The Canceled-Koran-Burning Aftermath September 14, 2010

The Canceled-Koran-Burning Aftermath

In the wake of the Koran-Burnings-That-Didn’t-Happen, I have a question and a comment.

When is it ok to burn a book?

I used to be against book-burning in general because I saw all books as valuable in some respect… for some reason, that seems silly to me now. I don’t care if you burn your own books. I don’t care if you buy 983423 copies of a book that everyone loves or hates for the sole purpose of throwing them in a bonfire. I might care if someone bought a rare book in order to destroy it but that’s a different issue.

When I heard about Terry Jones wanting to burn Korans, I was opposed and disgusted at first. And then the more I heard the media complain about it, the less I cared.

PZ Myers is right — the problem is with “all the lunatics who are insisting that burning the Koran is a major international catastrophe.”

Believe it or not, Korans will still be around whether or not some copies get burned.

I understand the sentiment behind it was one of hatred of Islam, but so what? Ignore the man if you don’t like what he’s doing. It’s not like he’s advocating burning Muslims at the stake.

For what it’s worth, I don’t approve of what Jones wanted to do. His reasons were despicable and there was no noble purpose to what he was doing. He was elevating his holy book over a different one — it’s laughable, really, when you think the Bible and the Koran aren’t all that different in general.

Hendrik Hertzberg also pointed out the flaw with saying Jones was burning “the” Koran:

You can’t burn “the” flag, and you can’t burn “the” Koran, either. The flag is a Platonic ideal. As such, it is fireproof. Any particular flag is merely a copy, and you can’t destroy the flag by destroying a flag any more than you can destroy (or even harm) the Constitution by destroying a copy of it. Nor can you destroy the Koran by destroying a copy thereof, or any number of copies.

It goes back to the issue of what people find sacred and whether that means everyone else must feel the same way.

Just because you care so very much about a certain book, or a particular way of living your life, or a personal hero, or reciting a certain prayer… it doesn’t mean everyone else also has to take those things seriously. We can respect it or mock it all the same.

And you need to be ok with that.

If you overreact every time people don’t take your beliefs seriously, it gives us all the more reason to keep doing what we’re doing.

By ignoring the mockers, the protesters, and the provocateurs, you take away our fuel. It’s our Achilles’ heel. But until you realize that, we’ll keep doing what we do — destroying sacred cows one by one.

I’m not saying we do it because we hate you — this goes beyond personal relationships and feelings. But cherished beliefs and sacred cows rarely have a good reason to exist, and if some people irrationally cling to them, others will try to pry them apart. And I like that.

I may be a vegetarian, but I love it when sacred cows are slaughtered.

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  • Ben

    I agree that burning a book is just burning some paper, paper made of wood, the same wood we burn in fireplaces all the time. A book is just a book, so putting it to the match is really quite trivial.

    Of course, the reason for burning a book is what people can should be getting upset about, but there has been so much hyperbole being thrown about (such as calling them “religious artefacts”, of all things) that the issue has been obfuscated. I think it’s in order for the media to create the news rather than simple report on it.

    Anyway …

    Was the Pastor burning the book out of hate for Islam? Probably. But then I hate Islam. Not as much as I hate Christianity, but it’s up there. It’s okay to hate a religion, just so long as you understand that the people in it aren’t necessarily deserving of that hatred. Some of them, yes, especially much of the hierarchy, but not most of the lowly parishioners.

    So, burning a book because you despise what it represents? Fine. Burning it because you hate the people? Not so much.

  • in the past, book burning was a way to deny people the access to information… this is why it was deplorable and why we, who value the free expression of ideas, emotionally recoil with horror at the thought.

    there are some parts of the world, i suspect, where this is still true.

    but in most places, burning one’s copy of a book — or many copies — is a statement of his/her opinion of it.

    i have no problem with that.

  • Onkuundig

    Careful there Hemant, you continue on this path and you might soon lose the ‘Friendly’ moniker. 🙂

  • K

    Is downloading the Koran onto ones computer, then deleting it, qualitatively the same as burning it? What if I upload onto you-tube the process of deleting it form my computer – does that make it worse?

  • Tim

    I may be a vegetarian, but I love it when sacred cows are slaughtered.

    Tempting the trolls again? You know someone is going to take that out of context. 8)

  • MaryD

    I agree with the OP, modern books are just paper and the burning is just symbolic.

    What is more worrying is the cowardice of Obama and the Clintons et al. They would have done better to keep their mouths shut or, if they had the courage of their supposed convictions, defended the right of free expression.

    But then America isn’t at war with islam, it has already submitted.

  • My thought on this has been, “better to burn the holy books of believers than to burn believers.”

    There does need to be more effort to hold the MSM to account for the frenzy that gets whipped up with the 24/7 coverage of such stories.

