Fighting Fire with Free Speech: ALA Will Protest Book Burning with 9/11 Qur’an Reading

September 8, 2010

Book burning is the most insidious form of book banning, and just as the American Library Association is preparing to celebrate the freedom to read during Banned Books Week, along comes one Rev. Terry Jones of the 50-member Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. The good reverend's idea of world outreach is to commemorate the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001 with a public burning of the Qur'an, the Muslim holy book.

The mind-boggling logic behind Jones’s plan has attracted the attention of Muslims and media around the world, and this morning, news sources reported that Gen. David Petraeus had personally pleaded with the reverend to restrain himself because of the potential for retaliatory violence against U.S. troops and citizens overseas that the book burning could provoke.

The Islamic Society of North America issued a statement September 7 condemning Jones’s comments about Islam and other slurs: “The threatened burning of copies of the Holy Qur'an this Saturday is a particularly egregious offense that demands the strongest possible condemnation by all who value civility in public life and seek to honor the sacred memory of those who lost their lives on September 11.” Some 60 Muslims were among the 2,977 innocent victims who died in the terrorist attacks that day.

Garnering a spot on Tuesday on CNN’s American Morning show, Jones said, “We have firmly made up our mind, but at the same time, we are definitely praying about it.” Petraeus said Monday that images of burning Qur'ans “would undoubtedly be used by exremists in Afghanistan—and around the world—to inflame public opinion and incite violence.”

Meanwhile, the American Library Association and librarians across the country will move the Qur'an to the top of the Banned Books Week agenda. (Leading the way by modeling tolerance, an Oklahoma public library has been hosting an exhibit of artwork inspired by Muslim tradition.)

“Free people read freely,” says Barbara Jones, director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom. “That is a fundamental principle of the American Constitution and a basic mission of public libraries. We don’t burn books, we read them.”

Whether or not the Rev. Jones (who is no relation to ALA’s OIF director) proceeds with his plan, librarians and library advocates will assemble on the steps of the American Library Association headquarters in Chicago this Saturday at 1 p.m. for a public reading from the Qur'an to counteract the burning in Gainesville, and Banned Books Week will launch on September 25 with readings from the Qur'an.

“The librarians of America will not stand by and let ignorance rule,” says ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels. “For every would-be book burner, there are thousands of readers who will speak out for the freedom to peaceably assemble and read whatever they choose.”

The reverend would do well to use his matches to ignite the pilot light in his brain. Have you ever actually read the Qur'an, Rev. Jones? If you really want illumination, I respectfully suggest you spend Saturday reading instead of burning.