September 10, 2007

Swatting A Fly With A Sledgehammer

I agree that extremist materials need to be kept out of prison libraries, but this just goes too far.

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.

I understand that there needs to be screening, and I acknowledge that libraries can't accommodate everything. However, consider what the approved list includes -- and does not include.

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. The lists will be expanded in October, and there will be occasional updates, Ms. Billingsley said. Prayer books and other worship materials are not affected by this process.

The lists are broad, but reveal eccentricities and omissions. There are nine titles by C. S. Lewis, for example, and none from the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth and Cardinal Avery Dulles, and the influential pastor Robert H. Schuller.

Mainstream theologians and popular pastors have been excluded. How absurd! It appears as if intellectual laziness is the criteria for inclusion of materials -- I won't say theological bias is at work, other than a bias against weightier works.

And, of course, the problem that is being dealt with has never particularly been one coming from Christian and Jewish works. The hatred and extremism has been imported by "The Religion Of Peace" that attacked us six years ago tomorrow -- but actually dealing with the foul propaganda that advocates hatred and extremism would be seen as an example of bias, so everyone's religious material needs to be restricted lest the ACLU and CAIR file suit.

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Comments on Swatting A Fly With A Sledgehammer

"actually dealing with the foul propaganda that advocates hatred and extremism would be seen as an example of bias"

"Foul propaganda that advocates hatred and extremism" frequently puts itself under the umbrella of Christianity, as with far-right white supremacy groups such as Aryan Nation and other offshoots of Christian Identity, which do a tremendous amount of recruiting among prisoners. Or does propaganda that advocates killing only non-whites not worry you?

|| Posted by PG, September 10, 2007 12:03 PM ||

Except, of course, that isn't where the problem is, because chaplains have carefully screened such stuff out. I challenge you to find examples of that stuff in prison libraries -- I can virtually guarantee you can't.

On the other hand, there is a documented problem with the Muslim works that have made it into those libraries.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, September 10, 2007 03:35 PM ||

So you're saying the chaplains are good at screening out works that advocate white Christians' violence, but are bad at screening out works that advocate Muslims' violence? Is it just a problem that the second group are written in a language the chaplains can't understand? (Though if prisoners are getting sufficient command of Arabic in prison that they can understand religious texts, let's institute that education program to train the CIA.) I'm confused as to how the chaplains are having trouble screening out the Muslim-violence books otherwise.

Incidentally, what is the documentation you're citing for Muslims works having made it into the libraries? The NYT article from which you seem to be getting your info says that last year when the Bureau made a list of specfically banned works, that list included both Christian and Muslim publishers.

"Would it not be simpler, they asked the bureau, to produce a list of forbidden titles? But the bureau did that last year, when it instructed the prisons to remove all materials by nine publishers — some Muslim, some Christian."

Or was that removal of Christian materials also done solely to ensure there were no lawsuits? If so, why not remove the Jewish material to be fully equitable among the Western faiths?

You're not providing any basis for your assertion taht there couldn't *possibly* be any non-Muslim books advocating violence, but that there *must* be Muslim books advocating violence.

|| Posted by PG, September 10, 2007 09:39 PM ||

As i understand the article, the problem is that they are removing materials that “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.”

There are some Christian publishing houses (Jack Chick's, for example) that disparage any theological viewpoint that disagrees with their own. In the case of Jack Chick, that means they publish material that is stridently anti-Catholic. And there is at least one Catholic publisher I can think of, of a strong traditionalist bent, that reprints classic Catholic works that say that all non-Catholics are heretics bound for Hell.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, September 11, 2007 03:18 AM ||

I don't think it's possible to have a monotheistic religion's works in a library without there being some "disparagement" of other religions. The Bible itself "disparages" other beliefs and peoples aside from Judaism/Jews in the Old Testament. If you think that prison administrators are removing Christian material that merely disparages other beliefs, then even a pamphlet noting Pope Benedict's recent revival of the Roman Catholic notion that it is the only true Christian church could not be permitted in a prison. Again, what is your basis for the assumption that Christian materials are removed merely for disparaging other faiths, but Muslim materials are removed for advocating violence?

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