Thank goodness, Pastor Terry Jones from Florida will not now be burning copies of the Koran on the 11th September as an attempt to “wake up” Americans to the “dangers” of Islam but it still surprises me that he could have done it legally, in the United States. Such an act in almost any liberal democracy however, would have landed the Reverend in prison; so what is going on in the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave?
The truth is that the First Amendment of the American constitution provides citizens of the states the right to say exactly what they think about any subject, no matter how offensive that may be to other people. Neo-Nazis may parade the swastika with impunity, Klu-Klux-Clan members may burn the fiery cross on private land with no consequences and holocaust deniers can claim that six-million jews did not die in gas chambers during the Second World War whenever and however they like.
Does the fact that Pastor Jones would have been arrested in the UK for breaching the law making it illegal to incite racial or religious hatred make the UK less democratic than the US? I think not. In the materialist States, burning a sacred book is not considered an act of aggression against a person so there, I could burn a whole stack of bibles without the chance of arrest [so long as I had a permit to hold a bonfire] where as in the UK , the symbolic meaning of the act would be taken into account and off to Wormwood Scrubs I would go…
Now, you may call me an old bleeding heart pinko but I hold firm to the belief that I should be able to think whatever I please and do whatever I want, so long as I don’t harm anyone else. I also believe the same holds true for everyone else and that’s the reason the UK has such the incitement law. It assumes that You have the same rights as Me and neither of us has a right to offend the other. Very British, don’t you think? Now, I don’t think the British legal system is perfect and but when it comes to Free Speech, I think they have it about right. You can say exactly what you want at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park or on the floor of the House of Commons even if it isn’t true without fear of prosecution but saying it in a newspaper or in a public place will land you in big trouble.
In 1917, the General Secretary of the Socialist Party of America was prosecuted for opposing the draft of soldiers to the First World. He claimed the First Amendment as his defence but was convicted because his actions presented “words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent”. Since that time the term “imminent lawless act” had been used to qualify the meaning of the term and as such Pastor Jones, living his small life in Florida has avoided prosecution because he wasn’t planning to attack any particularMuslims in this community…
What about the lawless acts that took place as a result of Pastor Jones’s exhaultations in Afganistan [where one person was killed during rioting] and how about the added danger to US, UK and other forces placed in the line of fire as a result of his campaign? We live in a global village and what is whispered at one end of the community is heard at the other loud and clear.
On the eve of 9/11 it is time for small minded people like Terry Jones to shut up once and for all.