Quran Burning – A book is not a person

Can a book feel pain? Does a book have an existence independent of its owner? These are questions we need to ask when we decide whether the US government should stop Terry Jones from burning Qurans.

Now there’s no doubt in my mind that the guy’s a jerk. An offensive and insensitive fellow who’s only too happy to separate his world into black and white sections with “us” on one side and “them” on the other. So would I want to meet him and shake his hand? Not a chance.

Jerk? Definitely. Criminal? No.

Jerk? Definitely. Criminal? No.

But this is a matter in which the government shouldn’t get involved. After all, who is Jones harming? A book is an inanimate object and can’t feel pain. So he’s not “harming” the books. Is he harming people? Not really. Anyone can just ignore him and not watch it on TV, Youtube, or whatever. So if anyone is offended, it’s because they choose to be offended. And that doesn’t qualify as real harm.

This is just like M F Husain’s paintings. One has no right to remain unoffended in a free country. The right to Freedom of expression is more important than someone’s feelings. Because anyone can choose to be offended by anything.

According to US law, a person can be charged for inciting violence. But it has to be a direct call to violence – not something like burning a book. So the US government has no authority to stop him. In fact, if it tried to use force, the pastor could take the government to court for damages! Politicians realize this and so no one has threatened him with legal action.

As long as no person is being hurt and no one is being asked to commit acts of violence, there’s no harm done. Just like the “Everybody draw Mohammed” campaign which was insensitive and stupid, but also legal.

It’s quite funny to see Indian politicians instructing the US government to “stop” him. As if the government can do something without the express sanction of law. There are many things I don’t like about the US, but freedom of expression is not one of them. I love the way that people focus on the law which is meant to protect people and not their “sentiments.”

We’re all adults here and we’re capable of taking care of our own feelings thank you very much. For the government to stop something saying that it’ll hurt my feelings is insulting and implies that I’m not strong enough to withstand offense.

So why don’t people get a handle on this and just ignore this jerk instead of asking the government to make him stop?

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Comments

  1. …Also, from what I have read on your blog posts, you might disagree with me here, but I see that the urban Hindus in India (and perhaps perhaps analogously, Christians in the developed countries) have been 'bombarded' with so many instances where Muslims are shown to have been harmed, that both the communities (urban Hindus in India and Christians in developed countries) have developed a guilt complex for being born in the community they were born in. The reason I use the word 'bombard' is because, many instances are presented in a manner as if the killed/hurt/harmed Muslim was killed/hurt/harmed merely because of being a Muslim! There are many reasons a person could be harmed – personal rivalries, subsequent religious polarization, which leads to religion-based clashes, etc., but that does not mean that the original rift had occurred because of religion. E.g., a Hindu passenger traveling in an auto driven by a Muslim end up arguing over the fare. They end up ganging up. Let's assume the Hindu's friend end up stabbing the Muslim. The news headlines next day would be, "Hindu mob stabs a 'minority' community autorickshaw driver". Would it be a case of Muslim persecution per se? The original cause of rift was the fare, and not religion! But the media would report it as such, because that would make the news 'interesting'! There would be calls for "not persecuting the Muslims", the reminders that "Muslims also have a right to live in India and practice their religion in India", etc. The above situation occurs primarily for two reasons – Muslims are in minority so the baseline probability that Hindu would have Muslim friends itself is less. Second, the Muslim having Hindu friends is also unlikely because of the ghettoization that has occurred (is it because of persecution by other communities, or because that is how Muslims prefer it, is difficult to say). Now compare that with a case wherein Hindu friends of a Hindu passenger stab a Hindu driver! The situation may pan out exactly as above. In fact, it can escalate into a big gang war ('gang war' taking into consideration the size of the colony where the passenger and the driver might be living). Would the newspaper headlines scream, "Hindu mobs stab Hindu driver"? Would there be calls for "letting Hindus live in peace" or that "Hindus also have a right to live in India and practice their religion" No, because that would look silly. But, why does it look silly? Simply because, we have got used to the idea that whatever crimes that occur against Muslims, Christians or tribals are because Hindus are in majority. I am not getting into a situation wherein Muslim mob would stab a Hindu driver, but what I am absolutely sure of is that there would be no calls from the mainstream media of "letting Hindus live in peace" and no reminders that "Hindus have a right to practice their religion". Plus, what needs to be juxtaposed with this is the fact that many of the crimes against the Hindu community are not covered by the media or at least not covered sufficiently…

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    • In reply to Ketan

      Do you really think that happens? Regular fights between mobs being projected as religious in nature? You may be right of course – I just don't know.

