Missing most from arguments against burning Korans is the fact that a Koran may be one’s personal property. This fact is overlooked in all arguments I have read against the action. It is also absent from the argument that when authorities arrest someone who is charged with a “hate crime,” or with “hate speech,” or even with “promoting racial hatred,” the property status of the book is not considered relevant. It is one’s property, but it is subject to the equivalent of a local building or property code on speech.
Burning a book – the Koran, the Bible, the Torah, Mein Kampf, Das Kapital, Ulysses, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, any of the Harry Potter novels, even of Atlas Shrugged, or any work that someone or some group may object to – is basically an emotional expression of the contempt, anger, or fear one harbors for the book. It is fundamentally cathartic in nature; it begins with the flames and ends with the ashes. The emotion is indulged and expended, privately or in public. It is certainly a species of freedom of speech, or of expression, but what does it accomplish beyond the satisfaction of having committed the action?
I do not see that it accomplishes anything tangible, except for the declaration of a particular attitude, view, or position, which may or may not be rational, for all to witness and evaluate. Burning a Koran lets friends, enemies, and the disinterested know where one stands on a specific issue. If one fears or despises the implementation of the Mohammedan diktats in the Koran, one certainly has the right to burn the work in a public or private venue. But one would better contribute to the defeat of the Islamists – who base their stealthy and violent actions on the contents of the Koran, and who, to judge by their actions in this country and around the world, should be feared – by writing a critique of Islam.
Burning a Koran should not be regarded or treated as a crime or a criminal action. The hate, the speech, the fear, or the bigotry demonstrated in such an action is one’s own, not anyone else’s, not the government’s, not society’s. It is a personal affair which one has chosen to make public. Once demonstrated, the hate, the fear, the speech, or the bigotry is in the open for others’ evaluations, for better or for worse.
To punish, fine, or otherwise prohibit a person by force from the expression of his own mind, at his own risk, expense, and venue (or even in a “public” place) is to impose politically correct speech, or censorship.
Conversely, “hate speech” statutes not only represent an attempt at thought control, but insulate the “hated” from criticism and opposition, deserved or not. Words, unlike bullets or stones, have no metaphysical attributes to harm, injure, or kill. It is only one’s premises that are subject to correction or “wounding.”
Several arguments have been made in favor of burning and/or banning of the Koran, based on some inexplicable danger it represents. None of them is valid. Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician, for example, courageous as he may be, has called for a ban of the Koran, just as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf has been banned in Germany and in other countries. Wilders has rightfully compared the Koran with Mein Kampf. Both works are about a “struggle” to implement the authors’ world views, which include conquest and the elimination or subjugation of enemies. Both works, he says, are threats in and of themselves.
The Koran is anti-Christian. This is true. Unlike the Bible, it is a collection of primitive homilies and diktats to Muslims to keep the faith and to spread it, violently if necessary. The Koran is most like the Old Testament, all blood and thunder and rapine and conquest of unbelievers and sinners. Somewhat like the Old Testament, it was written by a tribalist for tribalists. It has no place in the modern world. It has as much to do with morality as Indian rain dances have to do with climatology. The Old Testament, however, is balanced by the pacific New Testament. The Koran stands by itself, unbalanced by an ancillary or supplementary text, unrepentant in its horrid, barbaric tribalism.
More germane, however, is that the Koran is also anti-atheist, anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-Jew, anti-reason, and much, much more. Christians do not have a monopoly on being hated and targeted by Islam through the sanction of the Koran for conquest, submission, persecution, or elimination.
The Koran, as a moral and political expression of Islam, is un-American. This is true. One could even claim that it is anti-American. It does not advocate individualism, reason, limited government, and freedom of speech, but their opposites: conformity, irrationality, totalitarianism, and censorship. The Koran does not at all resonate with the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.
An article on the Holocaust Museum site about the May 10th, 1933 book-burning in Nazi Germany cites the German students’ reasons for participating in the burnings. That event was billed as a “spontaneous” protest against Jewish and “un-German” influences in German culture, orchestrated, however, by the Nazi Party. About the first major book-burning by students in Germany in 1817, the article explains:
The students, demonstrating for a unified country — Germany was then a patchwork of states — burned anti-national and reactionary texts and literature which the students viewed as “Un-German.”
