They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)
The above poem was featured on my friend crothdiver’s blog Anything Male, the other day in a post he wrote about the recent controversy surrounding a pastor in Florida who was planning on burning the Qur’an. The whole subject has had my riled up for days and has had me thinking of American’s First Amendment rights, censorship rights, and the ignorance of book burning. So I thought I would address these three ideas from my own perspective.
First of all, who was Martin Niemöller? German theologian and war hero as a submarine commander in World War I, he became a minister in 1924. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, he was originally a supporter of the Nazi party, but later he protested their interference in church affairs and helped combat discrimination against Christians of Jewish background. As founder of the anti-Nazi Confessing Church, he worked to oppose Adolf Hitler. Arrested in 1937, he was interned until 1945. After the war he helped rebuild the Evangelical Church. Increasingly disillusioned with prospects for demilitarization, he became a controversial pacifist; for his efforts to extend friendship ties to Soviet-bloc countries, he received the Lenin Peace Prize (1967) and West Germany's Grand Cross of Merit (1971).
The First Amendment
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
I agree with the President on this issue. Mr. Jones may have the right to speak out against Islam and may technically have the right to burn books. However, by burning the Qur’an, Mr. Jones has incited riots and hatred toward Americans around the world, when we are currently at war with religious extremists, he is attempting to burn their word of God. The Qur’an is literally the word of Allah, as spoken through his messenger, the Archangel Gabriel, and memorized and recited by the prophet Muhammad. Quite honestly, I can see 100 percent why this would upset even the most peaceful Muslims in the world. This act also puts our soldiers overseas at an even greater risk. In Afghanistan, we are dealing with people who need only the slightest provocation to seek retribution. The act of burning the Qur’an is more than just the slightest provocation. The Taliban used the natural disaster of the floods in Pakistan to attack innocent people, they have no morals. These are not true believers, if they were, they would honor Allah, not desecrate his name. Why fuel the fires of average Muslims with the burning of their holy book. By even the threat, Mr. Jones has aided Al Qaeda and the Taliban in their methods of recruitment. He has put the national security of America and the security of American citizens and soldiers abroad at risk. It has been a long standing tradition and backed by laws in America that using the excuse of freedom of speech is not legal if you are inciting danger. Just as you are not able to yell fire in a crowded building when there is not a fire, you also cannot incite world wide riots for your own publicity seeking exploits as Mr. Jones has done.
First, let me say that I am a total and complete bibliophile. I love and cherish books. Some of my most prized possessions are books. I find the written and printed word to be sacred. To burn a book is one of the most destructive and horrific events that can one can do to an inanimate object.
Book burning, biblioclasm or libricide is the practice of destroying, often ceremoniously, books or other written material and media. In modern times, other forms of media, such as phonograph records, video tapes, and CDs have also been ceremoniously burned, torched, or shredded. The practice, usually carried out in public, is generally motivated by moral, religious, or political objections to the material.
Some particular cases of book burning are long and traumatically remembered - because the books destroyed were irreplaceable and their loss constituted a severe damage to cultural heritage, and/or because this instance of book burning has become emblematic of a harsh and oppressive regime. Such were the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, the obliteration of the Library of Baghdad, the burning of books and burying of scholars under China's Qin Dynasty, the destruction of Mayan codices by Spanish conquistadors and priests, and some seem more for publicity for a cause such as Nazi book burnings, the burning of Beatles records after a remark by John Lennon concerning Jesus Christ, and the destruction of the Sarajevo National Library.
There have been many religious leaders in history who have burned books that they found offensive. In 1497, followers of the Italian priest Girolamo Savonarola collected and publicly burned pornography, lewd pictures, pagan books, gaming tables, cosmetics, copies of Boccaccio's Decameron, and all the works of Ovid which could be found in Florence. Savonarola’s dictatorship in Florence also led to the persecution of homosexuals, as did nearly every other existence of extreme dictatorships and book burnings. That is why I find the poem at the beginning of this post to be so poignant.
In my opinion, whether it is an off-the-wall extremist minister in Florida, a crazy monk in medieval Florence, or a ruthless anti-Semitic leader in 1930s and 1940s Germany, it is a very dangerous first step to the destruction of all that America holds sacred. Book burning is symbolic and pure censorship and only leads to extremism.