Friday, September 17, 2010

Freedom or License - about burning books

Pastor Terry Jones's plan to burn 200 copies of the Qur'an in Florida on 9/11 was widely condemned. But the unique symbolism of book-burning has a long and sinister history.

by Jon Henley - The Guardian, Friday 10 September 2010

On the night of 10 May 1933, a crowd of some 40,000 people gathered in the Opernplatz – now the Bebelplatz – in the Mitte district of Berlin. Amid much joyous singing, band-playing and chanting of oaths and incantations, they watched soldiers and police from the SS, brownshirted members of the paramilitary SA, and impassioned youths from the German Student Association and Hitler Youth Movement burn, at the behest of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, upwards of 25,000 books decreed to be "un-German".


The volumes consigned to the flames in Berlin, and more than 30 other university towns around the country on that and following nights, included works by more than 75 German and foreign authors, among them (to cite but a few) Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Albert Einstein, Friedrich Engels, Sigmund Freud, André Gide, Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, Lenin, Jack London, Heinrich, Klaus and Thomas Mann, Ludwig Marcuse, Karl Marx, John Dos Passos, Arthur Schnitzler, Leon Trotsky, HG Wells, Émile Zola and Stefan Zweig. Also among the authors whose books were burned that night was the great 19th-century German poet Heinrich Heine, who barely a century earlier, in 1821, had written in his play Almansor the words: "Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen" – "Where they burn books, they will, in the end, also burn people."

Pastor Jones, in Florida, abandoned his plans. But they had been greeted with world-wide revulsion and helped fuel anti-American, anti-Western feelings in several Muslim countries. The damage had been done. Even the threat to burn the Koran was enough for that.

In other parts of America, people did go ahead and burn copies of the Koran. The news media hardly recorded their activities at all, deciding (despite the American reverence for free speech) that inflammatory rhetoric and self-publicising are not worthy causes for which to risk American lives and American principles.

Thank goodness for self-restraint. It matters. There are few absolutes in anyone's life and that is as it should be.

It is worth noting in passing that Jesus is honoured in the Koran, as a prophet equal to Mohammad.

Also that Jews, the people of the book, receive similar respect.

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