Monday, September 13, 2010

The futility of book-burning

The futility of book-burning

(The Republican-American)

When Florida pastor Terry Jones talked about burning copies of the Quran on Saturday to mark the Sept. 11 attacks, an aspect of the worldwide overreaction seemed based on the mistaken belief that fricasseeing copies of another faith's holy writings was something novel. It isn't. There's a venerable tradition of torching someone else's holy books.

There are also copious examples of how futile an exercise that is.

The most combusted book in history is probably the Talmud, a compilation of Jewish commentaries on and interpretations of the first five books of the Bible. Anti-Semites burned copies of the Talmud from the early Middle Ages through the massive Nazi bonfires of the 1930s, yet there are likely more copies of the Talmud extant today than at any point since the earliest rabbis began compiling it nearly 2,000 years ago.

And then there's the even more instructive case of the best-read author in English history, a man who every bit as much as William Shakespeare could be considered the grandfather of the language. Most people don't know his name, but nearly everyone who reads English knows his words.

I refer to William Tyndale, whose story exemplifies the futility of burning books. Tyndale was executed in 1536 for what at the time was considered the most heinous of crimes: daring to translate the Bible into English. The official charges, pushed by King Henry VIII, were heresy and treason.


All of which leads to an incident from Tyndale's career that illustrates the pointlessness of book-burning. At one point, the Bishop of London offered to buy up an entire printing of Tyndale's Bibles so he could burn them. Tyndale gleefully sold them to the bishop, who dutifully consigned the books to the fire. Tyndale, meanwhile, used the profits to publish an even larger run of his Bibles than the bishop had bought and burned.

Were I a publisher of Qurans, I would emulate Tyndale and offer to print copies on spectacularly pyrotechnic stock. For when the flames had died down, there would be exactly as many copies of the Quran in the possession of those who revere and cherish the book as there had been before the fire, and I'd have turned a tidy profit.

I think Mr. Goodman fails to grasp the investment that Muslims have in the sanctity of individual copies of the Qur'an. But the point remains: burning scriptures is a pathetic exercise in futility. If you strike them down, they shall only become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.