Burn those books

The planned burning of copies of the koran this weekend has been put on hold, for now at least:

US Koran burning event on hold, says pastor Terry Jones

It seems clear that Jones was put under pressure from various quarters, not least the FBI, though it also seems that the “agreement” which ostensibly led to the stay of execution for the books is based on fairly shaky ground, with officials of the “Ground Zero Mosque” project saying that they knew nothing of an agreement to move the building.

Condemnation of his stunt came from many quarters, across the American political spectrum as well as inevitably from muslim commentators.

However, all that the American authorities could legally do was “urge” Jones not to go ahead with the burning, as his right to carry it out is enshrined in the first amendment of the US constitution.

Freedom to offend

To my mind, this right is vital in order to prevent the kind of oppression we see in countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Malta, Malaysia, etc., where speaking out against religious dogma can and does get people into very hot water.

Fundamentally, nobody has the right not to be offended by another person’s words or actions. A catholic might be offended by seeing two men kiss – but that doesn’t give them the right to prevent it. Likewise, I might be offended by someone telling me that I will go to hell (actually it amuses me but I was struggling for another example) – but I have no right to stop them saying it.

Personal responsibility

I’m sure that muslims the world over were offended by Jones’ initial decision to burn the books – and some of the more inflammatory muslim responses clearly prompted the requests by Obama and Palin for Jones to cancel his plans, out of fear that US troops in muslim countries would be targeted.

However, any muslim response, whether it be the burning of US flags or the killing of US soldiers, could still not be laid at the door of anyone else except those muslims carrying it out. Obnoxious and deluded pastor Jones might be; but we are all responsible for our own actions, and if someone reacts violently because they are offended, it is their own choice to do so and they cannot blame anyone else.

Books don’t have rights

Just for the record, I would have quite liked to see the burning go ahead – followed by the burning of copies of the bible, the torah, and assorted other works of fiction that worsen man’s inhumanity to man. The fewer of these books that exist in our troubled world, the better.

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