Temperate woman that she is, my wife finished reading a book the other night and tossed it on the fire.
It was Ali Smith’s The Accidental and she had ploughed on with it to the end, despite finding it almost unreadably pretentious. It had, she explained, annoyed her so much she couldn’t bear to see it lying around the house.
I was mesmerised. There is something sacred about a book, and the symbolism of watching one burn is potent indeed. Scary, too. As the pages curled, turned brown and then ignited, I thought: my God, I’m married to a book burner.
The potency, of course, comes from the associations. Think book burning and you think Nazis and Islamic fundamentalists, creeds which, in terms of their anti-Semitism, are not that far apart.
Which brings me to the extraordinarily crass and ugly comment Ken Livingstone made a few days ago. He compared the “discrimination against Muslims” in Britain today to the “demonology” of Jews in Nazi Germany.
What? Am I missing something here? Is he talking about the same demonology that led to the genocide of European Jewry? The one which began with the burning of books by Jewish writers and ended with the near extermination of an entire race? Yes, I fear he is. In fact he implicitly compared Tony Blair and Jack Straw to “Hitler and Goebbels” for suggesting Muslims only have themselves to blame in the row about veils.
Why does Mr Livingstone keep doing this? In his speech he had been making perfectly reasonable observations about how Jews are not expected to remove their skull caps, Sikhs their turbans and Christians their crosses (although that seems touch and go at the moment) then he went and blew his own argument by making a gratuitous and, frankly, obscene comparison between Jews under Hitler and Muslims under Blair.
There is no comparison. Jews posed no threat at all to German society in the 1930s. They were peaceful, law-abiding people, which made them ideal scapegoats and targets for Nazi propaganda. The “Jewish threat” was just a useful fiction dreamed up by Hitler and Goebbels.
But there is nothing fictional about British Islamofascists such as Anjem Choudary and Abu Izzadeen, extremists who praise the 7/7 bombers and call for the abolition of democracy in Britain and the introduction of Sharia law. I expect they have burnt a few Salman Rushdie novels in their time, too. If anyone, it is they who should be compared to Hitler and Goebbels.
Presumably Ken Livingstone likes to suck up to the Muslim community because it forms a third of the electorate in parts of London. It’s not going to hurt your chances of being re-elected there if you blow the dog whistle of anti-Semitism.
I know Ken Livingstone isn’t racist; far from it. But at such a sensitive time, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the leader of the most dangerous Muslim country in the world, says that he wants to wipe Israel off the map, Mr Livingstone isn’t exactly being helpful with his inflammatory comments.
Perhaps he thinks he is being consistent. This, after all, is the man who jokily compared a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard.
Given his taste for wildly inappropriate comparisons, I’m only surprised he hasn’t also jokily compared himself to Rudolph Hess, who, at the Nuremburg Trial, claimed the Jews were to blame for the holocaust because they had hypnotised the SS guards at Auschwitz.
I know this “Muslims are the new Jews” line has become fashionable among the commentariat in London in recent weeks but really, enough is enough. Time for a reality check. Time for a new mayor as well. The current one seems to have gone mad.