In 2011 Jonesboro, Arkansas, concerned adults asked that the critically acclaimed novel The Kite Runner be removed from the high school curriculum of the Valley View School District. Why? Because, they argued, the book “may cause some students to question the validity of our ‘one nation under God’” through its “presentation of Islam as a viable and genuine religion.”
Challenges like this one – the first step in officially banning a book from a school or library – are tracked carefully by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). The OIF’s numbers show that, between 1990 and 2009, 688 challenges were issued to books on the basis of their so-called “religious viewpoint;” challenges citing concerns that books espoused the “occult/Satanism,” which the OIF lists separately from “religious viewpoint” challenges, totaled 1,044 during this same time. These challenges have helped scholars illuminate concerns about the supposed “occult” nature of youth media – particularly as related to the “Satanic panic” and the attempted banning of the Harry Potter series.
Less considered, however, has been the capacity for official book challenges in schools and libraries to provide clear insight into some Americans’ perceptions of the religious other and the place of religion in the public square – especially when, as in Jonesboro, the title in question features Muslim characters or themes.