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Burn the Books

September 9, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

The threat to burn the Koran as a reminder of the events of 9/11 by the US pastor has caused a lot of comment around the world. Most people have condemned the idea: from both a practical and symbolic perspective, and I think they have a good point.

Let’s look at this symbolically first. Book burning has traditionally been a symbol for repression and the denial of alternative ideas. It has often been associated with holy wars and with periods of torture and imprisonment of groups with opposing beliefs. It has been a common tool in the past for Christian regimes who want to impose their power over others. It certainly doesn’t represent the better aspects of Christianity and anyone who wants to burn any book which opposes their beliefs just reveals themselves as an ignorant bigot.

I’m not saying that I think the Koran is a great book and worthy of special treatment. But it is a book and one which has interesting philosophy and mythology in it, as well as violence and evil. But if that was a reason to burn it then the Bible would be next in line for destruction – in fact it should go first!

On the other hand, if you are a genuine literal Christian and really think the devil has created various objects to distract people from what you perceive as the “truth” then it is your duty to oppose these things. The pastor involved seems to genuinely believe the Koran is the work of the devil and if you have that mindset then it makes perfect sense to symbolically destroy that work.

What about practicality? Well there’s little doubt that burning the Koran would be a great boost for the Islamic extremists. If the aim is to create further conflict between the Muslim and Christian world – especially between the Middle East and the US – then this is a great way to do it. If the burning goes ahead then surely organisations like al Qaeda will benefit greatly. Is that what the Bible bashers really want?

Maybe they do. Many commentators have pointed out that Christianity as a whole is diminishing around the world but fundamentalist Christianity is increasing. That is probably a natural result of the downfall of a previously dominant belief system: as the overall numbers decrease those remaining will become more extreme. Fundamentalism thrives from a sense of persecution. That has certainly caused an increase in Islamic extremism and I’m sure the same thing will happen to Christian fundamentalism if Islam begins a campaign of violence against it.

So the Koran burning is probably justifiable from a fundamentalist religious perspective but from any other (social, political, military, etc) it is totally unacceptable. But the same could be said for the many (admittedly far more extreme) actions of the Muslim terrorists which is exactly what the Christians are allegedly using the burning to protest against. It’s all very “Old Testament” really.

In many ways the book burning could be seen as an act of terrorism itself. Destroying an important symbol with the specific wish to cause conflict sounds like an act of terrorism to me, so why aren’t the US authorities arresting those proposing this move using their draconian anti-terrorism laws?

The fact is there are far more positive and effective protests which Christians could use to protest against the violent factions within Islam. Book burning just makes them look primitive and intolerant which are the sorts of attributes they are supposed to be protesting about. But unfortunately, as our good friend Christopher Hitchens has said: religion poisons everything. As long as people hold beliefs based on superstition and ignorance (and this applies to both sides) religious conflict will just increase.

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  1. limey
    September 10, 2010 at 8:10 am

    I must say, my heart sank when I read the story about the Koran burning. Everything you say about how counter-productive it is correct. Not only does it show how ignorant and biggoted they burners are, but it also reveals an astonishing lack of thought and rational judgement.

    There is just one thing that bothers me about the Hitchens quote. I would change the word religion for the fundamentalism or extremism. Religion per se does not poison everything, fundamentalism does. You don’t need religion to breed fundamentalism, you just need a segregation.

    Yes its true that that vast majority of fundies exist in relgious circles and they have cause much suffering; but they are not unique to relgion. They exist in the animal rights movement as an obvious example. I have no doubt that they exist in the New Atheist movement too.

    I have just read the news that the burning has been called off, this is good news and I am releived, but I also fear that the damage has already been done and there will be some form of Islamic retribution anyway. Which will only lead to the paster concerned reasserting that he was right and the cycle will continue again.

  2. ojb42
    September 10, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Yes, I think you have a point. I don’t think the Hitchens quote should be taken too literally. It’s possible that the sort of person who becomes a religious fundamentalist would find some other cause to become a fundamentalist in if religion didn’t exist, but the fact that religion does exist makes it all too easy for them. I agree that it’s good that the official burning has been called off but I think there will still be a few isolated cases of it happening anyway.

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