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Book Burnings and "Americanism"

You have, I'm sure, heard the news that a church in Florida plans to acquire multiple copies of the Quran and burn them. The reaction I've seen from the "Muslim world" ranges from "that's how you dispose of them anyway, so knock yourself out" to "I'm going to kill you." Possibly there's a middle ground ("that's how you dispose of them anyway, so I'm going to kill you"?) but I'm not terribly interested in finding it.

The reaction from the "American world" is far more interesting, encompassing everything from "that's how you dispose of them anyway, so knock yourself out," to "you'll just make the people who are already trying to kill our troops in Afghanistan want to kill our troops in Afghanistan," to "someone ought to write a Bradburyesque novel about book-burnings," to "can't we get the EPA to do something, like maybe make them buy carbon offsets?" to "we tried that with the Beatles and it didn't work," to "burning books is 'un-American'."

This last I find the most curious, as "American" is a surprisingly slippery adjective. Of course when you use it the old-fashioned way like "American citizen" (a citizen of America) or "American Bandstand" (the best-loved bandstand in America) or "American Idol" (that one American we've agreed as a society to idolize this year) it's clear what it means.

When we start describing actions or principles as "American" or "un-American," it's a little bit tougher. Nonetheless, most people agree that certain basic freedoms like "freedom of speech" and "freedom of the press" and "freedom to own a semi-automatic rifle" should be rightly understood as "American," even if we disagree on other ancillary freedoms like "freedom to prohibit speech that offends me" and "freedom to prohibit journalism that offends me" and "freedom to bring my emotional support dog into the grocery store even though it reliably craps in the frozen food aisle."

How about book-burning? Well, the principle that "if you buy something, then it's yours" seems pretty "American," as does the principle "if you own something, then you're allowed to dispose of it." No less an "American" body than the Supreme Court seems (or seemed) to believe that symbolically burning things you own is an exercise of your First Amendment rights. These would all seem to tip the scale toward "American."

Surely there's a good case for "un-American," though. For instance, the State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley points out that "It doesn't represent the vast majority of American views." Of course, by this "vast majority rules" criterion, Islam itself would also count as "un-American," so maybe it's not the best example.

When pressed on the matter, Crowley further pointed out that the burning is "a divisive potential act of disrespect to one of the world's great religions."

It's hard to know which is the "un-American" part. Perhaps it's that it's "divisive," so that (for instance) a unifying act of disrespect would in fact be totally "American." Or perhaps it's that Islam is one of the world's "great" religions, and that a divisive act of disrespect to a "lesser" religion would be "American." But most likely it's the "disrespect."

Somewhere (but certainly not from me) people seem to have gotten the notion that treating all beliefs with respect is some sort of mark of well-manneredness or (I suppose) "American-ness." To which I must protest. There's nothing "American" about "respecting" beliefs you don't find respectworthy. In fact, "South Park," the most "American" (according to me) of all shows has as its raison d'etre mocking beliefs its creators don't find respectworthy. If it were up to me, the First Amendment would be updated to include an explicit "Freedom to Mock," which is one of the most important aspects of free speech but which routinely gets sacrificed on the altar of some spurious (and decidedly "un-American") freedom from being offended.

Nonetheless, this Quran-burning debate has gotten extremely tiresome and is (in particular) distracting Drudge from covering more important topics like Al Sharpton's insolvent nonprofit and how San Francisco street people are reacting to the elimination of the "dollar menu" at their favorite McDonalds.

So, Pastor Jones, I have a proposition for you. I know a book that's even wickeder than the Quran, that burns quite well, and that's available at Amazon with free super-saver shipping. Although I can't imagine that our friends in the government would really get worked up about how "un-American" a Your Religion Is False burning is, my publisher would be totally stoked.

And if you really want to burn in bulk, I can offer you some volume discounts that are, if I may borrow your vernacular, pretty miraculous. You know how to contact me.

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