Florida Parents Try to Ban Books With Characters That Pray to Non-Christian God
It’s a story that might remind you of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s fight against the Taliban to ensure girls in her native Pakistan have the same opportunity to learn as their male peers. But that hasn’t stopped a group of parents in Duval County, Florida, from petitioning their local board of education to ban Nasreen’s Secret School, a children’s book that tells the tale of a young Afghani student who eludes the militant terror group to attend a covert school for girls.
That’s not the only volume the outraged moms and dads in the greater Jacksonville area want axed from the district curriculum. They’re also out to remove The Librarian of Basra, an elementary text inspired by the true story of Alia Muhammad Baker, a woman who saved 30,000 books from being destroyed as British troops bombed Basra, Iraq, in 2003.
Though they complain that the books, both by author Jeannette Winter, are too violent for school-age kids, the angry Florida parents seem to mostly be motivated by religious prejudice.
Last week, area resident Mary Reilly wrote to Duval County School Board member Scott Shine, complaining that the books are “promoting prayer to someone other than God,” according to Florida Politics. “If we cannot promote praying to God and Jesus Christ in our public schools, how can we promote reading the Koran and praying to Muhammad?” wrote Reilly, demonstrating a misunderstanding of the establishment clause of the First Amendment, the meaning of the word “promote,” and the Islamic faith, whose followers do not pray to the prophet Muhammad. On Saturday, The Florida Times-Union reported that a post was being shared on Facebook among members of the community urging parents and church groups to formally petition the school board to get the books removed.
So, Why Should You Care? Banning books to prevent outside ideas from being shared seems right up the Taliban’s alley, and the censorship attempt reflects the discrimination many Muslims face in the United States. According to a Pew Research Center survey, half of Muslim Americans say Islamophobic discrimination is one of the most critical issues facing their community. Indeed, 55 percent of respondents in a recent YouGov and Huffington Post poll said they have a negative view of Islam.
“They know very well that they can’t protect their children from any depiction of violence,” Christine Jenkins, a professor at the University of Illinois who specializes in children’s literature and censorship, said to The Guardian about the Florida parents’ campaign. “And this book is such a thoughtful perspective of wartime and what wartime does to a city and the various things you would think when you’re considering—what’s the impact of war?”
In our ethnically and culturally diverse world, having kids read about brave girls and women from varied backgrounds who overcome obstacles to pursue and preserve knowledge seems like a no-brainer. To that end, it seems the school board isn’t caving to the Islamophobia in the community.
“I don’t have the actual text, but from what I have read, [the books are] very pro-woman, pro-learning, pro–freedom of expression. Sounds downright ‘American,’ if you ask me,” Shine told Florida Politics.