September 09, 2010

At Least Symbolically

Althouse responds to this slightly nutty op-ed on book-burning:

I find it hard to believe that Niebuhr and hyperventilators like him are big readers of important books, because their minds seem pretty feeble to me. "Torch a book and you at least symbolically deny your fellow men and women that freedom." At least symbolically. Or, to put it another way, i.e., truthfully: You don't deny other people anything. You give them something: the information that is your hatred of a book. And as they "decide for themselves whether what they read has meaning," they can take into account that you hate the book. It's not going to be a very influential piece of information, because you're just some attention whore who burned a book instead of articulating a pithy critique of it.

Yes, conceivably, a private group burning its own books might be intimidating, but that would only be because we have other, much greater reasons to fear that group or the movement it represents. And yes, when you burn a book, you adopt an image associated with the Nazis, but that marginalizes you.

Well-stated, and quite right. It is a displacement to mistake a symbolic erasure for an actual attempt at one, and ultimately it seems to reflect a misunderstanding of why it was bad for the Nazis, e.g., to burn books. Or maybe it's not a genuine mistake, but just an occasion for this guy to have fun with a little hyperbole and re-affirm his bona fides as a member of his reference group.

I love the notion of "symbolically denying" someone, though.

That said, as I've stated here, I do think it is interesting that the notion of book-burning sends us into such tizzy of outrage and shame, while other things on the list of "things we can do to offend Muslims to make a statement" don't seem to elicit anywhere near the same concern, or indeed any at all. At the risk of over-generalizing a bit, many of the same people who are appalled and outraged at "International Burn a Koran Day" happily applauded "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," with nowhere near the same concern for Muslim sensibilities that they have suddenly discovered now. I'll quote myself:

I think it's quite interesting that we all assume that book burning is a whole lot worse, per se, than prophet-drawing, as though one is offensive to the target group, but hey, they should just get over it, while the other really crosses the line and no decent person would ever do it. I have no idea if Muslims feel that way, and maybe some do and some don't? But it seems to me that both are attempts to transgress irrational taboos to make a statement, and obviously there would be no point in doing it at all if it didn't offend. They are both meant to offend. I agree that the pro-free speech statement of the drawers is more worth making than the (I assume) anti-Ground Zero mosque statement of the burners. However, why is it that we are supposed to care a great deal about the sensibilities and feelings of Muslims in one case, and virtually not at all in the other? Does it boil down to a variety of Red State-vs-Blue State animus in the end, more about us than it is about them?
I guess a true test case might be if some sociopathic Southern preacher were to hold a "Draw Mohammed Day." I'd love to see what kind of op-eds we'd get then.

Comment here if you like.

Posted by Dr. Frank at September 9, 2010 04:49 PM | TrackBack