Meditations on book burning

Whole lot of kerfuffle in the Mainstream Media and upon the Internet concerning some folks off to burn some copies of the Qur’an.

I’m not going to get into the military/political/sociological/diplomatic ramifications of this issue — countless others (more qualified than Your Humble Scribe) have opined at length on this subject — but I will offer my general Thoughts Upon The Subject.

As usual, I’m of multiple minds concerning this.

On one hand, the idea of burning a book — any book — leaves me cold. A book is knowledge made tangible; it is far more than just ink, paper, glue and leather: it is ideas, dreams, hopes, fantasies … it is all those things that make us human — those that separate us from animals — distilled into an object one can touch.

To burn a book is to spurn those ideas, those hopes; to reject those things that do separate us from animals, and to symbolically reject at least a small part of our humanity.

Christian Johann Heinrich Heine, in his 1821 play, Almansor, uttered a stark, uncomfortable truth:

Das war Vorspiel nur. Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.

(Loosely) translated thus: “That was merely a prelude. For where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people.

It is a small, small step to go from destroying the ideas of people, to destroying the people who have ideas.

Are there books that inflame the passions, and may influence the small-minded into criminal actions? Hell, yes, but so do many other things: Speech inflames and influences the small of mind far more than any book — but we do not condone gunning down a man in the street for a hateful speech.

On the other hand, a book is nothing more than ink, paper and glue. Burning one book is not going to remove the knowledge contained there-in from history. Especially a book as widely-printed as the Qur’an. You could — if you so chose — burn every Qur’an in the Western Hemisphere, and you would make less than the tiniest dent in the numbers of that book.

To burn a book — or a pile of them — is, quite literally, useless for any purpose other than symbolism or to ensure the livelihood of those who will — inevitably — print more books to replace those you have incinerated.

As long as the books you are burning are yours to burn, have at it. For all the fire, and all the rhetoric, you will have accomplished … what? A pile of ashes you now have to dispose of? A symbolic gesture that you can hope someone else actually gives two hoots in hell about?

The publishing companies, however, will thank you — there is that.

On the gripping hand …

… I wasn’t born in Texas; sometimes I don’t sound like I’m from Texas, but I am Texan.

There is a short list of people who can tell me to do any-sodding-thing with my own property, and Abdul the Moderately Rabid isn’t on it.

You can ask me to do (or not to do) something with my property, or you can explain why it’s necessary to do (or not to do) something with my property, but you gods-damned well don’t order me to do it (or not).

And, son, if you threaten me about anything — and you’re within bad-breath distance — you’d better be on Good Terms with your Dear and Fluffy Lord … because I’ll strike the bloody match on your snaggle teeth if I have to, and I’ll gladly slide into Sessrúmnir with you in a choke-hold if that’s what it takes to make sure you don’t ever pull that sort of crap again.


Saw this one coming ...
Hot tea through the sinuses hurts!

31 thoughts on “Meditations on book burning”

  1. I too, am of a couple of (simple) minds about the subject.

    For one thing – by burning a volume of ideas, you simply show that you have no way to refute those ideas with logic and reason and you fear them so much that you must destroy them.

    Mostly though, I'm proud to live in a country where we can burn the holiest and most sacred of books. I'm sorely tempted to stage a rally where everyone brings a book that's sacred to them and sets it ablaze. Whether it's the Bible, the Quran or the '92 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition – whatever tome they hold dearest – chuck it in the fire and show that ideas (and porn) live in the head and the heart and that a free society need have no fear of words.

  2. I am totally opposed to the burning of Koreans! What it the world did the Koreans do that someone would want to burn them? I knew a Korean – he cleaned our offices. A prince of a guy. He was a little hard to understand, but what crime is that? What has the world come to?!?

    [stolen from a friend's Facebook page]

  3. I agree with you entirely. I just wanted to comment because it would seem your language has been influenced by Larry Niven. On the gripping hand… Excellent books.

    As for the book burning, ideas cannot be destroyed. However, these actions will solidify or engender anti-western ideas in many Muslims, as well as people of all nations and races. Book burning for me has it's threat there. Not in the idea represented, but the idea fostered, by the action. It's one of the downsides to the first amendment. Yet for it, it is far better to have it than not. It is a shame that there is no way to hold these people accountable for their actions, but such is our system. I would not change it.

