Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Complete Official Lists

I found - at last, and my blur fault not their's, the website of the Ministry of Internal Security and it has very clear lists linked from the sidebar of all the officially banned books from 2000 to the present.

To make it even easier the links are here so that you can have a browse:
And - I love this touch - you can even listen the Ministry's theme song at the same time.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Banned Books Malaysia 101

I'm writing this because there seems to be confusion still about the two different categories of "banned" books in Malaysia and what the implications of each are, and because I keep getting asked the same questions over and over.

It is a complicated business and it's taken me a while to cotton on. This is a sort of summary of the posts I have written in the past and which are indexed in the sidebar of this blog.

I do not pretend to have any kind of expert knowledge - everything I know comes from talking to Raman, folks from the marketing departments of the bigger bookstores, distributors, and from getting tip offs from friends when they have found themselves unable to buy books. I also apologize in advance if I get anything wrong - these are the facts as I understand them. There is much I do not know and much I am not in a position to find out (it would take probably a good investigative journalist to unravel the situation).

The Home Ministry or Kementarian Dalam Negeri (KDN) has the power to ban books that it feels are in some way "detrimental to public order" or liable in some way to"contribute to immorality".

But, it seems, there are two different systems of banning and you need to understand the difference between them.

The first category of banned books is as Raman says:
... the official ban with the papers signed off by the Home Minister or his Deputy
These books are listed on a document which is usually made public through the press. (Raman has put up a pdf of the 2006 list.) Says Raman:
.. this is quite clear-cut (even if you don't agree with it).
Many of the books banned were to do with religion. Reasons have never been given for the banning of particular titles - particularly worrying as many of them are books which were openly available previously.

The DAP asked for an explanation of the bannings, but never received one. (I checked back some time later with MP Theresa Kok and she said she had had no reply to her letter.) It is possible only to guess at the political subtext.

The penalty for possessing books officially banned books is severe, as Erna has pointed out. However to my knowledge, no-one has yet been prosecuted for possession, and no premises raided. (My knowledge, it has to be said, does not extend very far.)

The second category of banned books are those which are referred to by the KDN as "restricted books". Raman quite rightly calls this method of banning "arbitrary and unpredictable", and describes it as "pure Kafka". In a sense this makes it even more dangerous, particularly as large numbers of books are involved and there are serious implications for the whole book retailing industry (and at a time when another ministry - that of Culture, Arts and Tourism - is enlisting the help and goodwill of the industry to promote reading in Malaysia!)

Let me go back a step and explain a little bit of what I understand about how the book industry in Malaysia works.

Most of the books that come into Malaysia come from the UK because of an exisiting trade agreement. Publishers ship orders to Singapore where the distributors warehouse them for distribution to the both the Singaporean and Malaysian markets.

When the bookshops in Malaysia want books from Singapore, those books have to pass through customs at Johor Bahru. And it is here that the problem lies.

The KDN officers in JB go through the consignments and confiscate any books on the spot that they do not feel suitable for a Malaysian readership.

Who are these guys? Ordinary civil servants with the kind of educational profile civil servants typically have (i.e. not really the best folks to judge the merits or demerits of literature written in English, and with probably very little background in reading even in their own language.) Raman describes this kind of civil servant rather more colourfully as:
... some barely literate little Napoleon
and perhaps we can give him the benfit of the doubt since he has had some experience of trying to clear books through JB customs himself.

Why are the books deemed unsuitable and confiscated? In most cases I have no idea and neither has anyone I've spoken to, including the distributors and the bookshops! The KDN send a form letter to the distributors which states no reason for the confiscation.

I don't know what happens to the confiscated books, but I believe that the distributors receive no compensation. As one of them told Raman - you simply don't make a fuss, or you risk losing the whole consignment. They lose money, and I wouldn't be surprised if this cost gets passed on eventually to the consumer.

Raman listed the books from just one distributor. A few weeks ago I visited another distributor (on quite different business) and she showed me a whole file of the form letters for books that had been confiscated!

The distributors inform the bookshops about which books are "restricted". I'm sure the marketing departments of bookshops in KL must feel very angry about this issue, since it eats into their profits and stops them providing the full service for their customers they pride themselves on.

