On BOOK BURNING
No matter what the book. There is something deeply ugly about burning books or words. Literature is one of the defining, perhaps the defining, feature of civilisation. Not all human societies have had the written word but all written words are human. The putting down of ideas on to paper was a revolutionary idea. It meant ideas could be kept and shared and copied and read and most importantly built upon to create new ideas which in turn were kept and shared and copied and read, on and on forever, creating vast tapestries of shared ideas which flowed through time and place across the globe like sparkling rivers, lighting the darkness and affecting and changing everything they touched for ever.
Consider what a book is. If I tell you something, my words are fleeting and you may or may not listen, my words may well impress you or move you or they may not. Either way my words are gone when they leave my mouth and most likely they die with you. But write a book and you speak to the whole world and you speak to the whole world forever, they live beyond your life and beyond the space you inhabit.It they are good they live forever and change the world. Once written down, your words no longer belong to you though you will answer for their worth for ever and for all time.
For this reason an attack on a book is more than an attack on paper and ink. It is an attack on the fundamental feature of human culture. Humanity itself. It is literally barbarism. It is an anti human act. For what does it say, to throw a book in the fire? It says not only is this book not worthy of being read by me, a fair decision for anyone, but I have decided that it is not worth being read by anyone ever. For what else is fire but the total consumer. Leaving only ash. This is the act of a tyrant. To choose for all mankind for all time what can or can not be read. Even as a symbol, a book burnt knowing many remain. It is barbarous. It makes a statement that says fire and destruction is the answer to words and ideas. It says if I have the power and if i have the force I will prevent ideas because I know best.
Some books are of more value than others of course. Herman Hesse (banned by the Nazi’s) is of more value than the 2008 tax law volume 6. Shakespeare has more value than John Grisham. But amongst the most valuable are the sacred texts of faith. The literature of faith are the cultural arteries of human history, they trace the historic and social history of humanity. They are held sacred by billions and are the source of meaning and ethics for real peoples lives. To toss one of these texts into the fire. To burn a bible or a Torah or a Koran takes a particular type of arrogance and a particular type of selfish contempt
So what does this say for the book burner. The man who chooses to throw the book into the fire. What does it say about that person. It says they have contempt for human civilisation. It says they see no value in one of the central developments that make human beings human. Worse it says their own petty regards and offences are such as to deny an idea to all the world forever. This is the reasoning of an magalomaniac. A madman. Or someone mentally ill
For all these reasons Muslims and all believers in humanity should not be offended by the book burners who are threatening to burn the Koran.We should pity them. We should shake our heads in pity at the soul that chooses to turn fire on one of the arteries of civilisation. The Koran will survive as the Torah survived the Nazis. The book burners however will have blackened their souls.They disgrace themselves. They have my pity.