Sunday, July 06, 2008

Answering Peter McDonald

Safe Libraries has the text of a message posted to the ALA Council listserv by radical leftist ALA Councilor Peter McDonald. I would be remiss if I signed off without offering my reactions to Mr. McDonald's comments. Three paragraphs in particular stand out. I'll address them one at a time:

My sympathies go out to you my fellow Councilors. We have had to deal now 10 interminable years with Mr. Kent's endless vitriol and misinformation campaigns, indeed virtually since the day he was himself deported from Cuba for espionage when it was clear to Cuban authorities that he was in their country as nothing more than an agent provocateur. Some reports say he was in cahoots then (as now?) with Miami rightwing anti-Castro elements (among other fellow travelers, easily gleaned from net accessible sources, for example: but don't stop there, there's dozens of similar sites.)

So the allegations of the Cuban government and a pro-Castro hit piece from a radical left web site are enough to prove that Robert Kent is an evil anti-Castro conspirator? So much for critical thinking and "questioning authority". BTW, Ms. Diana Barahona, author of said hit piece, has also accused Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) of being a tool of the U.S. government because it has condemned the Castro regime's treatment of independent media. Among her sources for this claim are French "researcher" Thierry Meyssan, best known for arguing that the Pentagon was not actually hit by a plane on 9/11/. She also ignores the fact that RSF has, among other stands, called for the closure of the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. If she is the source that Mr. McDonald chooses to highlight, I'd hate to see what the "dozens of similar sites" look like.

Now, on to paragraph two:

As has been said a hundred times, there is not a shred of evidence that any of these Cubans were jailed because they were "librarians", still less that they were even 'librarians' at all. They were by the whole average citizens journalists, teachers, laborers, who were arrested, tried and convicted for knowingly subverting Cuban law repeatedly -- for one, distributing U.S. funded anti-government materials (among other crimes), not from 'libraries' but from their living rooms and store fronts.

It's really odd. Librarians like to inflate our sense of self-importance by claiming to be guardians of intellectual freedom, the last thing standing between our collections and howling mobs of book burners. Yet, when it comes to people who find themselves in exactly that situation, the argument is made that none of that matters if the individuals in question are not professional librarians. Does maintaining a collection of otherwise forbidden books and making it available to users mean nothing if the material is not cataloged in accord with AACR2?

Andrei Codrescu, who unlike McDonald grew up in a totalitarian society, has no problem calling Cuba's independent librarians exactly that. Growing up in Romania, Codrescu benefited from just such a private collection. As he puts it, "the man who lent us his books was a librarian, was our librarian".

Finally, I am intrigued by McDonald's seeming approval of the Cuban regime protecting its people from subversive U.S. government propaganda such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I will grant the terms of imprisonment were harsh, but hey! America has the largest (corporate-run) prison population in the world not only in real numbers of the incarcerated (over a million+ citizens behind bars at last count), but in average terms of incarceration (10-15yrs), and as a percentage of general population in the top echelon. And we have hundreds (not a handful as in Cuba) of U.S.-held prisoners under solitary lock-up by our military who have never even been charged with a crime, let alone tried and convicted. Where's Mr. Kent's outrage on this travesty where, if we're talking library-related, the prisoners' Korans have been routinely desecrated" by soldiers and where they have NO freedom to read?

Yeah, it sucks to be them, but hey! America has lots of people in prison, too. So that makes it okay. What Mr. McDonald doesn't say is how many of those held in America's "corporate-run" prisons are there because they distributed "anti-government materials". This being America, the answer is zero.

A Guantanamo Bay reference was predictable if not mandatory. Setting the record straight on that facility requires far more time than I have right now, so I will confine my response to the "library-related" aspect. To begin with, a May 2005 investigation found that Korans had been "routinely desecrated" a grand total of five times at Guantanamo by U.S. personnel. Only three of these incidents were deliberate. By contrast, detainees desecrated their own Korans on 15 occasions.

Guantanamo also has a library that has proven very popular with the detainees. This August 2006 article quotes the assistant librarian as saying that the collection includes "books by some of the bigger religious philosophers and Imams in the Middle East, because that's what they want to read." Speaking of freedom to read, the detainees like to show their commitment to this principle by sometimes returning "the books they read with pictures and photos of women blacked out".

In his recent American Libraries article (PDF) on the Cuban library issue, Mr. McDonald was careful to avoid defending the Castro regime too closely. As shown above, he is a little bit more open in his e-mail comments. Mr. McDonald well and truly lets his inner Castroite loose, however, in this follow up message forwarded by Stephen Denney:

"I request as someone who feels that I have been attacked unjustly on
this issue by this Cuba cabal (among many other Councilors) that ALA
leadership address this issue at Council III Wednesday July 2nd 2008
with a "statement of concern" from the dais;


"And that my fellow Councilors use every outlet available to them to
publicize these vicious and abusive and potentially illegal tactics to
their respective chapters, divisions, roundtables, and local interest lists.."

I find it interesting that someone seemingly so blase about people being imprisoned for distributing forbidden literature could in turn be so upset about being "attacked unjustly". Yes, the ever dangerous "Cuba cabal" that has been unable for five years to get council to pass a decent resolution on this issue. There is something vaguely Orwellian about Mr. McDonald's appeal; it is a thoroughly transparent effort to try to end debate on the Cuba issue by having ALA Council delegitimize and marginalize his opponents. It is an interesting window on Mr. McDonald's true attitude towards intellectual freedom.


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