Moslems in Yorkshire wrote the latest chapter in the world's long history of book-burning when they used a cigarette lighter to set fire to a copy of Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses."
The Moslems, who mostly emigrated from Pakistan to work in the textile mills of Bradford, say the novel blasphemes their Islamic religion and demand that it be withdrawn.Their protest-by-burning on Tuesday night was seen on British TV's commercial Channel 4 network.
The Indian-born Rushdie lives in London. He says he takes "very seriously indeed" a call to Moslems on Tuesday by Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to kill the author and publishers of "The Satanic Verses."
Violence over the novel has killed at least seven people in Pakistan and India.
And so, in further anger, the book burning on Tuesday night - a practice at least as old as the Great Wall of China.
In 230 B.C. in China, Emperor Shih Huang Ti who called himself the First Emperor, unified the country and constructed the Great Wall. But he is chiefly remembered for burning books.
The emperor apparently believed the books of the past provided ammunition for his intellectual opponents. So he had all the existing literature - including the works of China's greatest sage, Confucius - gathered and committed to the flames.
Exempted were some copies he preserved for the imperial library and books dealing with the occult, medicine, farming and tree-growing. Chinese scholars to this day still reproach him for his vandalism.
The emperor commanded scholars to stop discussing the past and buried many of them alive when they protested.
The "Decameron" by Giovanni Boccaccio, one of the earliest works in Italian and among the most famous books in all literature, was publicly burned in Florence more than a century after the author died in 1375.
A collection of moral and immoral tales, it was ordered to the flames by Girolama Savonarola, a priest who campaigned against corruption and immorality.
Bonfires also consumed the works of Francesco di Petracco, known as Petrarch, the Italian humanist, inaugurator of the Renaissance in Italy and a supreme poet of love.
Savonarola himself was accused of heresy after he denounced Pope Alexander VI and was tortured, hanged and burned at the stake in 1498.
The Roman Catholic Church in 1520 burned the writings of Martin Luther, the German religious reformer and founder of Protestanism. Luther retaliated by publicly consigning Pope Leo X's condemnation of himself to the flames, together with a copy of the church's laws.
John Milton, author of "Paradise Lost" and regarded as England's greatest poet after William Shakespeare, fared no better. Two of his works, "Eikonklastes" and "Defensio prima," were gathered and burned in 1660 by order of the House of Commons.
The works were written in defense of the Commonwealth led by Oliver Cromwell, whom Milton enthusiastically supported.
The persecution of Milton began with the restoration of the monarchy when King Charles II came to the throne. But Milton escaped the scaffold, probably because he had friends at court like the poet Andrew Marvell.
Another kind of book-burning took place in Germany in 1817, at a time when student associations were agitating for German unity. Liberal students publicly burned the writings of conservatives whose ideas they opposed.
The most notorious book-burning of modern times was in Germany in 1933, the first year of Adolf Hitler's dictatorship.
The Nazis began burning books by Jewish writers, by socialists and Marxists in April, less than three months after Hitler became chancellor.
Their bonfire was lit in front of the Berlin Opera House on May 10. Works by hundreds of writers which had been seized from libraries were burned in a huge pile.
Among the authors were the Germans, playwright Bertolt Brecht, novelists Lion Feuchtwanger, brothers Heinrich and Thomas Mann, Franz Werfel who wrote "The Song of Bernadette" and cultural theorist Walter Benjamin; Austrian novelists Arthur Schnitzler and Stefan Zweig and Czech novelist Franz Kafka.
Alumni at Dulwich College in London recall that some books by one of their famous old boys, humorous English novelist P.G. Wodehouse, were burned by boys at the school after the writer agreed to broadcast for the Germans during World War II.
The writer was captured by the Germans in France in 1940 and held in Germany. His broadcasts caused a scandal in Britain and after the war he settled in the United States. He died in 1975.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Salman Rushdie's novel, "The Satanic Verses," published last year, has sparked worldwide controversy, from violent protests to calls by Islamic leaders for the author's death. Today, on this page, we have four related stories about Rushdie and his book:
- A profile of Salman Rushdie.
- A brief history of book-burning.
- Excerpts from "The Satanic Verses."
- A look at reaction in the publishing industry.