Wednesday, November 26, 2008

From Kinokuniya to Putrajaya

Raman of Silverfish contacted me yesterday to tell me that he had learned from a customer that Farish Noor's From Majapahit to Putrajaya had been "banned".

Since I was making my weekly (expensive!) pilgrimage to Kino anyway that afternoon, I decided to check out the status of the book, and discovered, yes, that the KDN (Home Ministry) officials had make their rounds and confiscated all the copies of the book, telling the bookshop that they were going to investigate it further and that in the meantime the store was not allowed to sell copies of the book.

Today I learned that this ban applies to all Farish's books which the store is not allowed to bring in until further notice (although there are still copies of the Malay translation of Di Balik Malaysia published by ZI Publications still on the shelves).

Things that I don't understand :

Why did the officers decide to take the copies? The book has been on sale since 2005! If it was so controversial why couldn't the KDN have investigated it back then? The book has a valid ISBN from the National library, the copies weren't hiding anywhere, Farish has a website and has made public appearances to talk about the issues discussed in the book.

Why do they have to swipe all the copies when a single copy would suffice for examination purposes?

Why can't they supply the bookshop with any valid reason for wanting to remove the book? What exactly is their objection with the book? Is it the terrifying fact that Muslim intellectuals actually exist in Malaysia? Is it because the official version of the country's history is questioned in the book? As always we can only guess. Raman thinks it might be because the book has Majapahit in the title and anything connecting Malay culture with its Hindu roots is so controversial these days, especially with the fatwa against yoga so much in the news.

Do officers really need to go into bookshops and take books from the shelves? Isn't this an uncomfortable way of operating for the staff of the shop and the customers? Does it really make Malaysia look good in the eyes of tourists who frequent the country's biggest bookstore to see uniformed officers prowling the shelves?

Do officers actually have a legal right to remove books or tell a shop that the book may not be sold if the book is not in any sense legally gazetted as banned? (I don't know the legal position but it would be useful to have information on this.)

Why haven't the publisher and the author been informed of the removal of the book through official channels instead of having to rely on rumour (which causes unnecessary stress and anxiety?).

How many more books are being removed from bookshop shelves in this way? No wonder the bookshop is circumspect when selling certain titles! Bookselling is a hard business to be in, so why make it harder for retailer?!

Yes, the book is still on sale quite legally at other bookstores so you can still buy it at the moment. (This is the way these things work here.)

Let's hope that reason prevails and the books are back on the shelves in Kino very soon. We're watching closely.


moja said...

well, sharon, we are very infamous in the way of enforcing something.

The question is, why now? and why they really need to confiscate all the other books?

and yes. We're watching closely.


Anonymous said...

Ah, Malaysia, my home, my tanah air...the longer I'm away from it, the less inclined I want to return! Now where is that application form I took for the Singapore PR???

- Poppadumdum

Zed Adam said...


I have a feeling Malaysia is heading for neo-communism: oppressive, forceful and judgemental.

I just wish the writer/publisher would launch a lawsuit and kick their asses.

Anonymous said...

It's not neo-communism, but neo-talibanism.


Damyanti said...


Alice Teh said...

The power-that-be never fails to amuse me. I really wonder how the staff of Kino and its customers felt during those 'raids' to remove books from the store.

For those already owning a copy of the book, does it mean these officers would confiscate or issue a warrant of arrest? Just wondering... :p

bibliobibuli said...

no, Alice, because it isn't banned! and that is the irony. you can happily stroll into mph or silverfish and buy it. there's no issue. it's one bookshop being harassed here.

pang said...

I think Kino managers are too stupid to stand for their rights as well. As long as it is still under investigation and they don't have an official ban yet, the authorities should not be entitled to remove copies of books. One shouldn't be guilty until proven so - though we know in Malaysia, we love preventive laws, but everytime we give them an inch of our right, they will trample over a mile of justice till there is none left.

bibliobibuli said...

i agree Pang, but i also see it from the side of the book store. it isn't a pleasant thing to be confronted with and they don't want trouble that will affect their business, partic with customers around. i guess they could be scared of retribution in another way (their books being held up at customs) if they don't give in to this.

Anonymous said...

Your reference to Majapahit roots -I find it interesting: If I had connections to such an old and glorious empire, I'd be very proud of it, instead of trying to graft a non-existent branch from Arabia into my family tree.

- Poppadumdum

Rin said...

hi, interesting incident indeed. I've never read the book, but I've borrowed it from my university library today after I read bout this "banning" yesterday. =P

savante said...

Doubt the officers even read the book, so I don't think they'd know the reasons for banning the book. Bureaucracy.

bibliobibuli said...

it isn't "banned" savante! it's important to understand the difference between banning and this state of limbo the book is in. and remember only oen bookshop has been forbidden to sell it.

one hopes the officers will read the book. certainly until they do, the book remains off the shelves.

Rob Spence said...

Hi Sharon
This post got picked up by one of the Daily telegraph staff bloggers:

bibliobibuli said...

yes!!! just goes to show!

bookseller said...

And at what point will this be deemed an unlawful removal of a product from a retail shop, no less amounting to robbery? Really, I mean if it's not banned, the shop didn't cross any line nor break any rules. If they need a copy to 'investigate' why not contact the publisher/author/distributor for a complimentary copy?

The potential threat of withholding at customs? Barbaric and backwards but very real.

Just the kind of thing we need in this economic climate...

bibliobibuli said...

thanks bookseller, and as someone in the trade i think what you just said carries even more weight.

Anonymous said...

Animah's a lawyer, maybe she knows if that's legal. But yea they need to know that it leaves a bad impression. A word to the wise would be sufficient I think.