NLB reviewing 130 titles by publisher of withdrawn book

Not possible for NLB to vet all books carefully, so readers' alerts taken seriously: Yaacob

The series of Malay language books called Agama, Tamadun Dan Arkeologi has been withdrawn by the National Library Board after concerns about their contents were raised.
The series of Malay language books called Agama, Tamadun Dan Arkeologi has been withdrawn by the National Library Board after concerns about their contents were raised. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

The National Library Board (NLB) has said that it is reviewing another 130 titles by the Malaysian publisher which produced a series on history and religion which contained anti-Semitic rhetoric and seemed to glorify violence in the name of Islam.

On Thursday, the NLB was asked by the Government to review its vetting process for sensitive and divisive content after concerns were raised on how copies of the Agama, Tamadun Dan Arkeologi (Religion, Civilisation And Archaeology) series had been available in the junior non-fiction section in libraries since 2013.

The Malay-language series was published in Malaysia by a publishing firm called Sinar Cemerlang.

NLB said yesterday that it has "130 other titles from the same publisher in our libraries".

It added: "We are conducting a review of all these titles. They will not be available for loan while the review is under way. We are reviewing other titles by the publisher to ensure that they are suitable for our readers."

Earlier yesterday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said it is "not possible" for the authorities to go through every piece of reading material, so even if the Government imposes guidelines, it is "difficult to enforce".


But he said the Government and the NLB will learn from the episode.

The controversial series came to light after a Twitter user in Singapore shared photos of the series last weekend.

One book in the series had a picture of a Muslim boy wearing what seemed to be a suicide vest, surrounded by masked adults. The caption said Muslims had a duty to defend their country.

The NLB had told The New Paper earlier this week 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.

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

Speaking on the sidelines of a reading event yesterday, Dr Yaacob said that he would leave the NLB to do the work it needed to do with its panel of experts, and that the Government "can tighten in some areas".

Asked if the NLB should have been more stringent about filtering what is acceptable for the public and whether all books should be made available to everyone, Dr Yaacob said that "there are some lines we need to draw".

"Some books that undermine national security and racial and religious harmony, we have to take (those) off. Because if you provoke one group to hate another group, then that is not something we would want to promote in Singapore," he said.

"So there should be some lines that we should not cross. Beyond that, I think that the boundaries are very wide for Singaporeans to decide for themselves."

• Additional reporting by Ng Wei Kai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'NLB reviewing 130 titles by publisher of withdrawn book'. Print Edition | Subscribe