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. Ditto, to what Bones has said. Both M.F.Hussain and this jerk have hurt people's sentiments. ANd in a world so incited by religion, the last thing we need is senseless bloodshed.
    Btw, I didn't actually get your point on the MF Hussain paintings. are you saying that was perfectly OK for him to do so, but in contrary the draw Mohammed campaign (which I actually wasn't aware of, until I read this post) is insensitive? I'm confused as to your take on this!

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  2. I think there's an interesting point here. If a person A does something which person B chooses to respond to with violence – even if what person A did wasn't a call to violence nor a violent act, is person A morally responsible for the actions of B?

    Do we assume that B is an adult and is solely responsible for his actions?

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  3. By the way sraboney, your blog link isn't showing up on your name like it should – are you logged in to comment, or are you using the "Name, email and URL fields?"

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  4. You are right Bhagwad. He should have the freedom of expression, however silly his way of expressing is. And I admire the US government for letting him have that freedom. My respect for the US has increased manifold.

    But we also have to be prepared for the repercussions that would eventually follow. Sadly, those people who place this book at such a high pedestal don't understand the language of freedom. One person has already died during protests in Afghanistan and this idiot hasn't even lit the fire yet! Imagine what is to come Sept. 12th.

    I dread to imagine!

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  5. Sraboney,

    This (click) – a one-sentence-question – is what I had asked on my blog.

    Though I would not burn a book (doing so is patently silly), I also wish that in India we had the freedom to critique violent/stupid/illogical verses, which unfortunately, is not there.

    Had these kind of protests come from atheists/skeptics, it would still have looked alright. But when the protest comes from the leader of a religion, which follows equally/more violent scripture, things look weird. It becomes difficult to believe that the said pastor is not interested in religious oneupmanship.

    I'm appalled to see that the protests and shock expressed at the idea of burning Quran were only tad less impassioned than when 9/11 had happened.

    Rationalists/skeptics are always burdened by societal expectation, which places an onus to seem sensible, to talk only from logic and to not get impassioned in their words and actions. So, I would like to ask, is this expectation reasonable? If I express my anger at Hitler, depending upon my eloquence, I might be praised, or even win a few blogger prizes. If I write a post full of rhetoric against corruption in government it would be greeted with cheer, and it might feature in BlogAdda 'Spicy Saturday' or 'Tangy Tuesday' category (no, none of my posts have featured on BlogAdda, yet!). If I write a parody on CWG, people will enjoy it, hail it, laugh. But, but, but… if I were to write a post against stupidity that most of the religious beliefs represent or the violence, intolerance, bigotry and illogic contained in some of the verses, I will have to get apologetic; will have to defend myself. Unfortunately, the most educated would be the first to call me a hostile, angry, too-strongly-opinionated, bigoted atheist – one who cannot handle "differences in opinion"!

    I am tired of these double standards.

    And hence, thanks for writing this post!

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    • In reply to Ketan

      You're right Ketan. It seems that when it comes to criticizing religion everyone gets emotional. And that's the problem. Finally it all comes down to criticizing something that an overwhelming majority of people believe in. Mind you – there's a religion called Pastafarianism which believes that God is a bowl of spaghetti. If one were to insult or criticize this religion no one will mind :)

      For that matter, no one minds criticizing and even demonizing atheists! They're fair game. But when it comes to an established religion – any religion, everyone suddenly throws a hissy fit.

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    • In reply to Ketan

      By the way Ketan, if you access my blog from a mobile phone, it displays the regular wordpress comment system. That should make you happy :)

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  6. I have issues with book burning. I guess it's because I that people who have to resort to this just seem weak to me. It also makes me think of censorship. Though I know he's not doing this because of that, it just seems to me that people are threatened by beliefs that are not their own, so they may feel the have to destroy it. I do agree that Jones has a right of freedom of expression (though I'm beginning to think people are hiding behind that) this is just a foolish way of doing it. Also, a lot of Muslims have the Qu'ran memorized so I don't know what he hopes to accomplish by this.

    Besides if he wants to his right of freedom of expression to be respected, then perhaps he should respect the rights of the people to build places of worship where they choose. He's doing it because he doesn't like the idea of the Islamic center being built near ground zero.

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  7. I agree with your views. He has the right to burn the book. I wished the world community instead of focusing on this idiot did more to prevent the upcoming stoning of a woman in Iran because she was an adulterer.

