Since the Rushdie affair more than 20 years ago, British Islamists have been campaigning to ban all criticism of Islam. This move has not been simply an emotional response to a deeply felt insult to their beliefs, but has been part of a wider agenda to introduce sharia into Britain. Their strategy to do this has been to increasingly align British law with sharia, either by a) pushing test cases through the courts; b) pushing for changes in parliamentary law; and c) lobbying for changes in the practices of public bodies such as the police.
Under sharia insulting the prophet is the most serious offence and carries a compulsory death sentence in countries such as Pakistan. An only slightly less serious offence is insulting or desecrating the Qur’an, which in Pakistan carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.
Unfortunately Northumbria Police have just fallen hook, line and sinker for the "lets align British law with sharia" strategy by arresting six members of the English Defence League for burning copies of the Qur’an in a pub car park on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In a press release Northumbria Police stated that: "The arrests followed the burning of what are believed to have been two Korans in Gateshead on September 11". A police spokesman is also reported to have specifically stated that the men were not arrested for watching or distributing the YouTube video of their actions, but on suspicion of burning the Qur’an.
Let me say straight away that that this was both a foolish and an unnecessarily provocative act. The proposed Qur’an burning in the USA caused rioting over several days in Afghanistan, which resulted in several people receiving serious injuries. However, we are moving into very dangerous territory if the British police start to think that it is a criminal offence to burn a copy the Qur’an – or the Torah or the New Testament, however offensive those acts may be to the rest of us.
The actions of Northumbria Police have in fact played straight into the hands of the Islamists, who want to see any insult to the Qur’an made illegal in Britain precisely because it is one of the most serious offences in sharia.
Perversely, the overreaction of the police has also given a significant propaganda coup to racist groups. The police must realise that not only should they not be "making up the law" themselves on issues such as this, but that both Islamist and racist groups need the oxygen of publicity to survive – and that, unfortunately, is exactly what the police have just given to both groups.However, what these misguided actions by the police do clearly demonstrate is that there is an urgent need for a root and branch review of how the police deal with incidents related to Islamism and protests – including those by racist groups – against it. Community relations will not be improved by the sort of naivety Northumbria Police have displayed in dealing with this incident, or the ensuing publicity they have given to racist groups.