Thursday, 9 September 2010

Even bad books...

"Even bad books are still books, and therefore sacred", as we are reminded by the Nobel-prizewinning author Günter Grass. In a time when the world is buzzing over the plans of Pastor Terry Jones of the "Dove World Outreach Center" in Florida to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11, it's worth stepping back for a minute and thinking about what is actually going on.

Terry Jones and his
righteous facial hair
Now, ignoring for a moment that the guy has the same name as one of the Monty Python team, and also that he sports a truly epic gunslinger moustache, let us consider his motives. In his mind, and indeed, the minds of many Christians, the Koran is evil, simply because it's a holy book that their god didn't write. It is therefore a counterfeit of the devil (still in his mind, remember - these aren't my views :), as can be seen by the many acts of terrorism committed by people who claim to be doing what the god of the Koran wants them to. I imagine he's also fed up with the antics of Bible and flag-burning zealots who seem to be able to get away with it every day. So he thinks, well, let's make a statement for Jesus.

I reckon he was unprepared for the global backlash. Everybody from the Afghan government to the Vatican has condemned the idea. Even his neighbours in Gainesville hate it. Indeed, local Christians, Jews and Muslims are organising inclusive events with each other. Some churches even plan to read from the Koran this weekend. So well done, Pastor Jones! Your reactionary stance has been the catalyst for the promotion of peace and mutual understanding.

But something about this has bothered me. You'll have discerned from my use of Günter Grass' quote that I am not in favour of destroying books. They are (and I realise this might sound a bit pseudy) the means by which we document our humanity, good, bad or indifferent. So, yes, please don't burn the Koran. But...why don't governments and religious leaders around the world condemn the burning of Bibles by radicals of other faiths with the same urgency? Are we not just appeasing those who shout loudest?

The answer, I now think, lies in the capacity of the offendee to be offended. Where I work there is a anti-harrassment policy which makes it clear that it's all about the perception of the individual. You may be able to make a jokey remark which most people would laugh at and consider inoffensive, but if one person finds it offensive, and you know that, then you are harrassing them. This may seem over the top in some circumstances, but the principle is a good one.

The issue with the Koran is that it is very hard for those outside Islam to understand just how offensive it is to a Muslim to disrespect his holy book. Christians may get annoyed when the Bible is burned, or those like me might be very cross to see people destroying, say, The Origin of Species, but very rarely will it seem a personal blow striking at the very core of one's beliefs. You may say, well, those Muslims, they shouldn't get so upset about it, but in human society that is not really a valid response. People who deliberately offend others are bullying them, and whatever you may feel about the religious views involved, that is what the Koran-burning is.

All of that said, I am grateful to Pastor Jones for reminding me again of the horror of 9/11. I just think we need to find a less unhelpful way to remember those who died.

1 comment:

  1. Did you know that if you try to take a bible into Saudi Arabia they will shred it!?!

    It never ceases to amaze me how worked up people get over a pigging book. Now I agree with you that all books are inherently valuable but I also think that their greatest value is in their pre-internet ability to be indestructible. It's hard to kill a book once its been published in any volume since one copy is all that is needed to repopulate the world with the text; therefore, in this sense burning the book is trivial. However, why does anyone who has the nerve to presume to speak, unelected, on behalf of his followers / faith / nation(?) think that it is acceptable to destroy something so personal in such a public fashion. Are they TRYING to inflame violence to 'prove' how bad the other guy is?

    It strikes me that he is just like all the other super-pastor's in the US who claim to be seeking the route to enlightening the world about god and the evils of...whatever they feel like dissing this week, whilst in fact all they do is suffer the delights of great wealth and a truly scary level of power.

    Take good old Ted Haggard, who had the very close ear of the then Puppet leader of the free world Mister George 'W' and was recently thrown out after admitting to 'sexual indecency'. After preaching it's evils for so many years he was having an affair with a man!

    I say to all these super-pastors.. Me thinks thou doth protest too much.

    I've heard it said...
    "Good people will do good things, and Evil people will do evil things. But for good people to do evil things—that takes religion"

    I know Freeman Dyson added that "for Evil people to do Good things also takes religion!"

    Personally for me, the greatest irony is that most of the trouble and hatred stems from Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, all of whom evolved their religion from the very same old testament!

    Which is why they end up fighting over the same dusty little patch of this beautiful planet as their own holy land.

    Get a grip guys, Rugby League and Rugby Union are basically the same game but you don't see the players blowing each other up because they prefer a different angle on the rules.