Iran considers banning Chinese-printed error-ridden Korans

Iranian publishers are reeling after measures to save money when printing the Koran backfired this week. In an attempt to make cheaper, mass distribution editions available, the Holy Book was produced and printed in China. But the copies, already on the streets, contain several typing errors, compromising the accuracy of the religious text.

Officials are now considering banning Chinese-printed editions of the Koran in Iran, in order to eliminate erroneous copies. Bookshops who have been supplied the books will have to pay the costs. Rather than acknowledging their errors, officials are focusing on encouraging the purchase of higher priced Iranian editions, which were praised for being more meticulously checked than their Chinese counterparts.

Meticulous checking is something Iranian officials are extremely adept in — it seems that the Iranian editors (read censors) have once again been investing their time and energy on surveillance, as citizens became the target of an internet security scam that enabled snooping on Google users. Google last week confirmed that Internet users in Iran had been scammed by a false certificate verifying site authenticity.  Internet users unwittingly revealed their activity to Iranian officials through the usage of the “man-in-the-middle-attack”, which uses a false certificate to obtain the login credentials of users.

The certificate has since been cancelled, but Mozilla has now released an update to Firefox to further protect targeted Internet users with a step by step guide to deleting the DigiNotar CA certificate

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and free speech

Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has some interesting thoughts on free expression in this morning’s paper.

Inspired by a discussion at Oxford Literary Festival with Index chief executive John Kampfner, Times writer David Aaronovitch and Guido Fawkes blogger Paul Staines, Albhai-Brown questions whether free speech should be seen as an absolute right.

She starts well enough:

Too many states use brute force to quell and gag their people. In our western democracies, governments withhold information, stop legitimate protest, control speech and even thought. All wrong, must be resisted, agreed.

And then comes the “but” that will forever plague arguments for and about restrictions on speech:

Most of us, though, will not speak with one voice on the burning of the Koran by Sion Owens, a BNP candidate for the Welsh assembly. And what about the website that sells cheeky Jihadi, al-Qa’ida baby T-shirts and maternity clothes? Tory MP Robert Halfon is apoplectic and wants the site closed down. Are you with or against him? Do we teach children that words can wound or that their entitlement to speak trumps everything else?

That last sentence is a false dichotomy. Words are powerful: words are important. Otherwise there would be little point in defending free expression. As soon as one feels comfortable placing proscriptions on speech, one leads inevitably to a position where certain speech is favoured. Moreover, there is no contradiction between free speech being a right and free speech being used responsibly.

We continue:

Some in the real world, too, are enviable absolutists who believe the slightest tremor of concern is a concession and invitation to authoritarianism. Their God is Voltaire, who decreed that even when one hates what is being said by somebody, one must “fight to the death” for the right of that person to hold forth.

Voltaire never said that. It comes from a 1906 book entitled “Friends of Voltaire”. Minor point, but something one should know if you’re writing about free expression. But lets go on.

We come to Manchester United footballer Wayne Rooney, banned for two matches for swearing at a Sky Sports camera (exacts words “What? Fucking what? What? Fucking Hell!”) after scoring a hat trick against West Ham.

The FA is deciding what to do with Wayne Rooney, who swore horridly on TV. The footballer – who has apologised – must be crying into his champagne. I hope he gets his comeuppance.

See? He’s rich, therefore all other arguments about his rights and liberties are obscured.

Rooney had just scored a hat trick. As The Streets’ Mike Skinner once put it, “geezers need excitement”. Moreover, Rooney’s job is not to be presentable on TV, or (shudder) to be a “role model”. His job is to score goals for Manchester United, and he was having a very, very good day at the office.

Next up:

In 1919, the US Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes decreed that the only limits to freedom of speech were words that activate immediate danger, like a man shouting “fire!” in a crowded theatre. But what about when individuals set out calculatedly to provoke unrest and anger, which then happens? Like the burning of the Koran. Of course the offended should not rage and die for it – but that was the intention. The inciters are surely as culpable as the man in the theatre. They raise hatred, which eventually leads to violence.

