’Potentially Incendiary’ At The Brooklyn Public Library

Roger Kimball, The New Criterion, August 2, 2006

This spring, in my capacity as publisher of Encounter Books, I had the honor to publish Melanie Phillips’s book Londonistan, a brilliant, but also harrowing, look at the ways in which radical Islam has established itself in England. The book carries endorsements from such well respected experts on the subject as Natan Sharansky, Daniel Pipes, and Steve Emerson. It has been widely reviewed here and in England, to admiring praise from those (like me) who regard radical Islam as a terrible threat, and to sometime hysterical consternation from those who believe that Islam is a religion of peace or who at least cannot bear the spectacle of anyone actually defending Western civilization (that’s capitalist, Christian civilization) against its enemies. Last week it was the Communists, this week it is the mullahs: the bottom line is that in the battle of Us against Them, We are always to blame.

For those in doubt about how deeply ingrained the latter sentiment is in the institutional life of our culture, I offer the following communication from Wayne Roylance, Adult Selection Coordinator at Brooklyn Public Library in New York. A reader had asked that the Library purchase Londonistan. He received this reply from Mr. Roylance:

Thank you for your question. Normally, the library doesn’t add a nonfiction title to the collection (and especially one that is potentially incendiary) unless a review from a trusted source (professional journals) can be found. Unfortunately, we have not found such a review for Londonistan. Therefore, at this time, the library will not be adding Londonistan to the collection.

Very high-minded of you, Wayne, to forbear adding “potentially incendiary” stuff to the pristine shelves of the Brooklyn Public Library. But wait, what counts as “potentially incendiary” to the guardians of the public purse at The New York Public Library? We know that Londonsitan counts, never mind that the historian Daniel Johnson, writing in Commentary, said that “Anyone who cares about Britain, or indeed about the survival of Judeo-Christian civilization, should read Melanie Phillips’s brave and disturbing book.” But what about some of the Library’s other recent acquisitions? Consider Empire by the Duke University professor Michael Hardt and the Italian terrorist Antonio Negri. Apparently that book is not “potentially incendiary,” though it argues that “militancy today is a positive, constructive, and innovative activity.” Or how about Al Franken’s book Lies (and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them): A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right? Brooklyn readers can find that little bijou on the shelves of their public library. They can also find, to move from the political to the pornographic, Toni Bentley’s paean to sodomy, The Surrender: An Erotic Memoir. That, too, is available to readers at the Brooklyn Library. (Nor does Bentley’s book represent an aberration for Brooklyn’s Selection Committee: readers can also edify themselves with Ron Jeremy: the long hard life of a porn star or, moving back to politics, From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map by the late Edward W. Said, the left-wing Columbia professor PLO sympathizer.)

According to the Brooklyn Public Library’s website, “Contemporary materials representing various points of view . . . including materials that reflect current conditions, trends, and controversies” are among those that the Library seeks to acquire–except, as Mr. Roylance has demonstrated, “contemporary materials” that might be regarded as “potentially incendiary” by the Left.

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