Double Standards

Ordinarily – when a man has a history of convictions for public order offences (6 between 2002 and 2010) and is finally sentenced for a miserly 70 days after stealing a library book and setting fire to it in the street  before bragging about the incident on Facebook – the Daily Mail would be outraged at such leniency. However, this man happens to be Andrew Ryan and the book he set fire to happened to be the Koran, so the Daily Mail has changed it’s tune. Instead of calling for the return of capital punishment (step forward Mr P Hitchens) they are outraged that he didn’t get treated in the same way as the Muslims responsible for burning poppies a while back. The headline chosen makes the Mail’s stance pretty clear: ‘‘What about burning poppies?’: Court outburst of man jailed for setting Koran alight‘ [istyosty link]. The opening paragraph is not subtle:

A man has been jailed for 70 days today after he burnt a copy of the Koran just over a month after a Muslim got away with a paltry £50 fine for a similar offence.

Well, the two punishments reflect the different natures of the offences committed, the only similarity is that something was set fire to. The Muslim the Mail is referring to is Emdadur Choudhury who was part of the Muslims Against Crusades group who set fire to three oversized poppies on 11 November in Kensington. He was fined £50 for offences under the Public Order Act, his actions were not considered a hate crime because they targeted a profession, not a religion. As the BBC reported, it wasn’t as if the judge was pleased with Choudhury’s behaviour or at all condoning of it:

District Judge Howard Riddle said: “The two-minute chanting, when others were observing a silence, followed by a burning of the symbol of remembrance was a calculated and deliberate insult to the dead and those who mourn or remember them.”…

Their actions went “far beyond the boundaries of legitimate protest and freedom of expression,” prosecutor Simon Ray said.

Choudhury, of Hunton Street, was found guilty under Section 5 of the Public Order Act of burning the poppies in a way that was likely to cause “harassment, harm or distress” to those who witnessed it.

Andrew Ryan on the other hand responded to the incident with a hate crime because based on the actions of a group barely able to fill a minibus he stole a Koran from a library and set fire to it in the street whilst ‘shout[ing] abuse about the Muslim faith’. He is also an individual with a history of public order offences ‘including racial chanting at a football match and assault with intent to resist arrest’. His actions were very different to those of Choudhury – which, no matter how offensive they might have been, were aimed at soldiers, a group not denominated by race or religion. If Choudary had been chanting ‘Die Christians die, all Christians will burn in hell’ then he could have been prosecuted for a hate crime. But he didn’t. If he had a history of public order offences the judge might have taken stiffer action. But he didn’t. The only person demonising an entire religious group was Ryan and this – along with his track record – was reflected in the sentencing.

As for the Daily Mail trying to feed the narrative that we have double standards in this country – one rule for ‘them’ (increasingly Muslims) and another for ‘us’ (increasingly just means white people) – it is laughable when the two cases are actually compared. Just because both incidents featured the incendiary burning of an item does not make them equal. I won’t bother screen-grabbing the best-rated comments, but suffice to say they are full of people moaning about how the Muslims get away with everything whilst our poor downtrodden homegrown thugs get locked-up for 70 days.

It’s depressing, dishonest and divisive – just a typical Daily Mail article. Here is a chance to examine why it is that certain sections of British society cannot distinguish between the actions of individuals and the sentiments of religious groups. But instead the Mail just adds more fuel to the fire with this pathetically absurd accusation that Muslims are not treated equally in the eyes of the law. Andrew Ryan will not be the last person convicted of a hate crime against all Muslims precisely because of this kind of coverage.

17 thoughts on “Double Standards”

  1. Hareful thug Andrew Ryan’s sentance was fair. What wasn’t was the £50 slap on the wrist for one of the poppy burners. Why wasn’t it classed as a hate crime towards soldiers?

    I know Ryan had previous but surely this massive gulf in punishments will only help the Pro-Pogrom EDL gain support?

  2. The law needs a rethink. So it’s not a hate crime to chant “die soldiers die” at a memorial service? I think it is. Burning the koran and burning the poppy are intentionally symbolic acts specifically perpetrated to show hatred. So what if soldiers are a proffession and not a religion? Soliering and faith are a choice and not compulsory (like race). I am sick to death of religious double standards and regardless of the poppy burner being punished he should have been punished just as severely as the koran burner. And the mail are nobs.

  3. I agree with the thrust of the article in as much as the Mail is happy to spin this story as another example of ‘them and us’.

