupid beliefs. I see them bringing this pathetic belief system down a notch, so that maybe somebody who see this and may know that there are those who don’t hold this delusional belief system in reverence it doesn’t deserve.

    What I see is somebody standing up to the fear an intimidation. And it’s about bloody time to.
    If we would all stand up and shout we will not take it anymore, it could be a real stepping stone to world peace. Caving into the fear sure the hell won’t do it.

    What better time to do this is there? When do you suggest we start standing up to the bullying that is a pandemic within islam?

  • definantnonbeliever

    But-Heads, is a new term that justly describes, a unfortunate behavior of minorities in a movement that condemn those of that same movement, who wont kowtow to the ‘accepted polite’ habits of expression that have proceeded. It was common in the push for african american rights, gay rights, women’s rights, and while it’s not surprising to see here it’s no less unpleasant. I hope atheists can learn to refrain from kneejerk name calling of those of the same general movement. Critiques of methods and executions are fine, but the ad hominem arguments aren’t going to elevate the conversation. I suffer from that shortcoming at times, and do welcome the new term but-heads for use to respond to the but-heads. 😛

  • Richard Wade

    Richard P and defiantnonbeliever,
    You seem to be assuming that these people are atheists. Why?

    I watched this video twice, and I did not see or hear anything that even remotely suggests that they are non-believers, or that they are “standing up for their rights” or making a statement for free speech, or that they are supporting rationalism, or opposing delusional belief systems or stupid beliefs, or are taking any kind of brave stand for “world peace,” or anything else so noble.

    Maybe you have some inside information. From what anne says, they are apparently an English form of skinhead racists. That is of course, assuming that she’s right.

    What I did see is a handful of guys covering their faces, perhaps so they cannot be identified, (so much for bravely standing up to intimidation) or perhaps to mock a stereotype “Arab,” or perhaps conveniently for both purposes. They made no intelligible statements about any of the high-minded intentions that you have invented. They just said the Koran is shit, and that it should be burned on 9/11. Wow. Is that the kind of “elevated conversation” you mentioned?

    My impression is that they just wanted to say “Fuck all Muslims,” and to be as hurtful and as intimidating as possible, with no regard to making a statement or illustrating a point other than “Fuck you, we hate you, we’re gonna get you,” to whomever it is they think they’re addressing.

    If you think these assholes represent any kind of defense of rational thought, or freedom, or brave defiance of injustice, then please show me the convincing evidence that you apparently have for these lofty characterizations, and I’ll gladly recant my calling them ASSHOLES.

  • Claudia

    Ah Chavs, the British answer to the redneck. They are offensive, but to be fair a nonoffensive chav is much like an invisible pink unicorn; contradictory and no one has ever seen one.

    Of course it should be legal; punishment enough that they’ve been born with only half an alcohol-muddled brain.

    Fun fact; Gateshead is also the home of a (state subsidized!! Thanks Tony) creationism promoting school, Emmanual College. Maybe these guys are graduates?

  • Richard P.

    Morning Richard,
    You’ve asked a few question I feel obliged to answer.

    You seem to be assuming that these people are atheists. Why?

    Really I didn’t make that leap. I don’t know what their religious beliefs are. I think you have misinterpreted my response to this.

    I don’t necessarily think they would be atheists. What I do see and hear is a statement “Here is the Koran and it is full of shit.” I really don’t know what there motivations are, and I don’t see it as being all that relevant.
    In the context of the video they are simply practicing their rights to free speech. As offensive as it may be. No where in the video did I hear any screaming about immigrant Pakistani’s or Pakistani’s stealing jobs either.
    I do believe that by the act of making the video is ““standing up for their rights” and making a statement for free speech”.

    I did not mean to assume that their motivations are and act of “opposing delusional belief systems or stupid beliefs, or are taking any kind of brave stand for “world peace,” or anything else so noble.”
    However, outside of anns input I would not know they are skin heads either and neither would the largest segment of people that could see this video.

    They just said the Koran is shit, and that it should be burned on 9/11. Wow. Is that the kind of “elevated conversation” you mentioned?

    I also do not think they have started any kind of elevated conversation. I do believe they have started a conversation. I also see this as an opportunity for us to elevated the conversation beyond the capacity of this video. I believe it is our responsibility to “elevated” it. Sure we could drag this conversation through the mud and sluff it off as nothing but a bunch of jackasses and and assholes. We could also elevate it into a statement of frustration over the the oppression caused by muslims and the fear they create. That is up to us.

    This makes me think of voltaires quote:

    I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

    If you think these assholes represent any kind of defense of rational thought

    I don’t think that at all. But I believe that people like us, you and me, do and how WE present the conversation makes all the difference in the world.

  • muggle

    Okay am I the only one missing the obvious? If this had been my neighborhood, I’d have been the one on the phone to the police!

    It doesn’t sound like they were arrested for the right reason. Are there no fire regulations where they live? They were pouring gasoline and lighting a fire mere feet away from what looks like an apartment building and a dumpster that went with it. It’s a freaking wonder this didn’t end more tragically and it probably didn’t because someone picked up the phone and called the police.

    (And I hope to hell these young assholes never find out who that someone is.)

  • Steve

    The English Defence League was orignally formed in answer to the Muslims who protested in Luton, southern England, at a homecoming parade by returning soldiers, baby killers was one of the milder epithets hurled at these young men serving their country. The EDL does attract skinheads and other low lifes who look for a excuse to pick on those weaker than themselves, the League says it has Sikh and Jewish sections, and are only against the fanatics who follow the likes of Adnem Choudry, a known rabble rouser.

