Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Geraldine Brooks Banned and 36 Others

A book by Pulitzer prize winning author and journalist Geraldine Brooks has joined the ranks of books with a religious theme now banned in the country. The latest list of publications banned by the KDN was made public today. The New Straits Times has the list.

Brooks spent six years covering the Middle East for the Wall Street Journal. Nine Parts of Desire (1994) is her first book, and is "an exploration of the daily life of Muslim women and the often contradictory forces that shape their lives". The books was an international best seller and has been translated into 17 languages.

The book has been available in Malaysian bookshops since its publication (I bought it here). So now of course one wonders just what is behind its banning? And more than that, what the further implications for this society are when information and viewpoints and that have been hitherto been considered a perfectly acceptable part of the country's intellectual discourse are now considered "haram".

(I read the book way back and can still remember her harrowing descriptions of genital mutilation ... time to reread it, I suppose.)

Several other English books are on the list. I've put in links where I can find them.

Unveiled At Last - Bob Sjogren

The Last of the Giants - George Otis Jr

Inside the Community: Understanding Muslims Through Their Traditions - Phil Parshall

Now You Can Know What Muslims Believe (Ministries to Muslims, US = 28 page booklet)

Blind Following of Madhhabs - Shaykh Muhammad Sultaan (Al-Hidaayah Publishing, UK);

My Journey from The Christianity of Ahlul Sunnah Wal Jamaah To The Islam Of The Prophet - Saim Bakar

Answering Islam The Crescent in Light of the Cross - Norman L Geisler, Abdul Saleeb

Islam in Context Past, Present and Future - Peter G. Riddell, Peter Cotterell

Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism, The Limit of Postmodern Analysis - Haideh Moghissi

Islam At The Crossroads Understanding Its Beliefs, History and Conflicts - Paul Marshall, Roberta Green, Lela Gilbert

Glad News! God Loves You My Muslims Friend - Samy Tanagho

The Fifth Pillar A Spiritual Pilgrimage - David Zeidan

Heart of the Koran - Lex Hixton

The Life and Times of Muhammad - Sir John Glubb

Inside Islam The Faith, The People And The Conflicts of the World's Fastest Growing Religion - John Miller,

Jesus and Muhammad Profound Differences and Suprising Similarities - Mark A. Gabriel

Nine Parts of Desire The Hidden World of Islamic Women - Geraldine Brooks

Introducing Islam (The Basics) - Kim Whiteheads

Introducing Islam: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism - Dorothy Kavanaugh

Murder in the Name of Allah -Hazrat Mirza, Tahir Ahmad

The New Paths in Muslim Evangelism, Evangelical, Approaches to Contextualization - Phil Parshall

The full list also includes locally published titles in Malay, and others published in Indonesia.


Australian blogger Happy Antipodean comments on this story.

(Thanks Amir letting me know.)


Dean said...

This is terrible news.

It's atrocious. How can Malaysia pretend to be a modern, civilised country when it behaves like this.

You can't separate prosperity and liberality. History shows that those countries where wealth and well-being flourish are those which offer the greatest freedom to their citizens.

Asia wants to take the 'good' bits of Western civilisation without bothering with the 'difficult' bits. It's a doomed endeavour.

The middle classes, as they gain ascendancy over the mullahs, will demand freedom to read whatever they like. Even pornography.

Ted Mahsun said...

Wow. The government must really hate this religion of Islam! Don't they know Islam means "peace"? :p

Anonymous said...

Wai laik det one? Now yanger generasyen kennot komprehen anithink mach less read anythin' eksep dey ken watch Akademi Fantasia, if de country go upside down, how? den everiwan olso stat spelling laik dis.

Sorry for that bit of daftness, but seriously, if they keep banning books, we'll be left with nothing to read (bad enough that Kino shrink-wraps everything these days- so no free reading), now this.

How very frustrating. but before I start thiking that we'll be sliding back towards the the dark ages, there is always the internet. I can always get my 'haram' information online.

erm...hope this will not give them any smart ideas on what to ban next.

nel said...

