Statement by John Ralston Saul

September 9, 2010

In response to the threatened burning of copies of the Koran in the United States on September 11, 2010, the president of International PEN, John Ralston Saul, has issued the following statement:

There is only one religion of book burning. Whatever the book—a text from any religion, a novel, a philosophical treatise, a poem—those who cast it into the flames stand arm-in-arm with Goebbels on a square in Berlin worshipping at the altar of hatred. Such hatred can always invoke as justification some earlier offence, real or imagined. The specific acts of individuals are then distended into a revengeful condemnation of whole cultures or religions or peoples.

PEN stands for unlimited freedom of expression. But we also believe in restraint, not as self-censorship but as the expression of that true complexity of human relationships which great literature invokes. We pledge to do our utmost to «dispel race, class and national hatreds.» And the burning of books is a profoundly contemptuous display of hatred.

We believe that the destiny of literature is to bring people together. The broad condemnation by Americans and people around the world of the threat to burn religious books is a reminder that the role of freedom of expression is not to divide, but to unite people.