Three brief thoughts on burning the Koran

You have perhaps heard this story, about the nut-jobs in Florida (so many of them are in Florida) who are going to have a “Koran burning” on 9/11.  See, for example, “Pastor’s Plan to Burn Korans Adds to Tensions” from the New York Times from a couple weeks back.  At least three things occur to me, each of which has something to do with my line of work (well, sort of at least):

  • If it were not for Web 2.0/social media and the 24/7 news cycle, no one would have ever heard of these crazy people.  In other words, this is a highly “immediate” rhetorical situation, as I discussed in the Diss oh so many years ago, and it is yet another example of how technology directly impacts the ways in which rhetorical situations are processed by rhetors, audiences, and messages themselves.  Technology gives much, but it also causes bat-shit crazy stuff like this.  In any event, one wonders what would happen if this whole thing had simply been ignored, if we thought more carefully about the exigence for this situation, if this would even be possible before cable news, etc.
  • I am reminded of the flag burning debates of a few years ago with all of this.  Sure, this has a distinctly different flavor in the shadow of 9/11 and “war(s) on terrorism,” the non-issue of the Burlington Coat Factory turned  mosque/community center somehow vaguely near “ground zero,” and just a sort of general ill-placed fear of “Islam,” which is at least as diverse a religion as “Christianity.”  But I am also reminded of a Miss Manners article way back when, in which the always delightful writer Judith Martin pointed out that there was no point in legislating against flag burning because the reason why someone burned flags was to make a point by being terribly rude.  Of course, this is extra-über rude, but still.
  • Finally, this once again speaks to the extreme importance of the materiality of the book, and by “the book,” I mean the old-fashioned codex book, paper pages, pagination, a cover, the whole nine yards.  I don’t mean the Kindle or the iPad, and I hasten to add here that I really do like (love might be too strong) the reading experience on my iPad a lot.  I’m reading a couple of books on it right now, and I am going to be preparing for a day of getting some articles I’m teaching on my iPad after I finish this post.  Obviously, electronic reading and writing has an incredible power (see observation #1).However, if these crazy people got together and said “hey, we’re going to burn this here Kindle with the Koran on it,” or “we’re all gonna bring our laptops and erase our copies of the Koran all at the same time,” no one would have given a shit about that.  Not even a little bit.   What’s got everyone all excited is that these things are the actual and material thing that was previously the only definition of “book,” and they really will burn and give off flames, smoke, and heat.  Never mind that there are millions of other copies of the Koran, so it’s not like these people will have any real potential to damage the religion.
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