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Five Steps to Burning Books

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reprinted from the Shalom Center

From a small right-wing church in Florida, there has gone out a call to burn copies of the Quran on September 11. Instead of being ignored as clearly cuckoo, this call won national media coverage.

Book Burning flickr imageByaltemark

As the German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine wrote almost two centuries ago,"Those who begin by burning books will end by burning people."The theater piece for which he wrote those words, called "Almansor," was addressing the Inquisition's burning of the Quran. In 1933, university students in Heine's own beloved homeland burned his books, along with many others. They burned people soon after.

Many American religious communities and organizations, as well as secular groups like Common Cause, have condemned this call for burning. The road to burning people is by no means so open here, now, as it was in Germany in 1933.

But still, we need to face the question: How did we get to the point where some Americans would burn a sacred book, and many more oppose the building of a sacred mosque in their own townnot only in Lower Manhattan, but in many other neighborhoods?

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It would be easy to start with the aftermath of the terror attacks against the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. But the spiritual chasm between Christianity and Islam goes back centuries. The hostility of Jews toward Islam, on top of the ignorance of almost all European and American Jews about Islam, goes back at least to 1948. And the economic dislocations and unwinnable wars of recent years also have their place in pouring out the fear and anger that provides the fuel for the spark of bigotry.

Step 1: The Old Hostilities

There are perverse and paradoxical spiritual roots to the hostility between Islam and Christianity.

All the great religious traditionsnot only those we call monotheist, but Hinduism and Buddhism and Shinto and Wicca and for that matter what we call "secular" traditions like socialism and liberalism are rooted in the profound effort to make loving contact with the ONE. One God, one historical dialectic, one Web of life in soul and body on our planetONE.

Once a community has begun to reach out toward the ONE, it begins to create the metaphors, the rituals, the languages, the practices in daily life, the festivals to embody this searching toward the ONE. And then the community bumps into another community that also claims it is in contact with the ONE, and has its own quite different set of metaphors, rituals, languages, and daily practices, with which to make this contact real.

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There are often two responses to this discovery:

One is to say with surprise and delight, "You have shaped a different path from ours! Of course there must be many ways of lighting up the Infinite, unfolding truth. How could the great Infinity reveal itself except through sacred diversity? Let us learn from each other!"

The other response is to say: "We have unearthed the one way to the ONE, and any other path must be a false one. And worse than falsesince you claim falsely to have made contact with the ONE, you must be lying. Corrupt. Deceitful. Worth killing."

In the various British colonies that became the United States, this bitterly hostile response was embodied in the persecution of one or another faith community (e.g. Quakers, Jews, Roman Catholics), by one or another of the original colonial governments. The uncertainty of who might get persecuted in the nation as a whole was one of the factors leading to adoption of the First Amendment, and much of the hostile reaction was then muted by the existence of the First Amendment. If no religion could wield state power and violence against another, this reaction was less likely.

Native American religions and Mormonism did not "count" in this context; state power or pressure was used against these religious communities. And there was public pressure in the 19th century against Roman Catholicism, and in the 20th century against the "Nation of Islam" (a racially focused variant not accepted by any other Muslims as truly Islamic).

Step 2: The 9/11 Attack

Until 2001 in America, both hostility and interfaith exploration were quiescent, in regard to classical Islam. Then a tiny proportion of the more than one billion Muslims of the world, claiming they were acting on behalf of Islam and God, murdered about 3000 people.

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Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph. D., founded (in 1983) and directs The Shalom Center , a prophetic voice in Jewish, multireligious, and American life that brings Jewish and other spiritual thought and practice to bear on seeking peace, pursuing justice, (more...)

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This is a great article. I'm not sure why opednews... by Starla Immak on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 9:50:36 AM
The article should no longer have portions repeati... by Kevin Gosztola on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 11:03:28 AM
I may be wrong here, but I genuinely believe that ... by Nikk Katzman on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 12:13:31 PM
is not Christian. It is a cult. In the US Jesus is... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 12:25:22 PM
Your words remind me of an American friend who spo... by Stefan Thiesen on Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010 at 3:09:26 AM
All Muslim aviators will be exonerated and Islam f... by hommedespoir on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 1:27:40 PM
for the simple reason that the real culprits are t... by zon moy on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 4:37:27 PM
If only people read books (and articles like yours... by BFalcon on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 12:48:09 PM
Reb Arthur is almost always right and usually insp... by Larry Snider on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 1:37:09 PM
I do not believe that burning books to protest any... by James Winstanley on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 1:37:45 PM
fanatics in all religions. As we say we must not ... by Laura Roberts on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 2:50:48 PM
it seems hard for me to believe burning sacred boo... by Margaret Bassett on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 1:40:55 PM
I should not generalize the US Christianity. Inste... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 1:47:32 PM
Would the real Christians please stand up and help... by Hillbilly on Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010 at 4:47:29 PM
The book by Hitler you can buy anywhere you please... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 1:41:17 PM
and I am going to keep my family close in the comi... by bradysbeau on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 2:24:38 PM
His actions are fully protected under the 1st amen... by Laura Roberts on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 2:41:39 PM
Or could all this media blitz on freedom of religi... by Laura Roberts on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 4:31:49 PM
is not the expression of some disagreement. It is ... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 5:23:50 PM
constitutional rights. I didn't say it was right, ... by Laura Roberts on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 5:29:22 PM
Mark, I'm glad you said you shouldn't generalize a... by Recce1 on Thursday, Sep 9, 2010 at 3:19:57 AM
A sincere and thoughtful posting. 1.Just as the Je... by syed mahdi on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 3:20:31 PM
It is just a god-damned bunch of paper.... by Ned Lud on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 5:17:53 PM
and this was said about the burning and defacing o... by Laura Roberts on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 5:33:05 PM
"Muslims of the world, claiming they were acting o... by Rand Clifford on Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010 at 11:22:24 PM
Thank you Rabbi Waskow for your really thoughtful ... by Stefan Thiesen on Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010 at 2:51:00 AM
The first Amendment protects the freedom of expres... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010 at 8:41:54 AM
what I am saying is that unfortunately he has a ri... by Laura Roberts on Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010 at 10:37:27 AM
This act may not be illegal; and is protected as f... by Philip Pease on Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010 at 9:11:19 AM
The roll of hate-crime watchers is an important fi... by Margaret Bassett on Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010 at 9:34:00 AM
Our mission is to foster understanding, mutual res... by Ruth on Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010 at 7:26:25 PM
Why jump to anti-Muslim feeling among Jews? Are y... by Laura Stein on Sunday, Sep 19, 2010 at 8:35:10 PM