I only meant to have a quick dip into it over a cup of tea, but got completely sucked in and got no work done after that.
Ioannis is a freelance journalist, originally from New York and based in KL (and a friend I've not seen around for quite a while, come to think of it ...). His articles about Malaysia have appeared in a number of publications including Newsweek, The Washington Times, Al Jazeera, and Asia Times. He also writes fiction, and he is working on a (very Graham Green-ish!) novel.
This book is a collection of his articles covering the issues and events that lead to the "political tsunami" here in March 2008. (See the blurb and read sample chapters on the publisher's website here).
If I don't comment further on the pieces (apart from to say that I am finding them very well written and fascinating because the Malaysian political landscape is never dull!) it is because I feel unqualified to do so as a mentally lazy person who only really cares about books and trees and whether women are being prevented from wearing noisy high heels and lipstick.
But actually Ioannis does talk about books too.
He has a very nice review of Amir Muhammad's Politicians Say the Darndest Things among others, as well as a piece about a controversial book which almost didn't get written because it was so hard to buy the book (God is not Great : How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens).
I thought this part interesting ... and telling :
This was in a bookstore in majority-Muslim Malaysia's glittering symbol of modernity, the Petronas Towers. I had just been told by the sales clerk the store would not be carrying the title, (which as I write this is number three on the New York Times' nonfiction bestseller list).This bears out exactly what an audience member at the recent forum on book banning said about trying to buy one of Karen Armstrong's books (not a banned title) at the same bookstore.
Her face, framed by a powder blue headscarf, turned florid as her eyes clung to the computer screen. I requested to speak with a manager. The clerk ignored me. I asked again. The manager would inform me that members of Malaysia's Internal Security Ministry had swept through the store the day before and "requested" that the title be removed from the shelves.
"So there is no official ban?" I queried.
"So ... self-censorship?"
The manager glanced over her shoulder, "Religion is a sensitive issue in Malaysia."
"I understand that but should protecting religious sensitivities happen at the expense of free and open inquiry?" Put another way, should the rest of us be stunted intellectually because some people of faith are thought to be susceptible to intolerance?
She murmured, "It's not that we don't have the book, it's just we're not displaying it."
It was a subtle concession, and soon she was retrieving a copy from the back of the store. Book and receipt in hand, I hung a little longer than I might have on its sweeping subtitle, How religion poisons everything.
You cannot blame the store, or its management (though it looks as if Ioannis would rather like to) but the intimidatory practices of the KDN who snoop around bookstores and ask staff to remove titles they don't approve of.
If a book is not banned officially (i.e. gazetted as such) then it should be freely available and bookstore staff not harassed, not forced to hide titles under the counter.
I have, incidentally seen Hitchen's book on sale openly in other bookshops, so it looks as if the frighteners are being put on this particular store.