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September 12, 2010



There's actually a small university in Gainesville--the University of Florida--whose students and faculty support some independent and used bookstores. My Penguin edition of the Koran actually came from a Friends of the Library sale there, as I remember.

O'Neal Buchanan

Great! I like the transition from an important concern to "facetious" speculation and back. I'm sure you could (if you have not already) write a whole entry on the change from printed to digital media. Also, I like the subversive flow of it. It is distracting enough from the "disgraceful sideshow" but doesn't undermine the seriousness of the commemoration.

I take your point about sacred texts being of the same ontological variety as novels (at least to a certain extent). However, why state that they are non-physical as opposed to physical and multiply realizable?


It is perhaps worth noting (as per Wikipedia) that the eventual authoritative version of the Qu'ran was established, at the behest of the third caliph Uthman ibn Affan, only through the burning of competing transcriptions of it in various regional Arabic dialects. So, whereas the sanctity of the content of the Qu'ran derives from its revealed character, this act of destruction sanctified that content's particular expression. In light of this, you might say that Rev. Terry Jones' (non-)burning had (potentially) a similarly sanctifying power, in that it made holy even the second-hand Penguin Classic's expression of the Qu'ran's content. And perhaps this is just to amplify your point that he did nothing unholy.

Cyrus Hall

Lets assume that at some future point a religious sect internalizes the belief that digital copies of their text are sacred. This opens up a fascinating can of e-worms. Clearly, deleting a file that contained significant portions of the text is sacrilegious. What happens when the file is copied locally on a machine? Can the first copy be deleted? When files are moved over the Internet lots of little pieces are moved across routers. Is it okay for the routers remove this data if it contains sacred text? Does compressing it (changing its immediate representation) render the file non-sacred?

This questions are rather moot if one is operating in the frame that Justin puts forward in this piece. It is the mythology itself that is considered sacred, not any particular instance where the mythology has been made concrete and printed out. However, that's clearly not that mainline interpretation in Islam (or Christianity?). It will be interesting to see if such questions are ever asked, and if so, if the answers adopt to modern technology (in which case, what was so sacred in the first place?), or if they try to import old ideals into a new medium.

Yond Cassius

Does human waste that's called a 'book' thereby smell sweeter and is rendered fit for human consumption? I wonder.

And can the imaginary words of an imaginary god be properly called 'holy'? I wonder about that also.

Finally, isn't it so that some things are simultaneously many different things, and what a thing may be 'essentially' is not necessarily what it is believed to be by most?

"The wise man doth love that which is lovable, but he doth also taketh out the trash before his wife giveth him The Look. So it is written."

If you get my drift here.


Good, logical arguments are effective when addressing good, logical minds; however, many more minds--perhaps a vast majority--respond more positively to emotional "arguments", i.e., they more readily agree with ideas that just feel right to them.

This circumstance is demonstrated more and more as an increasing number of people have the chance to share their "opinions" in public forums; instead of discussions and counter-arguments we are barraged with ad hominem attacks where prestige seems to be attained by the most clever name-calling. Unfortunately, in this age of information overload, it is difficult to bring logical arguments--even when face-to-face--to people who only search out affirmation of their beliefs: prejudice is stronger than education unless a person is willing to learn.

I don’t have an answer to this problem; it is only an observation that your nice, logical explication does little but let you express your despair (disgust?) with the situation. Situations such as the threatened Qur’an burning become widely known only at the instigation of those who believe they have something to gain. “Fight speech with speech” is fine rhetoric, but the moment to respond passes quickly as demagogues go on to exploit the next situation that ripens.

Dee Harley

I only wish e-books could be burnt. What a complete waste of time. And yet it stands to replace one of the truly perfect, functional designs of all time, the book. People are too dumb to play with themselves. How are they expected to understand their servile attachment to shiny new electronic trinket? Eh. Uh. Huh?

David Yates

I rather think, having thought, that we should thank the reverend, for though he's an idiot, he shows up what a dearth of true disasters we have to report. It is, in fact, the best of all possible worlds. It has been diverting, and it has inspired such as the above -- alike, I think, to the number of angels cavorting (coverting?) in gaga upon the head of apin. It matters not the creed, the true believer is lacking in whimsicality.


Hey Jeh,

I sense you are an unredeemable rationalist, but at least make a nod to the other camp and admit that our position exists. A book, I might argue, is not up in some "book heaven" as some "perfect form" - no, it is a physicality that inhabits our lived experience. Just as you can be adamant that a traditional "heaven and hell" is extremely unlikely, I can be adamant that your "idea heaven" full of complete but immaterial books, is equally unlikely. Heaven is platonic either way you go.

To argue existentially: if the book is all there is, then it is indeed exactly what Jones wants to burn and the entire muslim world wants to preserve intact, unburned. The Koran is not a single ideal thing, it is a million real things, touched by hands, absorbed by eyes, intersecting us as real human beings. If we read them, we may well decide to convert to Islam and speak those words. It is they, the print marks, the ink, these are the individual thumb prints of god, repeated for us over and over with each sacred copy. Why is such an attitude despicable? Because it makes no sense encoded in electronic bits? What does?

However, the book burning is not intended to destroy a physical thing, but rather to symbolize the pastor's wish to destroy the idea of Islam (exactly the idea you claim is safe from damage). Thus the burning is as much a reaching into abstract truth as is your dismissal of it. All parties are pointing to their own separate immaterial worlds: Pastor Jones lives in a world where symbolic burning "puts Satan behind him" in some abstract sense. The screaming muslim protestors find that Jones' threat of symbolic action translates into physical anguish, judging by their troubled gestures. And your physical blog entry - the bits mind you, turning into pixels that burn the retina, asserts that no true book can ever be touched by such symbolism. What a soup of rational forms dissolving into real physics and back!


I roughly agree with Karl above, but O'Neal Buchanan up there says it better: "why state that [books] are non-physical as opposed to physical and multiply realizable?"

Why would anyone claim to have fully experienced The Brothers Karamazov? I rather think no experience can be complete, and thus there is no sense denying a difference between one textual encounter and another. The difference need not be pejorative. Would we not read the text very differently if we could in fact access Dostoevsky's notebooks? I'm not suggesting we would read it more accurately, but it is certainly NOT all the same either way

subramaniam shankar

Remarkable and refreshing approach.It is impossible to burn someone one to ashes by burning his/her effigy in a rage as is often done to let it out on leaders.Burning is a chosen fun fare when it comes to nation under attack's flag or the image of the perpetrating leader,particularly in the Islamic states and add to this garlands of used foot ware.I also wonder what should happen if one accidentally deletes a holy book on the computer memory,confess,repent and offer the left clicking finger for chopping.


"However, the book burning is not intended to destroy a physical thing, but rather to symbolize the pastor's wish to destroy the idea of Islam..."

Perhaps, but the pastor's wish was already well-known, the symbolic burning must mean something else - an event to bring together souls with a common goal.

Book burnings are meant to protest the lack of control the community (by those that appoint themselves as community leaders) has over access of content to community members. Why anyone in the pastor's church would consider reading the Koran is beyond me.

This protest had poor design and concept written all over it, but it helps to have an illiterate media.

Another point is that our protests have become strictly symbolic/imaginary affairs, by excluding any real content from the event. At least with "real" book burnings, there were fewer of the offending books in the local community. Now that content control is individualized, the only reason for a book burning is to attract the media.

I'm waiting for the pastor to outlaw internet porn and to inspect his members' computers.

Louis Vuitton Bags

If I were a boy again, I would demand of myself more courtesy towards my companions and friends, and indeed towards strangers as well.

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