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.