Book-burning: Start of a slippery slope

Book-burning: Start of a slippery slope

Book-burning is barbaric. No ifs, ands or buts. No grey areas. Simple as black and white print on paper.

As someone who has loved books all my life, the very idea of burning books fills me with revulsion and the act itself strikes fear in my heart.

ld your horses, I hear you say, aren't you over-reacting just a tad? After all, the group of parents and children who organised and took part in a little bonfire of PSLE assessment books and papers recently was just indulging in a little stress-relieving exercise.

To me, it does not matter if it was assessment books that were set alight. The very act of burning a book, any book, is anathema to me. It is an act of vandalism. Arguing that it is simply an assessment book, to me, is just the beginning of a slippery slope.

Once one dismisses one book as disposable and objectionable, what's there to stop one from deciding another book contains objectionable ideas and therefore needs to be burnt? And if books contain objectionable ideas, what about the people who believe in the objectionable ideas? Qin Shi Huang burnt books. And he buried scholars alive. The Spanish burnt Mayan codices. And they tortured and killed Mayan people in the name of civilising them. The Nazis burnt books and works of art. And they were guilty of genocide.

You might think I am making a great leap in logic here - burning a few assessment books is very far from committing genocide. But book-burning has a long, infamous, unbroken association with death and destruction. It often presages narrow-mindedness, intolerance and inhumanity in a community. It is not simply the act of burning a book itself, but the symbolic power of the gesture.

In great cultures throughout human history, there has been a high value attached to the book as an object, as a symbol of learning, a marker of culture, a badge of civility. With good reason, since they carry the wisdom of the ages, the knowledge painstakingly acquired and recorded through the generations.

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