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Burn the Books

Entry 1220, on 2010-09-10 at 09:17:00 (Rating 4, News)

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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