about book-burning

Believe it or not, I AVOID mentioning non-movie-related political stuff on this blog lately because A.) it requires an up-to-the-minute-ness I just don’t have time for and B.) I’d really rather not suddenly turn myself into a “public relations” liability for the various professional entities I’m involved with. BUT, sometimes there are “implications” or tangential questions to political stuff that I actually feel like speaking on and/or having a conversation about, so… here’s the deal: The (in my opinion) not-controversial part goes here BEFORE the jump, and if you feel like hearing a self-important movie critic prattle about more specific/dicey stuff you can keep reading AFTER the jump. Okay?

Okay. THIS, I think, oughtn’t be at all controversial: The Pastor in Florida (no links, no names, he’s gotten enough free publicity) who’s behind “International Burn A Koran Day” is SCUMBAG, simple as that. Furthermore, anyone trying to draw some kind of “equivalency” between this douche and his nutcase “congregation” and the folks who want to build an Islamic Community Center two blocks from “Ground Zero” is – at best – being incredibly dumb. But, yeah: Guy’s a scumbag, hope he doesn’t do it, etc.

More after the jump.


This whole thing has made me ask a question I don’t think I’d have otherwise ever considered asking: Does “book burning” MATTER now as much as it once did?

Now, right off the bat – YES, I understand that the books in question here are Holy Texts which has a whole other dimension of taboo attached to desecration. I get that. That said… look, I’m not especially religious myself so, forgive my perhaps lacking sympathy, but… from where I sit, while I have nothing but CONTEMPT for the pastor pulling this stunt, honestly I have something close (not equal, but close) to the same contempt for anyone of any faith who reacts to this sort of “nyah nyah” affront with retaliative violence or even tacit “approval” of such.

Look, I’d more “get” the outrage if this asshole had, let’s say, snatched up a bunch of sanctified Korans from local Mosques and he was going to burn those. Or if it was a hand-written, one-of-a-kind Koran from the 12th Century, something like that – or a collection of Islamic Holy Relics; that sort of thing. Being angry about that I get. That crosses the “that which can never be replaced” symbolic-destruction line between “you’re a jerk” and “you’re Hitler.” Still not sure I “get” throwing a bomb over it, but I get being infuriated and hurt and soured on the whole “getting along” thing.

But what’s actually set to happen here? A few dozen idiot rednecks in Florida burning a bunch of cheap, mass-produced, assembly-line-printed copies of The Koran they picked up at Barnes & Noble? I’m sorry, like I said I get being PISSED at the juvenille “screw you!” taunting aspect of it… but I’m just don’t get the “blasphemy” of this sort of thing, in Islam or otherwise. The whole concept of commercially-produced “sacredness” is part of what turned me off (organized) religion in the first place. I was an Altar Boy back in Catholic School, I distinctly remember that actually seeing all the “holy” accoutremants like Sacremental Wine, Holy Water, Communion Wafers, Incense, etc. coming out of shipping boxes (Communion – aka “The Body of Christ” – came in big air-sealed bags like store-brand cereal!) being one of the bigger “wait a minute…” turning points. I just can’t wrap my head around – or “empathize” much with – being “jihad-level” angry at THIS particular act. I mean, wasn’t there just an actual full-fledged Mosque hit by an arson attempt in (I think) Tennessee? If so, why is this a bigger deal than that?

But… whatever, that’s just one cranky Agnostic’s perspective on the matter. If you genuinely believe in sacredness and holy writ and whatnot, I imagine it makes more sense. I respect that – I don’t get it – but I respect it.

Thing is, just ruminating on THAT point is what made me ponder whether or not – in the broader sense – any book-burning ought to “mean” much anymore. Again, as with the specific Koran case, I’m not talking about First Editions or rare pieces or irreplacable texts – I mean regular, off-the-shelf, 800-copies-taking-up-space-at-Borders books. Should this still be a HUGE taboo in 2010?

I understand the longstanding symbolism of book burning – the idea of “purging” an idea from the world in it’s purest concrete form, and I agree it’s disgusting symbolism and I’d never willingly burn even an “evil” book. But the thing is, the reason it was ever seen as SO abhorrent – both the reason that the Nazis did it and why we condemn them for doing it – is because it wasn’t solely a symbolic act: Until fairly recently, it actually was concievable that if you put you’re mind to it you really could burn an idea or a story out of existance by burning enough copies of it. THAT was the nightmare-scenario of “Fahrenheit 451,” not just the burning of books but the extraordinary lengths one would have to go to to preserve the ideas and stories within them.

