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What Were They Thinking?

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Imagine you are part of a military power in a foreign country as a result of your country invading it. Now imagine that while you are there your military is responsible for many civilian deaths and many well publicised acts of intolerance and disrespect. And to make matters even worse your country is the world’s greatest bastion of the dominant culture and religion and the country you are invading follows another religion. And the followers of that religion are extremely fanatical about defending it.

OK, if you have imagined all of that what would be the worst thing you could do (assuming you wanted peace and stability, of course)? Would it be to burn piles of the holy book of the culture you had invaded? Maybe there could be even worse things, but in a country which is fanatical about its beliefs that would have to be amongst the worst possible actions, wouldn’t it?

You would have to almost draw the conclusion that a mass burning of a holy book, without even an attempt at hiding the action, was a deliberate act of provocation… or maybe it’s just unbelievable incompetence. Which is worse?

I have little respect for holy books but I have even less respect for people who burn them (or any other book for that matter). I also have little respect for people who think having a few books burned is an excuse for embarking on an extended campaign of violence and murder. So in my opinion no one comes out of this sort of situation looking good.

Book burning has always symbolised repression and intolerance. Even if the reason a book is burned is logical and uncontroversial it still looks bad. And if you need to burn a holy book for practical reasons the least you could do is do it secretly!

If I followed a religion and its books were burned by my opponents I think I could use the situation in a positive way to enhance my own credibility. I would point out that my God is not bothered by the destruction of mere physical objects because he is above that. I would point out that it is the other group doing the burning who are the uncivilised barbarians. And I would say that I am a better person and will not sink to similar levels of uncivilised conduct.

But that’s not what usually happens, is it. On every side of the conflict: what were they thinking?

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