Infamous book burnings of history

Authors. Writers. Books. Poems. Literature History.

On Monday I looked at the cause behind book burnings (or, at least, a cause), so I thought today I could look at a few real-life examples of people setting fire to history—and it gets pretty whacky. So, let’s dive in!

Germany 1933

In 1933, Germany was run by the Nazi party, and the fascist movement wasn’t too big on a variety of realities—they were actually just quite fond of their own, so that meant books that countered their own beliefs had to go by way of incineration. According to some sources, the Nazis burned “tens of thousands of books, from the works of Sigmund Freud to those of Jack London” (Rothman).

“Along with the Nazi ideology that there existed a superior race of people came the idea that there was one true culture and ideological canon; that which didn’t fit was consigned to fire,” stated Lily Rothman writing for Time.

Ideally, the Nazis would cleanse their own histories and replace them with new, and, according to them, more superior philosophies. In the case of the Nazis, if contrary information did not exist to combat their motives, then the contrary information simply could not exist to challenge their rule.

The Satanic Verses

When Salman Rushdie published “The Satanic Verses” in 1988, it did not sit well with the Muslim population of 50,000 in Bradford, West Yorkshire. In fact, the senior imam in the city led a book burning because he—and many others—felt it was blasphemous to Islam.

“The book was also burned in Oldham, in Greater Manchester. Large demonstrations by Muslims against the book have since taken place in London. In New York the offices of Viking Penguin, the publisher of Satanic Verses, have received seven bomb threats from people who object to the book.”

(The New York Review)

Also, Iran’s spiritual leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, ordered the execution of Rushdie on Valentine’s Day 1989 (via a Fatwa). Luckily, Rushdie still lives to this day (73 years old at the time of this writing), albeit, no doubt by living quietly and with a bit of fear in his heart because the Fatwa is still active (Maley).

Burning the Quran

I remember reading and watching parts of this saga starring the 61-year-old Pastor Terry Jones unfold, and it is kind of strange to remember police officers arrest such a hate-filled man on television.

Jones, angered over another looming Sept. 11 anniversary, decided he would burn the Quran in a unique commemorative gesture on March 20, 2011—which he did—but then threatened that he would do it again on Sept. 11. “World leaders” talked Jones down and he did not go through with the book burning.

However, this did not stop like-minded people from committing to similar incidents that sparked violence overseas.

“… it inspired similar burnings in Springfield, Tennessee and Topeka, Kansas, which in turn inspired protests in Kashmir that resulted in the deaths of 13 civilians. After Jones followed through with his burning in March, Protests in Afghanistan ended with 30 casualties.”

(Applebaum)

It was reported that Jones was stopped again after he planned to burn a number of Qurans in relation to each victim that died in the Sept. 11 attacks (somewhere around 3,000). Sheriff’s deputies arrested him on felony charges before he could carry through with his plan (Associated Press).

Works Cited

  1. Applebaum, Adina. “10 Modern Day Book Burnings.” The Airship.
  2. “Florida pastor Terry Jones arrested on way to burn Qur’ans.” Associated Press. Sept. 12, 2013. Web.
  3. Maley, Jacqueline. “Salman Rushdie survived an actual fatwa. Yet he still thinks the Twitter crowd has gone too far.” The Sydney Morning Herald. July 12, 2010. Web.
  4. Rothman, Lily. “The Real History Behind Book Burning and Fahrenheit 451.” Time. May 18, 2018. Web.
  5. Rushdie, Salman. “The Book Burning.” The New York Review. March 2, 1989. Web.