The “eventually” is key here. Who is responsible for the incitement that lead to the murders of UN workers in Afghanistan? The Floridan pastors who burned the holy book? Or the imams who preached to the faithful about this insult to Islam? Alibhai-Brown does not seem to count these as the inciters. But they were the ones with the power to incite the mob in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Nearly finished:

Another thing to consider is that most of us are biased. We want some words to be free, and others not. Will the Koran burner be backed by libertarians, atheists and Muslim bashers? Or will he face the same opprobrium as those Muslims who burnt Salman Rushdie’s book? I await Fay Weldon and Ian McEwan’s beautifully expressed outrage

Two problems here: Earlier we were asked to criticise absolutists. Now we must condemn relativism.

More insidiously, there is the implication that Fay Weldon and Ian McEwan are being hypocritical and possibly even Islamophobic. But Weldon and McEwan and others, in their stand in support of Rushdie, did not attack the right of Muslims to protest against the Satanic Verses, or even to burn it. They defended a fellow novelist against a death sentence from a foreign tyrant. Not the same thing, is it?

BNP Koran burning charge dropped

A Public Order Act charge against British National Party member Sion Owens, who was arrested over the weekend for burning a copy of the Koran in his garden and posting a video of the act on the internet, was dropped this morning.

Owens had been arrested for incitement to religious hatred under Section 29 of the Public Order Act. However, it is understood that permission for such a prosecution had not been sought from the Attorney General, as is required.

Letter from America: Senator suggests eroding free speech and no one seems to notice

Respected US Senator Lindsey Graham said a remarkable thing last Sunday morning on one of the weekly political round-up shows that are popular with Washington insiders.

“I wish we could find some way to hold people accountable,” the senator from South Carolina said, responding to the Koran-burning stunt by a fringe Florida pastor that prompted deadly riots in Afghanistan. “Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war. During World War II, you had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy.”

Americans don’t typically harken back to World War II as a model of right-headed civil liberties restraint; kitschy propaganda posters from that era are a popular attraction in the Smithsonian museum today as a quaint reminder that the US government once threatened civilians that their slightest blabber could cost entire submarines of allied lives.

Sixty years after World War II, Americans more sceptical of their government should be wary of any sentence from a powerful politician that starts, “Free speech is a great idea, but…”

Last Sunday morning, though, Lindsey Graham suggested the country might need to consider pushing back against “actions like this that put our troops at risk” – and then Bob Schieffer, the host of the CBS program “Face the Nation,” pivoted right to a question about arming rebels in Libya.

There was no follow-up on Graham’s deeply controversial suggestion. The New York Times made no mention of the comments. It garnered three paragraphs on Politico.

The oddly muted response capped a strange run for the entire Terry Jones saga. When the Florida pastor threatened last summer, around the anniversary of 11 September, to burn a Koran, hordes of media descended on his small central-Florida church, interfaith religious leaders put the pastor on speed-dial and even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called to personally plead the military’s case.

Jones finally demurred, a prime example of the theory that the best antidote to hate speech is more speech. An odd thing happened, though, when he changed his mind.

Jones caused an international stir just by threatening to burn the Koran, but when he finally went through with it on 20 March – “It’s like people forgot about us,” he whined to the Washington Post – hardly anyone in America noticed. The lone outsider present for the spectacle appears to have been an unlucky fire department official called to supervise. It took two weeks for the story to ricochet all the way to Afghanistan and back again in the form of dead UN workers before it finally made the front page.

Had no one died — had Muslims overseas not been streaming Jones’ Internet production when his own neighbours were not looking — it’s easy to imagine the incident may have gotten no attention at all.

So why was everyone so riled by the man in September and not in March? And why did the equally provocative suggestion that America curtail wartime free expression as a result go largely undiscussed?

The simplest answer is: We’ve been busy. A more patient and media-savy Jones would have known to wait for a lull in the news cycle. Right now, though, everyone from the president to TV pundits is pretty occupied trying to figure out if we’ve just entered a third war or not. And then there’s the whole issue of the federal government shutting down for the first time in 15 years amid an intractable budget dispute on Capitol Hill.

No one should be faulted for ignoring Jones this time around – in fact, ignoring hate speech before the Internet age was another good way to dilute its power. But Americans need to make time to worry about politicians hedging on the rights of free expression regardless of what else is going on. Forgetting about Terry Jones is one thing; letting Lindsey Graham off the hook is another.

After all, past wars tell the story that free speech is easiest to erode when no one’s paying attention.