Perhaps the most surprising thing about the ongoing Kim Dotcom/Mein Kampf debate is the rank failure of commentators to recognise the sheer irony of their positions. I’m going to brand as ‘book-burners’ those who have made the leap from Dotcom’s ownership of a signed copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf to his being a Nazi sympathiser. I don’t of course mean that they are actual book-burners, but that they exhibit the mentality of book-burners. They are people who believe that a man’s character may be judged not merely by the contents of his library but, in this particular case, by his ownership of a single book. Their logic, as I argued in my previous post, is that if the contents of a book are evil then the ownership of such a book is itself evidence of evil:
‘Kim Dotcom owns and has read a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Hitler was the founder of National Socialism and one of history’s most evil men. Ergo: Kim Dotcom must be an evil Nazi.’ The Dotcom/Mein Kampf story was first given national prominence by TV3 journalists Brook Sabin and Patrick Gower who confidently predicted the end of Dotcom’s political aspirations and, one might assume, of his hopes of remaining in this country, as a result of his owning a priceless historical document, signed by Hitler himself and dedicated to his cellmate Hermann Esser. So the first irony lies in journalists, traditional advocates of free speech, if not actually promoting book-burning, at least fanning the embers. But then, in the current climate of New Zealand commercial television, sensation mongering is precisely the journalist’s job.
The second irony came in a TV3 News interview with Prime Minister John Key, newly returned from overseas. In her introduction to the item, reporter Brooke Gardiner told us that Dotcom had confessed to owning a signed copy of the book. I no longer expect television reporters on either major channel to be precise in their use of language, let alone understand basic English usage. I can understand someone ‘confessing’ to stealing a book or defacing a book. But where, other than in a totalitarian state, would you ‘confess’ to owning a book? ‘Confession’ implies guilt. What actually happened was that Dotcom ‘agreed’ that he owned a copy of Mein Kampf. He was not in the dock. In the subsequent interview, Key, whose Jewish mother escaped the Holocaust, said most New Zealanders ‘would be offended by the actions and the history and wouldn’t want to be aligned to it.’ As for his dislike of Dotcom, ‘This is just another string to the bow.’ The Prime Minister thus reflected the mindset of the book-burners in his view that ownership of a book somehow ‘aligned’ you to the views expressed in the book.
Which brings me to the second irony: Book burning was a favourite occupation of the Nazis, in particular the works of Jewish authors and Jewish religious texts. The very ownership of such books and texts was sufficient to condemn you to the gas-chamber. Among books committed to the pyre by the Nazis were the writings of German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine whose 1820 drama Almansor, contains the prophetic warning: ’Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.’ It would not, I think, be fanciful or perverse to argue that the belief that ownership of a book implies approval of the ideas expressed in the book, actually ‘aligns’ you with totalitarian thinking. Yet that is precisely the argument advanced by the book-burners, now apparently including our Prime Minister. Finally, I had intended to deal in this post only with television coverage of the Dotcom/Mein Kampf issue. That was until I read Colin Espiner’s column on the topic in today’s Sunday Star Times. I’m something of a fan of Mr Espiner, but with this piece of mindless shit he manages to make Sabin and Gower look good.