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    • In reply to Hari

      Is that the Iranian woman you're referring to? Yeah, that's really sad. I remember we all sent email letters of protest to the Iranian government to stop the stoning – and I think it worked temporarily.

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  8. You cannot expect all people to think like you do. Someone wanted to burn a book that is considered holy by people. Freedom of expression does not matter when there is a gun pointed at your temple. In a world where people are killed for merely uttering a word, that is a very big statement.

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    • In reply to Kevin

      Thanks for stopping by Kevin.

      My only doubt is if people are killed for uttering a statement, whose fault is it? Isn't it the fault of the murderer? In fact, we've gotten used to saying "people are killed" – as if it happens by magic! Instead we must say "People murder those who make statements"…that's more of the truth.

      As Ketan had mentioned in his post, this is like a rapist saying he raped a woman for wearing "provocative clothes" – instead of punishing the rapist, should we instead ask all women to start covering themselves up?

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    • R.Krishnamurthy says

      In reply to Kevin

      I agree totally

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  9. Burning the Quran is nothing but an action that needs to be outright condemned. It will only help terrorists get in new recruits.

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    • In reply to Dhruva Mathur

      Condemned yes. But forcefully stopped?

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      • In reply to Bhagwad Jal Park

        Somehow, I feel 'condemn' is a strong word and does not describe how I feel about the act. I would 'disapprove' of it for practical reasons – like wastage of paper, smoke, pollution, most important, futility of the act, but I would not condemn it. Also, there is a difference between condemning an act and condemning the motive behind that act. As I said above the 'motive' it seems to me is insane religious oneupmanship, which I find condemnable. Whereas, the act in itself I will see as silliness. Would I 'condemn' someone if they were to burn Garfield comics? I would not. Again, I would disapprove.

        I hope people start making these distinctions.

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      • In reply to Ketan

        Agreed.

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  10. 'We’re all adults here and we’re capable of taking care of our own feelings thank you very much.'

    We are. Not everyone is. Hence the RSS trishuls breaking media house glass doors, valentine's day 'protests', fears of terrorism being 'incited'. When you know that everyone sees things with their interpretation of their history, it behooves us as cautious people to be aware. Burning the Quran is a flamboyant gesture by a juvenile to make a 'god only knows what' point that a bunch of people can be offended by it. Why can that not be curtailed in the interest of sensitivity? Is it really going to impinge on this guy's rights in a meaningful way? And don't we have enough problems from miscommunication between diverse segments already? Why argue a legal point on this one?

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    • In reply to Sangitha

      I think you're right about not everyone being mature enough to handle their feelings. What I'm asking is whether or not it's the government's job to protect people's feelings.

      Also, how far do we push it? Suppose for one moment that an imam in an Indian state declares that his people will be outraged and will start destroying things if women wear jeans anymore. It's not too far of a stretch to imagine that happening. If we give in to these people's threats, won't that just be fodder for the next time someone wants to curtail another's activities in the interests of "sensitivity?"

      Finally, many men already claim that when a woman wears "provocative" clothes, she bears the blame for being raped. Should a woman quietly give in and cover herself up so that people's sensitivities aren't hurt?

      I know that burning the quran is a flamboyant gesture. No question there. But it's the principle of the thing isn't it? Once we start agreeing that people's sentiments must be respected, then what lengths do we go to protect them? And who draws the line and why?

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      • In reply to Bhagwad Jal Park

        We also have to look at the reasonableness of the event. If an Imam declares that dress is his business and imposes it on people who don't want this, I would expect the government to stand up for the majority that is being affected. We all know that gender equality is very far from being achieved in India and in ALL parts of the world in different ways. Why should the Imam's rights count more than so many more people's rights?

        I am not talking here of crime being rationalized. Rape is a crime and the woman's dressing or not is an excuse. If burning the Quran was a crime, sure, we would just arrest the culprit as we would the rapist, regardless of his views on how women dress. Regardless of what the man thinks, no one needs to give in and do what they don't want to. This is different.

        You see the world going up in flames along with the Quran, insult added to injury. I am secure enough to say "Go burn the Gita, my belief in my god is not related to your actions". The multitudes that are being roused by extremists are not and need to be educated – the time standing back and watching is not now.

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