A spectacular idea by some narrow minds.

The international media spread the news that a never-heard-of church in Florida plans to host an "International Burn a Quran Day" on September 11. I will not discuss Pastor Terry Jones message and arguments, but the way he symbolised and mediatised them.

Burning books has a long history.

Well before the use of paper, the pharaohs of ancient Egypt used to scratch out the names of their disliked predecessors from monuments and replace them with their own. This had the double benefit of acquiring a low cost monument for themselves, and the pleasure of destroying the dead enemy’s soul, since they believed that it can survive only as long as it has a place to dwell, such as a sculpture or a cartouche that includes the deceased’s name.

Destruction of monuments didn’t stop with the ancient Egyptians; a stunning example is the Badīc Palace in Marrakesh, built by the Sacadī dynasty and destroyed by Mulāy Ismācīl, the founder of the cAlawī dynasty which still rules Morocco.  We can try to imagine what was destroyed if we look at what remains, the dazzling interior of the small, hidden complex of Sacadī-s’ tombs in the same city. An example of the “scratch out his name and replace it with yours” scheme is in an even more famous interior, that of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, built originally (most likely) by one of the most important Umayyad caliphs, cAbd al-Malik, whose name was replaced by the cAbbāsid al-Ma’amūn.

In ancient Mesopotamia information was mainly recorded on clay tables. A significant part of our knowledge about Sumerian and Acadian culture and civilisation is due to enemies who put cities and their libraries on fire, accidentally conserving the tablets which were baked when the cities were burned down.

With the use of papyrus, parchment and paper, things changed. The best way to destroy a book became to burn it. According a disputed report, the second Muslim caliph, cUmar, made the library of Alexandria burned, acclaiming that “If these writings of the Greeks agree with the book of God, they are useless and need not be preserved; if they disagree, they are pernicious and ought to be destroyed”.

Certainly factual were the burnings organised by the holy Inquisition. They burned heretic thinkers as well as their heretic thought recorded in books.

Burning has an additional value to destruction. It evokes, and in the case of burning heretics, initiates or replaces the fire of Hell. But until today this was an additional value and the main function remained destruction even when Nazis burned books or firemen, as in Ray Bradbury’s classical fiction book “Fahrenheit 451”. Muslim bookstore bombers and book burners had the same aim.

And here come Pastor Terry Jones and his Danish inspirers.

They made the additional value the essential one. This is not without precedent; but this provocation hurts deeply one of the largest religious communities in the world. The Qur’ān is considered by Muslims to be Allah’s direct speech, the only but decisive miracle presented by his prophet, a book that should not be put together with others and in a mosque has its own miniature throne.

You cannot wipe the Qur’ān from the face of the Earth by burning some copies, but you can revive the symbolism of the shining cultural tradition of book burning. In fact Pastor Terry Jones states:

"We believe that Islam is of the devil, that it's causing billions of people to go to hell, it is a deceptive religion, it is a violent religion …"

If it is from the Devil the best is to burn it! And the best way to express it is from the Devil is to burn it.

And it is cheap, too!

You can buy a Qur’ān for less than 20 USD, use your lighter and the burning is done. Better, you just announce your project of burning the Qur’ān on the Internet and your obscure church and person become world famous. Money comes in from other extremists on your side and hopefully your fellow extremists from the Muslim side will react. The more aggressive their reaction, the more popular and rich your church and you will be. Extremists of opposed groups are fundamentally allies as they claim (and believe?) to be antagonists. Who would be more helpful to extremists of Hamās to gain popular support in Gaza than Israeli generals using white phosphorous, and who could promote far-right Israeli politicians’ career more effectively than suicide bombers on buses?

The project of Qur’ān-burning combines ancient symbolism with modern mediatising. The idea is brilliant, but should I believe in retribution after death, I would be sure that its inventor will merit some extra days in purgatory.