Friday, 10 September 2010

Of books and burning

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

After much thought, deliberation, soul-searching, and intellectual contemplation I have reached an opinion on the Koran burning issue. (You knew I would have to have one.) I have taken into consideration morality, geo-politics, theology, freedom of expression, and a wide reading of rights and responsibilities. And my conclusion is:

Everyone is being very silly.

No, but really. This crazy pastor is clearly nuts. He was so peculiar that his last congregation actually chucked him out. He is not an excellent and shining representative of the Christian faith. On the other hand, the students who gathered in Karachi on Wednesday yelling Death to America in response to the planned burning are equally silly. The intemperate comment of an Afghan cleric is oddest of all: 'It is the duty of Muslims to react. When their holy book gets burned in public, then there is nothing left. If this happens, the first and most important reaction will be that wherever Americans are seen, they will be killed. No matter where they will be in the world, they will be killed.' This ignores that most Americans, including the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defence, the head of the military in Afghanistan, the Attorney General, and the President's closest advisor are saying no, pastor, no. Even the muddle-headed Mrs Palin, who now inexplicably refers to herself as a 'momma grizzly', thinks it is not a good idea. I can't help thinking everyone should have a nice cup of tea and calm down. All this shouting and hullabaloo has a tinge of absurdity to it.

I do think though that people should get their book-burning positions straight. The current consensus seems to be that it is a Bad Thing. Even books that are not sacred are, in a sense, sacred. Goebbels knew very well what he was doing in 1933 when he ordered 25,000 'un-German' books to be burnt. Crowds gathered to watch Einstein and Freud and Heine go up in flames. There was a rash of book-burning in the fevered paranoia of the McCarthy era, when even Mark Twain was considered suspect. Never again, everyone said. Then, amazingly, in 2001, another nutty pastor organised a conflagration of Harry Potter in New Mexico, because, as any fule no, 'Harry Potter is the devil'. (The devil gets about a lot. According to Pastor Jones, Islam is 'of the devil'. Does this mean that Harry Potter owns Islam? Very hard to tell.) When The Satanic Verses were publicly burnt in the late eighties, there were a surprising number of people who did not think that was such a bad thing. The ayatollahs, obviously, were keenly in favour, but there were some unusual suspects who stood against Rushdie. They did not explicitly condone the burning of books, but both John Le Carre and Roald Dahl insisted that Rushdie had brought his troubles on himself. Sir Iqbal Socranie, knighted by the Queen, famously said that death would be 'a bit too easy' for the novelist. The inference could be drawn that the Rushdie knockers thought the book burners had a point.

I say: put the matches down. It is never a good thing to be keeping company with Mr Goebbels. I like the Milton quote: 'he who destroys a good book kills reason itself'.

But I do worry that the showboating of one strange fellow from Gainesville can produce such an excessive reaction, from a global media storm to Death to all Americans. Here is what I think should be leading the news this week, but was instead buried away in the dear old Indy: the thousands of women in Pakistan, Jordan, Palestine, Somalia, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Britain, Canada and too many other countries to list who are being stabbed, stoned to death, buried alive, mutilated, attacked with acid and otherwise horribly killed and maimed in the name of honour. Why is that not producing global outrage? Why?

I do not wish you to spend your Friday sad and furious, but if you can bear it, read Robert Fisk's extraordinary article about the honour murders here. The brilliant Andrew Sullivan has an excellent take on the whole Pastor Jones controversy and its political implications here. There is a fascinating article in The Guardian about the history of book burning here.

Some of my favourite bloggers do lovely things on a Friday, finding particularly beautiful pictures and uplifting thoughts to send you dancing off into your weekend. I really was going to do something like that. Then I got cross, and gave you fire and mutilation instead. So sorry about that. Tomorrow shall be all enchantment.

Here are some soothing photographs for your tired Friday eyes:

More ducks and ducklings, because just now I can't get enough. I wish I had taken pictures of them when they first arrived; they were tiny little yellow balls of fluff. Now they are really quite grown up:


More animal beauty:


The posh old girl, sunbathing:


I know I take a hundred shots of my lavender, and it might start to feel like same old, same old, but I seem powerless to stop:


Heavenly autumn dew on my new smoke bush:


Special Scottish heather:

9th September 5

The amazing loveliness of tree bark:


Sometimes I wonder: how does nature make these colours? And why? She could just have stopped at muddy brown and been done with it. Why the mad variety of greens and blues and purples and reds? I love the theory of evolution with every beat of my old enlightenment heart, and I bless Charles Darwin each day, but while natural selection answers the what and the how, it leaves the why. I know that Rayleigh scattering tells me why the sky is blue, but it also does not. It tells me how that happens on a physical level; it explains how wavelengths of light hit the human eye; it reveals the mysteries of colour spectrum. But it does not really address the fundamental why. Perhaps there is none. Perhaps things just are. I am going away to ponder this.

In the meantime, I shall consider the hebes:


(There is the sound of bagpipes outside. I must go and have a look. Can never resist a piper.)


  1. I don't feel intelligent enough this afternoon to pass comment on the book burning issue so I'll talk about dogs instead. How very aristocratic the Duchess is looking today.

  2. Book burning just feels wrong. I think as a book lover it does, as a lover of words, even those I don't agree with it feels wrong. I also read Fahrenheit 451 at an impressionable age. But it is silliness. And the honour killings don't seem to be ending.

    But I think the balance here is right, and your pictures are always soothing. I come to your blog to be challenged and inspired and look at lovely pictures of dogs. Those other blogs are lovely, but I go to those blogs for pretty pictures and the other things they do and your blog for what you do. I really like it.

  3. The honour killing articles are just horrific.

    On a lighter note my word verification is the apt doglis.

  4. He's an utter ninny. You are right. Potus called him "fringe element" today in his very long press conference. The poor chap can only muster up 50 parishioners. But this is the blessing and the curse of the freedom we have in America: Ninnys give voice to lunatic ideas and they're allowed to do so.
    I'd still rather be here than many places in the world (your lovely garden in Scotland notwithstanding).

    Miss W x


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