      Another interesting thing is that in countries like India, the US, etc, it's minority rights that must be specifically protected. That's because it's assumed that the majority religion is always unthreatened. Looking back, I can't find an instance in the modern world where the majority rights have been suppressed. They can take care of themselves without a separate law for protection.

      That's why you hear "Muslims have the freedom to practice their religion" and not "Hindus have the right to practice their religion." It's like saying "Straight people have the right to have sex too!" It's understood.

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      • In reply to Bhagwad Jal Park

        No, I have not seen first-hand that regular fights would be projected to be religion-based, but I feel (and I could be wrong at that) that it is such simple reasons that initiate fights than anything else. But yes, I know of cases, where the media shows things in mere 'white-and-black' (not related to religion) without going into the nuances or verifying the facts, to polarize opinions.

        Though, you have rightly pointed out that being in minority of any sorts itself is taken as a surrogate for being disadvantaged, I could not make out if you approve of such assumption.

        E.g., if in a colony, most of the straight people are ousted by gay people, then a reassurance that "Hey, even straight people have right to have sex" would be in order.

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      • In reply to Ketan

        Yup.

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  2. …Of course, I have no statistics to back up this claim, but I would point to two instances, which are prominent enough to start suspecting an ulterior motive. First instance is of the recent Bareilly riots. The first time any appreciably visible news trickled into the media was when there was already over a week's curfew there! One of my friends who lived in Lucknow had guessed that definitely more than 10 people (mostly, Hindus) must have got killed (his sister was living in Bareilly at that point). There were amateur YouTube videos that had emerged on facebook with totally charred houses, burnt scooters and the female owners of the house crying (they were clearly left homeless). But none of that was shown by the mainstream media. While it could be alleged that the burnt houses and scooters and crying were all only for the camera to provoke Hindus, I would think it unwise to accept such allegation. In the current era of 24 hours' news this approach towards Bareilly (which is a well known place – unlike some obscure jungle of the north-east) violence comes as very surprising. Likewise, I see very little discussion on the fate and rights of displaced Kashmiri Hindus or their suffering on channels like NDTV 24×7 compared to Bhopal gas tragedy, or '02 Gujarat riots or the current killings of stone-throwers in Kashmir. The reason I'm pointing this out is because of what I see as concerted effort on part of media, that the educated urban Hindus get exposed to, wherein the sufferings of minorities (both Muslims are Hindu 'lower' castes) are magnified and that of the majority are dismissed as trivial, the said urban Hindu feel guilty of crimes committed against the minorities. In attempt to overcome this guilt complex, they end up overcompensating and take a view of those aspects of Islam that are reprehensible than would be warranted. While, someone might feel that I am making too much out of the Bareilly instance, or that my friend's guess (of 10 people dying) could be wrong, I feel Bareilly's neglect by the media cannot be so easily explained away. Remember, any town in UP is high on media's radar for its electoral significance. Also, because of '02 riots wherein, the ratio of Hindu:Muslim death was ~ 1:4 to 1:3 (as it was a riot and not a pogrom as few people call it), the overall tone of the media is that Muslims are persecuted in India. But because of Kashmir, where the number of Hindus that were killed and displaced (without significant corresponding harm to Muslims) was significantly higher that that of Muslims in Gujarat, we never end up with this feeling in the media that Hindus are persecuted in India. Why so? Of course, one can answer this question if one considers my argument as valid….