    I’ve heard of Canadians here that have talked about flying to NYC to be human barricades as a protest against the mosque, based solely on their viewing of the media and the resulting emotional outbursts. It’s simply foolish.

    We can hope that someday reason will play a greater role in public discourse and such “events” will be bad memories.

  • Karen

    If we were to really analyze this it goes back to their fear of our president (him being darkish-skinned, and Muslim and all that). They’re just very afraid. And you can’t do a lot about that sacred cow.

    I have a dad who is convinced all of his daughters will be forced into burqas by the end of Obama’s term. He forwards to me the many forwarded emails he gets that are forwarded from everywhere, and this is the kind of crap they talk about.

    What duder in Florida was planning had not as much to do with 9/11 as they touted. It has to do with him being scared shitless that America has is being prepared to become an Islamic state and that Obama (with his unfortunate name) has been groomed for the takeover since the day he was born.

  • Sally

    Wow! Well put. I agree wholeheartedly.

  • keddaw

    When is it ok to burn a book?

    When it’s your book.

    And by your book I mean in the legal sense of ownership, not the religious sense.

  • Suzanne

    I’ve been thinking there should be a “throw a holy book in the trash day” along the lines of “draw mohammed day”. You could pick the book of your choice and toss it, possibly publicly. I’ve never liked the idea of book burnings either.

  • JulietEcho

    @ keddaw – At first I thought you meant “when it’s I Sold My Soul On eBay” lol…

  • Viggo the Carpathian

    I think the larger issue with this was the irresponsible media. There have always been and always will be mean little people like this preacher in Florida who can’t see the absurdity of favoring one ‘holy’ book over another. What irritates me is that this was considered news and spread the world over. He should have been ignored completely. We live in a world where the psychotic ‘muslim street’ erupts into calculated fury over cartoons (an the so called offensive ones were not ever even run in the Danish newpaper) and they tell the world someone plans to publicly burn a koran. People die and property is destroyed every time these insane mobs erupt, quit feeding there stupidity when it isn’t necessary. Sometimes the messenger needs to just ignore the fool. I know it will never happen, the 24 hour news cycle demands feeding and responsibility never enters anyone’s mind.

    I have to wonder though in this atmosphere of madness, when a publishing company prints thousands of korans for American book shops and large numbers don’t sell and they get remaindered back to the producer, what do they do with them? Do they get pulped and recycled like other paperback fiction? If so, do they have to do this under a cloak of secrecy?

  • lurker111

    This whole matter would have been so simple to work out. Have someone there at the Koran-burnings to keep a count.

    Then, if, say, 30 Korans were burned, go and burn 30 Bibles. End of the matter.

    But that wouldn’t have worked to anyone’s political advantage, would it?

  • Greg

    I have to agree with you Hemant.

    Actually, I’ve been left a bit conflicted by this whole thing. When it started I was utterly opposed to it for a few reasons. However, as the reaction to it has gathered steam, I’ve been starting to want it to take place.

    You have people – including the president of Indonesia – claiming it is a huge threat to ‘world peace’, you have ‘protests’ which involve burning American flags and effigies of Terry Jones. That last one is a pre-emptive act which symbolically is far worse than burning any book could ever be.

    Where are the people vehemently criticising those burnings? Just why is burning a book – one which for years the Muslims themselves would not allow to be translated from its native language* – so much more unacceptable than burning an effigy of a person? A person, who at the time, had not actually done anything!

    But back to the ‘threat to world peace’ claim. If people truly believe that, then I hope they are diverting considerable efforts to ensure that if it were to happen again, there would be no threat to world peace. I suspect, however, that they aren’t, which is at best basically saying that they insist that other people control their loonies, whilst they won’t control their own. (And that is even granting that burning copies of a Koran could possibly justify that sort of explosive reaction.)

    I do fear that Islam is fast becoming something which is treated differently to anything else – you just have to look at how eager a certain group of people is to call others bigots if they so much as criticise Islam. In the sacred herd that is religion, Islam seems to be the most sacred cow of all.

    * I’m assuming here that the Koran’s Terry Jones was going to burn were English copies, here, which me not be true, I grant, but I suspect is a safe assumption.

  • I found myself kicking around the other day whether, in the U.S. (and I suppose the West in general), burning a book, or a lot of books, actually gets you anywhere. I was picturing people showing up to a Koran-burning having cleaned out the stock at the local bookstores, and thinking, “doesn’t that (1) just put a lot of money in the bookstore’s pocket (2) that could be going to more effective forms of protest and (3) ultimately trigger the printing of more Korans, as the bookstores now need to replace their stock?”

    I realize a handful of people cleaning out one town’s bookstores isn’t going to affect the economics of it that much, but still. I think these types of protesters forget (or don’t consider) that book-burning in a print-on-demand economy works differently than book-burning back when a single book represented months of labor.

