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 salon.com here.
Am convinced I need to read Armstrong and never mind the bloody ban!