Friday, September 17, 2010

Freedom or License - about burning books

Pastor Terry Jones's plan to burn 200 copies of the Qur'an in Florida on 9/11 was widely condemned. But the unique symbolism of book-burning has a long and sinister history.

by Jon Henley - The Guardian, Friday 10 September 2010

On the night of 10 May 1933, a crowd of some 40,000 people gathered in the Opernplatz – now the Bebelplatz – in the Mitte district of Berlin. Amid much joyous singing, band-playing and chanting of oaths and incantations, they watched soldiers and police from the SS, brownshirted members of the paramilitary SA, and impassioned youths from the German Student Association and Hitler Youth Movement burn, at the behest of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, upwards of 25,000 books decreed to be "un-German".


The volumes consigned to the flames in Berlin, and more than 30 other university towns around the country on that and following nights, included works by more than 75 German and foreign authors, among them (to cite but a few) Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Albert Einstein, Friedrich Engels, Sigmund Freud, André Gide, Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, Lenin, Jack London, Heinrich, Klaus and Thomas Mann, Ludwig Marcuse, Karl Marx, John Dos Passos, Arthur Schnitzler, Leon Trotsky, HG Wells, Émile Zola and Stefan Zweig. Also among the authors whose books were burned that night was the great 19th-century German poet Heinrich Heine, who barely a century earlier, in 1821, had written in his play Almansor the words: "Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen" – "Where they burn books, they will, in the end, also burn people."

Pastor Jones, in Florida, abandoned his plans. But they had been greeted with world-wide revulsion and helped fuel anti-American, anti-Western feelings in several Muslim countries. The damage had been done. Even the threat to burn the Koran was enough for that.

In other parts of America, people did go ahead and burn copies of the Koran. The news media hardly recorded their activities at all, deciding (despite the American reverence for free speech) that inflammatory rhetoric and self-publicising are not worthy causes for which to risk American lives and American principles.

Thank goodness for self-restraint. It matters. There are few absolutes in anyone's life and that is as it should be.

It is worth noting in passing that Jesus is honoured in the Koran, as a prophet equal to Mohammad.

Also that Jews, the people of the book, receive similar respect.

What the Police say and do

The British police seem uncertain whether their activities can or should be governed by the law of the land and by all the ethical considerations and considerations of honesty which ought to be upheld by everyone, even policemen, in a civilized and democratic society.

They target minorities of various sorts at various times (just as the Jews were targeted in Hitler's Germany). They oppress minorities of various sorts at various times, sometimes in ways that may be as punitive and as destructive as actions against the Jews before the Second World War.

Muslims are one of the principal current targets.

From the Guardian, 27th. August, 2010

Police chiefs misled Birmingham city council over Muslim CCTV, inquiry told
Sir Paul Scott-Lee, former West Midlands chief constable, and Stuart Hyde, his assistant chief constable, face disciplinary action after telling Birmingham councillors the CCTV scheme for Muslim areas was not terror-related

Paul Lewis, Friday 27 August 2010 20.26 BST

Two police chiefs could face condemnation and disciplinary action after an inquiry was launched into claims they deliberately misled councillors about surveillance targeted at Muslim communities in Birmingham.

The £3.5m initiative to ringfence two Muslim suburbs with automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras was shelved in June after an investigation by the Guardian.

Sir Paul Scott-Lee, who was West Midlands chief constable until April 2009, and Stuart Hyde, who was assistant chief constable, stand accused of deliberately misleading councillors over the true motives behind the monitoring programme. Several councillors who attended a meeting about why the cameras were being installed in their wards say they were told they were part of a Home Office scheme targeting antisocial behaviour and vehicle crime.

A network of 169 ANPR cameras was erected this year to form "rings of steel" around Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook, two largely Muslim neighbourhoods. There was no public consultation before the project, which also included the installation of additional CCTV and covert cameras.

Paul Lewis reported again in the Guardian on 1st. October, 2010. For some reason, this article is not available on the Guardian web-site. But it began like this:

"A secret police operation to place thousands of Muslims living in Birmingham under permanent surveillance was implemented with virtually no consultation, oversight or regard for the law, a report found yesterday .... police had misled residents into believing that hundreds of counter-terrorism cameras installed in streets around Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath were to be used to combat vehicle crime and antisocial behaviour.
In fact the £3m project was being run from the West Midlands police counter-terrorism unit with the consent of security officials at the Home Office and MI5."

"Police devised a "storyline" that concealed the true purpose of the cameras. Counter-terrorism insignia was removed from paperwork as part of a deliberate strategy to "market" the surveillance operation as a local policing scheme to improve community safety."

So it's OK to lie then? Officially? If you're a copper?

The Rule of Law

Thomas Bingham (Lord Bingham of Cornhill) died this month. His obituary in the Guardian, published on 11th. September, included the following remarks:

"He was also to the fore in promoting a strong, independent judiciary. At a time of growing executive power and a diminishing influence for parliament, and in particular following the terror attacks of 9/11 in New York and 7 and 21 July 2005 in London, the Labour government adopted an increasingly authoritarian approach. This included the power to detain certain foreign nationals indefinitely without charge, and the right to use evidence that may have been obtained by torture in certain legal proceedings. The government also argued for a strong role for the executive, with which the judiciary should not interfere.

In two seminal decisions, in 2004 and 2005 in the two cases of A & Others v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Tom wrote leading judgments rejecting the government's arguments. In so doing, he advanced the rights of all individuals, while recognising the reality of the threat presented by certain forms of terrorism. He rejected – with characteristic firmness, clarity and authority – the government's approach to the judiciary. "The function of independent judges charged to interpret and apply the law is universally recognised as a cardinal feature of the modern democratic state, a cornerstone of the rule of law itself," he wrote in 2004. While the attorney general, on behalf of the government, was entitled to insist on the proper limits of judicial authority, he was "wrong to stigmatise judicial decision-making as in some way undemocratic"."