Barbara Jones, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, opened a 9/11 commemoration this afternoon that started taking shape earlier this week as a protest and ended up as a statement to the world that librarians value reading, learning, and tolerance over book-burning, fear, and ignorance. I have never been prouder to be a part of this profession than I was today standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the OIF director and with Gerald Hankerson of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Kiran Ansari of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.
Following a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington that took place on this day nine years ago, Jones made a statement to about 50 people who showed up and to representatives of several media outlets, explaining the purpose of the assembly outside the entrance to ALA headquarters here in Chicago.
“We are here today to celebrate the freedom to read and to raise awareness that this freedom cannot be taken for granted,” she said. “Recently a small group has made international headlines by announcing that they planned to burn the Qur’an as a means to demonize Islam. Using the threat of the destruction of books to wage a war on ideas that some may disagree with is offensive to the American Library Association, which embraces the diversity of our nation as one of our greatest strengths.”
“We are gathered here at the front door of the American Library Association to send a clear message to those who would use book burning as a means to spread fear. Book burning is the most insidious form of censorship, and such an action or threat should not be taken lightly. Today it might be the Qur’an; tomorrow it might be the Bible. Free people read freely.” Quoting the Constitution, Jones added, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, as we have here today.”
Barbara Jones then read chapter 3, verse 103 from the Qur’an.
As one of the organizers of the event, I also addressed the audience, saying, “Knowledge is the gateway to understanding. The American Library Association believes that education trumps ignorance and tolerance trumps fear. I respectfully suggest to those who wish to destroy copies of the Qur’an that they spend the rest of this day reading it instead of burning it. Reading the Qur’an and learning about Islam can lead us all to a better understanding of the world we share as human beings and the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. For every would-be book burner, there are thousands of readers in this country who will speak out for the freedom to read whatever we choose. We urge those who believe in book burning to use your matches to ignite the pilot light of understanding and education. Illuminate your mind.”
I then read chapter 3, verses 2, 3, and 7.
Following readings by Ansari (chapter 49, verse 13; chapter 2, verse 252; chapter 3, verse 45) and Hankerson (chapter 2, verse 177), Jones closed with an invitation to celebrate the freedom to read by participating in Banned Books Week. “This most recent threat of book burning ironically comes at a time when the American Library Association is preparing to celebrate Banned Books Week, September 25 through October 2,” she noted. “Let it galvanize us against fear and ignorance, as thousands of Banned Books Week participants gather here in Chicago and across the nation to read from banned or challenged books and discuss the impact censorship has on civil liberties.
“The libraries of America invite you to exercise your fundamental rights as Americans, Read the Qur’an, read the Bible, read the books that others fear. Make up your own mind. Today, at the end of Rosh Hashana, the end of Ramadan, let us go home and be with our families, let us read in a spirit of peace and goodwill.”
Read the chapters and verses from the Qur’an that were read today on the steps of ALA.
Watch the presentation at American Libraries Focus.