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October 6th, 2010, by Rene Guitton

Rene Guitton

American pastor Terry Jones in September 2010 came very close to burning to ashes – in the spotlights of televisions summoned to immortalize the scene – what he described as the “Satanic Verses”, namely the Quran. His illusory alibi was to honor the memory of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and defend what he assumes are the “values” of America. The memory of this threat continues to pique interest, and suggests what might happen if another fool feels like carrying out a similar plan.

It is still difficult to measure all the consequences of such a stupid and criminal act. The emotion that was already prompted by the announcement of the book burning in the Muslim world suggests that in many places non-Muslims would have been made scapegoats and become marked for retaliation from fundamentalist groups.

Churches would probably have been burned, copies of the New Testament would have been subjected to flames and Christians, taken at random, would have paid with their lives. Incidentally, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described the move announced by Terry Jones as “Zionist provocation”, saying Israel would be destroyed for inspiring such a gesture!

These are all tragedies that widen – a little further – the divide between Islam and the West, and convey a distorted picture of the former, hiding the reality that in this respect the West is not always in the best position to take on the role of lesson giver. Such isolated acts as the one envisaged by the American minister and condemned by all religious leaders in the U.S. evoke infamous memories: those stakes, among others, where crowds of fanatical Nazis threw – for purifying purposes – the works of Jewish or decadent writers.

History can also be explored further to recall that Christianity widely used stakes to eradicate “heresy”. The writings by Nicolas Copernicus but also those by Martin Luther and John Calvin as well as Cornelius Jansen were thus delivered to the flames. However, one could object that those books were authored by heterodox writers and were not holy books from other religions. Yet such also happened.

In 1242, “42 cartloads of Jewish books” were burned on the Paris site of today’s Place de l’Hotel de Ville in the presence of “good” Saint Louis king. Those were the Talmud manuscripts confiscated a few years earlier, a Talmud which was subjected to a trial in due form for allegedly containing passages insulting the Christ and the Virgin.

During the persecutions directed against Moors in Renaissance Spain, Andalusian Muslim descendants were forced to adopt Catholicism but secretly continued to practice their ancestral faith, leading to copies of the Quran, as well as their readers, being delivered to the flames.

Suffice it to say that today’s fanatics have not invented anything new. Incidentally they are recruited from all religions. Thus to protest against the proselytizing action of American evangelist missionaries, the Jewish mayor of Or Yehuda, an ultra-Orthodox Israeli town, easily burned copies of the New Testament delivered in the mailboxes of the citizens under his jurisdiction.

Even today, the introduction of Christian Bible copies in some Muslim countries is severely prohibited, and the mere possession or dissemination of these scriptures is a crime even though they do not go as far as burning a Bible, that Bible to which the Prophet extensively referred to in the Quran.

In such a gamble of intolerance, all fanatics are the great winners and persons of faith are the losers. For it is a strangely distorted and demeaning view of religion that imagines the incandescence of divine love can feed off flames from the stakes of hate.

René Guitton, writer and essayist, has been awarded the 2009 Human Rights Prize.

View Rene Guitton’s Global Expert profile here

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