Obviously I wasn’t paying enough attention last week, because I missed this gem from the ALA in response to the proposed (and later canceled) Koran burning by “Pastor” Terry Jones to commemorate 9/11. In response, ALA staff were planning to stand outside ALA headquarters reading from the Koran. Supposedly, “Book burning is the most insidious form of book banning,” and we know how the ALA hates the “banning” of widely available books.
I don’t understand this response at all, just as I don’t understand the incessant media coverage of the threats of some ignorant cracker in Florida, President Obama’s dignifying said cracker with a statement, or the violent protests of nitwits in Afghanistan over something that a) was certainly not sponsored by “America,” and b) didn’t even happen.
The ALA piece criticized the “mind-boggling logic behind Jones’s plan,” but the logic isn’t that mind-boggling, unless you don’t have much of a mind. It’s certainly less mind-boggling to me than strapping explosives to your chest and exploding yourself in a crowded marketplace.
It’s undeniable that there are radical Muslims in the world who want to kill Americans, and probable that some of them flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon nine years ago. (I was about to say that was “undeniable,” too, but obviously a lot of people do deny it.) It’s also undeniable that there are Muslims who violently protest actions we regard as free speech. While all Muslims aren’t terrorists, all the terrorists involved on 9/11 in the most devastating foreign attack on American soil ever were Muslims, and until that attack occurred most Americans could not have cared less about Islam. If anyone is to blame for American hostility to Islam, it’s those Saudi jerks who flew into the World Trade Center. Jones’ response isn’t mind-boggling, even if it is reactionary and stupid.
It’s stupid because it uses the same flawed thinking as the idiotic Afghan protesters screaming death to Christians and Americans. The Muslims who fly planes into buildings or blow themselves up in public are as representative of Islam as Terry Jones is of America and Christianity. However, no one would say the protests are “mind-boggling,” even if they are reactionary and stupid.
I gather some of the protests are motivated by the anger that the United States government wouldn’t just prohibit the book burning. If the secular law doesn’t prohibit the burning of the national flag, it’s certainly not going to ban the burning of a religious book. It’s a little thing called freedom, and some of us like it even when it isn’t pretty. The protesters should have just had some crazy, backwoods cleric burn a Bible in response, and everyone could have been happy.
ALA was planning to “fight fire with free speech.” This is also ironic, given that the groups who who violently protest Jones have no use for free speech. Burning a Koran might be considered “hate speech” of a sort, and is certainly designed to provoke, but any people who have violently protested the publication of some cartoons need some lessons in free speech themselves.
I find reading the Koran aloud as a counter-protest slightly mind-boggling. No one at the ALA has ever stood on the street reading from Huckleberry Finn, at least as far as I know, and that book always shows up in “banned” books lists. And I’m pretty sure that if I made a public announcement that I was going to burn a copy of Huckleberry Finn to celebrate Juneteenth everyone would just assume I’m a loony, just as most people assume that of Jones. From a certain perspective, this is Jones’ wackiest act since his Monty Python days.
Reading the Koran aloud sends the wrong message, though, because there’s nothing in the Koran or Islam that celebrates free speech, just as there’s nothing in the Bible or Christianity. Free speech and intellectual freedom are political values that emerged in opposition to religious power, and whenever religion and politics are combined, free speech is always threatened. This was as true in 17th-century Europe as it is in 21st-century Saudi Arabia.
I gather the counter-protest was also canceled, but it would have made much more sense to read from the United States Constitution than from anyone’s holy book. The majority of Muslims are peaceable enough, but there is no Islamic theocracy that allows the intellectual and religious freedom guaranteed by our Constitution. The ALA reading the Koran to celebrate free speech is like the American Heart Association reading from The Ultimate Fryer Cookbook to celebrate National Start! Walking Day.
The hypocrisy of the ALA is appalling as well. Reading the Koran is very sympathetic to the feelings of Muslims, but has nothing to do with intellectual freedom or free speech. It makes sense for the ALA not to speak out about the Danish cartoon flap, because it wasn’t in America. However, the ALA was silent when Random House declined to publish The Jewel of Medina because of the possibility of Muslim violence. One can only assume that the sympathies of the ALA are with Islam over intellectual freedom.
Were I a true proponent of intellectual freedom, I would be less concerned about some cracker burning a Koran in a free country than in a country such as Saudi Arabia banning Bibles. That’s what censorship looks like, but since the United States has never had censorship of that magnitude, some Americans – especially those in the ALA – don’t know what it looks like and so find it under every bed the way McCarthyites found reds.
Free speech is about the right to criticize religion as well as defend it. Just as Muslims think the Koran is the sacred word of God, non-Muslims don’t. I find religious fundamentalism bizarre, and its equation in some circles with religion in general unfortunate. If the Koran or the Bible were really the literal word of God, there probably wouldn’t be any disputing the fact. As Americans, we can be free to say whatever we like about both of them. And I can say all this in public in America and not be arrested for blasphemy. God Bless America!
Book burning isn’t the most insidious form of book banning. Actually banning books is the most insidious form. Since that doesn’t happen in America, the ALA has to find something to work themselves up over, and I guess the burning of one book by some insignificant hick in Florida will do. But who knows, just as ALA Council resolutions end wars, maybe it was the threat of the ALA reading aloud from the Koran that caused Jones to call off his book burning, and if so we should all be grateful to them for the cancellation of rabble-rousing nonsense.