I don't think we are the only one banning books. Harry Potter books was ban in some western world as well. Some people consider that it promote satanic.

The Eternal Wanderer said...

I'm with Ted... the government do certainly have an affinity for banning books that promotes intellectual discourse on the religion of Islam... even though the country's official religion is supposed to be Islam!

What...are we all suppose to be hush hush and be ignorant about this religion and accept blindly everything that's promoted by the mullahs, muftis and imams?

I, for one, would really like to know as much as I could about my religion and then form my own opinions about it and then consider which ones to believe. I rather not take the words of my elders and pastors word for word for even they could preach a skewed version of a teaching from the Bible.

How do they expect us to grow as intellectual beings when we can't formulate opinions and thoughts and decide on our own? Oh yeah, I'm quite sure the government would be very happy with compliant citizens who hungrily wolves down every bit of info without a second thought.

Well, that ain't gonna happen!

sympozium said...

Ted's right - can't believe that the Malaysian garment hates Islam so much...time to change the state religion to Christianity. No wait, that's just as f*cked-ed up. Let us make offerings at the altar of modern pantheism then: Prada, Gucci, Chanel, Bulgari. At least we'll end up looking and smelling nice!

fahrenheit451moderator said...


The difference between banning in Malaysia and the West is that almost all bannings take place within the context of a school for children or teens. Very few books in Canada are actually banned from the whole society. I find that the US has many challenges to such books as Harry Potter. Some people believe they are protecting their children.

As I understand it, banned in Malaysia means that the books are not available for even the adults to read.

Glenda Larke said...

Talk about confused. Here you throw someone in jail to be brainwashed into a religion simply because her parents were of that faith, even though she was brought up in another faith. You force her to give up her husband, refuse to allow him to visit her, take their toddler away from them both for good measure.When she refuses to accept the brainwashing, you lengthen her term in jail. And you know what? In several other states in Malaysia, what she did is not even considered a crime!!!!

So with that kind of irrational religious thinking prevailing in Malaysia, banning a few books that might make people think is perfectly logical. You don't want a thinking public. They (the public) might see through you to the idiocy of your irrational decisions as you play God with people's lives.

Radical Scope said...

actually ted, it's the opposite. malaysian government is a bit over-protective of the religion (islam). that's why a lot of apostasy cases, because the muslims there has little to no exposure of other religions as well as to how other people view the religion. i'd like to discuss more about this, perhaps a post in my blog on the topic is in order hehe.

bibliobibuli said...

farenheit - useful clarification, thanks for dropping by.

glenda - v. well said. also the lina joy post on your blog.

radical scope - i think ted was being ironic lah.

animah said...

I am enjoying the comments on this post - if anything, I feel assured by the sense of outrage you all feel.
Glenda, I'll check out your postings on Lina Joy later.
If anyone is interested there is a dialogue tonight at the Armada Hotel, PJ, 7 on the Lina Joy decision, 7.30pm. Also 101 East on Al Jazeera features a discussion by a panel (including Farish Noor) tonight at 2230 and tomorrow 1330, 1530 and 2130. It will be available on You Tube some days later.
As for the books, I have some of them. In particular I love the Heart of The Quran by Lex Hinton. It shows an amazingly beautiful intepretation of the Quran. It is a book I used to buy each time I saw it on the shelf and would give it to friends. More on that later.

irene said...

It's so ironic that the government doesn't seem to want us to have a better understanding of Islam. Good grief.

Obiter Dictum said...

there I have added my one and half insignificant bit to the ban issue.

Ted Mahsun said...

Irene, the govt doesn't want anyone to read about other brands of Islam other than the govt sanctioned--and therefore "true"--version of Islam.

Too many versions of one religion makes people think (the govt calls this state of mind "confused"). And when people start thinking, the govt is put into danger. It's just like what Glenda says.

Anonymous said...

"The difference between banning in Malaysia and the West is that almost all bannings take place within the context of a school for children or teens."

