Sunday, July 29, 2007
The Freedom to Protest-
Gay Artist Burns $60,000 Koran
Charles Merrill, the artist who recently edited the Holy Bible with a black marker and pair of scissors, has lately burned a rare Islamic Holy Book, The Koran, valued at $60,000.00, in an undisclosed Chicago location. "The purpose of editing and burning Abrahamic Holy Books is to eliminate homophobic hate," Merrill stated. "Both ancient books are terrorist manuals"
There has been a lot of discussion of this on the bookselling email lists over the last few days, and it's an important topic. It has been suggested that book burning, for any reason, is censorhsip, that the artist is arrogant, and that burning a Koran will just offend Muslims and reinforce their perception that the West is out to get them.
All this brings up an interesting question- is book burning as a purely symbolic act of protest (e.g.- burning a single copy of a book to make a point, as this artist did) different than book burning as a de-facto method of censorship, e.g., a means of actually physically removing certain texts from existence, as practiced by the Nazis or some other political/religious groups from time to time?
I'd say yes, and I say more power to Charles Merrill.
Obviously censorship is a bad thing- I don't care if you censor books by burning them, confiscating them, or outlawing them- censorship is evil. However, I don't see any way a reasonable person could construe this symbolic burning of a single copy of a widely-available text as an act of censorhip.
When you have any group of people who have historically spent a lot of time repressing and killing another group of people, I don't worry too much about "offending" them by symbolic protests like this. We need more, not fewer, such protests. The real offense and arrogance is not the burning of a textbook, it is the repression and killing of human beings because they have a different lifestyle.
Protecting the freedom to write, read, publish and distribute books is a noble and worthy cause, and one I will always fight to uphold- but symbolic book burning is just that- symbolic. It is not censorship, and we need to look beyond the act and judge what is being protested. A book is an object, and if burning one symbolically will bring us an inch closer to a day when all human beings are free from repression and have equal rights, then I say give me a match.
Charles Merrill is a well-known artist, gay activist and iconoclast. You can read more about him here.