I’m sure by now many of you have heard of the Christian pastor, Terry Jones, of a small Florida church who plans and is encouraging people to burn copies of the Quran, Islam’s holy text, on the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on the United States.
In the scheme of history, it is always the small-minded who burn books. It has not yet been a hundred years since the famous Berlin book burning of 1933, when Hitler’s trusted Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels encouraged the students of German Universities to burn ‘unGerman’ texts. Among the fuel for the fire were works by Freud, Einstein, Helen Keller, Hemingway, H. G. Wells, and over 18,000 more books. Ironically among the books burned were works from the early 19th Century German writer Heinrich Heine who had written over a hundred years before the Nazi’s sad biblioclasms that “where books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too.”
Heine’s words were sadly prophetic… for after the books were burned the Nazi’s would later go about executing by some estimates more than 15 million people in a twelve year period. The Nazi party didn’t just target those of Jewish ancestry, but also the gypsies, homosexuals, communists, certain other ethnic minorities, the mentally handicapped, the physically disabled, Christian ministers who refused to preach the Nazi party line, and even those who worshipped pagan Gods, like Odin. Yes ladies and gentleman, even though the Nazi’s borrowed much of their symbolism from the pre-Christian religion of Germany that worshipped Odin… Odinists endured many of the same biased laws against them the Jews also dealt with, and some Odinists were indeed sent to concentration camps including Dachau.
When radical terrorists struck against the United States on 9-11, they killed Americans of various races, genders, sexual preferences and creeds. Those extremists, who acted with such hate that day, killed Muslims as well in those attacks. The hate those extremists showcased in such infamy, Mr. Jones has continued to showcase as well as he labels all Muslims the Devil’s lot. Unlike the extremists on 9-11 he just hasn’t actively killed anyone yet. But the danger that comes in such small-minded, hate-mongering people is even if they don’t do the killing themselves, they incite others (in)directly sooner or later to do it for them. U.S. Army General Petraeus is worried about just that. Mr. Jones’ Quran book burning may cost the lives of American service men and women who are putting their lives on the line against some of those extremists while defending the American life Mr. Jones is enjoying.
Because of book burnings we have lost sacred Mayan writings, Luzzatto’s kabbalistic writings, countless early Christian texts were destroyed in a series of systematic purges by numerous ‘church’ authorities. Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered in the third century BC the burning of various philosophical texts as well as the murder of various scholars. Roman Emperor Diocletian in the 3rd Century CE ordered the burning of certain Egyptian alchemical texts. In the seventeenth century there was even a big libricide a flambé at Oxford University. History is unfortunately full of such stories, and because of such outright petty destruction in attempts to control thought and expression so much beauty has been lost. Strength comes through open discourse, not in fear-fueled, hate-driven acts of such blatant disrespect.
I shall leave you with a thought, the inscription over the Library at Thebes translated roughly to: “The medicine chest for the soul”. So just what do we lose when we let a book burn?