  4. Let 'rm get their TV time.
    If it pisses off the mooslims, so what.
    Least they will know that a couple folks don't give a shit 'bout their jihad.
    We are waiting,bring it on.

  5. Well said, Mr. Dawg.

    AD- your post read in my mind with the voice of Roseann Roseanna Dana. Luckily my drink was finished, else it woulda been running down the monitor face.

    Sigh. I shudder when books are mistreated- sometimes they are a misanthrope's bestest friends.

    WV glityp Dunno what it is, but I like the sound of it.

  6. LD, I couldn't agree with you more, and I darned well couldn't have said it as well. I've been wanting to post on the issue for over a week and never could properly get it from brain to keyboard.

    And AD, you crack me up. 🙂

  7. What I find interesting is the media's sudden concern for those whose holy book it is. They showed no such concern for the Christians who were upset with Piss Christ or the elephant dung Madonna. Or for that matter concern for those who disagree with the GZ Mosque.

    Likewise, I find it personally offensive to be told that I have to tiptoe around the sensibilities of Muslim Fanatics, while having to put up with far worse from them.

    So while I don't normally hold with book burning, and I fully understand and sympathise with why folks like Petraeus didn't want it to happen, I find I'm actually little annoyed that this one didn't go off as planned.

    If Imam Rauf has the right to do something others find offensive, the aforementioned others have the equal right to offend him, without the government (or worse yet the MSM) stepping in to tell us who can and who must not be offended.

  8. Don't tell me burning a Koran is dangerous to our troops & thus we shouldn't do it, while on the other hand you praise the information being released by WikiLeaks and say how important it is to have this information made public even though it is a danger to our troops.

    Besides, if the fuzzy-wuzzy-Muzzies burned Torahs, Bibles, copies of the Constitution, SI Swimsuit editions, the Victoria's Secret catalog, the Illuminatus! Triology, Dianetics, and boxes of Hamburger Helper (to offend the Pastafarians)to vent their outrage instead of blowing people up, I'd be more than happy.

  9. To me, the problem with burning the Koran is that if you haven't read it, as Thomas Jefferson did, you don't know the ideas in it. If you don't know the ideas in it, you don't know what position the enemy is coming from. As has been stated, you can destroy a material book, but you cannot destroy the ideas noted in that book.

    I'm reminded of an episode of "The Waltons" that dealt with book burning before WW2… seems a local guy (presumably a Christian), in response to Hitler's book burning, wanted to burn books printed in German. The problem was, in said local guy's ignorance, he was fixing to torch a Christian Bible printed in German. Act in ignorance and you damage your own position.

  10. My thoughts on the subject are very simple. Short of you being in a situation where its burn a book or freeze (i would of course round up some wood and just use the book pages as tinder) there is no real reason to burn a book.

    otherwise do the world a favor and have the decency to stand in the middle of the pile when you light it

  11. YEah that's pretty much what I said several days ago. I was a blunt about it though. 🙂

    As for Saturday. I wouldn't have watched it even had it happened. I was busy doing other things. Writing an entry in remembrance of the fallen over on my own blog here, playing online poker and trying to stay out of trouble.

  12. The house before the one I inhabit now came furnished with a box-full of the kind of books you abandon when you move; water-damaged bestsellers of yesteryear, paperback adaptations of summer blockbusters, that sort of thing. I burned them. Giving them to a Friends of the Library sale really wouldn't have been friendly.

    That said, we are entirely too fond of fire as a symbolic gesture of Protest. I've long thought that the answer to book-burners (and flag-burners, and effigy-burners) is to require them to get a permit for a fire, and arrest them for endangering the public if they don't. I understand that this is how many jurisdictions clamp down on KKK cross-burnings. It seems to me that placing book-burners (and flag-burners, etc.) on the same level as the Klan is the perfect combination of respect for (un) civil liberties and societal contempt.

  13. Dog,
    You refer to the Quran as if it was just another book.If a Muslim considers every copy of it sacred that is part of his religious belief.The plublicity hound in Florida understood that he could offend every muslim in the world with this stunt.Many of them loyal Americans.

    You are not at war with Islam as a whole.In fact it is a very small number who have taken arms against your country.

    We don't get to chose what others hold sacred but we do get to decide who we offend.

