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Battle of the faiths. Pastor Terry Jones of Florida outside the ‘Dove World Outreach Centre’, setting a fine example for the rest of the world on religious respect and tolerance: by fighting fire with fire, quite literally. ‘Dove World’… O the irony!

Libricide or ‘book burning’  as it’s more commonly known; has existed for thousands of years. Today it has raised its’ ugly head yet again, as I woke  to the baffling news that Pastor Terry Jones from Florida was planning to burn copies of the Koran as his way of honouring September the eleventh. Inevitably, many Americans will be in mourning, but what the world should remember is that it’s not just Americans who mark this as a dark day for civilisation. The awful events that occurred resonated throughout the world and will never be forgotten by anyone, be they Christian, Jewish or Muslim.

Speaking from personal experience, the toppling of the towers was probably one of the most shocking events I’ve ever had to witness. The attack itself was labelled as an attack on America, Capitalism and Christianity. However, what I saw was something much worse than a sadistic blow to the West. I saw the deaths of thousands of innocent people from different races and religions. I saw men, women and children crushed under the immovable hatred of fanatic fundamentalism. I saw an unholy sacrifice. Many lambs unwillingly and unknowingly led to a gross slaughter ordained not by any God, but simply by the evil, vengeful will of man. I saw an attack on humanity and it grieves me no end to think that today is labelled as something that the West mourns about and the East boasts about. There is no East or West for terrorism on this scale. Not all muslims are guilty of what happened, not all of them are terrorists and the Koran is definitely not to blame. I wish that Pastor Jones could understand this and put an end to his twisted, selfish outlook on the whole situation. If he was a real man of religion, he would know that burning a holy book is sacrilege, and his reasoning just speaks volumes about his faith and respect for others.

Religious leaders preach peace and prosperity. Tolerance and mutual understanding is undoubtably the ‘keystone’ in the bridge towards uniting faiths. So I ask myself, ‘Where is the tolerance?’ What kind of Pastor is Terry Jones when he incites anger in fellow Christians and invites them to commit sin? Because book burning is a sin. It’s akin to renouncing the past. Renouncing the past means foregoing the well of knowledge that has come before you (for good or evil). To forsake your past means to condemn your future to uncertainty. Words and books are really all we have and it is our duty to protect these chronicles, even more so if the book is supposed to be a word of God.    

When I look at the three major faiths, I see their doctrines are closely intertwined; even their birthplace points to a single geographical spot. Some enlightened men of religion have even proclaimed that Jews and Muslims are in fact related through Abraham. For a man of ‘the book’, I find it hard to comprehend exactly what Pastor Jones is trying to prove or gain from burning the Koran. Just as 9/11 was a work of evil, this is also a work of great evil. Thankfully a lot of people know this, but if a heart is consumed with rage they are blind to reason (the same way a terrorist like Bin Laden was blind to the horror he created). At this moment, the dear Pastor is no better than his adversary.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam: The three ‘Abrahamic’ religions, inextricably linked to one another by ‘family likeness’ and history.

As a devoted reader, I take time to check things out myself rather than believe hearsay. This applies to religious texts too, where I discover that the things said border on slander. The key to being a ‘reader’ is to keep an open-mind and explore. The Koran, Torah and Bible are the most popular books of all time, making them open to all kinds of interpretation. Language barriers aside, the numerous translations of these texts have made them open to all kinds of flaws, often resulting in confusion. Consider this: the bible was written in Hebrew and Aramaic. One of those languages are now obsolete and the original form of the text is missing. The Koran is written in high Arabic which is difficult to understand, even for a scholar. The book is famous for its open-ended sentences, making translation very tricky indeed. However together with the Torah, it is one of the books most read in its original language.

Having read parts of all three books, my experience of them swayed between pure outrage to profound understanding. If nothing, they offered me a glimpse into way people lived before and after Christ. They are windows into the dark ages of mankind when a guiding light was desperately needed. I also learned that sometimes, it’s not what is written that matters, but what your mind wants to believe. If like the Al-Qaida, you take a concept like ‘Jihad’ and twist the words into your own version of religious prejudice, then the book becomes a mirror, glancing back the evil in your heart. In the end, the world is what we want it to be. History is our library and we write the chapters daily. Holy books provoke, challenge and make us think about the world around us. The actions we take are ultimately what define us. Nobody and nothing can command us to live in a certain way. The people who hide behind religion for their own personal gains are the ones doing the commanding. One such commander and infamous book-burner was the Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang. 

The famous Terracota Army of First Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Incidentally he is also the most famous book-burner to date, ordering thousands of priceless historical manuscripts to be torched to ensure his people forget their past.

Qin Shi Huang, The Great Emperor of China  is renowned for uniting the feudal warlords unders one flag. To insure his success, he fought every clan to make sure that victory was his. This grand design was achieved after much blood-shed, and it could have been forgiven if not for one last thing he did. Huang’s biggest crime to date was not the murder of his own people, nor the raping and pillaging of the villages. The spilling of human blood is a terrible thing; but interestingly it was his destruction of historical documents that stands as his worst crime.

A lot of people wonder why Huang did such a thing. What was his motive? More importantly, what was he afraid of? The answer itself points to the genesis of book burning, he reason why it exists. In the psychology of a ruler there lies the realisation that conquering the present and the future is easy, but changing the past is impossible. Like Rameses II, who upon the prophecy of Moses ordered all Hebrew children to be killed, so Huang set about silencing his ancestors that had come before him. Both rulers acted out of fear for their empires, the former by killing children, the latter by destroying his past.

History shows us that book burning goes hand in hand with war. It’s just another way of wiping out a culture. Incidentally the burning of the Royal Library of Alexandria by Julius Caesar also coincided with war, as did the Nazi book burnings ordered by Hitler. In fact, wherever you look you will find three key ingredients; despotism, religious prejudice and war. The prejudice here is born from intentional misunderstanding by people like Pastor Jones who  pave the way to scenes like Iraq and Afghanistan where famine and blood-shed reign supreme.

Having touched on the issue of famine, I would like to end by saying that today is coincidentally also the first day of Eid which comes after the holy month of Ramadan. Eid is commonly known as the ‘sugar festival’. After a month of fasting, families come together to enjoy a big feast. Traditionally today is also known as the day for forgiving and forgetting. Family feuds, sibling rivalry, arguments and grudges are resolved. 

I hope people like the dear Pastor develop their Christian compassion in more useful ways instead of wasting their time in making fools of themselves. Two wrongs definitely do not make a right. My advice Pastor, read before you burn. You might find that Islam is not ‘the devils work’ after all. And don’t worry, reading another religion won’t convert you. It’s not contagious if that’s what you’re worried about! I wish there was a cure for ignorance…