    However, there is a big difference between a £50 fine and 70 days in prison. Is the offence caused to a religious group somehow more worthy?

    Are the hurt feelings of soldiers and the faimilies of deceased soldiers worth less then the hurt feelings of muslims?

    Both acts were examples of ignorant divisive thuggery to be sure. And the details of both are very different. Ryan’s case involving theft in addition to the supposed act of protest, while on the other hand Choudary’s was perhaps calculated to cause greater offense given the time and location.

    There is a potentially valid discussion to have over what protection we give to political or religious beliefs, and the extent to which we can legislate to prevent offense. The Daily Mail comparing these two cases is unlikely to solve that though.

    1. In response to a couple of your comments I think that there is a difference between abusing someone for what they do and abusing someone for who they are. The vast majority of people are born and indocrinated into a particular religion, it is not the straight choice that it is sometimes made out to be.

      I am an atheist, but I would be regarded in the eyes of some to be a Christian simply because I was Christened when I was too young to conciously object, it is a label I had no choice in obtaining.

      Soldiers are in a chosen career, they face hatred and death in that role because they often are the only real faces behind the wars of nations – wars that are often being thought for very dubious reasons. To say that protesting – even with the goal of causing offence – should result in prison sentences is to suggest that we should be imprisoned for chanting vile abuse at bankers or politicians. It might not be pleasant and it might be an offence under the public order act, but it is not the same as stealing property or having a string of previous convictions.

  4. And the burning poppies, even if classed as a hate crime is non-imprisonable and can only ever warrant a fine. Theft on the other hand carries a maximum 7 years in prison. It’s nothing to do with us or them, in fact it’s entirely blind to that. One couldn’t get prison and didn’t, one could and did.

  5. The actions of Emdadur Choudhury were designed specifically to cause offence to those who heard them. He sought (and of course gained) publicity for a tiny fringe group, and might well consider himself lucky not to have been fined more severely, although he no doubt wished himself to be punished more harshly so that he could present himself as a victim. He set fire to a poppy, presumably bought by him for that purpose. It is an object that does not relate to any faith, nor is it a worldwide symbol of remembrance, but one used only in Commonwealth countries. His protest went beyond legitimate comment, and merited punishment, though not imprisonment.

    However, were I to run out of my local public library with a stolen Bible, then set fire to it in the street while shouting insults about the Christian faith, I would expect any court to give serious consideration to giving me a prison sentence. If I had several convictions for public order offences, then I would expect to gop to jail.

  6. @ uponnothing
    I’m gonna have to totally disagree. You’re making the point that koran burning is worse than poppy burning even though both acts had exactly the same intent. I find that very hard to support. So what if the soldiers choose to be soldiers and the religious are born into faith? Does that give the religious the right to cause more offence than anyone else? If I was indoctrinated into a BNP family from birth would I be excused from spouting hate in the streets? I doubt it and rightly so. Also there is a MASSIVE difference betwwen protesting a war/bankers and burning poppies at memorial services and chanting “die soldiers die”. The law may have punished the koran burner for the added theft and previous convictions but the tone of your article and the application of law in both cases seems to massively side with the poppy burner and not the koran burner (one a public order offence one a hate crime). All I was saying is that the law is wrong. The “protest” of the poppy burner was equal to the “protest” of the koran burner i.e. acts of open hatred in a public place perpetrated to cause massive offence.
    Religious or political motivation for either act is irrelevant in my eyes.
    Thanks.

    1. @ hannanibal

      The Poppy is a commonwealth symbol of remembrance, it has for many a political significance and is tied up in the memories of empire. It is different from a religious text. I am an atheist and I despise organised religion – I frankly don’t see why any book should be protected from being burnt in protest if I am honest – but the burning of this Koran was not a considered act with a philisophical basis, it was an act commited because someone could not tell the difference between 60 Muslims staging an offensive protest and the vast majority of Muslims who had absolutely nothing to do with it. His response targeted a religious group, not the small group in question. If he wanted to protest against the MAC group he should have burnt their posters etc, not the religious text of Muslims in general.

      The poppy burners targeted British troops for being involved in a war that they believe has imperialistic routes (and in terms of Iraq & oil, who could really argue with that?) sure, they did it in the most offensive way possible, but they did this with one eye on getting massive press coverage for a insignificant, tiny event. Look at how much coverage this tiny protest of 60 people has got – and is still getting – because it made sure it would press the right buttons in comparison to the much bigger TUC march in London which apart from a flurry of coverage regarding violence has now all but dissapeared off the press radar.

