10 September 2007


"My alma mater was books, a good library... I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity." -- El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz

If Malcolm Little were behind bars today, would he have access to a range of texts? Could he discover the echoing marketplace of ideas in his prison library that would expand his mind and transform him into the brilliant Malcolm X? According to this article, perhaps not....and The Current Administration thinks that this is a good thing:

Prisons Purging Books on Faith From Libraries

Behind the walls of federal prisons nationwide, chaplains have been quietly carrying out a systematic purge of religious books and materials that were once available to prisoners in chapel libraries.

The chaplains were directed by the Bureau of Prisons to clear the shelves of any books, tapes, CDs and videos that are not on a list of approved resources. In some prisons, the chaplains have recently dismantled libraries that had thousands of texts collected over decades, bought by the prisons, or donated by churches and religious groups.

Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, said the agency was acting in response to a 2004 report by the Office of the Inspector General in the Justice Department. The report recommended steps that prisons should take, in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, to avoid becoming recruiting grounds for militant Islamic and other religious groups. The bureau, an agency of the Justice Department, defended its effort, which it calls the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as a way of barring access to materials that could, in its words, “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.”

The Bureau of Prisons said it relied on experts to produce lists of up to 150 book titles and 150 multimedia resources for each of 20 religions or religious categories — everything from Bahaism to Yoruba.

Behind the walls of federal prisons nationwide, chaplains have been quietly carrying out a systematic purge of religious books and materials that were once available to prisoners in chapel libraries.....
The lists are broad, but reveal eccentricities and omissions....The bureau has not provided additional money to prisons to buy the books on the lists, so in some prisons, after the shelves were cleared of books not on the lists, few remained.

Timothy Larsen, who holds the Carolyn and Fred McManis Chair of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, an evangelical school, looked over lists for “Other Christian” and “General Spirituality”...“There are some well-chosen things in here,” Professor Larsen said...But he continued, “There’s a lot about it that’s weird.” The lists “show a bias toward evangelical popularism and Calvinism,” he said, and lacked materials from early church fathers, liberal theologians and major Protestant denominations.

So: in order to stave off Radical Islam (the purging started with Islamic texts, according to a source I have that works for the Prison Libraries here in Maryland), we toss out The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism and those Pesky Protestants as well along with the Quran?

What's next on the "Offensive" list?

And whose bookshelves are next to be redacted?

How ironic that I pass by this exhibit on display in our Central Hall every day on my way to work. Although it's true: at this moment, nothings been consigned to the flames....yet! Except, perhaps, for whatever pride we might have had in the fact that, as Americans, we have the right to read what we like, write what we like, research any topic, and think for ourselves, even when behind bars.


Bernie said...

Is anyone protesting these actions?

BronzeBuckaroo said...

Should we really be surprised by this. I mean, all over various liberties have been quietly eroding under the current administration's war terror.

All it takes is one domino to fall. Now it is the prison libraries. What will be next under the guise of public concerns. Already, every now and again, there is a squirmish to see what books are checked out of the public libraries.

jbrotherlove said...

The prison system is an easy target. Most of the public don’t have much sympathy for prisoners (they must have done something to be in there).

However, this action is a cause for alarm because it reveals how the government would like to censor “unacceptable” writings overall if they could only figure out how to get away with it. They will reach into as many areas as they can (schools, federally–funded organizations, etc.)

Trenee said...

I'm mad I didn't get to this story first! Maybe I'll just do a post on your posting of this post instead. :) I'm sure the powers that be can't give specific titles of the books they want removed. "Yeah, anything with Islamic topics mentioned...you know what I'm saying?" So would Kite Runner go too or do prisoners not have access to bestsellers?

I didn't know that literature had a link to the 911 attacks. Learn something new everyday.

While I'm on my rant, might I also note that several authors read numerous books in prison, which eventually inspired their own literature...as opposed to terrorist attacks.

ReggieH said...

It is very easy to start this kind of censorship in prisons, since "no one cares" what happens to folks behind bars. Since we now seem to think that anyone in jail 'deserves to be there' (sans rehabilitation) -- so what? Its very disturbing. I think we all know that abuses of power such as this seldom stay contained, and if the administration had its way, many of us would be under similar restrictions.

Libraries were approached after 9/11 for lists of books read by suspected people, and computers were taken from a library in the DC suburbs used by one of the hijackers in an attempt to discover which websites he visited. Homeland Security has had an eye on public libraries and librarians for quite some time. We insist on allowing people to read what they want! Go figure...

Even if one can understand the impetus to look closely at Muslim titles, since we are 'at war against Radical Islam', the purging of Christian and Jewish titles makes zero sense. It smells like some in the Administration is attempting to promote, not just Christianity, but a particular brand of (right-wing, no doubt) Christian thinking. If that's not truly Un-American, I don't know what is.