Saturday, February 24, 2007

Let there by Darkness & Ignorance!

"Where they burn books, they will end in burning human beings"

- Christian Johann Heinrich Heine from his play Almansor (1821)

Henrich Heine was a German Jew (Jewish dad, Prussian mum) who converted to Christianity. His famous quote on the burning of books actually referred to the burning of the Quran by the Catholic Church during the terrible Spanish Inquisition.

As if he foresaw the fate of his books, Heine’s literary work was burnt by the Nazis. But sadly for a Jew, just because he converted to Christianity, his name was shunned by Israelis for a while until very recent times. The more religious Israelis considered him a traitor, though the Jewish secularists looked upon him as one of the most prominent figures of Jewish history.

The most nototrious burnings of books were (1) at the original Library of Alexandria (I believe there is a new one sponsored by the UN), (2) during the Chinese Qin dynasty where true to Heine’s words, the Emperor had the scholars buried alive (variation of being burnt), and (3) the Church’s burning of 'non-compliant' books throughout the centuries.

As mentioned in the Heine’s case, the Nazis had more than a few manuscript-fed bonfires as well. Then in an ironic twist to the Naziism’s book burning, we have today’s Europeans playing double standards in their 'book burning'.

On one hypocritical hand, the Europeans insist on non-negotiable freedom of expression as in the case of the caricature insults of Prophet Mohamad (pbuh), while on the other, in shameless loss of memory of their declaration of free expression, they prohibit works of Holocaust deniers such as David Irving and other loonies, and even jailed Irving in recent times for merely questioning the actual use of the concentration camps crematorium where the bodies of murdered Jews were burnt.
Read Europe's Dilemma - Holocaust Denial vs Caricatures which I should have titled 'Europe's Hypocrisy - Holocaust Denial vs Caricatures'.
You can’t have it both ways or it's blatant double standards. The Europeans must adopt one (freedom of expression for everyone) or the other (ban works insensitive to religions, culture and ethnicity). I hope there's a lesson here for the AAB government, particularly on its media policy.
Oops, I spoke too soon. Not to be out-Boleh, we Malaysians should be 'proud'(?) we have our annual ‘book burning’ in the form of the government's ban of books, the latest being a list of 50 over books including March 8, a book on the 2001 Kampung Medan conflict.
The human rights groups are crying foul - fundamental rights to freedom of expression and information, blah blah blah - but does the government care, knowing the majority of the voters wouldn’t have the faintest.
The statement of ‘the majority of the voters not having the faintest’ is not unique to Malaysia because we see the same characteristic in the USA, where most Americans haven't a clue as to what their goverment and military and industry have been and are doing to the rest of the world, even re-electing a moronic warmonger like the current President Bush.
In Australia, I dare say 95% of Australians haven't a bloody clue about the difference between the Taliban and al Qaeda, a distinction that’s important to the current case of Guantanamo Bay detainee, Australian David Hicks who fought with the Taliban (then US' buddy, now US' enemy) against the Soviet-backed Northern Alliance (then US' enemy, now US' buddy).

But let's not be too narrow when we take about books. We should also include films.
Poor Amir Muhammad is suffering a déjà vu frustration with his latest film Apa Khabar Orang Kampung. Like his previous film, The Last Communist, Apa Khabar Orang Kampung is also banned.

But probably the notoriety for most prolific book burning, short of the blasphemous desecration of valuable tomes in ancient Alexandria, has to be awarded to the Catholic Church - sorry Lucia, but you’re a sterling Penang nona*, you can take it ;-).

* KTemoc is showing off his Indon ;-) where 'nyonya' is a Mrs, while 'nona' is still a Miss

In the 13th century, the Catholic Church destroyed every Cathar textbook. Two centuries later, the fearsome Torquemada (if you don't who he is, you are lucky) ordered the burning of non-Catholic literature, especially Jewish Talmuds and Arabic books.

In Spain, the Archbishop of Granada, Cisneros, was responsible for the destruction of over one million Arabic and Hebrew books from (stating the bloody burning obvious) one of the richest collections in history, virtually another Alexandria.

Much earlier, in 367 CE, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, revered/respected by the three Christian churches (Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant) instructed the destruction of all ‘non-conforming’ texts from the Christian monasteries of Egypt.

Now, we come to the Muslims. Around 650 CE, Uthman ibn Affan, the 3rd Caliph of Islam ensured that there was only one authoritative written version of the Quran, by ordering the destruction of competing versions. At that time, there were three versions including the codices of Abdullah ibn Masud and Ubayy ibn Kab (I think?).

The burning and banning of books (no difference) has always been conducted by authorities to suppress dissenting (secular) or heretical (religious) views that could present a threat to them.

The saddest example of Heinrich Heine’s saying occurred in 1553, when Michael Servetius, a Spanish intellect, was burned as an heretic at the order of the city council of Geneva on a remark in his translation of Ptolemy's Geography. When they toasted him (literally) at the stake, one of his books, Christianismi Restitutio, was tied to his waist.

John Calvin, a French protestant and one of the founding fathers of Calvinism (hey, can’t blame Catholics all the time) who was in many ways responsible for Servetus execution by fire, said in fanatical tones:

Whoever shall maintain that wrong is done to heretics and blasphemers in punishing them makes himself an accomplice in their crime and guilty as they are.
There is no question here of man's authority; it is God who speaks, and clear it is what law he will have kept in the church, even to the end of the world.
Wherefore does he demand of us a so extreme severity, if not to show us that due honor is not paid him, so long as we set not his service above every human consideration, so that we spare not kin, nor blood of any, and forget all humanity when the matter is to combat for His glory.

Oh, don’t forget to include the banning of newspapers and harrassment/persecution of bloggers ;-) as among the sins of book burning and banning. It’s the sin of denying people the right to know, the right to information, the right to think, the right to freedom of expression.

Wasn’t it Siddharta Gautama (Buddha) who said:
The greatest gift is the gift of Truth”.
But the Malaysian government’s version is probably “The greatest gift is the gift of the citizens’ Ignorance”, probably borrowed from the three leaders of the Collusion of the Swindling.


  1. I think now Malaysia is pretty consistent: TV3's "Sensasi" kena banned already, due to a controversial comment by a local artiste.

  2. the catholic church is notorious for burning of books? hmm... didn't know that. interesting discovery for me. :) (also interesting discovery i should be accorded the title nona instead of nyonya).

    huh? amir muhammad film banned again? why? so sad lah.

    "the greatest gift is the gift of truth" but there is also a saying "truth hurts" so i guess that is one of the reason for the books burning and film banning.

  3. Teh burning times has started once again! I wonder if they'll start burning witches and pagans too. Then the whole "let's revert to the dark ages" would be complete.

  4. To me the mother of all book burnings was during the "Great Cultural Revolution" when they burnt/destroyed anything and everything that was of value and put the country back. And this went on for 10 long years.