Sunday, 19 June 2011

Flammable words

One of the early (mercifully short) posts on this blog was a lateral thought entitled "Burning the Qu'ran is out".

People have asked me whether this was an attempt at humour or an attempt to be deliberately inflammatory.

Well . . . yes of course it was a wry look at a topic that was current at the time, when some attention seeking christian pastor in Florida was deliberately stirring up trouble by burning copies of the book.  Although maybe not humorous to everyone the comment was not actually one that anyone should take to heart.  

But however you might have read it, it was more philosophical than inflammatory and I think there is a serious point to be made.  When trying to understand the mysteries of this 'bible of islam' we are often told that it is only possible to understand the true meaning by reading it in the original Arabic.  Translations are prone to error, and the meaning of the inspired words of Allah could be lost in translation.  (I should point out, in case it got lost in translation, that I was using the word bible with a small b, and in that context it was not designed to be provocative, even if this sentence is.)

Aside from the fact that the need to read the original excludes that great majority of the world's population, including the majority of muslims of course, that leads to a serious conclusion.  If you have a copy of the Koran in English, it is specifically not the inspired word of a god, but only an interpretation.

It is only by deliberate thought that anyone should choose to burn a book as a symbol of their hatred of others.  But similarly, it is only by stretching the truth that others can exercise their apparent right to take offence if opposing religious bigots act that way.  If it is only an interpretation when you read it, then it is only an interpretation that is being destroyed.

Where do I stand on this?  Personally I think it is a poor argument to say that you have to read the Arabic.  If the message is that unclear after translation then it is not obvious to me that it is a message that is truly clear to anyone.  However, I would say that it is rather stupid self-publicising nonsense to burn a book as a provocation, however much you despise it.  But on the other hand I would also say that nobody has a 'right not to be offended'. 

Your right to have free speech comes with a price.  It is only because of the right to free speech that all religions are able to preach their myths openly in public.  Our ancestors died fighting for these rights and we should not forget it.

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