      A hate crime is directed at a racial / religious / physical attributes (i.e. those with disabilities) group, targeting a group not defined by race / religion / physical attributes can be a public order offence if it goes too far. Again – and I cannot stress this enough – ff he wanted to protest against the MAC group he should have burnt their posters etc, not the religious text of Muslims in general. If he had burnt MAC material and chanted ‘did MAC members die’ then he would probably have not been charged with a hate crime, but simply a public order offence. Instead he burnt a text that didn’t differentiate between MAC members (only 60 people protested and burnt poppies) and every other Muslim in the world.

      Let’s not forget, the EDL purport to protest only against ‘extreme Islam’ and they don’t seem to get punished for hate crimes (even though they chant racist abuse and raise the occasional Hitler salute on marches), so we do seem to have a fairly tolerant and equal society here – we’re not favouring Muslims as the Mail suggests (and does so again today in another divisive article about the MAC and the Royal wedding, something which has not even taken place yet).

  7. @hannanibal: I agree with uponnothing here, I think.

    While despicable, the intention of the poppy burner was to protest against *actions*. Our invasion of Iraq and war against Afghanistan have led to a great many innocent people suffering, no matter how just or otherwise you view those actions. However, no matter how strongly you or I oppose those actions, it’s our democratically elected leaders who performed them and so we as a society shoulder responsibility.

    On the other hand, the burning of a Koran is a direct assault on the *beliefs* of a billion people. Like any religion (including Christianity), Islam is not a problem in and of itself, but can be taken out of context to justify atrocity. As anybody who’s actually read the thing knows, it’s no more hateful in its nature than the Bible, yet people are demonised because a small minority used it to justify hatred. Hatred in return is not the right thing to do.

    Balancing the two, we have somebody angry at the actions of a nation and burning the symbol of that nation’s soldiers, compared with somebody burning the symbol of the beliefs of a billion people because a handful of them did some thing wrong. It’s really not hard to see why one is worse than the other.

  8. @ uponnothing
    I am going to agree to disagree with you on this one even though your blog has changed my mind on a number of issues before specifically the Andy Gray incident.

    First I don’t agree with religious beliefs being tied into hate crimes. Even if you use the indoctrination aspect of religion faith is a choice unlike disability, gender and race.
    Nationality however is NOT a choice. The poppy burners deliberatly offended the soldiers of Britain, the families of the soldiers both living and dead who fought for and died for Britain and any British people with a shred of respect for the soldiers who died for them.
    The burning of the koran was done by one man seeking to offend Muslims in general. I can see no difference. Both publically targeted people who did not deserve it. If the MAC group wanted to protest Imperialism they should have aimed their attentions at the goverment who ordered the soldiers to war.If the koran burner wanted to protest the MAC group he should have burnt their posters etc.

    The intentions of each act were identical, to cause outrage and hatred on a massive scale. Which they both did. I cannot agree with the argument that one is accptable and one isn’t.
    My main point still stands, the law needs a rethink.
    At least Chodhurys and Ryans childish actions have highlighted a loophole in this contentious legislation and may go some way into it being tidied up.
    Thanks.

    P.S. I am a believer in free speech and free expression and I personally think neither act , howver intentionally despicable, should be punished by law. Just severely frowned upon.

  9. @paul

    So you’re saying that it’s fine to target a Nation but not a religion? I don’t see how that’s valid.
    One is a choice(religion) one is compulsory (Country of birth). It’s really not hard to see why one is worse than the other.

  10. I admire you for taking this one on… honestly I don’t know if I could comfortably argue the two incidents are as different as a £50 fine and 70 days in prison. At least both incidents are real, you’re accusing the Mail of double standards based on how you imagine (possibly correctly) they would react in a hypothetical situation.

    Let’s just say this is not as simple to explain as 99% of the nonsense spouted about Muslims and political correctness, and for some people it’s only going to affirm that other 99%. Not helpful at all. *sigh…*

  11. @hannanibal: we seem to be looking at this from very different angles.

    You seem to be looking at it as nationality vs. religion – both of which if we look at it honestly are optional. i.e. You can renounce your nationality, you don’t have an real option about you religion in most cases for at least the first 10 years of your life unless your parents happen to grant that choice to you.