You see where I’m going with this, right? “Burn all the books?” Well, okay, do-able in theory… but are they ALSO making sure to track and down and fully-destroy all the trillions of discs, flash-drives and even SD Cards that can hold hundreds of thousands of books? And even if that, are they also going to scrub the entire Internet, The Cloud, the “Singularity,” whatever, too? For all practical purposes, The Digital Age has essentially rendered “Fahrenheit” an all-but-impossible scenario. Books – and all that they entail – are safer now than they have EVER been. Think about it for a minute, it’s really kind of monumental. Memo to Mr. Bradbury: The good guys won, thanks for the head’s up.

(Damn, but this turned out long) So, what I’m getting at here is: Are we giving all asshole book-burners way too much “power” by still treating their actions as anything more than a purely symbolic act of douchebaggery when technology has essentially made it a meaningless, futile gesture? Or is this a rare moment of misplaced optimism on my part?

Alright, so that’s my “piece” on this. Once again, pastor guy is a jackass, anyone who reacts to pastor guy with violence is also a jackass, burning the Koran is wrong, book burning of any kind of wrong, terrorism is wrong, can’t-we-just-get-along, etc. It’s late, goin’ to bed now.

20 thoughts on “about book-burning

  1. Truls says:

    I've never heard anybody say that it was anything but an symbolic act. Hell, the koran itself states that the correct disposal of the book is by burning it. Most people just react to the mean spirit of the whole thing.


  2. AngryLemming says:

    Hello from the city in TN which had a mosque construction site torched. There was also some hateful graffiti accompanying the arson.
    I work with some of the people who would have been served by that mosque. Refugees whose families fled through insane environmental conditions, watched mosques and people blown apart across the street, and genuinely regard the United States of America as the greatest nation on earth. They happily pay their taxes and pay attention to local and federal politics. They write to the governor's office (or representative) when they feel strongly about legislation on the floor. All around, these are really great and warm-spirited people, even if there are a few bad apples. What I can't wrap my mind around is them being more laid-back about all this, while I'm livid about it. One my age put it: “At least they didn't poison us or wait until it was full and blow it up.”
    I agree about the mass-manufactured “holiness” issues which you bring up, but I found the domestic terrorism-ish act of the arson to be far too under-reported and lost in all this.


  3. Sarge says:

    I'm sorry Bob, but you've really missed one of the major points of Fahrenheit 451 — not the book burning point, you caught that one, but the Self-Censorship one.

    If you've read it, you know that there was no external censorship, and the big-brother antagonist lingering quietly behind the scenes did little in the way of actual censorship.

    Instead, there was the far more subversive and terrifying prospect that the characters in the story have *self-censored,* turning a willfully blind eye to the happenings in the world around them because maintaining any kind of social consciousness required a level of up-to-the-minuteness that they didn't have time for because they were too busy watching movies.


  4. Nick says:

    I think the reason this is getting so much attention is that it is a pretty blatant show of solidarity with the arson attempt on the Mosque in Tennessee, and with the threats of similar terrorism* being made against the Community Center in NYC.

    I see what you mean about Fahrenheit 451 and the Nazi book-burnings (although I do agree with Sarge; the real nightmare of those scenarios wasn't just that they thought it would work, but that they WANTED it to work), but when there is actual physical violence being attempted, and threats thereof being made, the context is different.

    tl;dr: It's not just that they're burning the Islamic holy book, it's that there is actual violence and threats thereof going on, and this book-burning seems like a genuine attempt to toss more fuel on the fire.


  5. beyrob says:

    Yeah I can kinda understand whatcha mean here. For me if someone burnt the old testiment in either book or scroll form I probably not care much at all but it'd be worse if it were a scroll. I mean those things take a long time to write!Though it would be awesome to see them TRY to burn a 50 lb parchment scroll . I mean there are so many copies of the old testiment not even counting those in computer data bases or in a majority of new testiment bibles.

    Though i supposed i'd feel differant if they were taking Torahs from synagoges that were in use that'd make me mad. Esspecaily if I knew their history.


  6. Cyrus says:

    While I am a religious catholic, I myself would not be offended by the idea of someone somewhere burning a bible. Burning a bible doesn't destroy my beliefs, If I were to burn a science textbook would the ideas and theories described somehow disappear from existence? NO!

    Unless the bible in question was the one given to me by my grandmother when I was young. Then I would be pissed off, but even then not violent.


