July 16, 2014

To ban or not to ban?

Recently I was asked to give my view on the banning and pulping of books by NLB. The books in question are Tango makes Three, The White Swan Express : A story about adoption and Who is in my family ? All about our families. Just yesterday, it was reported in the Straits Times more books by Robbie Harris ( author of Who's in my family) are going the way of the do-do, at least at the premises of Singapore libraries. The books in question are 'It's so amazing', 'It's not the Stork' and and an ironically name title ' It's perfectly normal'.

I had purposely steer clear of this subject due to its sensitivity. Since this question was posed directly to me, I shall just wade into this 'National debate'.

Personally I feel that the parties involved have done things in accordance to their own beliefs. The conservative camp who raised the issue with National Library Board (NLB) did it for his/her values on 'pro family', NLB responded in kind due to 'public ' demands, the opposing voices raised the issue because of their belief in the freedom to choose. In a multi cultural society with ever evolving change in values and principles , there will always be extreme polarizing views. No one action can appease everyone.

As for me I stand on the middle ground. I understand NLB decision to ban the books but I disagree with the decision to pulp the books as it will lead to a whole new set of issue (I.e. Respect writer's works) . At the same breath , I do not think the bonfire should be diverted to the direction of NLB ( since they believe they are doing the job). Not everything has to be in black and white . Instead I view events through my shades of grey.

In honesty, I seriously doubt that the majority would deliberately borrow any 'offensive' books for the children in first place, nor do I think children will be influence by the existence of a few books( save for those truely debasing ones) . There are other questionable books in the adult section that are accessible to the younger ones. By making a big circus out of this, it had not only defeated the action of the conservative by belittling the sensibility of parents at large. Furthermore , the masses would be aware of the book and more would want to read it out of curiosity than for its literal merits.

For those who continue to protest, do understand why the 'offensive' action occurred in the first place. To be clear, it is a public institution taking what it deemed as a 'sensible' stance for the public. It was in essence , just 'doing its job' from its own perspective. That being said, the execution should be handled with more care. Since this private act aimed to safekeep the morality of public had been deemed by the beneficiary as an act of dictation; especially with the follow up decision to pulp or destroy the books.

The bottom line , it should never been an issue in the first place. If the decision to ban the books was meant to aid parents in making an 'acceptable' choice in the identification of a 'family ', it's intention is not appreciated. Trust the parents to do the right thing including educating the child. Do not sweep things under the blanket. In today's connected world, information is but a click away. You can run but there is hardly anywhere you can hide. It is better for one to be educated and understand the differences rather than ignore and suppress the realities of life. Children cannot be sheltered for all their lives. As parents, we cannot hold their hands forever, neither do we appreciate a stranger holding our children's hand without permission , however noble the intention.

And finally , respect the written words. As a depository of books, the library should not pulp the books. To ban it to protect the younger ones is one thing , to pulp the books is akin to a witch hunt, where innocents perish with the guilty. In this case, the books are the 'victims' of a 'summary judgment' that may not be always right. A simple alternative would be to move it to young adults section, which at the recommended age group, one would be able to make their own judgment on the books content. Come to think of it, if there are proper controls in the first place, there will be no hoo-ha today.

Personally I have not read the books and thus could not comment if the contents are appropriate for a bedtime read. As such my judgement on the action will be flawed and would probably be pan by the zealots at both ends. No matter. No one made me judge, jury or executioner and I certainly do not intend to be one today.

On a side note, I do find it amusing that as a result of this episode, the focus is now on penguins. I am sure people will look at penguins differently the next time they visit a zoo. If you had ask a hundred people on the street, at least half would be clueless about the saga, but most would recall a penguin. Interestingly, the fate of the other two books have not been debated as much. In essence, I find that as disturbing as the pulping of the books. Have we made our own 'summary judgements ' on the latter and deemed it unworthy to defend?

My humble 2 cents worth.

Interestingly One of the book Tango makes three created controversy when it was first published in 2005. However instead of it being pulped, it was re-shelved to another section of the library. Perhaps a lesson to be learn for NLB?

 



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