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Muslim Journeys in the Tar Heel State

What’s up with anti-book sentiment in the Carolinas these days? Last week I wrote about a library director who got rid of a book she found yucky and then pretended to explain why while not explaining why. Now there’s a North Carolina congressman who doesn’t want a community college library to get the books from a federal grant it applied for.

The grant is called Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys. It’s an NEH grant in collaboration with the ALA to get 25 books and a few videos about a wide range of Islamic topics into 1,000 libraries. It’s an interesting array of books, from histories and biographies to novels and books about art. Seemed like a well rounded collection, being given to a small library that probably couldn’t afford them otherwise.

So why oppose the grant?

Why he opposes it is hard to say for sure. It’s hard to pin down politicians on anything. Because he’s a politician, I assumed he was lying because I saw his lips moving in the video, but that’s probably not fair, so let’s take a look at what he says.

He wants to claim it’s not because he doesn’t like Islam. He’s fine with Islam, because “[fellow congressman] Keith Ellison from Minnesota, he’s a friend of mine, and he’s a Muslim.” He obviously patterned that after the popular, “I’m not racist. I have a black friend. You wouldn’t know him. He lives in Minnesota.” It sounds pretty persuasive to me!

Maybe he realized that made him sound kind of suspicious to people who aren’t fools, so he came up with a much better argument.

“It is appalling to me that a federal agency like NEH is wasting taxpayer money on programs like this,” said Jones. “It makes zero sense for the U.S. government to borrow money from China in order to promote the culture of Islamic civilizations.”

That’s actually pretty good. That “borrow money from China” line is amusing and accurate. The only problem with it is that it can be applied to just about anything the government does.

For example, Members of the House of Representatives, who apparently have ceased to function as a governing body, still get paid. It makes zero sense to borrow money from China to pay Members of Congress to not get any work done.

For that matter, North Carolina gets $1.08 from the federal government for every dollar it contributes in federal taxes. It hardly makes sense to borrow money from China to give money to North Carolina. They should just support themselves like good hard-working Americans and quit sucking so much from the federal trough.

Anyway, he then undermines his best argument with a complete lie. He says he’d rather see the $150 million spent on other things, like remodeling or building schools in his community, because remodeling a school is a good example of the humanities.

The problem is, the book grant isn’t $150 million. That’s actually the entire NEH budget, including its operational funds. So either he foolishly believed the NEH was spending its entire budget on Muslim books, or else he’s lying to score political points.

Or maybe he just wants to shut down the NEH and spend the money remodeling schools in his district. My vote? No more federal pork for NC. Remodel your own darn schools!

It’s true that for this year $9 million of that $150 million is for “Bridging Cultures” initiatives, but they include many other projects.

So what did Muslim Journeys cost? I couldn’t find a figure, but the books provided cost approximately $627 retail, that’s in total, not each. There were 842 grants awarded of a possible 1,000. Thus, the books alone, provided they were bought at full price, cost $527,934.

Since it’s the government, and government is inefficient (a fact proven by Congress every day), let’s up the total for the book and overhead to an even $600,000. That’s a lot of money, but it’s nowhere near $150 million.

In addition to the funny math involved, he also makes the dubious claim that Christianity is treated unfairly in America, and this grant is another example of it. The majority of Americans and American politicians nationwide are professed Christians, ⅔ of the Supreme Court Justices, Christian churches are tax exempt despite participating in politics, and, um, Christianity is treated unfairly?

Okay. I guess if “treated unfairly” means “not everything is about me” then it is. Otherwise, give us a break, unpersecuted majority religion. Poor babies.

Because of the alleged unfairness, he wants the library to receive an equal number of books on Christianity if it accepts the 25 books on Muslim issues. For fairness and balance.

The kind reader who sent me this apparently checked that community college library catalog for books on Christianity and Islam (assuming a keyword search here). Results: 126 for Christianity, 76 for Islam.

Uh oh. So he can work up the proper moral outrage at the lack of fairness, someone should tell him that even with 25 more books, there are still more books about Christianity than Islam in the library. Thus, he should probably donate yet another 25 books on Islam.

Here are a couple of books he might like, written by “an internationally recognized [by religious right end-of-times wackos] speaker and expert on Biblical prophecy and the Middle East.” Sounds like just the thing to inform the inquiring minds at that college. Based on the comments, most of the readers are crazy people, but crazy people go to college, too. Don’t they deserve books to read?

