Now that the 9/11 anniversary has passed, no Qur'ans were burned, and the media hype is dwindling, I feel free to blog about Pastor Terry Jones's threat to burn Muslim scriptures. I have written before about scripture desecrations, especially of Qur'ans, and this incident bears out many of those conclusions. It provides a vivid example of
1. the power of scripture desecration, or talk about it, to focus media attention and therefore political discourse;
2. the difficulties that religious and political authorities have in controlling such talk and actions (in this case, the threat of desecration was diverted, but only after extraordinarily unified efforts by political and religious leaders of all kinds);
3. the degree to which mass publication of scriptures has placed the means for such acts in many people's hands;
4. the mass media's amplification of the effects of scripture desecration.
The chief difference between last week's news and previous reportage about desecrated Qur'ans is that this time, the news was generated by threats to burn them at a future time. Whereas the strict anti-blasphemy laws of countries such as Pakistan and Israel make charges of past scripture desecration potent weapons of political or personal conflict, American legal protections of free-speech allow threats of future scripture desecrations to polarize public opinion.
With that addendum, the story unfortunately shows again that “the prevalence of modern news media means that iconic scriptures provide convenient tools for both giving offense and taking offense, and today’s politics give many people reasons to do both” (Watts 2009).
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.)