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.