    Or they’re doing it for the symbolic impact and don’t really care about how effective their protest is at getting rid of Korans. And, while that strikes me as a waste of energy, I suppose I support it, since free speech protections also protect the right to protest in ways that aren’t particularly good at getting rid of the idea protested against.

  • The best selling book of all time in “The Bible” with over 6 billion copies sold. I heard the other day that crate loads are sent to third world countries along with medical supplies, food and water and other aid.

    Apparently they are routinely used as fuel for fires. Basic needs trump even the best selling literature.

  • TychaBrahe

    By these same arguments, it should be OK to burn a cross on the lawn of a Black family, so long as you have the means to extinguish it and no property damage is done.

    Burning a book is symbolic of the destruction of the statements in that book. It is a symbolic threat against those who support those statements, or hold those beliefs. It’s morally wrong, and the fact that no real damage is done is beside the point.

    Do I have the right to slap someone just because doing so doesn’t really harm them? Oh, sure it hurts, and it may leave a red mark, but that fades almost instantly. Do I have the right to break into your home and steal your property so long as I know that you are insured, and that all of the things I steal are replaceable? Sure, I’ve robbed you of the sense of security in your own home, but those are only feelings, and have no tangible value. For that matter, why is rape a crime? It’s not like something real is stolen from a woman when she’s raped.

    How dare we as atheists be outraged at the vandalism of our billboards, at the laws that prevent us from serving in government, at religion being promoted in schools or at government meetings, at the overt signals that we are not welcome in this society for the fact of our different beliefs, and not understand immediately what it must feel like to be Muslim and know that Terry Jones wants you erased from our society?

  • Viggo the Carpathian


    Question for you. Are you trying to say that being offended is real hurt? You cannot, not offend anyone ever and live. People take offence at all sorts of things. Mostly, they need to just grow up and if that applies to several billion religious people so be it. No real harm is don’t to you when your beliefs are ‘symbolically destroyed’. In fact, it might just do you good to realize the world keeps turning even if someone disagrees with you.

  • littlejohn

    Hemant, have you forgotten that there are thousands of American soldiers in the Middle East (That they shouldn’t be there is moot).
    Pictures and videos of the burning Qurans will be seen and Americans will be blamed. Burning Qurans, however harmless on the face of it, would inevitably get more American’s killed. Are you comfortable with that? In fact, encouraging Jones, had he gone through with it, would have made you morally complicit in murder. Still comfortable?

  • Ron in Houston


    You got it right. Book burning has been associated with suppressing information and trying to promote ignorance.

    It’s stupid. Yeah, you’ve got the right, and people should support your right. However, it’s still stupid.

  • Very well said, I have to say that I agree with you. Everyone’s beliefs or sometimes existence tend to offend people. Intentionally or not intentionally.

    When someone creates an ideal that they place on a pedestal above the ideals of others they make it visible to others, but try to protect it from others. This also creates these ideals targets for everyone to pick apart and attack, once again, not always intentional. Peoples ideals clash, the more global society becomes the more these will clash. What people have to come to understand is that if they insist on making their ideals above others and not recognizing the error that others will, can, and have the right to disagree with them, then it will create offense and turmoil.

    The only options at this point are to push that clash of cultures until it escalates or to knock the idea into the public arena and accept that it is not to be viewed as out of reach of others opinions and views. The idea should be able to stand up on its own in the public forum, or don’t put it in the public forum to begin with and keep it to yourself.

    Just my thoughts.

  • If Obama personally decides to just be a one-term president, he should do the following:

    After the mid-terms, he should go on national television and say that by executive order he is declaring America to be a Muslim country. Then remain silent for one week. Let the media circus begin. Then after one week, go back on national television and say upon reconsideration, perhaps the separation of church and state is a good idea after all.

  • While I completely agree with all of the sentiments above, you still need to consider what the act of burning a Koran (especially making a public spectacle of the act) will bring about.

    There is real reason to be afraid of retaliation from radical Islam.

  • SecularLez

    I have no problem with individuals burning books. That’s fine.
    When the government, a business, etc. start demanding people burn a certain book THEN we have a problem.

    I didn’t have a problem with this guy burning the Koran in a free speech sense BUT I did have a problem with all the media attention Terry Jones was receiving.
    I disagree vehemently with the current U.S. wars; his actions, I believe, would have put U.S. troops in even more danger.

  • Joseph R.

    @ TychaBrahe, I couldn’t have said it better.

  • Robert Thille

    The way to destroy _the_ Constitution is to react so poorly to the burning of copies of books and flags that you work to eliminate those freedoms.

    The people who cry so loudly about the destruction of what America stands for are the very people working hardest for its destruction!

