Sunday, October 25, 2009

Banning Bad for Book Business

The banned books issue is (hurray) the cover story in Starmag today, and there is a writeup about the Right to Read event, jointly organised by Sisters in islam and Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).

The article highlights the confusion that surrounds the banning of books which all to frequently causes publishers to lose money and deprives the public of information.

Suaram chairperson K. Arumugam describes how his book on the Kampung Medan clashes in Kuala Lumpur was banned after he had spent RM10,000 on the printing, although he personally was not informed of the decision and the Home Ministry could not possibly have read the book since it was only published in Tamil. He says :
Banning a book which documents history is wrong as it denies me the right to record history ... I brought out a rational view of what occurred and what the government should do to correct the situation (in Kg Medan). Sue me in court (for defamation) or write another book to prove me wrong. I have a right to express myself the way I want to. You can’t take that away from me.
Ezra Mohd Zaid of ZI Publications was also in a quandary. It bought the translation rights to Irshad Manji’s The Trouble with Islam Today and had started the process of getting it translated. Then the book appeared on a banned books list in the local newspapers! says Ezra :
Theoretically, we can proceed with a Bahasa Malaysia version. But can we get any guarantee, as a business that has pumped money into the translation project, that the BM edition won’t be banned as well?
Masjaliza (of SIS) says that the Home Ministry officials also confiscate books that are not banned:
Last November, they went to a bookstore in Kota Baru to take copies of books which are actually not banned, such as Asian Renaissance by Anwar Ibrahim, Two Faces by Dr Syed Husin Ali, 13 Mei: Dokumen-dokumen Deklasifikasi Tentang Rusuhan 1969 Malaysia (May 13: Declassification of Documents About the Riots in 1969) by Dr Kua Kia Soong and Keganasan, Penipuan & Internet (Violence, Fraud and the Internet) by Hishamuddin Rais. ... According to the law, Home Ministry officials need to account for the books they take from a bookstore. But who pays for the books? Is it a loss you have to absorb?
It is, of course a national scandal. (One of only too many in the country. *Sigh) It's more Kafka than Kafka.

Tai reports that :
When contacted by StarMag, officials at the Home Ministry declined to comment.
No surprise there. They never ever do!

The article mentions the Manuscripts Don't Burn blog, which Erna Mayuni set up in 2006, but sadly stopped updating. I found myself uncomfortable as the lone voice there, especially as a foreigner (Keep head low when waiting for PR!) and decided just to blog about banned books on this blog, as I had been doing before.

It's nice to see the blog has now had a facelift and after a 2 year hiatus a couple of posts have been added. But a blog needs ongoing commitment ...

Anyway, the event was a worthwhile one. I went along on the Saturday afternoon, bought books, bought a hand-printed tee shirt which reads I Read Banned Books, and got roped in for a forum where we talked about banned books we had read. (I talked about how I seemed to have a knack for buying and reading books that later got banned.) It was cathartic and cozy, but no-one from the Home Ministry came along, of course.


Oxymoron said...

Sharon, would there be any reason you would want a book banned or none whatsoever?

bibliobibuli said...

you means are there any circumstances under which a book could be banned?

well let's see. the australian govt recently banned a book which was a sort of suicide bombing for dummies guide. i agree with that ban because it was in the interests of public safety.

so yes, there is a line i would draw. maybe other people draw the line in a different place. but discussion should be open and there should be transparency.

generally though i'm an extremist on the far end of the seesaw to balance things up a bit.

now then, where do you stand?

Oxymoron said...

I haven't thought enough about this to give a definite answer. I doubt I would ban any book if I have the power. But I do believe warnings should be put on books like they put warnings on cigarette wrappers and tv shows. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword!