On Burning Books
I don’t approve of burning books anymore than I approve of burning people. But, as Heinrich Heine pointed out so long ago (and as Christopher Hitchens reminds us) it seems that one inevitably follows the other.
A few weeks ago, that certain pastor in Florida made good on his promise to burn a copy of the Koran. The response from the Islamic world was what we’ve come to expect from the fundamentalist sects: outrage, murder, and madness.
The response from the western world, however, is what really troubles me.
Overwhelmingly, American journalists and media pundits have thrown the blame for these deaths and a perceived “increased risk to our troops” at the feet of this misguided pastor.
Now, think for a moment. What does this mean?
If you, for example, were to burn a copy of one of my books, would I have a right to shoot you? I wrote the bloody thing, after all. Would the news outlets and journalists of the world be chiming in saying, “Well, he did burn the man’s book, you know. It meant a lot to him.” Of course not.
And for you squeamish, un-evolved, compartmentalizing apologists out there who would point out that the pastor insulted the Muslim ‘religion,’ as though that made a difference, I have a question for you. Why does religion get a special pass? Why does one group of people have a unique right to be offended, and, as the aggrieved, then also have the right to raid and murder dozens who weren’t even involved?
If I were to burn the Mexican flag, (which I would never do) would any Mexican have the right to kill me? How about if I to take a blade to a stuffed elephant, could then republicans threaten my family? Ahh, but what if I were to burn a bible, and then get assaulted by a christian? I’ll bet some of you see that as different, somehow. This is the chasm in rational thought that I’m talking about.
If we attach faith to heinous behaviors, there comes a sort of queasy understanding from those that know their holy books are just as cruel, just as primitive, and just as steeped in myth and nonsense.
Free speech is a concept that has been shown to foster not just the most innovative and creative people, but societies as well. The right to express yourself and put forth your own ideas about even the biggest and most controversial topics is a human necessity. So long as I never threaten or harm anyone, I expect that the most horrendous passages in my books not be censored, not cause my life to be in danger, and certainly not cause the death of anyone. (As they say, ‘my right to swing my fist ends at your nose’)
There’s a strange dichotomy in the air about some groups. Even otherwise freethinking, evolved human beings may rail against such medieval stupidity one moment, then in the next, they’ll advocate the de facto observance of Islamic law by condemning those who don’t abide by it.
I, for one, am not bound by Sharia, and I will not be intimidated and frightened into blaming one stupid pastor for the murderous acts of thousands of misguided people acting under the shield of “religious faith.”
How dare anyone allow them that shield? How dare anyone give leeway for torture and public execution when that old con-job of “faith” is involved?
As an atheist, I find this offensive. As an artist, I find it unacceptable. As a human being, I find it a disgrace.
Where do you stand? Are you standing at all? Or, are you already bowing, perhaps?
Socrates was killed for “impiety,” and corrupting the youth with ideas. I won’t drink the hemlock, folks. I will turn pale, hemmorage and die in an empty cell writing blasphemies in my own blood before I allow anyone to tell me what I can or cannot express. I’d like to think you would too, but lately, I have to wonder.
Disclaimer: Yes, I am aware of and applaud “moderate Muslims” out there. Although your outrage over such overt acts of violence by your brothers in faith has always seemed strangely quiet, if not altogether absent. And yes, if it were any other group of any other kind that was trying to intimidate free speech out of our rights, I’d be just as fervent and combative.