  • Olive Oil


    Re: cross-burning – no, it is not okay following the same arguments, because it is not your property. The argument here is the ownership of the book. As others have stated, in this day and age with print-on-demand, a large-scale book-burning is, if anything, going to cause more copies of the book to be printed rather than destroying something which cannot be replaced.

    The same argument holds true with slapping, stealing, and rape. Harming someone else’s body, even if only temporarily, is morally wrong because that person does not belong to you.

    Frankly, I’m sure Terry Jones also wants us (atheists, that is) erased from society. I’m not offended because he’s clearly nuts. A few years back, I remember a bunch of religious people scheduling a Harry Potter book burning and, in my opinion a much worse crime, trying to get the books banned. I wasn’t offended that they were burning a book which held a great deal of personal significance for me (note: I realize that this is somewhat of a bad example because it wasn’t religious, but still, a book I and many others of my generation hold dear for a variety of reasons) because they were clearly misinformed, and in some cases also nuts. I was, however, offended that they were trying to get it banned. Restricting access to controversial ideas seems to me much worse than burning the paper upon which they are written, when there are multitudes of copies still available.

    Finally, re: the last paragraph about atheists being outraged against vandalism etc.: many of the things you listed are actually illegal. There’s a separation between church and state, so laws prohibiting us from office are unconstitutional. Vandalism is destroying someone else’s property. And we get upset about the overt signals that we aren’t welcome in society because that *is* discriminatory; this, I feel Muslims also are experiencing, and they should also be getting up in arms about this and trying to change it, and many of them are.

    Basically I’m trying to say while book-burning certainly causes controversy, it is the right of anyone in the US to do so (provided it’s their property) – thus it cannot be equated with the things you’ve argued.

  • Jason Baur

    Book burning makes people uncomfortable because it immediately calls to mind some of the worst impulses of the totalitarian state. It is the notion that ideas which you reject must be destroyed. Burning books is the antecedent of burning people. But that only matters when the power of the state is behind the burning. When a individual burns a book, it is symbolic, but only symbolic. It is hollow. Pastor Jones can not possibly hope to remove the Koran from American society. It falls within the bounds of free expression, so the right to do so must be protected. But the commission itself should not be praised or rewarded; its content is evil. The first amendment means the state cannot make that distinction, but we can and must.

    As to TychaBrahe, the simple fact is, you do in fact have the right to free expression, but not the right to commit acts of terror, vandalize, commit larceny, burglary, or rape. People have the right to the sanctity of their persons and property; they do not have the right and power to control public discourse by complaining about hurt feelings.

    Furthermore, it is completely unacceptable to accuse either Pastor Jones or anyone who supports the burning of being “morally complicit in murder”. Murder and violence is not an acceptable or proportionate response to any form of public discourse, not matter how inappropriate. This really should be obvious. Only the murderer is complicit for his murder. Anything otherwise would be to give irrational fear and hatred complete check over our society.

  • Jeff

    All of TychaBrahe’s examples involve damaging someone else’s property, invading someone’s else’s private space, or outright assaulting a person. Those are not supported.

    It’s the reason you can’t burn a cross into someone’s lawn, but why, deplorable as it may be, KKK members can burn a cross that they’ve bought on their own property. Does it suck if that property is easily visible? Of course, but it’s their private property and their free speech.

    Could they burn a cross in a public space? If they had the right permits regarding fire and doing something that’s liable to start a riot, of course. There is, yet again, a difference between that public space, and burning a cross on someone’s lawn, bad as it is.

    Is it offensive? Hell yes. Is Terry Jones an Islamophobic asshole? Hell yes. Is it this whole Koran burning thing an incredibly stupid, reprehensible act on his part? Hell yes. Does he have a right to do it? Yup. Is it his fault if Americans are attacked? Nope, that would be the fault of Muslims who feel the need to hold others accountable to their religiou values, and are willing to do so through violence.

  • It comes down to this. The rational response to someone burning a book is not violence. Terry Jones has achieved his goal, without even burning a single book. He pointed out that the real fear is not the fear of Sharia law, but the fear of Muslim reprisals. In that sense, the real Islamophobes are not the people threatening to burn Qur’ans or chanting in front of Mosques, but the people who are so afraid of Muslim reprisal that they are willing to throw away our constitutionally protected freedom of expression.

    It’s the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” By claiming that we can’t expect Muslims to act rationally, they are implying that Muslims are unable to control their collective impulses; that they are somehow inferior to the more “civilized” religions.

  • pmsrhino

    I still think if the Nazi’s did it, it’s probably not the best idea in the world.

    You can put as many logical reasons (which, sure, make sense) behind it, but organized book burnings like this automatically make me think of Nazis. Maybe it’s just me, but it produces such a negative connotation in my mind that it’s just not something I can support.

