An Open Letter to ALA & the Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Roundtable

July 7, 2009

An Open Letter to the American Library Association & the Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Roundtable

We, the undersigned, would like to voice our concerns regarding the inclusion of Robert Spencer in the EMIERT panel “Perspectives on Islam: Beyond the Stereotyping.” As we are sure you know, Mr. Spencer is founder of the web sites “Jihad Watch” and “Dhimmi Watch”, author of such books as The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion; The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades); Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith; Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West; Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t; Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs; coauthor, with Daniel Ali, of Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics; and editor of the essay collection The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: How Islamic Law Treats Non-Muslims.

Even the most cursory overview of Mr. Spencer’s oeuvre makes it clear that in fact he has no place on a panel whose aim is to dispel stereotypes about Islam. Indeed, we, as librarians, scholars, and individuals are deeply concerned by ALA & EMIERT’s choice of Mr. Spencer for such a panel: Mr. Spencer espouses a view of Islam as a system of belief which is essentially violent, undemocratic, totalitarian, exclusive and at war with all non-Muslims. Mr. Spencer in fact goes as far as to equate Islam with fascism. According to him,

The misbegotten term “Islamo-fascism” is wholly redundant: Islam itself is a kind of fascism that achieves its full and proper form only when it assumes the powers of the state.” (www.jihadwatch.com/islam101)

Hence a question arises as to the justification for inviting a speaker who cannot see anything positive about Islamic beliefs, cultures, societies, histories, etc. to talk to an audience in order to dispel negative views of Islam. We are indeed saddened and puzzled by ALA’s choice for their panel, especially in that this appears to be a rare opportunity to educate people about Islam against the backdrop of an overwhelming atmosphere of ignorance, and negative stereotyping (For example a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released right before Obama’s speech to the Muslim world in Cairo shows that only 1 in 5 Americans have a favorable view of Islam & 60 percent of Americans believe the Muslim world is at war with the United States. (http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/06/02/us.muslims.poll/)

We hope that you take our concerns into serious consideration. While we are not advocating censorship or the removal of Mr. Spencer from the panel and we affirm the values espoused in the ALA Library Bill of Rights, we ourselves advocate the choice of panelists who would be able to highlight in a rational and scholarly manner the richness, complexity, and multifaceted elements of Islamic cultures, societies and beliefs if we are to engage in meaningful discussions of Islam that can truly go beyond negative stereotypes. It would be unfortunate for such a distinguished organization as ALA to perpetuate such negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims and for panel attendees to return with those stereotypes to their home libraries and for such stereotypes to negatively affect services to Muslims. However, we look forward hopefully to a respectful and courteous information session on Islam.

Sincerely,

Tara Lannen-Stanton, WorldLinQ Coordinator, New Americans Program, Queens Library

Kaoukab Chebaro, Middle East and Islamic Studies Librarian, Columbia University

Karim Boughida,  Associate University Librarian for Digital Initiatives and Content Management, George Washington University

Dr. Alan Godlas, Professor of Islamic Studies, University of Georgia

Simon Samoeil, Curator, Near East Collection, Yale University Library

Beth Whipple, Research Informationist/Assistant Librarian, Ruth Lilly Medical Library, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis

Kristin Lalonde, Library Assistant, Arab American National Museum

Dr. Ali Hassan, Ohio State University

Dr. Omar Khalidi, Aga Khan Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

*Our opinions are our own and are not the opinons of the institutions or organizations we are associated with.

Please feel free to add your voice of support or dissent in the comments section. Thank you.


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