However (and this is why some of you are totally confused and say "The book's not banned I saw it on the shelves ..."):

you may still find copies of these books which the bookshops had brought in before the ban was imposed


you may find copies of the book they were brought in via a different port of entry. I suspect that books ordered from the US (by Kinoukuniya and Borders in particular) come in via either Port Klang or via KLIA where the officers may be less strict.


the book may be banned under one ISBN number, but a different version may get through (as in the case of The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood where it was only the bikini tops worn by the women in one paperback version that appears to have given offence)


at least one novel has two different titles, and only one is "restricted"!


sometimes a book is banned in one language but a foreign language version gets through. (The Karma Sutra was apparently listed in the past as officially banned but there are apparently places where you can get an Indian language version.)

All this creates a kind of slippery banned-but-not-banned territory where no-one - bookshops, distributors, or readers know where they stand. Bookshops and distributors become more cautious about the books they order because they don't want to lose money, and they don't want to be on the wrong side of the law. But so many books have become restricted in the past few months - and so arbitrarily - that they must be wondering where the banning ends!

And if you can ban literary classics (like Midnight's Children and Things Fall Apart) and Sponge Bob Squarepants, where does the banning logically end?? When there are no more books left in the bookshops?

Book buyers don't know which books are banned and don't realise that their consumer choices are being limited in this way. Most probably don't care. But it is I think part of a wider issue, that of basic freedom of speech and thought.

As far as I know there is no illegality about possessing or selling "restricted books": full official ban would only be in place if the Ministry decided to gazette the titles. As Raman notes:
... none of the books that have been proscribed by the KDN this year (according to the distributors) have been gazetted.
So there you have it, in a nutshell. (A pretty big nutshell!)

I don't know if the Ministers and policy makers of 1) the Ministry of Home Affairs and b) the Ministry of Culture Arts and Tourism are aware of the problem. But they should be. And it would be good if they could find the time to sit down and talk through the issues raised by a group of people who love both the country ... and books.

(Hmmm ... nice banner but can't remember whose blog I lifted it from. Plagiarism!!)

StarMag: What Basis for Bans?

This is probably the first piece of media coverage on the ban, by StarMag columnist in her Tots and Teens column today...

What basis for bans?

A COLLEAGUE sent me a link to a list of books that have been banned by the Home Ministry.

You can check it out at http://www.silverfishbooks. com/RestrictedBooks1.htm.

Looking at the list and trying to think (or not think, as the case may be) like the person in charge of deciding what Malaysians can or can’t read, I could (sort of) see how some of the titles might be deemed unsuitable. That is, I can imagine how someone who doesn’t read or has a dodgy command of the English language or simply doesn’t get out much could maybe feel that some of these books, if read, would cause lasting damage of the morals and pysche of Malaysians.

For the rest of the story, go HERE.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Why are we here?

I do not doubt some people think that what we're doing here is rather silly. Why should we care so much about banning books? Books aren't starving, in need of medical aid and no one would hold a star-studded concert to benefit anti-banning efforts.

Personally, I am what I am because I read. Reading gave me my command of the language, reading helped me learn critical thought, reading is the foundation from which I have found my vocation - to write. The written word is a powerful, precious thing and to deny others the joy of free access to good, quality reading material is no different than denying them access to education.

Let me share a quote from a book I've just finished: Ursula Le Guin's Voices. It tells the tale of a people brought under subjugation by a race of illiterates, a race so afraid of the written word they destroy books and libraries. At the end of the book, one character pleads to another to read to people, to let them know books won't hurt them - "To let them know, to let them see that books aren't demons, that our history, our hearts, our freedom's written in them?"

Books embody the soul's creative flight. Why must we cage our souls?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Possession Penalty

I found the following at this site.
...The statement issued by the KDN stated that the "printing, import, production, reproduction, sale, circulation, distribution and possession of books listed under the schedule are banned in the country". A jail sentence of up to three years and/or a maximum fine of 20,000 Malaysian ringgits (approx. £3,340) will be given to anyone found guilty of breaking this ban.