    And I agree with toomanytribbles. It’s not the burning that is the issue, since even I burn magazines and newspapers to start fires when it’s cold, it’s the intent behind it.

  • Bob

    Book burning is a form of oppression, but as Descartes once noted, it is the characteristic of the most stringent censorships that they lend credence to the very ideas they seek to suppress.

    Burn a Quran, and you have to wonder what it is that makes it such a threat. Set aside the video of the angry mobs burning American flags in retaliation.

    It comes down to fear, perhaps one of the greatest enemies of rational thought.

    The Quran is a target because what – it’s believed that there’s some kind of secret conspiracy, that you’ll wake up one morning and find the country is under Shari’a Law? That Saddam would pull ICBM’s out of his arse? That al-Qaeda would hop into rowboats, cross the Atlantic, and systematically conquer every last city, town, and parish in America, then make their way to Hawaii and Alaska?

    IMHO, 9/11 is one of those sacred cows that needs to be drowned in a tub. Yes, it was a significant event; yes, people died.

    But when you were a child and afraid of monsters under the bed, did your parents come and tell you, yes, the monsters are gonna feast on little kiddie bits tonight! Or did they reassure you and even, perhaps, take a flashlight and lift up the bedspread to show that it was safe? They used reason to overcome fear.

    And, again from childhood – if you were ever bullied or picked on, as long as you remained afraid of said bully, they had a definitive influence on your life. It’s only as you grow up and set aside fear – by enlisting friends/adults as allies – that you were finally able to move on, right?

    So when people rail about how they’re gonna torch the Quran, or shout themselves blue in the face about the Park51 Center, all it’s really doing is validating the power of the (perceived) Islamic fundamentalist army. Even if they’re like Jones’ church, just a collection of 50 some-odd nutballs.

    Ultimately, our strongest defense *and* offense is in investing in our infrastructure and our economic base. A strong infrastructure is less vulnerable to threats (even movie-plot humdingers); a well-educated populace drives much growth than the masses eager to embrace some kind of neo-feudalistic peasantry; and a strong economy and attention paid to our essential freedoms makes us stronger and freer both at home and abroad.


  • CJ :)

    When I was a young ‘un, my dad told me that no matter what you do, how many people you kill, how much property damage you inflict or how loudly you yell, you can’t destroy an idea that has any level of public support behind it. To illustrate it, he wrote “I love you” on a piece of paper and set it on fire. When it was ash, he asked me if I thought he didn’t love me anymore.

  • Alex McDowell

    To Jason Baur,
    ” Murder and violence is not an acceptable or proportionate response to any form of public discourse, not matter how inappropriate. This really should be obvious. Only the murderer is complicit for his murder. Anything otherwise would be to give irrational fear and hatred complete check over our society.”

    Better let Sharon Angle know.

  • Great post with lots of reason and thought that went into it.

    I still stand by the “don’t give these lunatics the press they crave” theory. Denounce it, then move on to the next relevant subject that is real news.

  • Bob


    And, that, in a nutshell, is a large part of the problem – the devolution of the once-proud network news from daily record to a pass-the-bucket weepfest.

    I used to think the industry could be saved. I like to still think so, but then I look at the changes coming at work, and I realize the days of Murrow and Cronkite are gone. Ain’t coming back.

  • Rodrigue

    I don’t “love” when cows are slaughtered, but contrary to books they are living beings.

    As for the rest, I think you summarize the case pretty well.

    I’ll just add that burning books becomes wrong when the burning is mandatory. Would it be obligatory to burn korans (or Harry Potters) in Florida, such a regulation should be opposed. But what a person does with her own books, it’s up to her.

  • Scott


    The US Interstates automatically make me think of the Nazi party, as they are modeled after the Autobahn, one of the Nazi’s largest public works projects.

    Associating an action with a seriously misguided group of people doesn’t necessarily imply that the action is evil.

  • Flah the Heretic Methodist

    “Sacred cows make the juiciest burgers when you cook ’em up juuust right.” — Rev Billy C. Wirtz

  • Jonas

    I’m not sure what Jones originally had planned for the Book Burning — Apart from a bonfire. But yes one could destroy copies of ‘The Koran’ (or any other holy book) to symbolize what one finds offensive of that religion. –

    Ex: Tear up pages for every point offensive of Islam. — Treatment of Women, Low Education Standards, Intolerance etc.

    Trouble is: At the same time you are not Critically examining your own religion. –

    Ex: Catholic: anti-abortion, anti-divorce, sex scandals, Indulgences, etc.

    Ex: Orthodox Jews: Silly Kosher Laws , Homophobia.. Whatever.

  • Andrew Morgan

    Burn ’em, for all I care. Keep burning them until the reaction of Muslims isn’t murder.

    Who cares what the reason behind it was? Let’s say it was just to piss off Muslims the world over (including here in the US) based on an irrational fear of Islam. (Though of course we can debate just how irrational it is elsewhere.)

