A pastor in Florida in the USA wants to hold an “International Burn a Qur’an Day”” to commemorate 9/11.

It still beggars my imagination that some people actually believe that violence will beget something apart from violence. (It isn’t only animals that produce after their kind: it’s also true psychologically.) The only people this will bring anyone together will be those who are for it, and those who are against – I trust the majority of us – as inciting hatred.

We had this type of aggressive action in the early centuries Anno Domini, when some authorities in the Roman Empire – even Emperors – not only killed Christians but sought to burn their writings (this was in the time when the Church was seeking to determine which books should be considered as God-inspired and therefore authoritative).

This happened again in the late Middle ages and during the Renaisssance, when people, who sought to translate the Bible into people’s mother languages, were persecuted, killed, and their works destroyed. Or during the Inqusition(s), when anyone who disagreed with the Holy Roman Church was tortured until they recanted and killed if they didn’t, or sometimes even if they did: viz Thomas Cranmer.

There are many other instances throughout history.

The burning of a book tells less about the volume than about the person who burns it: that they are intolerant. Maybe they are correct to be intolerant: there are some acts we should not tolerate, such as rape; nor should we tolerate books that affirm such acts: Sade’s writings for example. But to burn a book that someone holds as sacred is, literally and metaphorically, inflammatory.

Tolerance means allowing a person to hold their beliefs, even if you think those beliefs are incorrect. Tolerance means agreeing to disagree. Tolerance makes for unity; however, unity is not uniformity, which is to say that everyone’s beliefs are equally correct (or incorrect). If you disagree, that’s okay. I don’t mind you being incorrect.

Intolerance and disagreement aren’t the same. Christians and Muslims and Jews disagree about the person of Jesus, as do Protestants/Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. Yet, though we disagree on certain topics, we can still be friends. And yes, I do have friends of different faiths. We disagree passionately and irreconcilably – but we still respect one another and allow each other the right to believe what we will (that’s tolerance). We allow each other that right even though we are unhappy about it, because we believe that the other person’s beliefs amount to a rejection God’s self-revelation – even though each of us believes we are holding faithfully to that revelation.

So although I am not a Muslim, and I do not believe that the Qur’an is the ultimate revelation from God, I assert that people have the right to believe it, and not to have their book or their beliefs denied to them or belittled. To quote Voltaire as accurately as I can recall: “I may dislike what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Otherwise, we’ll end up in with the same type of “red in the bed” McCarthyism of the 1950s; the same type offear- and hate-based repression that caused Dietrich Bonhoeffer to say:

First they came for the Jews but I did not speak up because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists but I did not speak up because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Socialist and Trades Unionists but I did not speak up because I was not a Socialist or a Trades Unionist. Then they came for me -but there was no one left to speak up for me.