Banning books won't protect us by Amir Butler Print E-mail
Friday, 11 August 2006


WE have seen two so-called extremist books censored by government authorities and calls for similar material to be banned from shops, libraries and universities.


By banning such books, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock says the "vulnerable and impressionable" will be protected from ideas that might lead them towards terrorism or religious extremism.



Implicit in the banning of such books is that they are so dangerously intoxicating they represent a grave threat to our security. That if people are allowed to read this literature they might somehow metamorphose into terrorists or potential terrorists.

But we should be cautious of banning books that we might consider offensive or disturbing because we are effectively trying to ban ideas.


This can be counter-productive and as can be seen from the two banned texts, what constitutes dangerous literature is highly subjective.


Defence of Muslim Lands and Join the Caravan were written by a Palestinian cleric, Sheik Abdullah Azzam.


They deal with the issue of what the author described as a defensive jihad against a foreign invader.


That foreign invader is not Australia. And it is not the United States. It is the former Soviet Union.


These books, banned by our overly anxious Government, were written to recruit young Muslims to join the American-funded and co-ordinated jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan.


For the most part, the books refer to texts written centuries before with regard to events such as the Mongol sacking of Baghdad.


The problem, it seems, is that the arguments that once served American foreign policy well in the 1980s might today be used to justify resistance to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

While such books might have made a valued contribution to the war against communism in the 1980s, today they are deemed extremist.


But banning comes at some cost. Let us assume that these books contain extremist ideas that form the ideological foundations for contemporary Muslim terrorism.


If we are to properly defeat what is essentially a perverted understanding of Islam, it is not enough to simply argue these ideas are bad because the Government says so.


These ideas must be comprehensively debunked and refuted. And Muslim leaders, scholars and intellectuals have been doing just this for more than 1000 years.


T HIS is the only means by which people will be dissuaded from adopting these ideas. Yet by banning these books the Government is now denying the community an opportunity to do so.


Without access to this material, it is impossible for us to understand the ideas, articles and justifications being used by the terrorists.


If we, as a community, cannot understand the religious arguments being offered for suicide bombings, it is impossible for us to refute them.


If the intent is to stop the spread of extremist ideas, banning books is a misguided approach to the problem.


The offending books and books and articles of far more noxious content are freely available on the internet.


The Government might be able to exorcise these ideas from public bookstores, libraries and universities, but it cannot stop people accessing them online.


People will continue to read them but may interpret the absence of any public response as validating them.


Nobody is disputing that there is hateful, extremist literature available and that people can be misled.


However, as with other bad ideas such as communism, nazism, or virulent anti-Muslim literature, the best way to deal with it is through social pressure and reasoned response.


We do not fear a resurgence of nazism because Mein Kampf is available in libraries.


This is because we understand there is a wealth of material available in the public domain that responds to the arguments of the Nazis and comprehensively demolishes their ideology.


There is no reason to think this cannot continue to be the case with extremist Islamic literature.


Amir Butler is co-convener of the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network

Herald Sun, 11 August 2006


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