Muslim bookstores: Intolerance or incompetence?

Oh, my – how did that get there?

&uotAbout two years ago, I walked into a large bookstore, which shall remain unnamed, that had a wide variety of Islamic books in Arabic and English. The owner had gone through some trouble to make displays of book collections around various topics. One such collection had a book at the top that caught my eye, mainly because it had the out-of-place visage of Adolph Hitler on the cover. A closer look revealed that it was an Arabic translation of “Mein Kampf”. I confronted the owner and asked why such a book was on display. An embarassed look followed, then silence.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated case. A few of us went through various online Islamic booksellers looking for similar books that had questionable content (racism, violence, etc.). While most bookstores passed our little test with flying colors, one did not. This store not only carried one such offending book, but it ws listed in their ;Top Five” list. (The good thing is that, when confronted by us, they removed it from their catalog immediately.)

Now we hear news from Australia that some irresponsible booksellers were selling books with racist views and one promoted terrorism – complete with an endorsement by Osama bin Laden on the cover. And a small Islamic bookstore in Leeds where two of the London bombers were known to have met has been found selling jihadi videotapes. Especially in the wake of the recent attacks in London, these kinds of materials in Muslim-owned bookstores is more than just irresponsible – it perpetuates the views and violence we all claim to oppose and leaves us open to accusations of intolerance once the media finds us red-handed with these books in our hands.

So why are books like these offered for sale? Some, like the bookstore in Leeds, really want to promote violent jihad. Most, however, I found to be simply ignorant of the items they are carrying. While the typical American bookstore is staffed with people steeped in the literary arts, I found that most Muslim bookstores are run by businesspeople rather than bibliophiles. Unfortunately, they tend to place orders for a variety of books from distributors without being selective, and stock their shelves with whatever shows up. This can result in offensive books being put on display by otherwise well-intentioned people. The good news is that having a community with bad businesspeople, however unfortunate, is preferable to having a community with people who support terrorism. The bad news is that there’s still a lot of trash to clean up.

Our community has two choices – we can let organizations like Freedom House rummage through our bookstores and mosques, holding up the most incriminating material they can find as evidence of “Muslim hatred”, or we can be informed consumers that police our own institutions and insure that racist or violent material doesn’t pollute our community.

Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.


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