Thursday, April 01, 2010

When The Home Ministry Steals Your Books

I've known about the Home Ministry opening packets of books in the mail and confiscating them on whim for some time, but have usually lacked a concrete example to put before you. (The worst example I heard of before this was a friend losing the books she had ordered from on the subject of ovarian cysts, which she wanted to read up on prior to her surgery. Now if that isn't shameful, what is?)

Subashini provides not one but two examples of books that were taken en-route to her from Malaysian online bookshop AcmamallShe writes on her blog :
Some time back I was told that my order of Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch Three Times was detained by the Home Ministry after I had placed the order and paid for it. Acmamall was most accommodating about issuing a refund, but I haven’t stopped foaming at the mouth about being informed that I simply couldn’t purchase any book I wanted as I initially thought I could. ... I’ve been unable to fathom what makes Lips Touch Three Times, a young adult book that’s been critically lauded in most American press, a subversive book, or indeed, one that is a threat to national security or morals. Is it the goblins? Are they afraid that reading this book will prompt a rash of young Malaysians to want to make out with pontianaks? Are they afraid it will encourage a kissing epidemic?

I have no idea.

I told myself to calm down, life’s too short to get raging mad at EVERY damn thing (wrinkles, sour facial expression, etc.), and chalked it up to one very small loss as a result of being Malaysian. Other Malaysians were dealing with far worse problems – lack of income, land, home, citizenship; lack of access to rights to see their own babies, rights to a fair trial, rights to drink whatever they damn well please without being whipped. Not being able to read a book is no big deal, really.

Or is it?

I placed my next order for Virginie Despentes’ King Kong Theory with trepidation. I told a friend that it will most likely be ‘detained,’ but I really hoped I was wrong. I REALLY wanted to read it. But sure enough, I get an email today from the Acmamall customer service informing me that the book has indeed been detained by the Home Ministry. And if you head over to Acmamall’s website, you’ll see that the book is now listed as ‘Not for sale in Malaysia.’

I felt anger at that very instant – again, being told what I’m allowed to read and not allowed to read just makes me blindingly angry. Even my parents have never told me what I could and could not read.

... With King Kong Theory, reviewers have said that the author, whether or not you agree with her stand, has presented a brash, bold and thought-provoking perspective on modern-day feminism. ... I mean, these are the subjects I like to think about and read about. Maybe I’m the only sad sod in all of Malaysia who’s upset about the Home Ministry detaining King Kong Theory because… well, what the hell kind of book is it anyway?!? But that shouldn’t be the point. I’m prevented from reading a book for reasons I don’t even know of.

I wonder what made the authorities deem this book unfit for Malaysian eyes – is it the fact that the author was formerly a prostitute, and made a highly-controversial (if not exactly acclaimed) movie on the complex interrelations of sexual desire, abuse, and power? Do the authorities even know this? (I’m of the belief that their brains are puny; small enough to hold only recycled thoughts and prosaic wishes – such as the nature of, “Harap boleh makan nasi lemak petang ni…”) Are they afraid that Malaysian women will, en-masse, decide to prostitute themselves in an attempt at self-empowerment? Are they afraid that Malaysian women will want to migrate to France and prostitute themselves after reading this book (the author is French)? Did they simply look at the title and conclude that King Kong, being the product of American capitalist Hollywood minds, has no place in Malaysia – that a King Kong theory usurps the revered position of our local orangutans?

Again, I have no idea.

Well, I’m not being honest here. I suppose I have an inkling. Books like this one make people think; but more alarmingly, it makes people question the status quo. Police states don’t want its citizens thinking and questioning anything – especially not if it’s a police state pretending to be a multicultural, peaceful, free-thinking democracy.
I hope Subashini's impassioned plea is heard by those who need to hear it.

Meanwhile if you or your friends have any books confiscated in the post do let me know so I can blog it here and get the word out.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for linking to the post, Sharon.


A Bookaholic said...

Yeah...Mine was 'The Vagina Monologues'....Does that count? In the end, I had to use other ways to get it....Sigggh...

bibliobibuli said...

i think it is officially banned here. i wrote about it some time back.

Chelsea said...

This makes me SO MAD.

Anonymous said...

Just been informed on Twitter that these books are apparently for sale in Kino, while they're still "Not for sale in Msia" in Acmamall. Strangely enough the books were NOT there in Kino when I wanted them, hence why I placed the order in Acmamall.

My brain can't seem to grasp the circuitry of logic that informs the Home Ministry's rulings on book banning/detaining/confiscation.


bibliobibuli said...

yes, books can be seized from one source and that distributor issued with a note, but be available somewhere else. this is what totally confuses the public.

i also heard today (from Umapagan) that the books are in Kino

cavingliz said...

I've not had any books sent to Msia, but almost all of the magazines(caving and travel subjects) I receive have been opened and invariably there are greasy fingermarks left on the covers. Sometimes a sticker is put on the envelope to say it's been opened by customs, othertimes not.

Shu Yee said...

But I'm actually surprised to find Gerrie Lim's Invisible Trade and Invisible Trade II and Jakarta Undercover in major bookstores here.

Gerrie's books on the world's oldest profession are bestsellers & highly readable for those curious about that industry.

bibliobibuli said...

Liz - one book i was sent as a gift got slashed when the package was opened with a blade. no apologies given.

Shu Yee - yes indeed. Fascinating books and well-written. Some of the other "naughty" books from Monsoon are not available though.

Shu Yee said...

I went to Singapore and got Monsoon's Best of Singapore Erotica and you'd agree it's high quality stuff too, with big name Singaporean writers like Kirpal Singh, Robert Yeo, Chris Mooney, Cyril and O Thiam Chin.

Au and Target said...

How pathetic. You know they kept my Life of Alexander for a month before sending it on to me?

Greenbottle said...

i don't know anything abour e-books. but i wonder if they can 'ban' or have any control over this?

if they can't well, that's the answer for you ....

Anonymous said...

Yup Sharon, I heard about it from Umapagan as well. So I used my credit card and got the book delivered from Kino to my home; was too paranoid to let it SIT in the shops in the case that, I don't know, the police walked in and seized it before I could read it.

See, this is how people become paranoid maniacs and conspiracy theorists.

Anyhow, the book arrived today. A big yay, but it also made me wonder... it costs more in Kino, plus delivery charges - and it's lucky that I live in Klang Valley. I suppose one can bend around the crazy rules only if one is financially-able.

I'm still waiting for a gift from a friend - I do believe it's been 2 months - a comic by Neil Gaiman. I'm inclined to think that this is a real screw-up by the postal service, as opposed to any real confiscation, because Neil Gaiman's books and comics are widely available in all bookshops here.

So that leads us to the postal service in the country. I've had my another package of gifts containing books that was held up for over a month at Customs, like someone mentioned in the comments.

I agree - the worst part about the whole thing is the lack of explanation about anything. And now I twiddle my thumbs and wonder if someone in Customs just happened to like the Neil Gaiman comic too much and decided to keep it.


Anonymous said...

It's distressing to read this - I haven't had the "fortune" of having my online orders seized, and I hope I never do. These days I buy eBooks - it cuts down on the waiting time, the shipping charges and the chances of it being seized.