For reasons explained elsewhere, I have been sorting through my personal possessions and shedding most of it in preparation for relocation to South America. Among these possessions are books that I have been accumulating for more than 20 years. Getting rid of more than 2 000 books is, as I have come to learn, quite distressing.
Having parted with a Hansard collection of the FW de Klerk presidency — it now has pride of place on the shelves of an African Studies department of a university in the US — I have yet to find a home for a couple of books that should be kept in a South African library or museum — I don’t remember actually finding these two books, all I know is that I have had them since at least the late 1980s. And then there is the tiny dilemma of a small, but deeply offensive book that I would rather burn before giving it to someone or, worse still, donating it to a thrift shop or a used-book shop where it may end up in the hands of a bigot or some other knuckle-dragger — of which there are quite a few, here, in the deep south of the US.
Anyway, among the last few hundred books that I have been parting with, there are two bound volumes still in my care: The Rivonia Trial: State’s Concluding Address, parts I and IV. They appear to be the original, hand-bound, copies. Of course, I have no desire to hold onto them as some kind of “treasure” or valuable possession or trade them for money … it would be best if the two volumes were in a library or museum somewhere. I may have had them since the 1980s, but they really don’t belong to me. Somebody ought to take them off my hands …
The other book that I am desperate to get rid of is an apparently small publication which is part of a collection of books on racism, anti-Semitism, Zionism and on Palestine. These books range from Arthur Koestler’s Thieves in the Night, The Israeli Connection by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi (see this exchange between the author and Stanley Hoffmann), The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria, and a little publication called, Jewish Conspiracy: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. While I have no desire to keep the little book, giving it to a local charity might just cause it to end up in the hands of a bigot or one of those conspiracy theorists (they’re not unique to the US — consider this group) who consider “The Protocols” to be part of a great big plot to rule the world. Consider this passage, with reference to the protocols, “no other single document provides us with such a clear understanding of why the world is gradually moving towards a One World Government, controlled by an irreproachable hidden hand”. Gordon Bennett! I would much rather make this little book my sole contribution to book burning. Here’s the question, though: by advocating the burning of books that I find odious, which I would be endorsing, would I not become that which I have fought against for so long?
While it is well-known that there are Christian church leaders in the US who have burned or threatened to burn copies of the Quran, and that US soldiers have either urinated or defecated on the book that Muslims consider sacred, evangelical Christians (also from the US; no surprise, then) have also been burning books in other countries — and have taken great pride in their acts. For example, In May 2009, blogging evangelicals of the Sovereign Grace Baptist Church from the deep south of the US, expressed, triumphantly, their joy at having burnt 697 books in Guyana, where I will make my home from the end of June. See the screenshot.
“Lots of Harlequins, anything sexual or containing language was discarded. Now we need some more books to go into those empty shelves. Some GOOD books for the Baptist Library,” wrote “Ellen” of the Sovereign Baptist Church, which is based in Anniston, Alabama.
There’s a larger question, here. If one is opposed to one form of injustice surely there is something profoundly wrong when replacing it with another — or simply reproducing that injustice? Somebody needs to take this little book off my hands and burn it without my knowledge, or maybe not.