Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Censorship in UKM?

I learned about Shamsiah Fakeh's memoir when I was at the IIU seminar recently and Prof. Dr Ruzy Suliza Hashim was talking about the paucity of memoirs written by Malaysian women. She referred to Shamsiah Fakeh's book as one very important example: the author was former head of Communist Party Malaysia's Women's Wing. Dr. Ruzy mentioned that the book was now banned, and of course I was curious to hear another Malaysian banned book story.

But this time there's a twist - it isn't the KKDN (Ministry of Home Affairs) that's the villain of the piece, it was the Minister of Information who ordered the publisher UKM (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) to withdraw the book from sale.

I realised when I started to read about the book online that I'm coming to the story rather late, but I'm unapologetic because I'm fathoming this banned book business out for myself and laying out all the pieces to try to see the whole story.

What is clear from recent bannings of works by and about prominent communists (recent examples being Amir Muhammad's film and the book about the Kathigasu family which still remains in KKDN limbo) is that alternative views of The Emergency are not permitted to become part of the official historical discourse.

This article from 2005 in online newspaper Malaysiakini (you need to be a subscriber to access the piece in its entirety) mentions:
... hostile critics who mounted a media campaign in the Umno-controlled Utusan Malaysia ...
So the deciders of what can and cannot be read or seen appear to be the Malay Language press, which then puts pressure on the government. In Amir's case, of course, it was Berita Harian who stirred the whole controversy up after his film had already been given the green light.

The Malaysiankini article continues:
Nowadays, it has become a fashion for many Malaysians to read what the conservative or even reactionary elites do not like to read or would not like them to read. It augurs well for the opening up of the Malaysian minds and challenging the secular monopoly of truth, including holy ones, by Utusan Malaysia, Berita Harian, RTM and some of their fellow scribes in the universities and think-tanks.

However, the memoirs are published only in the context of a series of other memoirs, including those of the very anti-communist Ghazali Shafie, a former Malaysian foreign as well as home minister in the 1970s and also a former British agent of special operations with the anti-Japanese Force 136.

Indeed, whether one finally agrees with Ibrahim Chik or Shamsiah Fakeh or not, the mere publications of their memoirs are indeed intellectually courageous acts which must be commended by all right-minded persons. The question that remains now is whether there would be rational and fair-minded public discussions on the contents of the memoirs.
Apparently not.

The UKM authorities were apparently pressured to withdraw sales of Shamsiah Fakeh's book. (Wouldn't one expect a bit more guardianship of knowledge from a university publisher??)

Meanwhile pirated copies of the book are circulating.

It's a tough job to keep a good book down ... and intellectuals in the dark.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I think the title "courageous" should be applied to people who actually support the government. I've been threatened with extinction for posting views of that nature -- it's lucky they couldn't find my name, or who knows what they could have done. What exactly is "intellectually counrageous" anyway ? MK (and others) are just doing what will sell. That stuff sells pretty much anywhere in the world -- Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities" makes my case better than I can. I think they should just quit implying that they're not doing this for money.

I've been more than rational and fair-minded with MK, they've never replied to my queries. Maybe to
them rational and fair-minded means "agrees with them".

Just because it's controversial and/or banned doesn't automatically make it a good book. How do you know it's a good book if you haven't read it ?

xpyre said...

Correspondingly, just because a book is banned and/or controversial doesn't automatically make it a bad book. The book is only bad, it appears, to a coterie of conservatives who believe themselves the guardians of what Malaysians should or should not read.

If Shamsiah Kader's book is so bad, why should anyone fear allowing people to come to that conclusion themselves?

xpyre said...

ack. that should be "Shamsiah Fakeh"...

Anonymous said...

How do you qualify to be a conservative and/or reactionary elite ? and why does bad writing sell so well in this country ? Show this to an editor in any reasonably developed country (any one you care to name) and 1 will get you 10 that they will be laughing themselves silly. This is the type of writing you generally see on the net, long on hyperbole and short of fact. Can you imagine ANYONE in the NYT or Times of London writing "reactionary elite" or "monopoly of truth" ? :)