    Who cares? As has been said, we don’t have to respect other people’s beliefs, we just have to not hurt one another or damage each others property over it.

    If Muslims are offended, tough shit for them. If Christians get offended that gay people are being married, tough shit for them. Until both groups get over themselves, we should keep burning Korans and we should make gay marriage legal.

    The fact that people might get hurt over this is unfortunate but the price you pay for freedom. Besides — as PZ points out (though I do not agree with him in all cases) — the foreign Muslim world will hate us regardless.

    Option #1: Oh look! They are blocking a mosque/burning Korans! They hate Islam! Attack!

    Option #2: Oh look! They are building a mosque/not burning Korans! They are a paper tiger! Attack!

    As for Muslims here, get with the whole “freedom” thing.

  • TychaBrahe

    We’re talking morality and some people keep interjecting legality.

    Yes, of course it’s illegal to damage other people’s property. However, it would be wrong even if it weren’t. It’s legal in this country for Phelps and his followers to protest outsides the funerals of soldiers. It’s still wrong of him to do so.

    It was legal of the Taliban to destroy the Buddhas of Bamyan. It is legal in Saudi Arabia to stone an adulterer; in fact it is the law that this should be done. It is apparently legal in Indiana to bully a high school student until he hangs himself, so long as you are bullying based on his sexual orientation and not something “bad” like racism. The fact that these are legal doesn’t make them right. Hemant didn’t ask when it was legal to burn a Koran. Burning a Koran may be illegal for a number of reasons. In the Los Angeles National Forest, it is often illegal to burn anything, from cigarettes to holy books, for fear of the fire danger. He asked when it was OK, and I’m saying that it never is.

    Viggo, there are always people who will take offense at anything. There are Blacks who are offended at the use of the word “picnic,” inventing a false history involving a pastoral day in the countryside accompanying a lynching. I refuse to stop using that word because it offends idiots.

    But offense is like bumping into someone on the street. I sometimes bump into someone on the street, and when I do so, I apologize, but this sort of thing is an accident, and there is no moral wrong in doing it, even if it results in the other person falling, breaking a bone, or otherwise being truly injured. True accidents are without blame. On the other hand, if I made a practice of barreling into people with the express purpose of knocking them over, that would be wrong.

    Pastor Jones set out to burn the Koran with the express intention of angering and hurting Muslims, and doing with with the intent of harming someone is wrong.

  • Andrew Morgan


    Pastor Jones set out to burn the Koran with the express intention of angering and hurting Muslims, and doing with with the intent of harming someone is wrong.

    No, it’s not, and it’s not for the reason you specify: “I refuse to stop using that word because it offends idiots.”

    I’m not talking about how religion is idiotic — I’m talking about the fact that it’s idiotic to demand that other people respect your beliefs, and you implicitly demand respect by making offensive gestures off limits.

    If Muslims are “hurt” because someone is burning a copy of a Koran, they need to get over it.

  • ButchKitties

    My gut reaction is to oppose the burning of any book. Book burning used to be a way of preventing access to information, or suppressing an idea. I think ideas can be evaluated and dismissed, but never they should never be suppressed.

    Lately I’ve come to realize that my gut hasn’t caught up with modern technology. No amount of book burning is going to eliminate access to the contents of that book, so my major objection to it is gone. However, I still think that instead of destroying the book, people should read it and then publicly discuss/criticize the contents. Really reading the Bible is what started me on the road to atheism.

  • Jude

    I’m a librarian. I put up banned books week displays every year with the quote from Ray Bradbury about why he wrote Fahrenheit 451. The way I can get away with creating a banned books display in a small conservative town is by including the Bible, which is banned in different cultures. In this case, burning a few Korans could have caused World War III. In the average case, when a Christian say, burns Harry Potter, it’s symbolic of their futile attempt to censor culture. But it’s all about ideas. All ideas are not equal, but just because we dislike an idea doesn’t mean we should burn it.

  • ash

    @TychaBrahe; sorry, you’ve completely lost me. To recap – you will continue to use the word ‘picnic’ even though you KNOW that it will cause certain people offence and hurt feelings because they’re idiots, so that makes it morally acceptable. You will not purposefully walk into anyone on the street because you also know that that would similarly cause certain people offence and hurt feelings (btw, if you could come up with relatable analogies it would help) because this time, that would be morally unacceptable. Is this because everyone on the street is of an acceptable intellectual level?

    You also used a cross burning, assualt, theft and rape analogies above. Notwithstanding Olive Oil’s explanation of why this was incomparable, you must have been aware that these would have caused offence and hurt feelings to at least a large minority of people, yet one presumes you found this morally acceptable to do so.

