Singapore

NLB, Government learning from removal of controversial book series: Yaacob

"We are glad a member of the public alerted us, and we have done our part, and we will continue to review our processes."

Scrutinising every piece of reading material on public library shelves would be "impossible" given the volume of books involved, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday.

But he said the National Library Board (NLB) and the Government would learn from the episode involving the removal of a controversial series of Malay language books that was available for loan to young people.

"We can never be 100 per cent foolproof, but we learn from each experience," Dr Yaacob told reporters on the sidelines of the launch of Read! Fest, a festival to promote reading. (See report below.)

"We are glad a member of the public alerted us, and we have done our part, and we will continue to review our processes."

Last Sunday, The New Paper saw some posts on Twitter about the Malay-language series Agama, Tamadun Dan Arkeologi (Religion, Civilisation And Archaeology) placed in the junior non-fiction section of Bishan Public Library and looked into it.

Published in Malaysia by Penerbit Sinar Cemerlang, the series presented some religions in a negative light and seemed to legitimise the use of violence in the name of Islam.

One of the books has, on its cover, children wearing yarmulkes and smiling as they hold machine guns.

In the book, there are declarations of how the third world war will "start in the Middle East between Israel and the neighbouring countries, which are the Arab states".

Following TNP's queries, NLB said it would remove the 300 copies of the books on its shelves "immediately".

Noting that NLB had taken "decisive steps" in withdrawing the books, Dr Yaacob indicated that he would leave it to the board's Library Consultative Panel to decide on the matter and review processes.

"... even if you impose the guidelines, it is difficult to enforce. It is not possible, it is just the volume of material that comes into the library, be it here or anywhere else, it is just impossible," he said.

"That is why we have to rely on people who can give us the information, give us the guidance and we will... improve as we go along."

TNP understands that officials from Malaysia's Ministry of Home Affairs visited the office of the publisher on Thursday. Responding to TNP queries, a ministry official said the books will have their contents examined.

Mr Yusri Hajudin, from the ministry's Publication and Quranic Texts Division, said: "For now, the books involved still have the status of not containing any offensive material."

Dr Yaacob reiterated that the incident was a "learning experience" and did not undermine Singapore's racial or religious harmony.

"I do not think this will undermine whatever we have achieved over the last 50 years," he said.

"The more important thing is that it was brought to our attention early, and therefore we were able to act decisively."

tnp@sph.com.sg

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