    I’ve however, look at it this way: In the poppy case, what’s being attacked is a symbol not of our nationality as a whole but of our military. The protester was attacking soldiers (a chosen profession) for their actions under orders from our democratically elected government. Unless you want to extrapolate well beyond the intended message, it was not an attack on Britain itself, only her actions.

    In the Koran case, an entire religion with no central leadership was attacked. This includes a great number of people who despise the terrorists as much as you or I. A moderate British Muslim living in Birmingham may have nothing in common with an extremist Saudi or Kosovan or Indonesian Muslim, but they were all attacked equally by this book burning.

    That’s the difference – one might offend a chosen profession working for elected leaders, the other offends everybody who believes in a particular religion with no central leadership.

  12. @paul

    Saying the poppy burning attack was only an attack on soldiers and not Britain holds as much water as saying the koran burning was an attack on the MAC group and not Islam. Neither argument holds water and we know from the public/Islamic outcry that both protests inflamed more than their (supposed) intended targets. It takes a lot of duoble standardising to claim otherwise. The poppy is a symbol not just of the military but of our memories of fallen relatives, friends and citizens.
    The MAC group timed their protest at a memorial service to cause maximum offence and burnt a symbol that to many is of grief and loss and holds extremely deep meaning. To claim a book holds more significance is entirely subjective! The koran holds no significance for me and the poppy holds a lot. Simply because there are less people who venerate the poppy than the koran is an attack on a minority. Also, if the attack was on imperialism they should have burnt an image of the labour rose or a crown. The poppy has nothing to do with imperialism in the eyes of an average person and the MAC group knew this. I am in no way excusing either protest but I cannot comprehend how burning a poppy at a memorial service and chanting “die soldiers die” whilst waving placards saying “British soldiers burn in hell” could be not be seen as a hate crime. When burnig a book of beliefs is.I’ll say it again, the law is wrong.
    Thanks.

  13. @hannanibal: I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree then. I maintain that since one attack is an attack on the military of a democratic nation and the other is of the faith of a billion people, the latter is less discriminatory and therefore more objectionable.

    The poppy is a symbol of the military, I’m not sure how you can argue that it’s somehow less relevant to their actions than a crown, but again we’ll agree to disagree.

    As for hate crime, once again the definition is not applicable to the military of a democratic nation. I’m not sure how you can possibly argue that a crime against people who choose to work for the military of a nation where its government is chosen by the people is the same as a crime against people who just happen to be a certain race, gender or religion. But, again, we’ll agree to disagree.

    While, again, I disagree with both protests, the collateral damage on the part of the poppy burning were generally people who think of the poppy as a symbol of certain, just, wars such as the world wars. However, they are still representative of the modern military whose wars are unjust in the eyes of many who know the innocents who have been harmed today. The collateral damage on the part of the Koran burning are people who have absolutely nothing in common with terrorists, just as the average Christian has nothing to do with abortion clinic bombers or the IRA.

    ” The koran holds no significance for me and the poppy holds a lot.”

    Neither holds much significance for me, to be honest. While I respect the sacrifice of soldiers in past wars, the poppy’s really just a marketing symbol to get people to donate to charity every year. I can remember and respect dead soldiers without it. The Koran, like the Bible, is a nice book of fiction with some good messages among the passages that fundamentalists tend to take out of context. However, I can understand that one is the symbol of a chosen profession in a single country, while the other is representative of the faith of a billion people all around the world.

    “I cannot comprehend how burning a poppy at a memorial service and chanting “die soldiers die” whilst waving placards saying “British soldiers burn in hell” could be not be seen as a hate crime.”

    Once again, it’s a protest again soldiers who *choose* to be in that profession and participate in wars that many see as unjust, especially Muslims who know innocent people who were killed. The average Muslim has absolutely no participation in whatever actions people who claim to share their faith take part in. I’m sorry you can’t see the difference, but again we’ll have to agree to disagree here.

  14. Very clearly both burnings are hate crimes and both should be condemned equally, leaving aside the added factors like theft and previous convictions. What is very disquieting is the spectacle of Mail readers lining up in their hundreds to support one thug and condemn the other – for both are thugs. It will only be when they get their little brains round the idea that there are thugs on both sides and that supporting either is wrong that we’ll be getting somewhere. And I don’t see that happening any time soon with the Mail standing by with its little can of petrol any time things like this crop up.

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