Book Burning

If Pastor Terry Jones goes through with his threat to burn Qurans on Sept. 11, he’ll take his place alongside fanatics who destroyed Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, Falun Gong texts—and even Braille books.

John Raoux / AP Photo,John Raoux

John Raoux / AP Photo

Rev. Terry Jones Orders Quran Burning on 9/11 Anniversary

Terry Jones, the pastor of an evangelical church called the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL, says he wants to burn 200 copies of the Quran as a counterattack to the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. Jones has selected the ninth anniversary of the attacks—as well as the conclusion of Eid al-Fitr, the celebration at the end of Ramadan—and although fire authorities denied his request to hold it in the public square, there is nothing they can do until the first match is lit. Despite warnings from everyone from the Obama administration, the Koran-burning day will go on.

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Nazi Book Burning Rallies, 1930s

German history had long been filled with book burning incidents, but the one of the most infamous took place in the early days of Hitler’s regime. As Nazi German authorities had long been trying to synchronize the literary community, Goebbels pushed the Nazi German Student Association toward holding a nationwide “Action against the Un-German Spirit.” On May 10, 1933, university students burned 25,000 volumes of “un-German books.” Authors from Ernest Hemingway to 1933 Nobel Prize-winner German author Thomas Mann to international bestseller Erich Maria Remarque were all burned, as well as a number of contemporary Jewish authors such as Franz Werfel and Max Brod. Heinrich Heine’s works were among those burned, who had written in 1821: “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.”

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Ku Klux Klan Rally, 1966

Who would have ever thought this comment would cause trouble? “We’re more popular than Jesus now – I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity. Jesus was right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me,” so John Lennon declared in 1966. The Ku Klux Klan did not take kindly to Lennon’s remarks, and a few months later, the Klan Grand Dragon Bon Scroggins nailed the Beatles records to a cross and set it on fire in South Carolina. Although Lennon considered cutting the tour short, it continued and Lennon later thanked the Klan for their help in the controversy, saying in 1978, “If I hadn’t said the Beatles were ‘bigger than Jesus’ and upset the very Christian Ku Klux Klan, well, Lord, I might still be up there will the other performing flees! God Bless America. Thank you, Jesus.”

Teacher Burns All Braille Books, 1837

Although reading Braille hardly seems controversial now, there were many opposed to it upon its creation in the 1830s. Author P. Armand Dufau, an assistant director at a school for the blind that Louis Braille attended, was one such opponent—he believed Braille made the blind “too independent.” Dufau won a prestigious French literary prize, and, once becoming director of the school, began making changes such as deleting “frivolous” subjects such as history, Latin and geometry. The final straw came when Dufau took it too far: he burned all the books in the school’s library and nearly 50 years’ worth of work. But the book burning produced some positive results: the students rebelled and began writing Braille on their own slates, and Dufau’s assistant eventually persuaded him the new code would only help the school, not hurt.

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Harry Potter Books in New Mexico, 2001

The congregation of Christ Community Church in Alamogordo was inspired to set fire to the Harry Potter books in 2001 after an anti-Harry Potter sermon. Pastor Jack Brock told parishioners that “Harry Potter is the devil and he is destroying people” and said the books would teach children to take up wizardry. Along with the children’s books, Stephen King’s books, ouiji boards and AC/DC CDs were also thrown in the fire. The protest did not hold much weight among Harry Potter fans, though: counterprotests were held, comparing Brock to Hitler.

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Comic Book Burning, 1948

Some parents used to fear the influence of comic books. Dr. Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist, published The Seduction of Innocents about the poor influences in comic books. The Dec. 20th 1948 issue of Time magazine reported that Binghamton, N.Y., residents rounded up all the comic books in the town, and then set fire to them in a mass public burning. As for Wertham, who claimed “Hitler is just the beginner compared to the comic book industry,” the book burning did little to quell his influence: his book was published in 1954, and the Senate opened an investigation into comic books a year later. Mass burnings of comic books continued, including an incident in 1955 in Norwich, CT.

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Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, 1989

Salman Rushdie’s 1988 The Satanic Verses caused an uproar before it was even published. The book was banned in India prior to publication and in Britain, protests began against Rushdie immediately. In January 1989, only a few months after the book's publication, a group of students in Bradford walked through town with a copy held high, and then burned it. The protests against the book were seen as a turning point in Britain’s relationship with their South Asian immigrants, becoming a weapon to unite South Asians against Britons. The book burning, too, became the least of Rushdie’s troubles: on February 14, 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death and his publishers. Rushdie went into hiding for several years, but the book has remained one of Viking’s all-time bestsellers.

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Roman Soldier Burns the Torah Scroll, 50 A.D.

Josephus, a Jewish historian at the first century, recorded one of the first incidents of book burning in 50 A.D.: a Roman soldier seized a copy of the Torah scroll and burned it in public. The incident almost led to a Jewish revolt against Roman rule, but the Roman government beheaded the soldier to avoid the rebellion. Not only was the incident an early event of book burning, many followed in the soldier’s footsteps in burning Jewish holy texts. In the 1480s, Tomas Torquemada ordered the burning of all anti-Catholic literature, including the Talmud and many Arabic texts.

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The University of Oxford Library Burning, 1683

On July 21, 1683, the king ordered all the books in the University of Oxford Library burned due to suspected treason. Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan was one of the major causalities: students set it on fire in the quadrangle of the university, 32 years after its publication. John Locke also saw a number of his books burned, which led him to flee the country and seek refuge in Holland under an assumed name.

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Marxist Literature Burned in Chile, 1973

Two weeks after the Armed Forces violently overthrew President Salvador Allende on Sept. 11, 1973, army officers conducted a 14-hour raid on the San Borja apartment building in downtown Santiago, arresting dozens and burning books considered “seditious.” On the very same day, in an unrelated incident, Chilean Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda died of a heart attack in Isla Negra.

The Valley of the Squinting Windows in Delvin, Ireland, 1918

The burning of The Valley of the Squinting Windows defies the idea that all book burning is related to religion or politics. After Brinsley MacNamara’s book was published in 1919, the residents of his small village took the book to the town square and set them on fire. The novel, about a schoolteacher who is ruined for befriending an unwed mother, also cost MacNamara’s father his job as a schoolteacher.