    These chavs, for want of a better word will gladly buy their cider and spirits from an Asian run shop, they haven’t the brains to think up a stunt ike this.

    Yes, the law is a muddle, will I be arrested for saying all religion is wrong?

  • Richard Wade

    Richard P, I accept your explanation, as confusing as it is. If you go over your previous comments carefully, I think you’ll find several statements (which I’d rather not belabor by block-quoting here) that would explain why I would think that you were ascribing high-minded motives to these, uh, persons.

    However this remark I could counterpoint:

    We could also elevate it into a statement of frustration over the the oppression caused by muslims and the fear they create. That is up to us.

    Once again that is you making up out of whole cloth an elevated motive for them. You have already said that you have no evidence to back up any theory of their actual intention, but you are still trying to find a pony in a pile of horse shit.

    My counterpoint to your above remark would be that this is simply a demonstration of the oppression and fear that they are causing to the Muslims in their neighborhood. You can’t seem to see beyond your assumption that the Muslims are the only “villains” in the situation, and so any reactionary act against them is justified.

    That’s basic extremist thinking, whether one is a Muslim, a skinhead, a Christian, an atheist or whatever.

    There are probably legitimate complaints to be made on both sides, but elevated dialogues are started only when we are willing to approach each other without weapons and fire in our hands, and without rage in our voices.

    And no, I don’t think that “it is up to us” to raise the dialogue. It is up to the people living right there in that neighborhood. They are responsible for their conduct, for their words, and for their reactions to the conduct and words of their neighbors. I live thousands of miles away. My ivory tower erudition about their conflict, as elevated as I might try to make it, is not going to solve their conflict. Those six uh, persons, don’t care about your and my conversation. I agree with Voltaire, but I don’t think that they would be willing to die to protect my right or your right to disagree with what they say.

  • I’ve just read the following:

    Two minor developments today. Firstly, several papers claim that the police say that they were not arrested for putting the video on line, but for burning the Koran in the first place.(which they did more or less out of public view). Secondly, AOL News (only?) says that the charge was for religious hatred – maybe it’s dawned on plod that Islam isn’t a race..

    Also as Brits they are likely to not be church going Christians (only 15% attend church at least once per month) but are still likely to be nominally Christian (along with 72% of the population) while being functionally atheist. Honestly that does make sense.

    Anyway as I mentioned in the forum:

    This is something that I believe should be protected under our right to free speech. As I said to the lovely Hil over our morning tea and crumpets: free speech protects the rights of people to act like arseholes as much as it protects the rights of others to point out that they are arseholes. If a bunch of Gateshead chavs want to set fire to a book then they should be allowed to. They are stupid and ignorant to do so but we should let people be stupid and ignorant in this country. In fact we should be proud of it. :#

  • Richard Wade

    To be very clear, I agree that this law seems very misguided, an attempt at policing thought. They should not have been arrested nor should there be such laws.

    We just don’t have to lionize these chavs in order to acknowledge that.

    It seems that when one extreme happens, something akin to Newton’s third law of motion takes place. Another extreme is reacted in the opposite direction. The solution becomes the next stage of the same problem. What will now protect the Brits from a law that was intended to “protect” them from the hateful statements of others? You cannot legislate and mandate maturity. You have to inspire it by example and coax it by patient persuasion.

    So I suppose I should practice what I preach. I should inspire maturity by example and coax it by patient persuasion. I should not call these assholes “assholes.” Just because they’re assholes, and they’re acting like assholes, and I think they’re assholes, and “assholes” seems to be the appropriate word to describe such assholes, does not mean that I should call them assholes. So I will no longer call these particular assholes “assholes” any more.

    I guess “dickheads” has to be out too.

  • Thornavis.

    I’m afraid that this is what Britain is like now, causing offence is a crime in certain situations. Not so long ago we had the case of an atheist who left cartoons mocking religion in Liverpool airport prayer room, he was convicted of religious harassment and given a suspended prison sentence and community service. We have the late unlamented government to thank for this piece of thoroughly illiberal legislation, it has a clause exempting freedom of speech but another aspect of modern Britain is that the police and Crown Prosecution Service ignore bits of the law they don’t like. Hence we have these blokes arrested but Muslim extremists who have made threats against society are largely ignored, this is a quite deliberate policy of appeasement coupled with a growing reverence in official circles for all forms of religion. We have seen a good example of the latter during the Pope’s visit where the media, particularly the BBC, have been painting a glowing picture of what a wonderful chap he is and implying that anyone who doesn’t like the RCC is an anti-catholic bigot.

  • muggle

    Seriously, am I the only one freaked out by the fire danger? What are England’s laws on burning?

    I’m glad free speech is protected in the US but sincerely hope if a few of the other tenants in her apartment complex took it in their heads to do this, they’d be seriously fucking busted before they burned the building down. (And fortunately doesn’t see this happening because it’s so diverse.) I freaking complained to building management about a grill being burned next to the building entrance to grill hamburgers and hot dogs and they were made to move it.

  • Bear in mind that the guys burning the Koran didn’t post the video to YouTube; it was one of the other guys watching who did that, and the YouTube posting did not form the basis of the arrest. It was the simple act of burning that caused the Plod to feel their collars. I don’t know the ethnic origin of the police involved. (I wouldn’t put it past some ethnic Brit police to do this sort of thing to make a subversive political point of their own: “Oh, look what you and your political correctness have made us do!”)

    The best comment I’ve seen on this is from Kenan Malik, who separates out the two types of “incitement” and comes down firmly on the side of freedom of speech. His comment is on the New Humanist blog, second comment down. Malik is a thoughtful and rationalist commentator, and always worth reading.

  • WTF? So what about this? Another arrestable offense?

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