Book banning is akin to book burning
Mohammad Jamil


In his article published in national English daily of Pakistan titled ‘Banning books’, Indian author A.G. Noorani referring to banning of books in India, wrote: “Books banning is akin to book burning, emblematic of Hitler’s Germany. In 2009, one of the most distinguished scholars on Hinduism, Wendy Doniger wrote a book ‘The Hindus’, which was banned and the government asked the publishers to withdraw the book from the market. Historian Audrey Truschke’s book ‘Aurangzeb: The life and legacy of India’s most controversial king’ also had to bear the brunt of RSS and its affiliates. The author in her book refuted some of the most serious charges against Aurangzeb, and believed that were exaggerated or misconstrued from the historical record. For instance, evidence suggested that he destroyed a few dozen Hindu temples at most (not thousands) and largely for political reasons.

The author went on to state that Aurangzeb was wary of conversions, and relatively few Hindus adopted Islam in Aurangzeb’s empire. But such description is not acceptable to extremists, who did not allow the author to launch her book in Hyderabad, which has had the reputation of being centre of learning. Scheduled to give a talk, entitled “Unpopular stories: narrating the Indo-Islamic past and navigating present-day prejudices” in Hyderabad in August, the organiser could not find a venue in that large city known for its rich cultural past. On two occasions, a venue was fixed, only to be cancelled a few days after booking. First it was scheduled to be held at the Art Gallery. Then the B.M. Birla Science Centre was fixed at the venue, only for it to revoke permission, as the venue owners backed out due to pressure from groups like Bajrang Dal.
It would be pertinent to narrate the episode of Nazi book burnings – a campaign conducted by the German Student Union (the DSt) to ceremonially burn books in Nazi Germany and Austria in the 1930s. The books targeted for burning were those viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism. On May 10, 1933, German students gathered in Berlin and other German cities to burn books with ‘un-German’ ideas. Books by Einstein, Thomas Mann, H.G. Wells, Sigmond Fried and other men of substance went up in flames as they offered Nazi-solute.
Copies of Heine’s books were among the many burned on Berlin’s Opernplatz. To commemorate the event, one of the most famous lines from Heine’s 1821 play Almansor is now engraved at the site: “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen. (Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too.
In the play, there is a reference to the burning of the Quran during the Spanish Inquisition in an effort to eradicate the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula, which had been a major center of medieval Islamic culture. Unfortunately, there have been incidents of burning books by the misguided elements. Not only books but schools were also torched and destroyed; and of course human beings – suicide bombers and their victims. However, civil and military leadership tried to persuade the militants by holding dialogue with them to wean off the vile acts, but they did not. Since 2009 military operations were conducted in Swat, Malakand, South and North Waziristan, and now the situation is well under control as insurgents’ network and infrastructure have been destroyed. With abolition of Frontier Crimes Rules and merging of FATA with KP to bring it in the mainstream, the people are happy as it will ensure progress and prosperity of the area.
Islam stands for equal rights for men and women. It exhorts every man and woman to seek education. The Qur’an was revealed on the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the first word which was revealed to him was Iqra meaning read. The Qur’an also sets the benchmark to differentiate between the learned and ignorant: “Are those who know, equal to those who know not?” (39:9). In the Quran Allah has prescribed prayer to seek knowledge: “Lord! Increase my knowledge.” (20:14). According to hadees quoted by Muslim, Sahih Bukhari and Tirmzi, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) had exhorted Muslims to acquire knowledge even if they had to go to China. It is understood that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) himself was fountainhead of all religious knowledge, it therefore follows that it was about worldly knowledge vis-à-vis technology, industry and other vocations because China’s civilization was at its pinnacle.
God despise all those who do not use their faculties of sense perceptions to excel towards progress and development. In 580 hijra, there were at least 30 major Darul Aloom, when the West was living in Middle Ages – a part of it was an era of darkness. Muslim philosophers, thinkers, mathematicians and scientists such as Al-Kindi, Al-Khwarzmi, Imam Razi, Ibne Sina, Ibn Al-Haitham and many others played an important role in the progress of mankind. It goes without saying that madaris in those days produced renowned mathematicians, and philospphers, whereas today’s madaris are accused of producing terrorists and suicide bombers. Francis Bacon had said: “Learning conquers or mitigates the fear of death and adverse fortune”. He also quoted Virgil’s great lines: “Happy is the man who has learned the causes of things, and has put under his feet all fears, and inexorable fate, and the noisy strife of the hell of greed”.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.