30 September 2010

On bonfires and the Quran

Notes on secularism and will

I don’t quite see why burning the Quran should be a problem.

I mean, of course, I can see how in the sense people made it out as: it’s not a particularly sensitive thing to do and none too sensible as well, displaying as it does a lack of tact and understanding which may be expected of all clear thinking, inclusive people. I can also see how it might’ve been a particularly inflammatory act given the volatile condition of the Islamic community the world over and everybody else’s relation to it. I can see all of that, yes, and understand it perfectly well.

What I don’t see is why this should be a problem.

After all, the Quran’s just a book. Of great value to billions around the globe, to Musalmans as well as others interested. But all things said and done, to other people, to atheists like me, just another book: of great cultural import, yes, but quite really another book on the shelf.

Also, by that very logic, by being a document of such great significance, something not likely to be diminished in importance by having a few of its countless copies burned – or shredded, or destroyed in any other manner. Islam’s not going to suffer even if thousands of the Quran are burned; I’m sure they make them at a much greater rate than they’re able to destroy them and so there’s not really going to be a paucity of them anytime soon. In any case, I’m sure this wasn’t quite the objection which so many other people had to the idea.

No, if I’m not wrong, what many people’s and States’ problem was that such an act would prove inflammatory and invite backlash in very many sundry ways from the Islamic community. The rhetoric, of course, was a bit different and couched quite often in what our comrades on the other side call the secularist jargon of the liberal democratic setup, of such a move being unacceptable within the secular ethos of modern society, but the import seems to be much the same all over: burning the Quran is dangerous, the mullahs might just burn some more things over.

Which is what my problem with it is.

First of all, it’s just stereotyping the Musalmans way too much as an overtly religious and touchy people bound to flare up at the slightest slight. Agreed, stereotypes are more or less based on factuality, but then to assume that burning the Quran would rock the heart of very Musalman is to force the point beyond belief. I mean, surely the Musalmans have better things to do that forth and fume and work themselves up to fury over a bunch of folk burning the text they venerate. Wouldn’t a majority of them be more concerned about making a living and fulfilling their needs and being tolerably good men and women? How does it really matter if a few of Qurans are burned? Allah’s word is going to remain just the same, a few paperbacks less or more!

That, and that burning things like the Quran might actually help. After all, good man Jones did have a point: the world’s not half as nice as it might’ve been because the Musalmans have very nicely bombed and gunned it up. Sitting there in the backwaters of Florida, there’s little the good Pastor can do anything about it – as little, perhaps, as any of us, us being everyday people more into food and love and exs than theology and restoring Eden on earth. He must’ve felt frustrated – and he has reason enough to – and so planned to do the only thing which could’ve taken his frustration out: burn the book which the Musalmans like the most. Splendidly cathartic idea as I see it: take the Quran, think it up as all of Islam rolled within its pages and then burn it away to glory! Wouldn’t he have felt good after it? Purged, as the word goes.

Is it right then to raise such a hullaballoo over a lone old man and some other friends burning a book which they consider emblematic of all the trouble in the world – and that, specially, when just another symbol, a mosque, was been concretised next to the site of which they most probably consider the greatest blow to their own idea of themselves as a nation by the self same community?

I think not.

I think Jones and Co. have as much a right to burn the Quran – or any other book for that matter – as anybody who buys a book, doesn’t like it and then proceeds to burn it in his/her own backyard. It’s juvenile of course: burning books doesn’t solve anything –indeed, if all of us started burning books as response to the various crises which beset us there wouldn’t be much literature left in any case – and it only adds on to pollution and creates an unnecessary fire hazard. Yet, it is undeniably cathartic and can help people channel their frustration to harmless little bonfires.

It’s only in the public eye, then, that such an act acquires greater weight than it merits. There’s only as much importance to a symbol as one attaches to it and given the paranoia against Islam, it’s but natural so much should’ve been attached to one small flare-up on the margins. Yet, that still doesn’t take away from the inexorable fact that a symbol’s a symbol and attaching too much importance to it unnecessarily and thus blowing things out of proportion only makes that same thing, that symbol, bigger than itself, an entity on its own. If this little would-be bonfire cum blackmail threatened became an international crisis of sorts with heads of various states and religious bodies expressing regret, then it’s more a reflection of the culpability of the general public in allowing itself to be misguided by a zealous media than of the addition of any new dimension to the problem at hand or, for that matter, its solution.