Oh, spare me. Banning is banning. You're either for it or against it. When you talk about limits, then it's all relative.


Anonymous said...

Meh. All ado about nothing much, to be honest. I read the book about 4 years ago. The trouble with it is that it's not the best of its kind. And I remember finding some factual inaccuracies.

Plus, books of this ilk remind me of those journals that the English colonial's wife wrote regarding the natives of Malaya. Dunno why I should submit to be defined by other people.

- Ruhayat X

Anonymous said...

"Asia wants to take the 'good' bits of Western civilisation without bothering with the 'difficult' bits."

Western Civilization? To quote Ghandi, when asked about it, "That's a very good idea."


Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, though: are people here outraged because they are being prevented from reading this book (do they have plans to read it if it was not banned?), or is just a matter of principle?

If it's the former, I'll lend you my copy quite happily.


Anonymous said...


Irene, if you want a better understanding of Islam, reading a book written by a non-Muslim -- especially one who is just passing through the lands she's writing about -- might not be such a good place to start.

It's probably the same as wanting to know more about life in Australia by reading a book written by an Aborigine.


sympozium said...

Doesn't matter if a book is inaccurate, patronising, sexist, racist, homo/heterophobic, paedophilic/phobic, necrophilic/phobic, etc etc...there should never be a reason for banning books. Let the reader decide if it's a good book or a bad one. Government should concentrate on running the country- keeping crime rates down, delivering health care to the needy, kicking the illegal immigrants out etc etc.

bibliobibuli said...

animah - thanks. did you go to the meeting? please feel free to post up something here or on the other blog about your thoughts re. the books if you would like to

ruhayat - it wasn't the best of its kind ... ergo we shouldn't get steamed up about its being banned??

i agree with all my heart with what sympozium says.

and why shouldn't an author who spends enough time in a place be able to write with authority about what it's like to live in a particular society? sometimes the outsider my even see it more clearly! you really do sound defensive tonight!

sufian - i think that is a valid distinction farenheit451 makes. look at how much noise is made when any book being banned even by one particular library or school in canada or america and then compare the comparative lack of outcry here when a book is banned entirely. actually who does really care?

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Supporting the right to paedophilia. Interesting. Not even the US does that, judging by the FBI raids, those backward-thinking feds.

Anonymous said...


of course I'm defensive, when people who claim to know so much and write authoritatively about what I believe in keep confusing the basic difference between "Islam" and "Muslims". That's why I have no bones to pick with Karen Armstrong, for example.

(To be fair, it's not just the "outsiders" who are doing it: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, that much-admired liberal champion of enlightened Islam, for example, keeps confusing "cultural traditions" for "Islam".)

It's a bit like me saying George W Bush is a butcher of men, women and children, and then saying that he's driven to do that because of the Christian tenets that he believes in. That is, being a Christian makes it okay for someone to butcher others so freely.

Or that Nietszche leads one to genocide simply because Hitler took his principles to heart and executed them.

If people insist on coming to my house and tell me my walls are senget (when, from where I sit, "your" house ain't a picture of perfection, either), at least get the basics right. That's too much to ask, evidently, in these liberal times where truth is all relative.


Sufian said...

Sorry, earlier post deleted. Too many g. mistakes in that post.


Sure there are noise in them there 'civilized countries'. But that's not my point.

My point is this: fahrenheit451 is defending book banning, and implying that the west's version of book banning is right (and fair and just).

(i) "The difference....the West is that ...bannings take place within the context of a school for children teens.

(2) Very few books in Canada are actually banned from the whole society.

(3) I find that the US has many challenges to such books as Harry Potter. Some people believe they are protecting their children.

(4) As I understand it, banned in Malaysia means that the books are not available for even the adults to read.

Anonymous said...

Dean wrote:
"History shows that those countries where wealth and well-being flourish are those which offer the greatest freedom to their citizens."

Agreed. And history also shows what lengths those magnificent countries are willing / have gone to in order to safeguard their wealth and freedoms, I might add.

