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Sat, Oct. 19

Column: Burning books sends a strong, ignorant message

In case you missed some of the lowlights of the 20th century, one charismatic pastor from Florida is trying to bring them back.

Yes, Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville is planning a Koran burning for the ninth anniversary of 9/11. His church, the ironically named Dove World Outreach Center, plans to show their contempt for the Islamic holy book, a tome the pastor admits he's never read, by using it as fuel for a bonfire.

While the debate about books by those who read had been centered on the iPad versus the Kindle - Dove World's debate is the Bible versus the kindling. Which makes bloodletting suddenly seem forward thinking.

If you thought the Twilight series cornered the market when it came to a lack of literary subtlety - think again. Here we are in 2010 talking about burning books.

So what if a small religious group is on a quest to quash copies of other religious books? Why is that such a big deal?

This biblio-barbeque will be covered by the international press because it's a train wreck of a bad idea; therefore, Pastor Jones will be our face to the world. Mine, yours - Americans in general. Yes, a preacher to a flock of nearly 50 will be the guy who Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Atheists from all over the world will identify with America. Everything about our country is about to be boiled down to a picture of a heap of Korans smoldering. Shock and awww.

It'll be, "Americans burned the Koran." And it'll be true.

Never mind that we have soldiers on the ground in two Muslim countries. Remember in 2005, the first scandal of Guantanamo Bay involved the alleged desecration of detainees' Korans by guards. That caused outrage across the globe. Way to support the troops, buddy.

Other than a pointless, smoke-filled flip off to the second largest faith in the world, does the torching of media these days do what its purveyors want it to do?

The Ancient Library of Alexandria was burned by Julius Caesar in 48 B.C.E. The loss of its contents arguably set back technology and culture for millennia. The conquistadors destroyed Mayan codices of their history and religion, obscuring the ancient Mayan culture indefinitely. The Mongol invaders massacred the Library of Baghdad, resulting in the death of a massive "house of wisdom." These events forever altered history, mainly because they took place before the printing press.

After the printing press and the creation of multi-copied media, book burning has become just a showy homage to the brutes of the past. Libricide is an act of overt hostility. While Pastor Jones told the New York Times that he hopes this event won't lead to violence, he's planning a violent act. Author and professor Rebecca Knuth studied book burnings in Germany, Bosnia, Kuwait, China and Tibet. She concludes libricide often precedes genocide. Needless to say, this is not an act of "furthering the dialog." You don't exactly make the case for how your religion is the one of peace while you're lighting things on fire.

Maybe Dove World has tapped into the conventional wisdom that you can never go wrong blaming the media - a literal shooting of the messenger.

John Lennon said his band was more popular than Jesus, so Beatles representations were treated like 17th century witches and burned at the stake. In the 1980s, metal albums were thought to bring 1980s teenagers to Satan so they also were torched. Harry Potter books have met a similar fate. Did this eradicate the subjects? No. Do public displays of pitchforks and torches make them any less popular? No.

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