Thursday, September 09, 2010

On Book Burning and Responses

Burning any book whatsoever goes against the very core of my personal and professional values. I joked once in college about having a grand end-of-semester barbecuing of our econometrics textbook, and couldn't bring myself to actually participate. I don't even joke about it anymore, mostly because I don't find it funny.

If you've been anywhere near FriendFeed (or the rest of the internet) lately, you'll have heard about the "International Burn a Koran Day" planned by U.S. pastor Terry Jones for September 11, 2010. If you're anything like any of the folks who have commented on the story, you're probably offended, appalled, or ashamed. To me, it's a despicable practice, to hold a whole group responsible for the actions of a few.

I am concerned, though, that the sentiment that "Christians the world over would be in danger over the Koran-burning stunt" paints Islam as a bloodthirsty religion. With Interpol, the U.S. Government, and even President Obama claiming that the burning could provoke "violent attacks on innocent people" result in a "recruitment bonanza" for Al-Quaeda, they've essentially undone much of the good work that has gone into demonstrating that Muslims are no more bloodthirsty and irrational than any other religious group.

I much prefer Stephen Abram's approach in his latest blog post, "We Strengthen Our Rights by Exercising Them," in whcih he recommends a counter protest on a personal level by reading the Koran, reaching some understanding, bringing light to ignorance. Please go read his post - he eloquently states, "The forces for book burning do have a right to their views and actions and good and decent people have a right to object to their views and actions." He continues with his recommendation for what that action should be. You might be surprised, but it's not to have a vitriolic counter-protest.

I have also been concerned and, to be honest, horrified at how folks seem more than willing to forgo the freedom of speech this *nonviolent* protest would have been, by not just protesting back or pointing out that pastor Jones is a bit of an ass for a so-called "Christian," but by actively seeking ways to prevent him from completing the exercise. Was the burning distasteful in the extreme? Absolutely, and an insult to followers of Islam who hold the Koran holy. Did it meet the "yelling 'Fire!' in a crowded theater" test of being disallowed as free speech? I'm not a lawyer, but I doubt it. And personally, I find the implications of those willing to toss free speech out the window for an offensive display far more vexing than one mediawhore miscreant's attempt to start a holybook bonfire.

And so, in the spirit of Mr. Abrams' post, I also ask that instead of seeking to limit the rights of one who would use them for personal gain and fame, exercise your own rights, whether it be loudly or quietly. When the only people who exercise their rights do so out of a damaging place, the rest of us are culpable for not speaking out, or dimming their example with our own. Why should a public reading from the Koran be planned only in response to something like Pastor Jones? Perhaps an interfaith reading would be the perfect way to commemorate September 11th, reminding us that this is a place of equality, that any who want to may speak aloud, and that we hope the most voices fall into a place of peace and attempted understanding.

And while I understand that it is your right to burn books (given that you've acquired the proper permits for a fire and such), I would really rather prefer you find a more eloquent way to make your point. All knowledge is worth having, and there has got to be a less blatantly ignorant way of getting your point across.

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