Rants and raves about stuff happening in and around my life in Singapore

Sunday, July 13, 2014

NLB Refuses to Tango

The National Library Board (NLB) has come under intense fire from netizens after it decided to pull three children’s book titles off its shelves.

The books were removed after the board received complaints from a member of the public stating that the titles "And Tango Makes Three", "The White Swan Express" and "All About Our Families" were not in line with traditional family values. The first book depicts two male penguins acting like a couple raising a young penguin, the second talks about a single mother, adoption and a lesbian couple while the third features various family structures.

The NLB removed the books citing that they did not align to it's "Pro-Family" stance and despite petitions and feedback from local authors, who have since opted out of a number of NLB events in protest, as well as a wave of online criticism from citizens the NLB made the decision that it would  proceed to pulp the books in question.

Of course the "Pro-Family" stance is one that is being pursued by the Government in Singapore in an attempt to raise the declining birth rate. This on the whole makes the reaction of the NLB even more troubling because it's not policy they are reacting too (which could almost be forgiving since no one could blame them if that was the case). In fact the books in question are not even banned in Singapore and are available for purchases through a number of outlets over the counter already which makes the NLB’s reaction even more extreme not to mention unreasonable.

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim is reported to have written on his Facebook that "NLB’s decision was guided by community norms. Public libraries serve the community and it is right that they give consideration to community norms. The prevailing norms, which the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans accept, support teaching children about conventional families, but not about alternative, non-traditional families, which is what the books in question are about. This approach is shared between all public agencies dealing with the education and care of young Singaporeans"

In my view while one cannot argue community norms, it is the people in power, the government, that should be ensuring that those same community norms cover all of the community and that there is no discrimination on any basis. For any member of the government or indeed any public figure to hide behind the phrase “community norm” is no longer acceptable. The term "Pro-Family" could be a very positive and powerful statement when it's all inclusive. And if we intend to continue to build a society based on "Equality" then it needs to be.

Doing nothing leaves the door’s open for those radical elements of society who can use those same unchallenged “community norms” to push their own agenda. It's no secret that those same camps are extremely anti-homosexual and have actively been pursing an agenda of discrimination continually striving to have their views (which are based on religious belief) accepted as the only community norm. They succeeded in having these books removed from the NLB, and as disturbing as the NLB removing and pulping the books in question may be, that is even more terrifying.

We are suppose to live in a secular state with a separation of state and religion but it seems to me lately that the lines are getting very blurred.

In the meantime here's one of the authors responses to recent events.

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim has instructed the National Library Board to place controversial children's books in its adult section, instead of pulping them. He went on to state that "The decision on what books children can or cannot read remains with their parents. Parents who wish to borrow these books to read with their children will have the option to do so." This is an excellent result and what the NLB should have done to begin with. Thank you minister for stepping in and doing what was right.