Then he couldn’t even make his dubious complaint that having a book about something Muslim is inherently “promoting Islamic civilizations.”

Another problem solved.

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Comments

  1. Dicey Grenor says:

    People always want to censor libraries based on their own beliefs. It’s not fair no matter the genre. Someone was soliciting for book donations to a public library system last week. I immediately thought it was a good idea to “aid in promoting literacy”, as they alleged. Turns out, the small print said, “Please, no erotica.” No erotica? Why is that? Is the public library system strictly for kids? No. So why censor DONATIONS based on your personal preference or bias? I didn’t get an answer. Go figure.

    • Strangerspeaks says:

      I can’t speak specifically for your library system, but I can give you the basic reason for our “no erotica” policy for donations. It has little to do with personal bias or censorship.

      As with all things, the real issue is money. While the books might be free, storing and maintaining them still cost the library system money. Romance and erotica readers tend to be voracious in their reading habits, and as such when people have ignored our “no erotica” policy and donated anyway we’ve received 50+ books in a single donation. Also, because of the way erotica is marketed, the general public often can’t even buy the hardback editions, so our 50+ donations are entirely well-loved paperbacks.

      And so while your donations might have been excellent books in pristine condition, most libraries would rather simply say “no erotica” and save the money that would be spent on staff time separating the mountain of abused paperbacks from the keepers for other things. Like new erotica.

      If you have several great books to get off your hands, I would see if your community has a paperback swap. Sometimes these crop up specifically for erotica readers. My library will be starting a paperback exchange this spring. Good luck and thank you for attempting to share your materials, despite the roadblocks!

  2. me says:

    An anti-Islam legislator in a red state? I’m shocked. Saying Christianity is marginalized in the United States is like saying white people have it rough in the good ole USA. It’s lunacy.

    • ChickenPolitics says:

      That’s an egregious simile conflating race with belief, as reactionary as it is presumptive.

    • The Librarina says:

      I think, as it’s comparing one excessively privileged group to another, the simile is just fine.

  3. The Librarian With No Name says:

    We actually appear to have “Islamic Antichrist” on our shelf here. Shockingly, “The Complete Idiot’s Introduction to Islam” is an entirely different book.

  4. Dan Kleinman says:
    • Morse says:

      Dan, that’s a great contrast between a sensible description of the project by a staid organization like the ALA and the rantings of a radical right conspiracy theorist who makes wild allegations without proof and ignores all evidence about a topic that doesn’t completely support his ideology. It does a really good job of showing the sort of echo chamber immune to critical thought that this congressman possibly inhabits, putting his opposition to this grant into a socio-political context that most of us never see because we’re sane.

      Thanks for posting.

    • Joneser says:

      Thanks Morse – now I don’t have to click on the link to see what the supposed contrast is.

  5. The Librarina says:

    But Christianity is SO poorly represented in libraries! After all, the Dewey range for Christian nonfiction only extends from 220 to 290. Compare that to the sprawling Islamic range of 297 to…uh, 297?

    Yeah.

  6. Gail Lancaster says:

    And I thought North Carolina was the progressive Carolina! I applied for and was awarded one of the Muslim Journeys grants for the library I work at, Kern County Library. Three groups have agreed to work with me on the programs required by the grant, the Institute for Religion, Education, and Public Policy at CSUB,the Muslim Students Association at CSUB, and The Shoura Council for Bakersfield. I’ve even read a couple of the books already, one written by the Pulitzer Prize winning historian Anthony Shadid. Another of the books, “Dreams of Trespass, tales of a harem girlhood”, is written by the Muslim feminist Fatima Mernissi, and is a memoir of her childhood and “harem” family life quite contrary to the Western stereotype of Muslim family life. If the library patrons were to read only one of these books, they might find a surprising emotional connection over commonly shared concerns about family, community and hertiage. But will they? Kern County’s political and religious persuasions are decidedly right of right and I wonder just how closed minded the public reception will be when the collection is presented at the main library and 5 branches in a few months? I hope to be surprised.

  7. Midwest SciTech Librarian says:

    “For example, Members of the House of Representatives, who apparently have ceased to function as a governing body, still get paid. It makes zero sense to borrow money from China to pay Members of Congress to not get any work done.”

    It’s funny how members of Congress never see themselves in this light.

    • Joneser says:

      Well, North Carolina is also a “taker” state, but I doubt if they see themselves in that light either.