It's dated April 2003. But, I'm curious, can anyone tell us if the penalty still exists? And where are the lists of banned books (issued by KDN), if there is such a penalty? Doesn't possession mean that members of the public are affected, hence we should be told of this list?

Bannings & burnings in history

Looking up the history of book bannings, I found this site which also has a pdf version of the chronological events of book burning and bannings throughout history. I've extracted a few of them here below.

259–210 B.C.: The Chinese emperor Shih Huang Ti is said to have buried alive 460 Confucian scholars to control the writing of history in his time. In 212 B.C., he burned all the books in his kingdom, retaining only a single copy of each for the Royal Library—and those were destroyed before his death. With all previous historical records destroyed, he thought history could be said to begin with him.

A.D. 8: The Roman poet Ovid was banished from Rome for writing Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love). He died in exile in Greece eight years later. All Ovid’s works were burned by Savonarola in Florence in 1497, and an English translation of Ars Amatoria was banned by U.S. Customs in 1928.

35: The Roman emperor Caligula opposed the reading of The Odyssey by Homer, written more than 300 years before. He thought the epic poem was dangerous because it expressed Greek ideas of freedom.

1559: For hundreds of years, the Roman Catholic Church listed books that were prohibited to its members; but in this year, Pope Paul IV established the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. For more than 400 years this was the definitive list of books that Roman Catholics were told not to read. It was one of the most powerful censorship tools in the world.

1597: The original version of Shakespeare’s Richard II contained a scene in which the king was deposed from his throne. Queen Elizabeth I was so angry that she ordered the scene removed from all copies of the play.

1614: Sir Walter Raleigh’s book The History of the World was banned by King James I of England for "being too saucy in censuring princes."

1624: Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible was burnt in Germany by order of the Pope.

1933: A series of massive bonfires in Nazi Germany burned thousands of books written by Jews, communists, and others. Included were the works of John Dos Passos, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway, Helen Keller, Lenin, Jack London, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx, Erich Maria Remarque, Upton Sinclair, Stalin, and Leon Trotsky.

1954: Mickey Mouse comics were banned in East Berlin because Mickey was said to be an "anti-Red rebel."

Read the rest here.

Instead of dadah burning...

Remember those massive drug bonfires the enforcement agency would have for show? I wonder if one day we'll see our censors burn books to scare off the reading public...

(picture taken from allposters.com)

The list that began it all

This is the list of restricted books from Silverfish books, which had incensed us bloggers.