  7. Peter S. says:

    While I do agree with what you have to say Bob, I still can't get over the fact that such shallow hatred and pig ignorance still exists in this day and age. What really got my goat about this whole thing was how the pastor (who I agree should remain nameless) said in an interview that moderate Muslims should be SUPPORTING him and his actions… seriously. He actually said that moderate Muslims should join him in the burning of their holy text. The mind reels…


  8. Dave Kraft says:

    I'll say right off the bat that I haven't taken the time to read through everyone's comments yet (a first for me) so I apologize if this winds up being redundant or somewhat irrelevant, BUT…..

    I think the publicly-broadcasted act of burning the commercially-printed copies of the Koran has less to do with the act of burning books (holy or otherwise) than it is more about making a statement of anti-Islam protest. In this particular case I think you focus more on the burning of the books rather than the statement being made (however self-evident that statement is, it is the more important thing to harp on here).

    Also, regarding the “Ground Zero Mosque” thing…..

    To preface this, I'm a Jew (for lack of a better term). Today I was at a Rosh Hashana dinner with several other fellow Jews and we were talking about how the act of the right-wing Christian fundamentalists and the ADL (a Jewish organization) not wanting to allow the building of Mosques is completely disgusting because it's no different than the Jews being told throughout the years that we weren't allowed to build synagogues.

    Just wanted to get that off my chest for objectivity's sake. I may be of the Jewish persuasion, but that doesn't mean I'm going to defend a Jewish organization's hypocrisy here.

    If this rant here was entirely off-topic then I profusely apologize. It's after midnight on a Saturday, I'm sleep-deprived and a little bit drunk. And humorously enough, the word verification thing here says “distiler”. If it wasn't missing the other “L” it'd be so a propos XD


  9. Laserkid says:

    Those of you who've seen my rare comments before probably get the idea (correctly) that I lean pretty right wing (although I'd contend I'm somewhere between libertarian and conservative).

    But god damn, this preachers a dipshit. Sure, you're right in saying he can't actually harm the book with this, but even if that's the case lets take a look at what it accomplishes. Pissing off a section of people that we're really having an already bad time with, not even doing anything negative other then show the people behind it to be puerile children with attention lust, oh and lets not forget that this is now going to be viewed as how anyone who is against said mosque thinks.

    While I may be against said mosque, and also against this burning, I also am annoyed that people on any given side of the argument want to make parallels. One's an extremely insensitive building being made, and the others an extremely batshit insane and vile idea.


  10. blockmangamer says:

    Peter S. said “While I do agree with what you have to say Bob, I still can't get over the fact that such shallow hatred and pig ignorance still exists in this day and age.”

    When the “Ground Zero Mosque” mess first started, a customer once told me that building the mosque would be “the end of democracy”. Of course, I shrugged it off as nonsense back then. But after reading the above comment, it dawned on me.

    What if there were TWO Americas?

    What if you said potato, you meant tomato? That a huge gap of understanding exists, especially in the most basic of definitions, creating two (maybe more) different and contested mindsets. Recent events (i.e. Obama as President, 9/11 attacks, bad economy) causing these to clash in a battle for “America's identity”.

    As a basis of facts:
    America = Constitution, Bill of Rights, and melting pot of the world, etc.

    Democracy = People choose their leaders.

    What if America meant something different like:

    America = God-loving, Christian-dominant, White Country

    Democracy = People choose their leaders as long as the President is a “White, Christian Man (w/ non-Muslim name)”

    What if some people didn't think “Terrorism” = Terror but more specifically
    “Terrorism” = “Islam's Holy War on Christian Nation of the USA”?

    What if the Quran book-burning isn't symbolic of something dead or lingering but a deeper-rooted trouble that's alive and ongoing?

    To consider that the “Giant Dragon of Bigotry, Intolerance, and Ignorance” is slain cause it's the year 2010 maybe a grossly overestimation and denial as big as the pastor book-burning itself.


  11. TheOrangeFellow says:

    It's not that it's an idiotic “screw you”, Bob. It matters because it's a celebration of ignoance and encourages hate.

    I'm sure you'll hear the “burning books […] burning people” comment a lot, but symbolically, it's on the ball. The reason the book burnings are so terrible isn't because they're an immature “acting-out” crazy christian sort of thing. It's meant to be a sign of contempt for an entire race of people, and the entire religion. The Koran isn't what's being violated – the people burning them don't actually care at all about the books.

    What they care about is “making them Muslims mad”. NOBODY loves a terrorist attack more than the people who burn Korans and protest the ground zero mosque. They adore the chance to talk about how violent and wrong the opposing religion is, and need “proof”.

    The burnings represent the worst in humanity because they're designed to provoke, and they think so little of Islam that they're actually expecting a response. We should oppose ignorance in all its forms, Bob.