    The Taliban could care less whether those books were burned.It means more recruits to their cause.

    A couple years back there was a great outcry because anti war types were burning the American flag.Those pieces of cloth were no more unique than a pile of Qurans and of no religious significance.While they were not unique as an item they were "the" American flag.

    The uniqueness is not in the individual flag, Quran,or Bible.

    As for the Sky Pilot,remember that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.


  14. And given Her reputation, Freya will be applauding the manner of your arrival.

    I take no more kindly than you to being ordered to do (or not do) something. On the other gripping hand…..I will take into account the likelihood that Abdul the Moderately Rabid will express his displeasure, not with me, but with those he identifies as being of my tribe.

    As for putting that pestilential excuse for a preacher in the middle of his own bonfire, as another commenter suggested? He doesn't merit the honor.


  15. Lighting fires aside, the time has come to draw some lines in the sand. Muslims are immune to ridicule through threats of violence, yet are among the types who ridicule and violently destroy things pertaining to other religions extremely often, and at any imagined slight, no matter how foolish.

    The faithful of this self styled religion of peace it seems are often the ones who seem to react
    in the most un-peaceful like fashion.

    It all boils down to this in my book; if you let people bully you with threats of violence over perceived ills, then once they know they have your number, the perceived ills, along with the violence often just keep piling up.

    Give into the demands once, the demands just keep coming.

    I'm all for letting people be free to pray to a salad fork if they want too, but next time you threaten me you better bring that holy salad fork with you, cuz your gonna need it.

    The only way to stop a bully is to call his bluff, or whup him. We need to let them know we have teeth too, and are no longer afraid to use them, God Forbid…

  16. got a handy lot of opinions and a couple of them need to stand nearby and show their snaggle teeth.

    I knew a guy who burned at least book a day for almost 20 years, true they were harlequin romances, and I myself thought they aroused more bodice-ripping passion as kindling than literature. He'd bring a truck load of firewood or farm goods into town, and take a truckload of throw away books home with him.

    I did sort of enjoy the ham and eggs cooked on the stove fueled by a Fabio fronted literay frolic.

    Disappointingly, used book stores are on their way out, and he manages half a truck full from thrift stores and the like now. though he'll take any paper from the SEIU. He regards burning their literature as genuinely holy work.

    the stores know what he's doing, and the paperback distributors manage to fill his truck a couple times once a month. He'll let me read all I want, but I can't take a book home that is w/o front cover.

    This guy actually could get paid to burn books, if he played the situation properly.

    so don't be horrified mr. and mrs. internet, books are being burned all the time. the millions of James Blish numbered adaptations of Star Trek episodes that are out there, my guy has probably burned 100,000 or so of them that he knows of.

  17. That a book gets published does not give it any inherent value. Some books are merely the ravings of lunatics. Most religions are based on the ravings of lunatics, or con men. To paraphrase my sixth grade teacher, "Don't believe everything you read, because that piece of paper will lay perfectly still and let you write anything on it you want to." Kentucky Jones

  18. I should not need to add, but will anyway, "ditto" for the internet. Kentucky Jones

  19. JohnB said: "the millions of James Blish numbered adaptations of Star Trek episodes that are out there, my guy has probably burned 100,000 or so of them that he knows of."

    For THAT outrage, phasers will be set on "HEAVY stun" & Starfleet will write him a strong letter! 🙂

    Really, it isn't civil to burn the Koran. Neither is it neighborly to use that book (or ANY other) as a ruse to take over the place.

    If a spiritual son of Tariq ibn-Ziyad were to try to take the US, then he'd have to duck a lot of my lead, too. If he just wants to come here to pray in peace, I'll even loan him a rug to do it on.

    I am not at war with Islam. I am at war with those infidels who read jihad as a war against outsiders and not as a war against one's own passions & one's own fallen human nature.

    And, should anyone care, I am Catholic.

    Ulises from CA

    P.S. How's your blood sugar doing, L.D.?

  20. Book burning has become a symbolic act. Computers and the internet make the ability to burn a book obsolete. In a world where I can down load a book, print it, copy it to a another drive, burn it to a DVD, what does the act of burning do?

    If I copy a book onto DVD and then burn it, is that the same? What if I download it and then delete it?

