...free to think freely


27th February 2023

A storm in a teacup?

It seems last Wednesday, a teenage boy took a book to school. The book was dropped in a crowded corridor and might have been trodden on before he could retrieve it. So far, so normal. Children take many books to school and frequently drop them in crowded corridors.

What was different about this book is its title, The Holy Qur’an. The boy concerned has received death threats from fellow pupils and a local councillor called a meeting, held at a mosque last Friday, at which the matter was discussed. Rumours have apparently circulated that the book was burnt or otherwise destroyed and the local imam is quoted as suggesting this sort of disrespect towards Islam cannot be tolerated.

An article in Spiked expresses concern about the impact of such threats on Free Speech and its author seems incensed that while the boy has been suspended, those threatening his life have not been subject to any sanction, because his mother has requested no action be taken against them.

It is easy for armchair critics to write reams of nonsense in situations like this and that is what can inflame issues when a little calm reflection shows how trivial they really are. Firstly, the book was not burnt, and secondly, it is for those closest to the action to decide which responses are appropriate in a specific case.

I am not a Muslim, and so I must defer to people of that Faith tradition to confirm what I understand, but the photographs of the book on the BBC’s website cast doubt on the fundamental “fact” behind this. Although entitled The Holy Qur’an, those words in English do not necessarily mean that is what the book is. The photograph showing the dirt ground into the margin of a page also shows a corner of the text, and that text is in English also. As I understand it, Islamic doctrine holds that the Qur’an is essentially Arabic and cannot be translated into any other language without losing its status as Islam’s Holy Book. Translation involves interpretation and puts a barrier between the words and the reader preventing access to the full range of meaning conveyed by the original. If that is so what, in Islamic eyes, was the English-language book dropped? Whilst Muslims would consider an Arabic Qur’an a sacred object to be treated with great care, does that same responsibility extend to an English translation, which their teaching implies cannot be the real thing?

Secondly, there is nothing wrong with the victim of an alleged crime deciding to take matters no further. I myself was possibly assaulted around eighteen months ago and was asked to consider pressing charges. I did not. Further back, as a teenager, I bullied a younger boy, including making death threats, and his parents also concluded it was wisest not to press charges or even involve the police. I shall always be grateful for their wisdom for, had I gone into the criminal justice system, who knows what I might have become? Thanks to their restraint I was able to recover and live a normal harmless life (or as harmless as most of us can manage in this complex world of trade and politics). I just hope the younger boy also recovered from his fright and prospered. I cannot know, but I know his parents loved him and would have done their best to support him through it. Sadly, these things happen. The danger comes when young people carry weapons, as we see on an almost weekly basis when teenage quarrels go too far and result in horrendous consequences. We can’t stop young people experiencing powerful emotions and bitter rivalries. That’s part of growing up at that stage. We do need to do our best to ensure they don’t have access to lethal force when they feel like that.

So I don’t feel minded to make a bold stand on this issue. Playing politics with ordinary people’s lives rarely helps and can do more harm than good. Diverse Diversity exists to seek a better way.