    At the very least, could you please explain why you think your moral inconsistencies are acceptable and (as you seem to be commenting that other people are being similarly inconsistent although you have yet to demonstrate this) why other people’s moral inconsistencies are not?

  • Argentum

    I’m of two very different minds about this question.

    I love books, and the idea of books. The development of language was the single-most important factor in the development of civilization. And I hold the written word to be the greatest invention of all time. Genocidal crimes like the Holocaust aside, I hold the destruction of libraries like those at Alexandria and Bahgdad to be the greatest crimes ever committed against humanity. Those books and scrolls were irreplacable, and losing them set us back who knows how many centuries.

    But the destruction of those libraries was engineered with the explicit purpose of eliminating any knowledge deemed to be at odds with the Koran and other “holy books.” I know it’s probably hypocritical of me, but if I found myself standing in front of a fire holding the last known copies of the Koran, the Bible and the Torah, I’d be terribly torn between the urge to throw them in because of all the division and suffering they have engendered, and the urge to lock them away somewhere for the sake of preserving literature.

    I think it’s fair to say, though, that the people who would be most offended at the Koran burnings (radical fundamental Muslims) are ridiculously hypocritical themselves, since they censor writing and destroy literature and art they disapprove of whenever they have the chance.

    I think Jones is a kook and a fool, but I think the world at large is foolish to pay so much attention to him.

  • Bob

    Tycha, you’ve lost me as well.

    Say I want to burn a book; it doesn’t have to be the Quran, it could be Harry Potter. It’s understood that the act is meant to be offensive and inflame those who hold the book to be of value.

    But what has actually been burned/lost? Does burning the physical object remove the idea? Isn’t this the essence of the Law of Similarity (Fraser’s The Golden Bough) – that is, a physical object reprsents another object, and by working harm upon one, you harm the other, as with the stereotypical voodoo doll, or even the idea of a love philter/charm.

    You add the factor of harmful intent, comparing murder and rape – but in the instance of murder, what is lost is measurable and tangible; rape, too, is a combined physical and psychological assault.

    But the burning of the Quran? Hardly. Burning a copy of a widely-published and studied holy text does nothing to the idea itself.

    The burning of a Quran would only have inherent value if it were rare/collectible – say, the copy owned by Thomas Jefferson. Or, it might have sentimental value to an individual, being a volume passed from a grandfather. But neither of these were likely to be the targets of Jones’ ‘protest.’

    In the end, the reactions tell me about the people involved; it demonstrates Jones’ intolerance and religious views, but it also shows me that Islam has the same problem as contemporary Christianity – its adherents are deathly afraid that it will be disproven, laid bare, taken away, or diminished by the merest contradictory act.

  • Brian Westley

    You can’t burn “the” flag, and you can’t burn “the” Koran, either. The flag is a Platonic ideal. As such, it is fireproof. Any particular flag is merely a copy, and you can’t destroy the flag by destroying a flag any more than you can destroy (or even harm) the Constitution by destroying a copy of it. Nor can you destroy the Koran by destroying a copy thereof, or any number of copies.

    So it’s like the difference between burning A. Whitney Brown and THE Whitney Brown?

  • Burning your own copy of a book to make a well-reasoned, specific point is always OK. But like I said on another of PZ’s posts on the topic, for an angry mob to burn as many Korans as they could get their hands on is something quite different. Considering the unfortunate history of such massive book-burnings, it’s not that far-fetched to see it as a veiled threat (I don’t think it would be a real Godwin if I’d point to Nazi Germany in this context). And threats are not generally considered part of free speech.

    After all, burning someone in effigy is also generally considered to be more than harmlessly setting fire to your privately owned puppet.

    Of course, since the protests started before Jones did anything objectionable, we’ll never know for sure if this event would have been a thoughtful protest, or whether it would just have been an angry mob around a bonfire.

  • Danny wuvs kittens

    Tycha, you don’t have a right not to be offended, and neither do I. I, on the other hand, have the right to free speech, as do you, and Terry.

    I have the right to protection of property and body and life. You do not have the right to steal or harm my property, or to harm me, or to do anything to me or my property that I do not consent to.

    You can’t seem to get this into your fucking head. Burning a Koran is nowhere near the equivalent of rape. The fact that you compare these things disgusts me.

    You have the mindset of a terrorist. You need to seriously re-examine your thinking.

  • Robert

    Regardless of whether he is crazy or not or if you agree or disagree with what he planned to do, its pathetic that we as a country have become hostage to the reactions of extreme radicals and what their response would be to us exercising our constitutional rights. Since when did we become so scared?

  • Bob wrote:

    I used to think the industry could be saved. I like to still think so, but then I look at the changes coming at work, and I realize the days of Murrow and Cronkite are gone. Ain’t coming back.

    Agreed. I miss the professionals.

  • pmsrhino


    Hence my use of the word “probably.”

