What is the point in burning a book?

Those who follow the international news will know that the nutcase pastor down in Florida burned a copy of the Koran. This prompted the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, to call for the arrest of the pastor resulting in a bunch of yahoos in Afghanistan rioting in protest and in Mazar-i-Sharif even killing UN aid personnel. Western governments criticized the action, General Petraeus, commander of NATO forces, condemned the act, and even the reactionary commentator Bill O'Reilly condemned it, saying that the pastor, Terry Jones, had blood on his hands.

One cannot help but wonder at the stupidity of all of this. What is the point in burning a book? Such an act goes against the principles of a modern, progressive state. Burning or banning books is what one might expect of a regime like Nazi Germany or maybe Texas. Terry Jones and his cult, of course, do not constitute a regime, which does not make the act any less stupid, but, fire hazard aside, does make it an expression protected by the right of free speech, no matter how ignorant and ill conceived.

Ignorance and stupidity also reign on the other side of the coin where we find all of those who take this idiocy seriously and feel offended to the point of rioting and killing others. It is only a book, like the Bible, the phone book or a Donald Duck comic book. No one should care if one takes any book and reads it, burns it or uses it for toilet paper. President Obama stated it clearly when he said "to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity." I would add that it is also the sign of a warped mind.

One cannot help, when observing the events of the past few years with people rioting, issuing death threats and even killing people over some perceived slight or another to their religion, to think how archaic. One would expect that after eons of this kind of silliness, whether it be by Muslims, Christians of one sect or another, or other religious followers, this kind of unenlightened activity would have been relegated to the dust bin.

Even more egregious than ignorant people running around being offended by some affront to their fantasy, whatever it may be, is the fact that governments violate the right of free expression by making laws against blasphemy and insults into a faith. Such laws are not only an affront to rational values, they are a testimony to the weakness of the beliefs that require such draconian measures to protect them. Of course, protecting a faith has less to do with the faith than it does with the interests of those who control it.

Also in the news lately, as almost everyone should know, have been the uprisings in the Arab world. Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. Are they genuine movements for modern secular democracies, or something else? Western leaders have been supportive of the uprisings, calling for Arab regimes to step aside and allow change, and in the case of Libya even taking military action to support the rebels.

One has to wonder what the real game is here. It is possible that while fighting a so-called global war on terror, primarily against Islamic militants, the West is allying with the very same militants in some of these Arab revolts. In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood is one faction to gain ground with the ousting of the old regime, and in Libya the rebel ranks are filled with militants, some who have fought against the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Some days one cannot tell what the object of U.S. policy is. In Iran it removed a democratic government, replaced it with a repressive regime, and wound up with Islamic radicals. In Afghanistan it armed Islamic radicals to fight the Russians who were backing a progressive government. In Iraq it drove out a stable regime that was opposed to both the Iranian fanatics and Al Qaeda, killed thousands of people, and fostered a civil war. Maybe the plan for the region is perpetual turmoil.

Jerry West is the publisher, editor and janitor for The Record, an independent, progressive regional publication for Nootka Sound and Canada's West Coast.

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