  21. Bravo Zulu, LD! Should you ever tire of Texas, you'd fit right in up here.

  22. Ulises from CA! They were worn and ill used copies mostly. Most of the time it was a mercy burning. Dave simply capitalized on the fact that society threw those books on the trash. He could sell firewood for money, take a heavier truckload of books back home, and burn them. It wasn't trying to burn ideas or that nonsense, he still carried the good stuff in his head. He even shamefacedly admitted to enjoying a couple of the harlequin authors.

    See Rev Terry Jones threatened to burn the quran as a gesture to force dialog. It failed because he mistakenly believes Islam to have the same core of goodness and love that Christianity does. It doesn't. As people have pointed out it has conquest, not comfort, at the core of it. Until people realize they are facing Satan, and not the Pilgrim Slavic Baptist Church, we will lose ground. The only common ground these people want for us is a mass grave,

  23. Jerry Pournelle, on his web page, pointed out that all of the "Korans" displayed on that character's bookshelf that he was planning to burn were English translations… And that the Koran itself explicitly states that translations are not the Koran. If it isn't written in 7th Century Arabic, it is not the Koran.

    It would seem that Abdul the Moderately Rabid doesn't even know his own Koran.

    Spider Robinson once wrote about using books in his wood stove… He used to review books in some of the SF magazines, and got boxes full of them. Whether he read and reviewed them or not, what to do with them after he was done with them? He couldn't in good conscience give them away; they were review copies, for which the author had not been paid. And he didn't have room for them.

  24. So what, exactly do you do with / about a book that inspires its readers to commit the greatest of mass murders, then visit the foulest of atrocities on the survivors in the belief that the survivors in general and themselves in particular will greatly benefit somehow from the commission of these crimes?

    The Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf, and the Koran are all in this category. The Manifesto is still the basic manual for some of the most repressive regimes in the world. Mein Kampf sells briskly in the Ummah since it shares with the Koran a call to kill all the Jews.

    If I could push the big red "easy" button and make all three and the "holy men" (secular and spiritual) who use them vanish in sulpherous clouds of smoke, I certainly would.

  25. I wanted to pass on a newslink- You had a story a few years(?) back about a bobcat in a suitcase being stolen… Some folks doubted… Here's a less wild but factual recent occurence.
    or try this
    Pass it on- as you know, people are crazy.
    I really enjoyed the archives! Thanks and keep at it, as you find time and material.
    ps: sorry to tag onto this post but I couldn't find your ol email addy- I suspect it went away to avoid too much distraction and bs. Tis OK!
    Also-You might wish to poke your bro and ask him to add ANON to his identity choices at his blog. I would like to add a few thanks there but have no desire to create accounts- so can't say thanky… just sayin. 🙂

  26. I'm not sure assorted collections of nasty tribal claptrap count sa 'books'.

    There are poisonous books that propagate nonsense or worse, hatred, and Quran is only of them. I think burning them is okay. Not good, since it's a little rough and a bit cheeky, but ultimately, the world would be a nicer place without all those fiery folk who fervently believe without any good reason that they and only they have the absolute truth and the correct recipe for everything. Are they even human?
    Haredi Jews who would slaugher newborns if said newborns are likely to grow up into people who might oppose them? (not making this up, one of their rabbis wrote a whole book about when it's okay to kill gentiles).
    Or muslims with their penchant for explosive and or incendiary tantrums?
    Of course they are human. For religion is a human need, and we'll never be something more than jumped-up apes till we do away with our feeble minds that have a tendency to ascribe motive to events that are just random. The more powerless someone is, the more likely he is to see patterns in chaos.

    Maybe taking those books away would be best for them. Until there's a credulity vaccine. Some sort of retrovirus, perhaps? Or enhanced empathy? I'd love to see Abdul the mildly rabid beat his wife, if seeing her pain would make him live through just half of what he inflicts.

    Maybe they deserve their books, it's not my call anyway, and I'm thankful I'm far away from that kind of lunatic. But I'm not far enough in the long view.

  27. I of a mind that we need to teach these Muslims what Freedom is and what it means to be a Free People. The first part of being free is that you don't have a right to push your beliefs on others or commit violence because they don't follow your mandates.

    I think every newspaper in the US should print a cartoon of Muhammad burning a Koran every day until they learn we don't care about their threats. If that turns the people of Afghanistan against us, maybe we should leave them to their fate.


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