  • Aj

    I can understand the initial reaction to book burning, as it is associated with censorship. Yet association should not factor in to whether something is right or wrong, some monsters had moustaches and some liked dogs. Rationally, burning your own possessions doesn’t deny anyone access to knowledge when books are printed in such volume, it’s an expression of disdain (one shared by plenty of atheists for the Qur’an), not one of censorship, which was the real problem with book burning. It’s not a threat, and it doesn’t harm anyone.

    I was listening to The Skeptics Guide to the Galaxy, and Steven Novella said it best when he said that if you don’t express yourself because radicals are going to be violent then that gives them too much power. If you’re going to broadcast that threats of violence are going to stop you from expressing views, then that encourages violence. You don’t reward bad behaviour, you punish or ignore it.

    What happens if the same threats are made when anyone criticizes the content of the Qu’ran or Hadith? Think of a physical act of protest for a cause you support, and whether you’d complain about it if someone threatened violence in retaliation. I hope that people aren’t just saying it’s the wrong thing to do because they disagree with Terry Jones, because people should be allowed to express opinions that are different to yours, even if they’re stupid or wrong.

  • Richard Wade

    This parody of Jones deciding to burn The God Delusion instead is very funny, and offers some rye truth. It’s definitely worth a read.

  • Aj

    The Skeptics Guide to the Universe*

  • Not really in favor of burning any books, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. I’d love to say that by keeping them around, folks will hopefully get to read them and find out the truth inside… that they’re just books. 😀

  • Flail

    Somewhere in there Tycha has a point. The pastor is doing something that is obviously driven by hate. He is intentionally trying to offend Muslim people, consequences be damned. I don’t think it is a stretch to say Jones’ actions are morally repugnant.

    I think it is also fair to say that the Muslim people that were threatening violence over this whole episode were acting immorally as well.

    On my completely moral scale (which I’m not going to justify in any way), those threatening violence are morally worse than the preacher threatening to burn inanimate objects.

  • muggle

    Ignore the man is what should have happened. He should have been totally blown off as the wackadoodle he is. Instead the media did as they always do for ratings: blew it up out of all proportion and made it large so they could have a “controversary” for the sake of huge ratings and ad revenue.

    I don’t know who disgusts me more: Jones or the media.

    Other than that, burning books — or the flag for that matter — is totally pointless. No one would bother if it wasn’t for the way the media exploit it and give them free freaking advertising. There’s no surer way to get your voice heard than that — using something you know the media will use and run with for ratings.

    I’m very proud to currently be reading the entire Harry Potter series to/with my grandson. Ban this Xian over-reactors. It’s just a fanciful children’s story so good that it’s actually enjoyable for grown-ups too. Can’t wait for the next movie to come out.

  • Darlingtonia

    Of course Mr. Jones has the right to burn his book (it’s unfortunate that that even needs to be reiterated), and of course it should be obvious that his planned action was symbolic. However, I thought that his plan was terribly foolish.

    First, showing that you disagree with an idea by (symbolically) destroying it is not only a poor method of argument but goes against the principle of freethought.

    Second, his primary goal, to send a message to radical Islamists that he’s fed up with them, is simply inane. Does he think that they aren’t aware of the fact?

    My greatest opposition came mostly from his plan to express his views through a book-burning, and from the underlying message that I felt was being communicated. As an extravagant act of destruction, the burning of objects or symbols has become closely linked with true acts of violence (as in an effigy, a cross burning, or a message written in flames). Mr. Jones was not explicitly calling for violence against Muslims (although he did use the phrase “possibly even use force to stop them [radical Islamists taking over society]”) but seemed to me to be condoning or even encouraging such violence (not to mention xenophobia and general ethnic and religious hatred). Just as “Go home!” written in flames on a front lawn carries an underlying threat of violence, and a swastika is more than just a Buddhist good-luck symbol, so is Mr. Jones’ planned action more than simply the statement, “I think your ideas are silly and reject them.”

    I do not object to his plan simply because it would have offended Muslims, but because the strong symbolism behind it distinguishes it from other forms of blasphemy, such as drawing Mohamed.

  • AnonyMouse

    Book burning is a symbolic act, plain and simple. What it means is entirely dependent on the person doing the burning, but it ranges from “fuck you” to “you’re next.” In Pastor Jones’ case, it was nothing more than a HUGE insult to a group of people who are already marginalized in the United States, many of whom are not involved in this dirt-kicking contest and the rest of whom will take his words as indicative of America’s attitude and use it to justify further violence.

    So to recap: it’s pointless, it’s discriminatory (religionist?), and it’s dangerous for the entire country. All of which are perfectly good reasons for the rest of us to speak up and say “We are not with this guy.”

    Offensive? Psh. You should see what I’ve done to my copy of Twilight.

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