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  3. …You might be surprised, why I wrote the preceding two long comments [I do not consider myself a right-winger Hindutvawadi! Whatever little 'right' is there in me, is because of my support for free market! ;) ]. The reason is I wanted to point out the effect such portrayals would have on the mind of an urban, educated Hindu's mind who cannot recognize the above pattern (of course, again assuming that such pattern indeed exists as and that I'm not merely seeing things). It would create a strong guilt complex. A need to overprotect the Muslims and overcompensate for the perceived (not merely perceived, but partly true to) persecution of and discrimination against them. This attitude would be akin to parents trying to buy chocolates and overlooking the mischiefs of their younger child simply because the younger child alleges bullying by the elder child. The allegation could be true, but I am focusing on the 'buying of chocolates' and 'overlooking' part here.

    Now try to see what the combined effect of above guilt-complex and the 'glass house' would be. Urban educated Hindus (and Christians elsewhere) would end up excessively sympathetic of anything related to Islam.

    To test this hypothesis, one could come up with a poll where the options would be:

    1. "I condemn attempts to stop Pastor from burning the Quran in the US and I condemn attempts to stop wearing of Burqa in France"
    2. "I condemn attempts to stop Pastor from burning the Quran in the US and I support attempts to stop wearing of Burqa in France"
    3. "I support attempts to stop Pastor from burning the Quran in the US and I condemn attempts to stop wearing of Burqa in France"
    4. "I support attempts to stop Pastor from burning the Quran in the US and I support attempts to stop wearing of Burqa in France"

    While, I cannot be sure how many people would vote on this. Also, perhaps, simply seeing these kind options juxtaposed with each other, people might be forced to do a re-think and come up with a more consistent approach to look at the two issues. But whatever be the case, at least positions 2 and 3 would be internally inconsistent as far as application of rights and freedoms is concerned, and yet you would find many people voting for '3' (or even for 2). Of course, I would be surprised and glad if I am proved wrong!

    So, each time theists make impassioned (and not just principled) appeal to let others practice their religion in peace, all they want is that they themselves be allowed to do the same – irrespective of how rotten, violent, illogical, bigoted those religious beliefs be.

    Let us see how many of these theists would come forward to passionately defend the 'rights' to build a temple devoted to Hitler or memorials hailing the power of 'miraculous' 'Fatman' and 'Slim boy' that were dropped on Japan WW-II (yes, in terms of amount of destruction the two bombs could cause, they were miracles indeed by any standards known to man back then).

    Sorry for the angry rant, but I find theist hypocrisy repelling.

    PS: I might publish the contents of this comment as a blog post in later time.

    Reply

    • In reply to Ketan

      I think what you say deserves a separate blog post Ketan. Of course, my personal understanding of the way things should be is that by definition minority issues must receive greater coverage and support than majority views cause the majority views are anyway going to be accepted by everyone.

      As far as the media goes, I'd like to dig a little deeper. If you say that they're biased (and I'm not sure one way or the other about this), why are they biased? Is it because (as a lot of right winger claim) there is a conspiracy between the government, media etc to put Hindus down, or is it because of sheer incompetence, or because people don't want to hear anything else, or some other reason?

      Reply

      • In reply to Bhagwad Jal Park

        In response to the first thing, I'm afraid I would have to cite the oft-repeated instances, where the majority could not take care of itself – Kashmir and Godhra. Rioting (and killing of significantly more Muslims than that of Hindus) that followed Godhra train burning does not amount to taking care of the 59 people who had died.

        In response to the second thing you ask about media-bias, I do not think plain incompetence would show up as a perceivable pattern (are all those who perceive such patterns paranoid or right-wingers, is for every individual to decide! :) ). So, I think there are deliberate attempts to present the world a certain way. I discuss the (speculated by me) motives in this blog post – Why the Indian National Media appears Anti-Hindu (click).

        Reply

      • In reply to Ketan

        Just read your post and left my comments Ketan.

        With regard to the whole majority thing, there is indeed a danger if there are pockets in the country where the overall minority is a majority there.

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  4. Hmmm… a new perspective on this issue… I can ignore, you can ignore but I don't think majority of people can if they could there wouldn't be any problem in the world!

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  5. If he does that nothing will ever be right with the world again.

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  6. Thanks for dropping by Jayanth. You're right in that lots of people don't view it as just a book.

    But he's not burning anyone else's books – just his. If we try and stop him, aren't we admitting that he doesn't have the right to do what he wishes with his property? So perhaps the question we need to ask is: When we buy a religious book, is it really our property?

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