Britons Defend Free Speech in Libraries

A report by a British think-tank that claimed public libraries had been inundated by extremist Islamic literature was criticized Friday, September 7, by locals and borough councils for its double-standards and censor-like tone, saying a free society shoul

Britons Defend Free Speech in Libraries

A report by a British think-tank that claimed public libraries had been inundated by extremist Islamic literature was criticized Friday, September 7, by locals and borough councils for its double-standards and censor-like tone, saying a free society should absorb divergent viewpoints.

"I trust the majority of Muslims to think for themselves. What kind of society are we creating if we really believe all Muslims will become terrorists by reading the rabid preachings of certain misled individuals," Phil Schaffer, a resident of Tower Hamlets, in East London and one of the most heavily populated Muslim areas in Britain, told IslamOnline.net Friday, September 7.

Schaffer believes that Douglas Murray, the director of the Centre for Social Cohesion think-tank which is behind the report, is having an agenda against Muslims.

"He is a dangerous foe and I admit the venom in his expression and voice when he speaks is scary," he said calling Murray a "real worry."

"His charisma means that he will sway a lot of opinion. It is precisely why I agree with the stance of the Idea Store," he added.

Metropolitan Police Authority Member and Tower Hamlets Councillor Abdal Ullah agreed.

"We must be very wary of the agendas of people like Murray, who are determined to drive a wedge between communities," he said, calling Murray an "opportunist."

In the report, Hate on the State, the authors warn that some libraries have become "saturated with extreme Islamist books" that glorify acts of terrorism against followers of other religions and endorse discrimination against women.

"In the worst cases they are the tools of radicalisation and increase the risk of Islamic terrorism," it said, naming libraries like Whitechapel Ideas Store, Chrisp St Ideas Store and Bethnal Green library.

It said Tower Hamlets alone has eight libraries stocking dozens of books endorsing Islamic extremist viewpoints in English, Urdu, Bengali and Somali.

It further said such books were bought using taxpayers money.

Free Society

Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary-general of the umbrella Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and a government advisor, said freedom of expression is expected to be an inalienable right in a democracy.

"It does not necessarily mean you agree with them, it is part of a free society," he said.

"These are authors who are widely read in the Muslim world and it is not surprising that they are stocked in areas where there happens to be the highest concentration of Muslims."

Metropolitan Police Authority Member and Tower Hamlets Councillor Abdal Ullah saw eye to eye with Bunglawala that anybody should be able to read whatever they wish to.

"This is part and parcel of a free and modern society," he said.

He said controversial books like Adolf Hitler Mein Kampf (my struggle) and Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses are available in libraries nationwide.

"We are proud to say that Tower Hamlets is a diverse, vibrant and tolerant borough and we are the envy of the centre right. We have not had any of our residents involved in derogatory high profile terror cases," added Ullah.

British Muslims unveiled last year a new forum to speak out against extremist ideologies and propaganda, and to promote principles of tolerance and citizenship.

The forum, set up by fourteen Muslim groups including the Muslim Parliament and the Association of British Muslims, is tasked with commissioning research into why people are attracted to extremist ideologies.

A recent ICM poll has found that the majority of the some two million Muslims in Britain felt they shared responsibility for rooting out extremism.

Legal

The Tower Hamlets Council refused the censor-like tone of the report and vowed to defend freedom of expression all along.

"This principle applies to books on any religion. Should evidence be produced by either the Centre for Social Cohesion or the BBC that the publishers of these books have been successfully prosecuted, Tower Hamlets Council would withdraw them from its shelves," it said in a statement obtained by IOL.

It said even if the authors have been prosecuted, this does not mean that their writings are illegal.

"If publicly available material has not incurred legal penalties then it should not be excluded on moral, political, religious, racial or gender grounds, to satisfy the demands of sectional interest. The legal basis of any restriction on access should always be stated," the council cited a piece of advice provided by the Chartered Institute of Libraries and Information Professionals (CILIP).

The council further said the think-tank is making too much fuss about nothing, noting that books about Islam in the borough's libraries account for less than a quarter of one per cent.

It further said that it is important for the readers to know different schools of thought in Islam.

"We have purchased a wider range of Islamic books to reflect the broad range of views within the Islamic world. To put this into context, of the 580 individual titles on books about Islam," the statement said.

Birmingham and Ealing councils also said they were happy to stock any material that was legal.

Steve Rigby of Blackburn council also said: "Librarians do not act as censors where titles are freely available.

IOL

Last Mod: 07 Eylül 2007, 19:11
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