Annoyed Librarian
Search LibraryJournal.com ....
Subscribe to LJ
Inside Annoyed Librarian

Free Speech, Book Burning, and Other Stuff

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.

PrintFriendlyEmailTwitterLinkedInGoogle+FacebookShare

Comments

  1. Raynor says:

    Be sure to check the comments for someone who can’t tell the difference between burning your copy of a book and torching someone’s house. What was that about mind-boggling logic?

  2. Muslim says:

    I’d like to see a clarification of where “free speech” ends and “hate speech” begins, and what those terms mean for different groups of people. Didn’t necessarily agree with this article, but it made some important thought-provoking points!

  3. Real Librarian says:

    Fortunately for Pastor Jones, the media has hyped him from a trailer park preacher to a touchstone of our times.

    Pastor Jones’ message is “Islam is of the devil”.

    If he had just gone to his local public library, they could have set him straight. Yet again another example of the failings of our public library system. Especially south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

  4. Mr. Kat says:

    The only greater oxymoron than “Military Intelligence” is “Religious Education” – and that goes for BOTH sides of these debacles.

  5. librarEwoman says:

    Why is it okay to use the word “cracker” in reference to a white person, considering the use of racial slurs for pretty much every other racial group is widely condemned? I agreed with many of the points you made, AL, but why did you choose to use that particular word? It just seems unecessary and distracting from the point of the article.

  6. Annoyed Librarian says:

    “Why is it okay to use the word “cracker” in reference to a white person, considering the use of racial slurs for pretty much every other racial group is widely condemned?”

    I think we’re all pretty aware of the reasons, but since the AL is a paragon of political correctness, I shall in future endeavor to be more aware of the racial sensitivities of white people.

  7. AL said, “The hypocrisy of the ALA is appalling as well. …. One can only assume that the sympathies of the ALA are with Islam over intellectual freedom.”

    You don’t have to assume. Click the link under my pseudonym to read, “ALA is Duplicitous and Fraudulent, Censors Whomever It Wants, Suppresses Intellectual Freedom, and Joins the Jihad.”

  8. anonymous says:

    Also, in AL’s defense, people in Florida proudly refer to themselves as “crackers,” especially if they are related to some of the first white inhabitants of Florida. See (the most trusted of sources): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_cracker

  9. Josh says:

    “Why is it okay to use the word ‘cracker’ in reference to a white person, considering the use of racial slurs for pretty much every other racial group is widely condemned?”

    Because, librarEwoman, some weak-minded Caucasian people have let themselves be brainwashed into feeling “white guilt”. So they are more than happy to pretend not to hear when some racist twit lets a slur fly their way.

    Of course, it’s possible the Annoyed Librarian isn’t also a Racist Librarian, but is just using a racial slur to celebrate her right to free speech.

  10. R says:

    Oh ALA. Because how else would we librarians be able to stand up to a nutcase? Sigh.

    “From a certain perspective, this is Jones’ wackiest act since his Monty Python days.” –Not the same guy. Same name, true, and they both have people shaking their heads over them, but the similarities end there.

  11. Susan says:

    Just hopping on to point out that indeed, there is a Banned Books Read Out in connection with Banned Books Week where people do read excerpts from books that have been banned. Don’t know if they read Huck Finn…

    http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek/calendarofevents/index.cfm#readout

  12. David says:

    AL is right to point out that not all book barbecues are created equal. If someone were kicking down doors, pulling Korans off of shelves, and throwing them on the fire, that would be a pretty clear case of censorship. Buying your own copies to toss on the fire is more a case of symbolic speech – albeit in a rather hateful and wacko form.

    I wonder if a teenaged Terry Jones burned his Beatles records when John Lennon said the Fab Four were more popular than Jesus Christ. Too bad John isn’t around to comment now. Imagine no religion…

    For my own comparison of “International Burn a Koran Day” (that’s really what he called it) to the burning of Krusty the Clown toys, see http://bit.ly/967cQX

  13. Elizabeth says:

    “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 …”

    Well, maybe it doesn’t happen where AL lives, but books are banned, or restricted, fairly regularly in the Great White North, especially in our schools.

  14. librarian says:

    This is what a banned book looks like: The Pentagon purchases every copy of Operation Dark Heart (by Anthony Shaffer), destroys it, and makes the publisher distribute an edited version.

    This happened last month in the United States.

    I want the ALA to champion the first edition of this book and have it available for me to read for Banned Books Week.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/10/us/10books.html?_r=2&ref=us