Friday, 24 August 2012

Intolerance and book burnings

If memory serves me German Author Heinrich Heine once said; Where a state burns books, one day they will burn people. (Dort, wo man Bucher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen)

This is a fact that is frighteningly relevant.

A book is more than a papery object bound together full of words. It is a summation of ideas and beliefs and means a great deal to the author and many readers. I should rapidly point out that for the most part I'm talking about the Non-fiction variety. I can't imagine many people, beyond maybe me, becoming upset about the burning of Star Wars; Darksabre!

Usually when people talk about book burnings the immediate train of thought goes to the Nazis. As the Third Reich began its slow rise to European dominance all the Non- German books were confiscated and burnt in a nationalistic fervour and display of Germaness. Mostly books by Jews (Heine, Einstein or political ideology that was considered not to fit into the Nazi ideal such as Trotsky, Rosa Luxembourg, Lenin  etc. There is also the Jewish Communist Karl Marx who is obviously the antithesis of everything the Nazi party strived to be.

This was Germany reasserting itself and finding a new identity in the post First World War/Wiemar period. Heine was correct that within ten years of the book burnings the Holocaust was in full swing. Herr Heine was proved correct.

Surely that was then though right Chris? I mean, the Nazis are pretty evil right?

There's no denying that the Nazi Government went on to do one of the most horrific acts ever carried out by mankind in the modern era. Book burnings and the removal of ideas was arguably the first step of many.

One of the constants of history is that no one ever learns from history which locks us into cycles of repetition. Events that are transpiring today have already happened many times before and yet no one has learnt. The banking crisis... same as the South Sea trade bubble collapse in the early 19th Century. Public alcoholism - the Gin riots. So to flip it around - Nazi book burnings (which was not the first instance of it in history!) can be compared to this picture;

Yes I know it was one priest in America... and I also know people will chuckle and say Well its one crazy in a country of crazies but lets think about this.... It is the first step and its still significant.

I'm not one for religious tomes. I am an avid disbeliever but not aggressive. There are aspects of Islam that I disagree with the same as Christianity and Judaism. There are laws and beliefs that are carried out and legislated in some countries that I think is just Bat *dropping* crazy and backward but I respect them because they are people's beliefs.

It seems that people do not see the significance of burning books, or if they do they are so caught up in hate they don't care.

I'm sure many shrugged when they heard of US soldiers burning Korans in Afghanistan a while back and thought;

So what?

But it is a red rag to a bull.

Britain learnt this to their detriment in the early 19th Century with the Indian Revolt which was caused, in part by forcing Hindu Sepoy's bite rifle cartridges (when loading) that had been dipped in tallow which contained Cow and Pig fat.

So?  I hear you cry.

Pigs are filthy animals according to Muslims and Cows are considered to be Sacred by Hindus which is a double whammy! It caused a massive rift between the offended soldiers and their less numerate and often uncaring White officers and ultimately led to the Lucknow and Cawnpore massacres.

People need to be mindful of others beliefs and religions. We also need to be tolerant of them.

You may be angry at a particular set of people - in the case of the above priest it was Islamic terrorists, BUT in committing his act he has alienated and angered a vast number of Muslims across the world for burning their Holy book. It does nothing but inflame the situation.

A similar act was  the burning of Poppies on Remembrance Day a few years ago. No they aren't religious books or cause religious offence but they act as a national unification. Something we Britons come together with. Its not about politics, or religion, or even the war that is being fought - it is about the soldiers who have fought and died. It is  National symbol.

Government's need to act on this when it happens. Yes it is attacking an individuals liberty to do as they will however Law is based on balancing liberty of the individual against offences caused to the sensibilities and Liberties of others. Burning someone's religious tome clearly offends the sensibilities of the individual.

Where states burn books. Well, all I'll say is that as I wrote that I could hear the steady clomping of Jackboots on gravel in my mind and a veil of darkness.


  1. They burn books in Britain too!

  2. Yes, the key point here is indeed the taking of the first step, whence all journeys begin.

    That specific Qur'an-burning incident was, as I understand it, at base just a "sauce for the goose" reaction to the way that Islamic powers had already acted against others outside their particular (somewhat Nazi-like) belief régime, so needs to be taken in that context.

    Yes, it was a bit daft, literally 'fighting fire with fire', but at least it woke up a fair number of people to an existing evil in parts of the world whose actions were of the same (and often far worse) nature.

    If, in the final analysis, it all keeps us alert to (in particular) institutionalised censorship – which is what this kind of activity is primarily about, along with establishing factional/sectarian supremacy in the public mind – then perhaps there is an up-side to an apparently negative (and somewhat futile, on the surface of it) act; and I venture to suggest hasn't been thought of sufficiently in that context by many commentators.

    As is so often the case in life, there can be more than one dimension to a particular topic, event or issue, and I find it useful to be alert to that possibility in order to (hopefully) avoid missing something that might well turn out to be significant...