A BRISBANE-based lawyer and atheist who videoed himself smoking what appeared to be joints made with pages from the Bible and the Koran expects to lose his job at a Queensland university.
Alex Stewart, 29, has taken indefinite leave from work amid calls for his sacking.
The video comes as international outrage continues over the proposed burning of multiple copies of the Koran by a radical Christian pastor in the US.
The 12-minute YouTube video, one of more than 90 posted by Mr Stewart, shows the Queensland University of Technology-employed lawyer tearing pages from both books and using the paper to roll what looks to be marijuana cigarettes.
After smoking both he gives marks out of 10 – rating the Bible as a better burner than the Koran. In his commentary, he said people should just “get over” the burning of books like the Bible or the Koran.
“It’s just a f—ing book. Who cares? It’s your beliefs that matter. Quite frankly, if you are going to get upset about a book, you’re taking life way too seriously.”
The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils president Ikebal Patel today called for Mr Stewart to be sacked.
However, it is not yet known whether Mr Stewart has breached QUT’s staff code of conduct and university vice-chancellor Professor Peter Coaldrake said all university staff were afforded natural justice.
He said Mr Stewart, who did not associate himself with QUT in his YouTube posting, was not an academic staff member and so did not teach.
Prof Coaldrake said leave was probably an “appropriate option” for Mr Stewart so he could “go and think about things for a while”.
“People need to be thoughtful about the consequences of what they say or do,” he said.
“Clearly, apart from the issue being very problematic in terms of how people might respond (to the video), the timing was at least unfortunate because of the proximity to September 11.”
Mr Stewart, an assistant organiser with a group called Brisbane Atheists, was not at his Brisbane home today but in a message on the group’s website he said he expected to be sacked.
“I’m screwed. I think I will lose my job over this. Damn it,” he wrote.
Yesterday, Mr Patel of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils slammed the video.
“I think it’s highly offensive that he has done this to two of the holiest books in the world,” Mr Patel said.
“It does not in any way add any value to trying to promote world peace and the consideration of different views – especially when there are heightened tensions around the anniversary of September 11 and the Eid el Fitr (end of Ramadan) celebrations.”
Yesterday, Mr Stewart told The Courier-Mail he expected people to be offended by the video but was not worried about reprisals.
He said although it looked like marijuana, he was actually smoking lawn clippings.
“The video was a joke video, of course. I never actually do drugs. People do this stuff all the time and if people get really upset about this then they’re taking it far too seriously,” Mr Stewart said.
He said basic freedoms, like the freedom of speech, should not be revoked just because someone might be offended.
Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Michael Cope said he didn’t believe Mr Stewart had contravened the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act.
He said penalties for blasphemy had also been removed from the Criminal Code.
“I don’t think on the face of it that what he’s done is an offence . . . nor do we think it should be,” Mr Cope said.
Anglican Church spokesman, Dean Peter Catt, labelled it a stunt that on one level was humorous.
“But I can accept that some people would be scandalised by it,” he said.
Father Catt encouraged people not to take offence, which would just escalate the issue, as had occurred with the threat by radical Florida Christian evangelist Terry Jones to conduct a mass burning of the Koran on September 11, unless Muslim plans to build an Islamic centre near the Ground Zero site were scrapped.