Books Restricted by KND Johor Bahru - List 1
  1. 1840282509 Well Woman's Sourcebook (Hardcover)
  2. 9812320822 Beauty of Yixing Teapots (Hardcover)
  3. 1903816378 The Heart of Tantric Sex (Paperback)
  4. 9813056223 The missing page (Paperback)
  5. 9813056703 No Money, No Honey! A Candid Look at Sex-for-Sale in Singapore
  6. 9813056096 The SPG Rides Again
  7. 0375756469 Women (Paperback)
  8. 0811845737 Fashion Illustration Next (Paperback)
  9. 981305655x "Ransom" by Douglas Chua
  10. 0312873077 Knife of Dreams (Wheel of Time (Hardcover)) - Robert Jordan
  11. 1853755605 Things a Woman Should Know About Seduction (Paperback)
  12. 9813056606 Revenge of the Sarong Party Girl by Jim Aitchison
  13. 0099648814 The Private Life of Chairman Mao (Paperback)
  14. 0521609763 Company to Company Teacher's Book (Paperback)
  15. 0785378103 Poems & Prayers for Children (Hardcover)
  16. 0785368760 Read-Aloud Children's Classics
  17. 1840189096 1001 Nights Without Sex: The Curse of the Single Girl (Paperback)
  18. 1843401703 Composition (The Photographer's Guide To...) (Paperback)
  19. 1840725222 Seduce: 100 Tips to Arouse (Hardcover)
  20. 0749325003 Taking Chances (Paperback)
  21. 1844425762 "Vogue" Make-up (Paperback)
  22. 1844422968 Sexual Intelligence (Hardcover)
  23. 0099591111 Filth (Paperback) - Irwing Welsh
  24. 1850436665 Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror (Paperback)
  25. 0716757230 Practice of Business Statistics (Hardcover)
  26. 0099273675 A History of God (Paperback)
  27. 0304357278 E-tales: The Best (and Worst) of Internet Humour (Hardcover)
  28. 1844422968 Sexual Intelligence (Hardcover)
  29. 9813056363 The Official Guide to the Sarong Party Girl
  30. 0224077643 Memories of My Melancholy Whores (Hardcover)
  31. 1412735467 Sea Sale: SpongeBob Squarepants
  32. 1412733820 Counting Adventures Sound Activity Book, by Disney
  33. 1412731755 Dora's Fiesta Adventure ActivePoint Book Set! [ILLUSTRATED] (Hardcover)
  34. 1412735297 MUSIC FOR SLEEPY BABIES
  35. 1412731747 Count On Me (Spongebob Square Pants)
  36. 1412735610 The Wiggles Shop Wiggly Jukebox
  37. 0719566762 Mao: A Life
  38. 0572028806 Anatomy for the Artist: They Dynamics of Human Form (Paperback)
  39. 009189753X Feel: Robbie Williams (Hardcover)
  40. 0744586828 Bits, Boobs and Blobs (Paperback)
  41. 0679463356 Shalimar the Clown (Hardcover)
  42. 0099283360 Atomised (Paperback)
  43. 0224060066 Clubland (Paperback)
  44. 0091795346 The Dirty Girls Social Club (Paperback)
  45. 0099437880 Platform (Paperback)
  46. 0749932155 Carolina Moon (Paperback)
  47. 1844541320 Being Jordan (Paperback)
  48. 0521539064 An Introduction to Islam (Introduction to Religion) (Paperback)
  49. 1853755540 Sex Lives of the Famous Gays (Paperback)
  50. 1844425703 The Dirty Girl's Joke Book 2: Provocative Puns and Laugh-a-minute Gags: Bk.2 (Paperback)
  51. 0285635549 10 Commandments of Pleasure: Erotic Keys to a Healthy Sexual Life (Paperback)
  52. 1582380570 How to Talk to Your Child About Sex: It's Best to Start Early, But It's Never Too Late : a Step-by-Step Guide for Every Age (Paperback)
  53. 1844425991 "FHM" True Stories 2 (Paperback)
  54. 1841612146 Men ... the Insufferable Sex (Paperback)
  55. 0091878438 The New Book of Massage (Paperback)
  56. 0330411500 Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood (Paperback)
  57. 0752845985 Lip Kisses (Paperback)
  58. 0749931671 Lip Service (Paperback)
  59. 0091880688 Little Book of the Kama Sutra (Paperback)
  60. 0099648814 The Private Life of Chairman Mao (Paperback)
  61. 1400054788 The Probability of God: A Simple Calculation That Proves the Ultimate Truth (Paperback)
  62. 0521425387 Life on Earth: And Other Pieces (New Cambridge English Course) (Paperback)
  63. 1853755540 Sex Lives of the Famous Gays (Paperback)
  64. 0091815290 Mars and Venus in the Bedroom: A Guide to Lasting Romance and Passion (Paperback)
  65. 0744586836 Snogs, Sex and Soulmates (Paperback)
  66. 0749395923 The Malayan Trilogy: "Time for a Tiger", "Enemy in the Blanket", "Beds in the East" (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
  67. 1896597777 Scrapbook (Paperback)
  68. 0969670117 Playboy (Paperback)
  69. 0340752114 Sex Etiquette (Paperback)
  70. 0969670141 The Best of "Drawn and Quarterly" (Paperback)
  71. 1896597440 The Poor Bastard (Paperback)
  72. 189659770X It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken: A Picture Novella (Paperback)
  73. 1896597416 Vernacular Drawings (Hardcover)
  74. 1896597831 My New York Diary (Paperback)
  75. 189659784X Clyde Fans: Bk.1 (Hardcover)
  76. 071532067X Bra: A Thousand Years of Style, Support and Seduction (Hardcover)
  77. 0099429780 Peoplewatching: The Desmond Morris Guide to Body Language (Paperback)
  78. 0679463348 Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002 (Hardcover)
  79. 1844424065 "Vogue" Beauty (Paperback)
  80. 1843308940 Sex,Lies and Stereotypes: Challenging Views of Women, Men, and Relationships (Paperback)
  81. 0375701958 Breastfeeding Your Baby: Revised Edition (Paperback)
  82. 1846091586 Addicted to Love: The Kate Moss Story (Paperback)
  83. 0812577566 Knife of Dreams (Wheel of Time (Paperback)) (Mass Market Paperback)
  84. 0761535810 Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War On America (Paperback)
  85. 0330433059 Dining with Terrorists (Paperback)
  86. 0375756981 The Vagina Monologues (Paperback)
  87. 0812976533 Midnight's Children (Paperback)
  88. 0805053115 The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (Paperback)
  89. 1857152174 Midnight's Children (Everyman's Library Classics) (Hardcover)
  90. 0099421860 Fury (Paperback)
  91. 0224061593 Fury (Hardcover)
  92. 0099443384 Fury (Paperback)
  93. 0679783504 Fury (Modern Library) (Paperback)
  94. 0375759603 Fury. (Paperback)
  95. 0312422784 The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (Paperback)
  96. 0812969030 Midnight's Children (Modern Library)(Paperback)
  97. 0099578611 Shame (Paperback)
  98. 0312270933 Shame (Paperback)
  99. 0099421879 Step Across This Line (Paperback)
  100. 0333490207 Salman Rushdie and the Third World: Myths of the Nation (Hardcover)
  101. 0224061615 Shalimar the Clown (Hardcover)
  102. 0224061607 Step Across This Line: Collected Non-fiction 1992-2002 (Hardcover)
  103. 0679783490 Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002 (Modern Library) (Paperback)
  104. 0099578514 Midnight's Children (Paperback)
  105. 0099268132 The Swimming-pool Library (Paperback)
  106. 1844421791 The Best Sex Positions Ever (Hardcover)
  107. 1843171961 Sex in Every City: How to Talk Dirty in Every Language (Paperback)
  108. 9812040978 Bali Style (Hardcover)
  109. 0393061221 Making Globalization Work (Hardcover)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Type-only Logo