And, writing about the 1933 book-burning:
The students described the “action” as a response to a worldwide Jewish “smear campaign” against Germany and an affirmation of traditional German values.
Substitute “Jewish” with “Arab,” Germany” with “America,” “un-German” and “traditional German values” with “un-American” and “traditional American values.” What is the meaning of “un-American,” and what are “traditional American values”? Other than the conservative, non-intellectual assertion that they are family, home, and religion, I have never read any statement of what those values are.
The Koran, like Mein Kampf, can seduce men’s minds, and so should be banned. The state of Bavaria controls the copyright and publication rights to Hitler’s book, whose copyright will expire in 2015. Officials have blocked wishes to have the book republished, citing its possible deleterious influence on certain segments of the German population. The British Daily Mail had an article about the drive to republish Main Kampf.
The Bavarian government do not want Hitler’s words to be abused by neo-Nazi. Historians say a thorough, academic presentation that places Hitler’s work in historical context would be the best defense against neo-Nazis who might want to use the book to advance racist agendas.
Bavarian lawmakers have routinely turned down calls to reprint the book for fear that it might be misused by right-wing extremists and out of respect for the victims of the Holocaust….“Mein Kampf” was banned from publication after World War II. Possession and resale of old copies in Germany is legal, but highly regulated.
This position ascribes to evil – and both works do advocate evil ideas and actions – a potency it does not possess. There is no innate power in either work to magically work its corruption in men’s minds. This position views men’s minds as passive receptors, and the books as insidious incubi. But a copy of the Koran, like a copy of Mein Kampf, is merely a collection of atoms. The paper and the ink on it that forms audio-visual symbols that are words are not an alchemist’s formulae for turning gold into acid. No combination of words, whatever its content or purpose, can cast an irresistible hex or spell on anyone’s mind, neither at a glance nor during years of examination. Philosophies, Ideologies and systems of ideas do not have the power of autosuggestion.
Evil has only the appearance of virility and strength, when in fact it is strong only in proportion to the unwillingness of men to oppose it or acknowledge it. Men can agree or disagree with any idea expressed in any work; it is their actions encouraged by such ideas that count. The books themselves are impotent. The phrases “the power of ideas” and “ideas have consequences” have meaning only in the context of action and in the volitional nature of men’s minds. Ideas are not poison ivy.
The Koran can no more automatically influence a person to become a Muslim and/or a jihadist than Atlas Shrugged can automatically turn a reader into an intransigent champion of reason, individualism, and capitalism. The power of any fiction, nonfiction, religious, and scientific work, or of the ideas contained in them, depends on a reader’s predisposition to any work’s theme and purpose. If one is open to reason and rational answers, one will be influenced by Atlas Shrugged, and be impervious to or on guard against any appeal to the irrational. If one is open to mysticism, to the comfortably unknowable, envy, belonging to a group, an ethics that requires no thought, and to hatred of the good for being the good, one will be influenced by the Koran, and be immune to any appeal to reason.
If one composted copies of all the books mentioned in this commentary, and used the compost as fertilizer in one’s garden, one’s vegetables or flowers would not grow into inflammatory, poisonous, hate-inculcating monsters.
A Koran, when all is said and done, is merely a physical object, owned by someone, who is free to do with it what he wishes. He can burn it in protest of the ideas contained in it, or tear out its pages, or mulch it. Or he can read it, to better understand what he senses or has heard is objectionable and evil in it.
But treating what could be a personal misdemeanor or futile gesture, such as burning a book, as a capital crime is as much an act and instance of intolerance as an Islamic charge of blasphemy. Any law that protects the “feelings” or “dignity” of Muslims by incorporating “hate speech” laws into its legal system has taken the first crucial step to censorship and the subversion of secular law, including the negation of the First Amendment.
Burning a book is a concession to its author. It hands him a victory he would not have otherwise had.