  12. Sarge says:

    Blockmangamer (Nice name, btw):

    In regard to your “two americas” idea, are you aware of “critical election theory?”

    A lot of political theories believe that Obama's election was what was called a “critical election” or a “re-alignment election,” and we are now entering a 36-40 year period of democratic power, in which there will be 2-3 terms of a Republican president, and the rest will be democratic.

    If you follow our presidential history back, you'll find that we tend to swing on a very consistent 36 year pendulum between parties, though the last one, which began with Nixon, was complicated by the Watergate Scandal.

    the reason this applies is because the second america you talked about, the racist one, is the “fringe” of the Republican party, and it's panicking because it knows its starting to realize its interests are destructive and against the ideological will of the majority.


  13. Dave Kraft says:

    If you've watched Extra Credits' segments, you've probably heard this quote before:

    'A long time ago a great man once said this to his peers to remind them that killing an idea is as much sin as killing a man.

    “Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are. Nay, they do preserve as in a vial, the purist efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. Unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book.

    Who kills a man, kills a reasonable creature, God's image. But he who destroys a good book kills reason itself, kills the image of God as it where in the eye.” '

    I don't remember if Daniel Floyd included that last bit but I'm guessing this is the actual quote of the guy he was quoting.

    Once again, sorry if this seems amazingly off-topic. Last night I was drunk; this morning…. well, I'm not a morning person. lol

    Also wanted to make an Extra Credits plug. If you guys haven't seen that, you really should. Kudos to Bob for introducing us to Floyd's stuff 😀


  14. Bob says:


    There's ALWAYS “two Americas” – The America of The Past and The America of The Future. The day there AREN'T will be the day we've given up.

    The Civil War, for example, was specifically about Slavery, but in the macro it was a war between a portion of the populace that embraced and/or stood to benefit from a leap-forward in cultural evolution and those rejected and/or stood to have their way of life upended by that same leap forward: The North “got over” Slavery once industrialization made Slavery irrelevant to their culture, “freeing them up” to confront it objectively. The Southern economy, by contrast, was not built to survive a transition from Slavery to paid labor or to any of the OTHER “new ways of doing things” the Industrial Age was bringing.

    Today? Same shit, different day. Y'know how the media does that “Red/Blue State” map every election? They got the colors wrong – the Red States should be GRAY. ALL of the stuff that “conservatives” are supposed to be so angry/frightened about – Obama, illegal-immigrants, “secularism,” etc – is all about The Future versus The Past: American culture is evolving. We're getting less-monolithically white, less religious (less-Christian in particular) less family-centered, less rural, etc. The “center” of our cultural identity – re: “the real face of America” is transitioning from rural/suburban to urban/coastal.

    In the macro, this is probably overall good news. But in the micro, it means the end of “ways of life” for A LOT of people. The manufacturing/agricultural sectors are going, gone and NOT coming back – no, not even as “green jobs.” Past America's economy was a HUGE “blue-collar” middle class with smaller “white collar” and “service” classes at the top and bottom. Future America is a smaller working class with a bigger service and business/tech/creative/research sector at the top and bottom. This means the collapse or “re-alignment” of whole local-cultures, whole industries, etc – and you're going to have people who'll try and hold-fast against that unstoppable transformation. In the 1880s they were called “Confederates,” in the 60s Nixon called them “The Silent Majority,” today they call themselves a “Tea Party.” But the story remains the same. The Past will ultimately lose, The Future will ultimately win – one simply hopes there doesn't need to be a literal WAR over it this time around.


  15. RocMegamanX says:


    I have something to say about the “becoming less family-centered and less religious” part.

    The “less family-centered” part kinda bugs me because I'm worried that that could lead to children disrespecting or at least becoming indifferent toward their parents and elders.

    The “less religious” part…well, I just hope that it doesn't necessarily eliminate God from the overall big picture. That's just me. Not all parts of religion are terrible, horrible, no-good, or even very bad as that pastor is.


  16. Sophie says:

    Book burnings…hasn´t history had enough of that crap?
    Seriously… first of all, any man of faith should respect another man`s ability to have faith (in dayys like these) even when he despises that man´s actual faith. So burning any book of faith.. is pretty hypocritical. Apart from bringing up discussions about 2 America´s, fueling terrorism debates like hell… they are copying the Nazis. (and a couple of other dictatorships and tyrants). I am thinking Orwell here. All Americans are free, but seemingly some are freer than others…freeing them to pull any stupid and abominable crap they can come up with no matter who they insult for how ever little reason.


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