Thursday, September 09, 2010

It's Different When You Do It

Like most people I have little sympathy for the publicity seeking pastor who is planning to burn some Korans to mark the anniverary of the World Trade Center & Pentagon attacks. The special pleading and double standards that have been revealed are interesting though; opposing the needlessly provocative Koran BBQ but supporting their legal right to do it is a sign of tolerance but opposing the needlessly provocative ground zero mosque but supporting the legal right to build it is a sign of bigotry.

For double standards though Anshuman Mondal is hard to top though, he explains:
The obvious precedent is the burning of The Satanic Verses in Bradford, which precipitated Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa.
To a point, because the loony pastor isn't actually calling for the Koran to be banned.
This was read by western commentators as a reprise of Nazi book-burnings, thereby indelibly associating in the liberal western imagination a relationship between Islam, fascism and totalitarianism. This was, however, a mistaken reading on at least two counts: firstly, there is no equivalence between mass book burnings organised by a powerful state and a street demonstration by marginalised working-class ethnic minority communities desperate to draw attention to their grievance when all previous attempts had failed
But the grievance was that a powerful state refused to ban books that the book burners didn't like, so the comparison is perfectly valid.
Secondly, western commentators took it literally: burning things is a common way of expressing protest in the Middle East and South Asia, especially within the context of regimes that are brutally draconian in policing public protest. In such situations, there is a tacit understanding between protesters and authorities alike that burning things (effigies and other countries' flags, mostly) is a form of symbolic expression that contains rather than unleashes violent sentiment
OK this is fair enough, burning is symbolic, fair enough. Sometimes things can be taken too seriously. So:

It's interesting to compare this to US sensitivity toward flag burning. Attempts to prohibit burning the US flag have a long history, and legislation prohibiting flag burning was on the statutes of 48 states until the supreme court struck them all down as unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment in 1989. Such is the importance of "protecting the flag" to Americans that every sitting Congress since has tried, in fact, to amend the constitution to allow flag protection laws only to be thwarted by the senate.

The Americans take burning things a bit too seriously, I get that.

It is not clear whether Pastor Jones has the burning of The Satanic Verses in mind as he prepares for DWOC's brief moment in the spotlight. It does not matter because symbolic incineration has become part of the lexicon of western media coverage of Islam, replayed endlessly on his television screen. In his mind he is probably fighting fire with fire; that is, he feels he is responding in a language "they" understand. The irony, of course, is that he misunderstands the idiom he is appropriating. It is a dangerous irony, though: mistranslations and misunderstandings can have dramatic effects, as the Rushdie affair demonstrated.

Nevertheless, Pastor Jones has upped the ante. Burning the Qur'an is guaranteed to provoke Muslim outrage. To believers, every word in it is the word of God, each verse is a sign (ayat) of the divine. They therefore treat each copy as a holy artefact. Whatever their relationship to other symbols, they do not take these ones lightly.

Right, so when Islamists burn things that are considered important in the West it is symbolic and should be taken in context however when people in the West burn items considered to be important by Islamists then really they should know better because it will inevitable cause outrage.

1 comment:

JuliaM said...

"...then really they should know better because it will inevitable cause outrage."

Never forget that Islam is a religion of peace. And anyone who says it isn't will be put to the sword!