Ministry asks NLB to review its book vetting process

One of the photos in the books, which depicts a group of militants with incendiary devices strapped to their bodies surrounds a child.
One of the photos in the books, which depicts a group of militants with incendiary devices strapped to their bodies surrounds a child.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Series that seems to legitimise use of violence taken off shelves after member of public shares photos of books

The National Library Board (NLB) has been asked by the Government to review the way it checks for divisive and sensitive materials, a day after it removed a controversial series available for loan to young people.

Copies of the Malay-language series - Agama, Tamadun Dan Arkeologi (Religion, Civilisation And Archaeology) - had been available in libraries since 2013, and placed in the junior non-fiction section.

Published in Malaysia by Penerbit Sinar Cemerlang, the series purported to give "factual" insights into several civilisations and religions, including Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Yet, it presented Jews in a negative light and seemed to legitimise the use of violence in the name of Islam.

One book in the series said a third world war would start in the Middle East between Israel and neighbouring Arab states. Another book had a picture of a Muslim boy, wearing what seemed to be a suicide vest, surrounded by masked adults.

The books came to light after a Twitter user here shared photos of them at the weekend.

The NLB had told The New Paper it would withdraw the books immediately, and "call upon the Library Consultative Panel to review the series". The independent panel is made up of 18 members and chaired by Mrs Mildred Tan, managing director at Ernst & Young Advisory.

 

At the same time, the NLB said it could not vet all titles thoroughly given its large collection, and "hence, we take seriously readers' feedback on titles added to our collections".

Yesterday, the Ministry of Communications and Information told The Straits Times that it has asked the NLB "to review its vetting process for potentially divisive and sensitive materials". "We thank the member of the public and The New Paper for raising this particular series to our attention," it said.

The ministry spokesman added: "As a multi-cultural and multiracial society, we do not condone materials that denigrate any racial or religious groups, or which promote intolerance or violence. The cultural and racial harmony that our people enjoy today has taken us generations to build. This must not be taken for granted."

The Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) said it was worrying that such material was easily accessible to the public, especially children. AMP chairman Abdul Hamid Abdullah said: "Such books could potentially sow seeds of discord and prejudice among readers."

Ustaz Yusri Yusoff, executive director of the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association, urged the public to come forward if they find "materials that can affect our social fabric and inter-faith relations".

Singapore Chief Rabbi Mordechai Abergel said the books' presence in libraries was of "much concern" to the Jewish community, and was glad they had been taken off shelves.

The books had earlier also been reported to the authorities in Malaysia over their content.

The publisher did not respond to calls.

In explaining how the series ended up on its shelves, the NLB said librarians use tools such as pre-publication information from publishers and vendors and reviews from library journals to select materials. The series was selected based on the publisher's description of it as a "factual book series tracing the development of civilisations, archaeology and religions".

• Additional reporting by Ng Jun Sen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2017, with the headline 'Ministry asks NLB to review its book vetting process'. Print Edition | Subscribe