Friday, September 10, 2010

Books are burning

This guy Terry Jones in Florida wants to burn copies of the Koran on September 11th to show… to make the point that… to alert people to… OK, I don’t know.  As far as I can tell, he hasn’t really explained his reasons other than he really dislikes Muslims and it was never clear what he planned to achieve.  Well, perhaps what has been uncovered in recent days suggests that he just wants to be noticed.  Apparently he’s tried this kind of thing before and predictably received media coverage before.  His bizarre claims that he’d managed to get the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ moved also seem like a cry for attention or, perhaps, help.

But I don’t care very much.  Perhaps that’s why I’m so late in forming an opinion about it.  If the man wants to burn his own property then so be it.  I couldn’t care less what that property symbolises to other people: they don’t get to tell us what we can do with our own stuff.  I couldn’t care less if they are offended, because it’s their own choice.  They could accept that – even if they believe that the book is somehow holy – it’s still just a fucking book.  Nothing whatever can be harmed by (safe) burning of this or any book.  What do believers think is going to happen?  Their god will go up in smoke when the book does?

I don’t imagine that’s what they think, of course.  I imagine they see it as an attack, an offense.  Which it presumably is.  But this is one way-off-the-deep-end pastor shaking his puny fists at a billion and a half Muslims.  I doubt many of those Muslims would be concerned if Jones had said he didn’t like Islam.  Well, some would no doubt complain a bit and there’d probably be the odd death threat, but it wouldn’t be an international incident.  But mess with a holy symbol and everyone loses their mind.

Obama has been particularly spineless about the affair.  Lots of people are saying that it will somehow cause violence against our troops in sundry spots of the globe.  Others say it will foment conflict. 

It’s just a fucking book

That should be the response to anyone, believer or not, who overreacts to this stunt. If someone is lunatic enough to commit violence because someone burned a book or because a country didn’t prevent that book from being burned, then we need to treat that lunacy as exactly that.  We shouldn’t temper our judgement because that person happened to believe the book was sacred.  It’s just a book.  If we react to these idiotic objections with undue reverence and sage nodding, all we can do is make things worse.  If we treat them with the contempt they deserve, they’ll eventually become ineffectual.

I don’t like Jones or what he’s doing.  He comes across as an ineffectual bully, desperate for attention, rather than someone trying to make a point.  I don’t like bullies and I don’t like it when people set out to offend others for the sake of it.  I’m bang on board if people happen to offend people while making a useful point, but if offense is their only goal, there’s probably a rabbit away. 

PZ Myers, for example, offended a lot of people with the eye-rollingly named crackergate incident.  He didn’t set out to offend anyone.  He set out to protest that a student was being threatened and discriminated against because he failed to treat a communion wafer with the respect that some random people – without the slightest authority - demanded of him.  PZ did this by desecrating a communion wafer in public.  He wanted to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that it was just a wafer.  Nobody was hurt.  Be offended if you want, but then shrug it off and get back to the business of indoctrinating your kids.  Don’t overreact by trying to get the student expelled or sending death threats to someone who threw a wafer in the bin.

Same goes for Terry Jones.  Be offended by him or his actions if you insist.  Personally, I think he’s an idiot.  But don’t bother making elaborate threats or use it as an excuse to commit violence.  If you’re not Muslim, don’t hysterically predict unspeakable reprisals.  Let’s all just remember that it’s just a fucking book. 

On a final note, some people have overreacted in a slightly different way.  They say that books are automatically sacred and burning them is automatically wrong.  This isn’t even intelligible.  The banning of books by a government or other influential organisation is bad.  It is always an attempt to control people.  Burning of books by individuals is just stupid destruction of their own property.

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