- Ruhayat X

bibliobibuli said...

go take a look at farenheit451's website and note that it is about making the world aware of these bannings!! i think you have the wrong end of the stick - he/she is saying "we thought we had it bad, but you guys, oh boy"

Radical Scope said...

well, i had a discussion with one of my friends about religious matter, and the conclusion that i came to is that in a multi-racial country, a government should be neutral towards all religion, and a council made of representatives of the existing religions should be established to manage matters related to religion. this way, any misunderstanding can be avoided, and the public can have a better view of the various religions.

then again, can the representatives keep their head cool during discussions/arguments/debates? our parliament members don't seem to have that hehe.

Radical Scope said...

as for the book banning issue, why don't we just be typical malaysians, and look for the pdf version over the p2p network?

half-joking only

bibliobibuli said...

as for the book banning issue, why don't we just be typical malaysians, and look for the pdf version over the p2p network?

there are usually ways of getting hold of the books ... but really it is the issue that should be fought.

i like your idea about the council but can't see it happening somehow ...

Dean said...

"And history also shows what lengths those magnificent countries are willing / have gone to in order to safeguard their wealth and freedoms, I might add."

I have no idea what you mean. But I sense that you seem to think that Western countries are, and have always been, considered perfect.

The truth is far different.

Intelligent Westerners are constantly looking for ways to improve their societies. The Englightenment project is, as far as I'm concerned, ongoing. (That's just one example. You could say the same for the Romantic project.)

'Life is a journey' is a normative Western trope. The 'narrative' is the dominant Western literary genre: status quo -> conflict (destabilisation) -> resolution. And over and over again.

Radical Scope said...

likewise, i do believe the root of the problem is the unwillingness of the government to actually challenge the concept of islam as we know it. they see it as good enough, and any effort of actually trying to explore and seek understanding of the religion is assumes as a movement to go against the belief. maybe it's because the government is mainly made by people who are not ready to be transparent, and open to new ideas.

i think intellectuals who believes that the books were banned without justifications should just go against the banning, get hold of the books (in whatever form), and have a first-hand view of it (of course i don't mean the touch, sight and smell of the book. the content, approach and validity of the sources used). then they can share their knowledge and justify whether the books should be made public or kept in the deepest bowel of a bookworm.

Anonymous said...


I concur: Western countries are not perfect. They just think they are. That's why they insist on imposing their way on others and rejecting alternative approaches (see US pressure on China, for example). In this sense, they are exactly the same as Muslim fundamentalists (which I reject also), only they come with alcohol and free(r) sex.

What disturbs me, though, is that because they self-brand themselves as authorities of other people's cultures and traditions, even the natives are taken in and submit to this imposed definition of the collective self. That's what being Western educated buys you.

You, for instance, seem to allude that the Enlightenment is the best thing since Adam and everyone in the world should embrace it. I, on the other hand, think the Enlightenment (and its concurrent championing of human-derived reason above all else) has amounted to nothing much, especially when it comes to wisdom.

And surely wisdom must be the ultimate objective of having all this free-flowing of knowledge? As a mere example, what's the point of having all these books running around when all those learned citizens can still tolerate a crazed leader who continues to justify torture and injustice on entire nations?

Also, it bears pointing out that Muslim lands had, once upon a time, something akin to the Enlightenment (although, to the Europeans' credit, no civilisation before them had the self-awareness -- or the hubris -- to name their respective knowledge movements). And they achieved it without having to jettison their core beliefs.

For instance, in the 10th Century, there were more than 200 colleges in the city of Madinah alone. Alas, after centuries of internecine warfare, political persecution, decadence and the odd marauding hordes of crusading Christian armies and Mongols, they lost sight of what made them great and consequently the West suprceded them, using their own technologies and knowledge which the Muslims had provided (just as the Muslims themselves had mined the fruits of earlier civilisations).

It's this arrogance of thinking that because Western civilisation today stands dominant therefore it must be superior that constantly irks me in the books written by people like Geraldine Brooks. There seems to be an unwillingness to accept that good exists in any civilisation, not just in one.

