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J. Kurt Roberts In the digital age, is book-burning all that disturbing?

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J. Kurt Roberts

Posted: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 12:00 am

The burning of books has been going on for about as long as there have been humans with the ability to write or print. Many historians point to the burning of books in 213 B.C. by the first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, Quin Shi Huang-di, as one of the first great offenses against literature and humanity.

Fast forward to 2010 and book-burning, "or at least a conspiracy to burn books," namely the Quran, again made some quake in their boots. We all know the name of the pistol-packing Florida pastor who made infamous headlines all over the news, so I will not bother to further his unfortunate notoriety by spelling it out.

The good pastor, and I use the term loosely, is obviously an extreme right-wing provocateur with little regard to how the rest of civilized society may view his actions. Some see his actions as a pathetic "look at me" type instigation, seeking only to insult, if not inflame, Muslim sensitivities on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

While I cannot stress enough how much this writer disagrees with the idea of burning books for any reason whatsoever, I must admit that I find the idea of burning books, in this age of computers and digitally-stored texts, prints and passages, a somewhat antiquated, if not quaint, form of protest.

What are books? They are pieces of paper formed from, usually, wood. The thought that printing on that pressed wood, certain letters or characters that then render that bleached wood product to be completely, totally and absolutely sacrosanct ... well, sorry, I just don't see it. Now, if it were in some way an original, or even an ancient copy of said original, I could see how a certain, very large portion of the current human population may become angry, or even incensed.

However, given today's computer age bringing with it a potential to reproduce any text that was pretty much ever printed on a scale that was until 30 to 40 years ago unimaginable, the fuss over burning a few books escapes me.

And somehow I just don't see the media covering some lunatic planning to burn Bibles in Iran or Pakistan to the extent that the Florida sideshow has been covered.

Of course, everyone knows the real reason for all the intense media scrutiny: not wanting to offend the Muslim faith. But if one nut in a small town in Florida has the power to agitate the entire Muslim world to the extent that none other than the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense and the Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, find it in the nation's best interest to weigh in on the issue, it does not bode well.

This is like giving any moron with access to a match, a camcorder and a computer the power to change the course of America's war on terror. And if that is, in fact, the case, my friends, we should all brace ourselves for an incredibly long attempt to coddle or appease Islam. Either that, or just welcome them to the 21st century, where the free exchange of ideas and information, not censorship, is the goal.

And let's be clear: While the overwhelming majority of Muslims in America are peace-loving, there will always be a very large percentage of Muslims overseas who will always see America as evil, no matter what we do. I, for one, do not intend to live the rest of my days fearing that some idiot somewhere in North America may do something incredibly stupid, post it on YouTube, and then the United States of America will spontaneously combust.

J. Kurt Roberts can be reached at

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