Of course, all that is well known in any case: the so-called general public usually gets misguided by the media, while so-called commentators sweat to expose this same. That isn’t the concern here. What to me is important right now is that while rightly condemning Jones’ plans, nobody on the public scene bothered to qualify their concern by acknowledging the difference between the extremist and everyday Musalman and that while condemning the plans nobody seemed to take cognizance of Jones’ right to a bonfire and, more importantly, to either propose a pro-active, holistic approach towards the alleviation of those conditions which first suggested a bonfire to a Jones and a plane crash to an Osama or at least initiate a sincere, all-party revaluation of existing strategies for the same.

Like good man Jones, I too have no real idea on how to go about doing this and while a part of me does idly itch for that tempting matchbox and those two hardbounds taking up space on my shelf, I cannot but desist. Not just because they cost good money and I wouldn’t want my mother to know I’ve been up to mischief again, but also because the way forward lies inescapably in – in spite of as well as along with bonfires – accepting various things, symbols, abstractions, peoples as they are and not in forging unity through fire and steel. If we are to be truly secular – and this is what I understand secular as, as accepting religion(s) though not necessarily conforming to it(them) – then one of the steps forward we need to take is this, to simultaneously release both publicly and privately peoples out of stereotypes and work towards negating the violent and violence inducing conditions which create those negative, negating stereotypes in the first place.

Which, to put it differently, is to say that we need to be able to come up to a situation where we would first be able to accept a bonfire of this sort as an expression of dissent and disapproval and then handle it without burning up anything else in the process.


Anonymous said...

Even though burning the Qu'ran or any other book for that matter is a matter of free will, as you say, the very act shows the ignorance of those involved in it. The Qu'ran is not just the word of Allah for the Muslims all over the world, but also something that guides them through life. For those who have faith, unlike you, this act is embarrassing and hurtful. By burning the Qu'ran, Jones was trying to condemn the entire religion of Islam, which in his eyes, is responsible for all the damage done to the States.

"Is it right then to raise such a hullaballoo over a lone old man and some other friends burning a book which they consider emblematic of all the trouble in the world – and that, specially, when just another symbol, a mosque, was been concretised next to the site of which they most probably consider the greatest blow to their own idea of themselves as a nation by the self same community?"

It was not the Islamic community that was responsible for whatever happened on September 11 but just a bunch of maniacs who justify their action on the pretext of Islamic duty. And yes, while Jones does have a right to protest, I still believe that his imagination could have come up with a better way to do so. Someone who calls Islam "a religion of the Devil" and sells coffee mugs and T-Shirts with the same phrase is anything but a "lone, old man.” You should see the YouTube video in which he says, "I mean ask yourself, have you ever really seen a really happy Muslim? As they're on the way to Mecca? As they gather together in the mosque on the floor? Does it look like a real religion of joy?"

Seems to me more like a gimmick than anything.

AP said...

Ah yes, indeed, I agree, agree with almost all of what you, dear Anon, say. I'd add further that even for those who may not have faith the act can be embareassing and hurtful, though, perhaps to not the same degree. And of course, the Islamic community was in no way as a whole responsible for 9/11- or, for that matter, much of what has happened before as well as after.

Yet, you will acknowledge that Islam as a whole has been demonised, and it is against this negating stereotype that I protest, a stereotype that as much works in the burning of a text of so much value as the Quran as in the condemnation of the act just on the basis of it threatening to estrange and inflame the community into violence- as, I'm afraid, has been done. I refuse to believe Musalmans just live by the sword or that a religion of such worth and value in itself will in any way be threatened by such lunacies on the fringe.

Lastly, I must admit I've not bothered to see all that. I hardly surf the net and but give little time to reports like that when they're published in print media. I suppose I've constructed this argument more around the idea of an American Christian pastor's Islamophobia than that pastor himself- a fault which, I hope, does not in many ways impinge upon the article as it is. After all, uploading hate speech on YouTube and planning revenge against imagined enemies does not really either give or take company from you.