The (Canceled) Burning of the Koran

September 9, 2010

You probably have heard by now that Rev. Terry Jones has canceled the public burning of the Koran he had scheduled for September 11. I consider this good news, although my reasons for being happy about this turn of events may differ from others. 

First, let me emphasize that here at CFI we support the right to engage in peaceful protests, including protests that involve the destruction or burning of some item. The burning of effigies, after all, is not an uncommon form of protest. Hence, as a legal matter, Rev. Jones had every right to proceed with his Koran-burning if he wanted to.

But not every legal protest is to be welcomed—and this is a perfect example of a protest that was ill-advised and senseless, and, in my opinion, abhorrent. My sentiments are not the result of considering the Koran sacred or holy. Quite to the contrary, I personally don’t recognize the category of the sacred. But books are themselves a form of expression. They convey thoughts. We should condemn the burning of books, whether it is the Koran, the Bible, the collected works of Bertrand Russell, or a volume of satirical cartoons about Mohammed. The views set forth in a book may be profoundly mistaken, even absurd, but that is no justification for burning the book any more than it is for silencing someone whose views are mistaken or absurd. The printed word should receive the same respect as the spoken word. The Koran should be critically examined, not burnt.