- Ruhayat X

Anonymous said...

Anyway, to get on topic for once (I've been reacting to Geraldine Brooks' book all this while), re: book banning.

Yeah, I have no problems with this as a practice, provided it meets certain criteria. And particularly when it involves books on paedophilia, necrophilia, sexism and racism.

See, it's quite simple, really. People who don't mind those kinds of books on their shelves are people who, even when handed a knife, know they wouldn't kill. It's the other people who can't be trusted with a knife and who are walking out there that I'm worried about.

But oh yes, that's what the Government is there for, isn't it: to mop up after the mess that we've insisted we should have.

- Ruhayat X

Radical Scope said...

i agree with ruhayat. it would be best that rather than having the books being banned, let certain people have access to them (like guns). if it's a book on religion, give access to theologian. if it's the book of the book of the dead, let the followers of mona fandey have access to it (nope, we definitely can't have that, can we). basically, restrict the access to the books to selected group of people.

then again, there's always a risk of "pagar makan padi" here. what do you guys think? any better solution other than to ban/cut off the access to the books.

bibliobibuli said...

radical scope - there is no excuse for book banning. ever. period.

if you believe a book wrong, counter the arguments intellectually and reasonably.

one has to stand by one's belief. and i will fight that corner as much as i am able to.

that's what the Government is there for, isn't it: to mop up after the mess that we've insisted we should have. ruhayat - that sounds so unnecessarily pessimistic! are you okay?

as for enlightenment vs. the alternative. no society is perfect but i'd rather live in a society where freedom of thought is permitted. although i love this country, it is getting to look less like the place i'd like to make my life in by the day with restrictions on religious and intellectual freedom.

Anonymous said...


that wasn't pessimism, that was sarcasm. I wonder if some people actually know what it is they are wishing for.

Seriously, you wouldn't mind seeing books describing the joys of paedophilia (with pictures) filling the shelves of MPH?

And necrophilia... Dude, someone needs to get a life (I'm not talking about you, Sharon).


Anonymous said...

As for Enlightenment vs alternatives, it's horses for courses, for one. There's a heckuva lot more restrictions here for me as a Muslim but funnily enough, I don't feel all that constrained to do and think as I wish.

In fact, I feel quite free, in my own little pool. Just as I felt gorgeously free in the 6 years that I was in the UK, despite getting pelted once with half-eaten sarnies accompanied by cries of "Chinky go home" (wot? Skipped during geography, didye?) and then another time with an egg (which missed), having piss-filled beer bottles thrown at my dorm wall and half-legible slurs getting scrawled on a poster that I made for our Malaysian Night show (one thing I can say about racists, most of them really need grammar lessons).

6 years. The same number of years that Geraldine Brooks spent in the Middle East, as it so happens. Lived with an English family for a whole year, went out with an English girl for a bit, studied the English language and culture as per my course requirement in a great deal more depth than perhaps 70% of the English populace, was more aware of their mannerisms, body language, nuances etc also as part of that training... and I still don't think of myself as an authority enough to write a book about the English way of life.

But of course, I feel free in both environments simply because people ignore me. There's no freedom like the freedom of one who considers himself ignored.


Radical Scope said...

hmm. now that you mentioned about it, most of the western writers who wrote books about islam spent their time with a middle-eastern muslim family. so their view of islam is more of a view of the religion in a middle-eastern culture (if you have been mixing around with middle-eastern people, you'd know the difference). they should have spend 6 years with a muslim family from each continents. how long is that actually?

and rxz, i wouldn't mind seeing a book on loli-pedo on MPH shelves; i've been curious about those pedophiles for ages! if i have the funds, i would love to do a research on them (perhaps it's going to be my book that is going to be on the shelve ;p).

Anonymous said...

Oh, by the way, Dean has comment moderation enabled on his blog. Mild form of censorship or has he simply gotten tired of deleting spam?


Anonymous said...

Good question RXZ. I think you lose the moral authority to rant about censorship the moment you become a censor. If you don't like deletring spam, you can use captcha like Bib does.