The quote is from 19th century German poet Heinrich Heine, quoted to good effect in a story I just read at washingtonpost.com (nice to know they're good for something, post-Bradlee). You've probably seen the furor caused by the cracker church in Florida that plans to burn copies of the Koran, to commemorate September 11th. The Post's article examines what it means about the state of our civilization. It is nothing less than the empowerment of the Savage and the Crazy, spreading through the air like one of those aerosol poisons Jack Bauer chased around for almost a decade—wouldn't it be great if we could unleash Jack on those responsible for that? The real terrorists—those who, either by mental defect (Glenn Beck), stupidity (Palin), hate (Limbaugh), or cupidity (Karl Rove and the corporatists he serves)—or combination of each, as realistically describes each character I mentioned—are so willing to serve up our republic and its values on a plate for the deranged and the opportunistic to pick over. Their purpose is to resurrect a fantasy—a mythology—of governmental and societal values, the contemplation of which makes the veins on the foreheads of tea-partying white people twitch like my dog Ralph's hind left foot did, when I scratched his belly.
"On May 10th, 1933 the Nazis burned 25,000 books -- including those written by Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who had predicted in 1820 that "where books are burned in the end people will burn," - and eight years later the Holocaust began.
The connection is not too difficult to discern. Books are repositories of histories, of identities, of values. They are the soul of civilization. A society must abandon basic decencies in order to muster the immoral courage to burn books as a celebratory act. Once it starts burning the souls of civilization, human souls will not be left behind."
Nicely put. Be interested to see some poll numbers on this issue...