Sunday, June 17, 2007

Karen Armstrong ... Recorded Elsewhere

Sick at heart I am (still) that I had to miss Karen Armstrong's talk on Saturday. Vision they say is always 20/20 in retrospect, and I realised that although I felt I had to keep a promise I'd made earlier, in actual fact MPH could have managed perfectly well without me - though that event was also useful and I will write about it later. (Note to self: sometimes own needs must be put first and stop saying yes to everyone!)

Anyway, the next best thing to being there is a trawl through blogs to see what those who did go have written. And everyone who is anyone was there. ('Cept me.)

According to Dina it was a pretty mixed bunch that turned up:
... young people, old people, professionals, locals, foreigners, ambassadors and ceos, writers, priests, men in kopiahs, nuns, women in hijabs, it was a great crowd. i've been to a few conferences and usually i'd be yawning away because everyone's so quiet and serious, but today's energy was good.
A Voice came away enthralled, and gives an excellent account of the talk.

Hafiz Noor Shams (from whom I have nicked the photo above) found what happened in the Q and A session particularly interesting:
A person came to the microphone and call for the government to undo the ban on Armstrong’s book. The crowd immediately gave the person a resounding round of applause. Armstrong completely agreed with the person and continued to say something to the effect that when freedom is suppressed, the human spirit sours and so too religion with it. The call for freedom is all the more impressive because this event was organized by the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations, an arm of the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Syed Hamid Albar, the Malaysian Foreign Minister, was there, sitting by the former PM’s side. Furthermore, since the restriction* on the book began in 2005, the remark is a direct comment against the Abdullah administration.
The book referred to here is A History of God which isn't even the only one of Armstrong's books banned! Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet was banned in the same year and The Battle for God: Fundamentalism is Judaism, Christianity and Islam, was gazetted as banned last year. (Severe penalties in place for even possession of banned books - up to 3 years jail or a fine of RM20,000!). No explanation for the ban has ever been made public.

Marina Mahathir asked the question I would have wanted to ask: what Armstrong thought about her books being banned in Malaysia:
... she said that she wasn't losing any sleep over it and indeed there were many in the West who would like to see her books banned there primarily because of her defense of Islam. But she added that banning books does nothing to further the cause of Islam. "Malaysians are grownups, "she said, and are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves what to think about anything, including religion, a remark which won her great cheers from the crowd.
There's a bit more consolation to be gained from the extensive coverage in the Star yesterday, including a report of the event, a Q&A and a lengthy interview with the author by Shahanaaz Habib. The Star has also put up a video of part of the interview which is well worth watching.

For those who'd like a bit more, you can find the documentary version of A History of God here and an excellent interview with Armstrong on here.

Am convinced I need to read Armstrong and never mind the bloody ban!


A Voice said...

If you happen to get hold of the local "pusher" for banned books, alert me please.

Chet said...

>> (Note to self: sometimes own needs must be put first and stop saying yes to everyone!)

Yup, yup, yup - especially you, more than anyone else!

And so there's a video after all. Good, good.

bibliobibuli said...

i've never heard of anyone incurring the penalty btw but i think booksellers are going to be extremely cautious

no-one's going to be daft enough to push 'em, voice! try amazon or or buying overseas.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I went to her Friday talk and found it riveting to have religion described as espousing "extravagant compassion". But Sharon and Ms D, I went to Kino right after her Friday talk and there were no more copies available! Eliza

bibliobibuli said...

ssssshhhh ms d!!!!!!!!!

you want people hung drawn and quartered ah??

eliza - i love that description of "extravagant compassion" but just look at how often compassion is completely missing from the way religion is practiced.

Amir Muhammad said...

On a completely unrelated note: Isn't it odd that Hafiz's blog entry that you quoted from kept using the word "person"? As if to avoid mentioning gender. And I wonder (I wa-wa-wa-wa wonder) why.

bibliobibuli said...

yes it is interesting ... when i first read it i thought it wasn't anyone he know

Anonymous said...

I attended and got a chance to meet Dr. Armstrong; even got my copy of Islam: A Short History signed (couldn't find my badly dog-eared and much-written-in copy of A History of God, must have lent it to someone).

My journey towards my current religious beliefs was very much influenced by A History of God. It was amazing to be able to tell Dr. Armstrong that in person. Her talk was amazing too. I'm hoping I'll have time to write about it tonight.

Matthew da Silva said...

If her books are banned, how did she get permission to talk in KL?

bibliobibuli said...

jealous jordan... but so glad you had that amazing experience.

what's wondrous here matthew is the delicious inconsistencies. one ministry can ban. another ministry of the same government invites. all part of the rich tapestry of malaysian life.

Anonymous said...

I missed her, but heard about the talk from Dina and a few others. Now I'm curious, who was "the person"??
I'm glad someone asked about the banned books - pretty embarassing for Malaysia, but her answer was delightful.
Maybe the government should unban the books and introduce a lable "For Grown-ups Only" to be stuck onto plastic wrapped books Kino style.
Grown-ups in this context would mean well adjusted adults who are secure enough in their faith and their manhood/womenhood.

bibliobibuli said...

person was marina of course!

__mars said...

Hmmm, "person" is supposed to be a very innocent word.

bibliobibuli said...

it is innocent. just ... cryptic!

__mars said...


Amir Muhammad said...

It reminded me of that great scene in "Chasing Amy" where the soon-to-be-ex lesbian is talking about her new lover to her lesbian dulu-kini-dan-selamanya friends. She keeps coyly using the word "they" ("they are from New Jersey") to avoid the word "he", which would have shocked her friends. So one of the lesbians snaps back with "Why are you playing the pronoun game?" Reader, I am that lesbian!

Anonymous said...

Why couldn't he just say Marina? I read her blog, and she said "when asked about the banned books" (or something along those lines) so I was still in the dark.
Amir, are you being cryptic or innocent?

Anonymous said...

it wasnt marina, it was another person, a bloke actually (on sat) (a woman on fri).


Anonymous said...

New copy of History of God for sale, RM80..e-mail me @