Who has not at some point used an old newspaper to kindle a fire? I certainly have, and I think no one will contest my right to light a fire and some burn paper and ink. But then, why is it that burning the Koran is forbidden?
I’m fairly convinced that the Muslim community would be united in condemning such an act, probably to the point where they would issue a fatwa or go to war over it, if the reactions to the Muhammad caricatures are any indication.
But when is paper and ink transformed from something ordinary into a sacred thing that it is forbidden to set aflame?
Is it because the ink spells out the words of the Koran? If so, how many words are needed to make it sacred? A full copy? A chapter? A paragraph? A sentence? A word? Give me a number and I’ll make sure to cut the pages into proper sizes before adding them to the fire. Cutting of pages is also forbidden? I’ll print the pages bit by bit, each containing only as many letters as allowed, then burn these. See, no offence committed. No, there must be some other reason.
Is it because it says Koran on the front page? If so, what if it’s all blank pages inside? Is it the cover and not the book that makes it such a great offence? This argument is as unsupportable as the one above – surely better reasons exist.
Is it perhaps the symbolism of the act that is unholy and forbidden? Not the actual burning of paper and ink, but rather the concept of destroying something that is precious to many? A tempting proposition, but it would only make sense if I was really destroying something, which I would not be doing by burning a copy. No one loses anything but the owner of the book, which would be myself. I might even have made a copy of the copy and burned that instead, without anyone knowing I ever had a second copy.
This leaves us with only the symbolism of the act – but this is nothing without knowledge of the act taking place. By inference, it must be the knowledge itself that causes the offence. Since it makes no sense to forbid the burning of paper and ink, and we cannot forbid concepts or symbols, only knowledge remains. The person committing a forbidden act necessarily has knowledge of it – we can therefore only hope to prevent those who would be offended by it from learning of it.
The inescapable conclusion is that it is better that you do not know. Avoid the knowledge that you cannot handle.
Perhaps this explains why so many followers of Islam fail to appreciate the concept of a free press?