Here's another logo courtesy of dear Lainie - isn't having choices a wonderful thing?

Bloggers against book banning

Please copy and paste these button on your blog! And don't just have it exhibited, go out and read a banned book too.

With border

Plain without border

Book cover banner

Saving books to save our minds

Censors. They are gatekeepers, they are also jailkeepers. For banning a book is akin to imprisoning it. Making it unavailable to the masses, treating it like some criminal, something that society needs to be protected from. Who are they to pass judgement on a piece of writing? Do we really need protection from the printed word? Alas, it seems so for our own Home Affairs Ministry(KDN) considers policing all printed material its sacred duty.

All right. Take away porn, I can live with that. Ban the Satanic Verses, if you wish to win popular favour. But the latest list of books our censors have decided are bad for us is so ludicrous that I got shaken out of my apathy. Or at least stirred enough to whine to Zona a.k.a Midnite Lily. We were thinking what Sharon, the Bookaholic was - who wants to live in a country where books are banned?

Here's Silverfish's list of banned books:

And here's a list of other bloggers who feel as strongly as we do (links from eyeris's blog):

- Bibliobibuli: Midnight's Children Banned
- Midnight Lily : Banned books
- Minishorts: The simplest reason is the right reason
- Sashiweb: Banned Books
- Suanie: sick/ mawi still sux/ banned books/ cheers/ finger/ lainie
- Sharanya Manivannan

It is high time we do something about this. When even books on breastfeeding and for reading aloud to children are not allowed into Malaysia, then what will there be left to read? If we let this stand, if we let this slide, then think about what else could be banned? We just might end up like China or Burma where the government censors even the Internet. Little by little, we might end up losing the battle for personal freedom and our own freedom of self-expression.

Don't think of it as fighting for the books. There's more at stake here than just words on paper.