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“And yet, on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye.”
Areopagitica: A Speech of Mr. John Milton For the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing To the Parliament of England(1644)
Words. They are an incredibly powerful thing, more powerful than any stockpile of nuclear weapons throughout the world. They can teach, they can be used to debate, they can entertain, and they can let the imagination run wild. It is any wonder that books are so very important in our society, these bound volumes which contain thousands of words.
Authors, true authors who craft and create so magnificent a world, write for joy, for sheer thrill of exploration, and some aspect of self fulfilment. For a time, we had lost that, as we became sucked into the world of the idiot box. Taking nothing away from television, but books can do something that even the most experienced special effects crew cannot. An individual’s imagination through words can produce so much more than any of the major motion pictures could even create.
Books have been sacred for many, and rightly so. They contain information, adventure, they provoke thought and they state facts. A book can be autobiographical or it can be philosophical or pure fiction. But we treasure these things like nothing else. As we move into the 21st Century, the paper bound novels have changed. They have become a digital format that users can download and print off or read from their e-readers.
So what does any of that have to do with John Milton’s quote from his speech?
We are witnessing history as it repeats itself time and time again. The most recent cases of this repetition comes in the form of two separate books. One is a book series geared toward children, the other is a holy text held in high regard by the second largest religion in the world. I’m talking about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and the Muslim book of Islam called the Qur’an. Two separate books, or in the case of Harry Potter, a series of books, that at first glance have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Thanks to one act, however, they have a lot in common.
In the 1940’s, while war raged in Europe, Adolph Hitler deemed certain books as poisonous, particularly those written by Jews. He ordered them destroyed. The world looked on in horror, and vowed that such an act was beyond contempt. To destroy the works of an author was a reprehensible act. Since that time, images of members of the Nazi Party burning books has been equated with pure evil.
But some people weren’t paying attention.
When J. K. Rowling created her series, it was a simple idea that wove into a complex story. And it was loved by children everywhere. Fundamentally, that series did something important; it got children to read books again. Coupled with the movies, the Harry Potter series became an extremely popular series. However, there were those in the extreme that dissected the series and ignored it for what it was. They sited Biblical scripture about wizards and sorcery, ignoring the fact that children realized this was a work of fantasy. Of fiction. But those in the extreme took the most extreme thing they could do, and gathered Harry Potter books to be burned. They demanded the series be banned from schools and libraries. In some cases they succeeded. But that didn’t stop those who wanted to read the story.
Now, we are witnessing another such event, but this time with the holy book of Islam. An organization in Florida has stated it will hold a Qur’an burning on September 11th. They state it is in support of those who wish to block the building of the Ground Zero Mosque, and hope to send a message to Al-Qaeda. Completely forgetting that the building they are protesting is neither a mosque, nor is it at Ground Zero, where the World Trade Centre in New York was destroyed years ago.
In both cases, the extreme felt it was a wake up call, and the only way to show it was by showing defiance against it. So they did the one thing that history has done time and time again. They burned books. Just like the Nazis did.
I look upon these two particular acts with the same regret and contempt that those who grew up during the Second World War may have felt when books were burned in Nazi Germany. What was done with the Harry Potter books and what is happening with the Qur’an is no different. And we should look upon it no differently than what happened during the Second World War.
I would hope that there are those who remember this, and never let it happen again.