Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) wrote in his book "Almansor: A Tragedy" in 1823: "Where they burn books, at the end they also burn people". Heine was a German born Jew who converted to Christianity as an adult, and his words proved prophetic, for 110 years later the Nazi hordes would burn books on the streets (including his by the way) and would go on to burn - literally - people. The loss to Humankind of ancient knowledge because of intellectual barbarism is also a long list...The burning of the Library of Alexandria by invading Arab armies in the seventh century, Medieval burning of Talmudic tractates or scientific books, the modern burning of books under fanatical regimes, followed by the persecution of their authors. But that was not America.
America stands today for religious tolerance, and our political system as well as our social mores teach us to distinguish between innocent and guilty. Nineteen Muslims, indoctrinated in the teachings of Salafism (a Muslim school of thought) saw as their religious obligation to strike against America and kill thousands of Human beings. While Pastor Jones is not burning people, we would be well advised to remember the words of Heine quoted above. Once we take it upon ourselves to remove ideas by denying them, we will also remove people for the same reason - and maybe in the same way. It happened before many times; it can happen again. Remember the Malleus Malleficarum used by the Inquisitors.
Salafism is an extreme Islamic philosophy derived from the teaching of Hassan Al Banah and Mohamed Al Qutb, both of whom were themselves teachers in the Wahabbi tradition, a very intolerant stream of Islam. But defeating ideas cannot be done by denying them or burning the books where they are written. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, an Argentinean teacher and President, once said "Barbarians, Ideas cannot be killed", a fact that remains true. To defeat ideas, we need to employ intellectual debate - that is the way of civilization. When we burn books, we admit that we fear them. Think Ray Bradbury's "Farenheit 451"
Human history is the story of a species emerging from ignorance into knowledge, from barbarism into tolerance...are we willing to start taking steps back?
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