Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Desecration as Protest

Previous posts have noted furor over desecrating scriptures in many countries, and the issue is again causing controversy in the USA. The arrest of a former Pace University student on hate-crime charges for throwing two Qur'ans in public toilets is generating charges of hypocrisy from many quarters, because similar acts by artists using Christian symbols have previously been defended on free-speech grounds (e.g. Hyscience, NY Post, Front Page; see the response from the Council on American-Islamic Relations).

Far less attention is being given to news that artist Charles Merrill burned a rare and valuable Qur'an. Earlier, he marked and cut up a Bible. He explained his attempt at even-handed desecrations of scriptures as symbolic acts of protest: "The purpose of editing and burning Abrahamic Holy Books is to eliminate homophobic hate."

As I observed in the case of the burning Bible on German TV, attention to descrations of one tradition's scriptures brings increased attention to similar acts in other traditions. The iconic status of a book is not static, but constantly changes. Iconic books provide convenient tools for both giving offense and taking offense, and today's politics gives many people reasons to do both. I expect that people's sensitivities to how their scriptures are being treated will keep rising for a while.

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