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.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Physical digital data pollutes

The New York Times details the energy consumption of the huge database servers that power the internat. In doing so, it calls attention to the material realities that are hidden behind words like "the web" and "the cloud" and the cost of the illusions they create:
With no sense that data is physical or that storing it uses up space and energy, those consumers have developed the habit of sending huge data files back and forth, like videos and mass e-mails with photo attachments. ... To support all that digital activity, there are now more than three million data centers of widely varying sizes worldwide.
So the material form behind today's virtual world hides in featureless warehouses, betrayed only by its growing appetite for electricity ...

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Framed for Blasphemy with Books

Scripture desecration is in the news again, because of the charges against a young, Christian (and possibly mentally disabled) girl in Pakistan. Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws make such news unfortunately routine. Three years ago, I surveyed furors over scripture descration around the world. It was obvious that local laws make a greater difference than religious sensibilities, and that charges of scripture desecration thrive in environments of political instability. Pakistan has both, and I since completing my article I've resisted blogging repetitiously about the drumbeat of additional cases coming from that country, even when they led to the assassination of a governor who advocated for the law's reform. The pattern seemed monotonously and brutally consistent, even as it got worse.

But now something may be changing. Pakistani police have arrested the girl's accuser. ABC reports:
The cleric, Khalid Chishti, was arrested late Saturday for allegedly planting pages of a Quran in a shopping bag containing burned papers and ash that had been carried by the Christian girl, said Munir Jaffery, an investigating officer in the case. The bag was then submitted as evidence to the police.

Jaffery said a member of the mosque where the cleric works came forward Saturday and said man said the imam had placed the evidence in the bag. According to police, the man claimed Chishti said it was a way to get rid of the Christians.

The man's testimony only surfaced more than two weeks after the girl was originally arrested, raising questions about why he did not come forward sooner.
Though the girl's defense attorney's quickly assured the press that they do not oppose the blasphemy laws, perhaps this is the first sign that the tide is turning. The willingness to prosecute those who use the blasphemy law to frame others may begin to restore some sanity. Charges of blasphemy can be too easily abused in this way, not just to persecute religious minorities but also to exascerbate political feuds, business disagreements and marital conflicts, as my previous research documented. When communities feel empowered by law to defend their touchy sensibilities, whether they be iconic books or iconic buildings (see the recent Pussy Riot trial), an individual's right to justice and due process gets trampled (see Chloe Breyer's a propos essay).

September 3: And now the Chairman of All Pakistan Ulema Council, an influential group of Islamic clerics, has hailed the Christian girl as a "daughter of the nation" and stated that "our heads are bowed in shame" because of the Imam's attempts to frame her. Things are changing!