“Radical” books in east London libraries

BBC NEWS | UK | Radical books in London libraries

A report by the so-called Centre for Social Cohesion, a project of the right-wing think tank Civitas, has found that libraries in Tower Hamlets, the London borough with the densest Muslim population, have Islamic book collections they say are dominated by “radicals” and Wahhabis. The report, entitled Hate on the State and written by James Brandon and Douglas Murray ([1], [2]), can be downloaded in PDF form here.

The evidence in the report contains a fair amount of the usual inflammatory material taken out of context, and includes a diversion into “views on women” (page 27 of the PDF), and the choice of an extract from an obscure 56-page tract on polygamy seems intended to add ridicule to suspicion - as with the attention drawn on page 14 of the PDF to Ibn Baz’s insistence that the world was flat (in contradiction to the generality of Muslim scholarly opinion). They do note that there are 70 works by Hamza Yusuf in the libraries, many of them on loan, suggesting a higher demand for them than for the salafi texts.

The issue raised by the report is an important one, though - who is responsible for stocking the Islamic collections in public libraries? It’s possible that it’s something many Muslims do not think of much; mainstream bookshops like Foyle’s and Borders are not well-stocked with books on Islam (although Foyles was in the 1990s, when Christine Foyle was in charge; Waterstone’s in Gower Street has a better than usual collection) because Muslims tend to go to Islamic bookshops for such books. The “salafi” tracts Brandon and Murray refer to are mostly inexpensive and I would imagine that the average “salafi” already has most of them on his own bookshelf.

It’s highly likely, of course, that many of these books were donated, not bought (which may well be why Croydon public libraries did, the last time I visited, have pro-Qadiani books, something Brandon and Murray noticed was in short supply in Tower Hamlets, given that south London has a large Qadiani presence). Perhaps the libraries need to give some thought to the composition of their collections, rather than putting any donated book on the shelves. They would not need to consult with Douglas Murray to get a more balanced collection - they need only consult with a few local imams. On the other hand, that a few of these books are in public libraries is no bad thing in itself; they are valuable as sources of information on their authors and the tendencies behind them (besides the fact that most of the content of some of them is inoffensive), but they should not dominate, even due to the alternatives being out on loan.

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