Tuesday, May 15, 2007

May 13 Book Seized

According to Malaysiakini copies of the book May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969 by Dr. Kua Kia Soong were confiscated by a team of ministry officers visited the MPH bookstore in Midvalley Megamall this afternoon and the officers advised the popular bookstore not to sell the book as it "may be banned".

This also follows the call by three senators for the book to be banned.


Just read on Elizabeth Wong's blog that the book is not banned - just that the first printing is sold out and now you will need to wait for the second. (Get your orders in!)

She describes exactly what happened at MPH yesterday ... and threatens legal action.

Hmmm ... I think the KDN has actually done SUARAM a big favour by boosting the "must have" value of the book.

What's so controversial?

According to Malaysiakini:
The ‘official version’ of it has always been the violence was triggered off by the Chinese-dominated opposition supporters’ provocation in celebrating their electoral victory which saw the ruling Alliance Party suffered a major setback.
Dr. Kua who spent three-months researching recently declassified documents at the
Public Records Office in London including official correspondence and intelligence reports by British officers, apparently argues that the riots were not random acts of communal violence but a coup d’etat attempt by a faction within Umno, and that the coup attempt against then premier Tunku Abdul Rahman was also backed by the police and army with the intention of forging a new Malay agenda.

The official records and history books it seems put blame on the
opposition parties “infiltrated by communist insurgents” and this does rather turn the whole thing on its head.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

May Update

When do things end? This blog has gone completely quiet. There's been nothing about book restrictions or bannings in the Malaysian media to fuel it.

Yet behind the scenes there has undoubtedly been a shift. According to friends in the industry, many of the books which were formerly restricted appear now to be coming in to the country without impediment. I haven't heard news of other books being arbitrarily seized.

I thank those who listened and put things right.

I thank those who highlighted the issue in the press and on blogs and brought it to the attention of the authorities and the public.

We will continue to monitor the situation though, won't we?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Darwin's banned

Found at Elizabeth Wong's blog, reporting on the latest gazetted list of banned books, Darwin's 2nd edition of The Origin of Species has been banned. However, what's on the ministry's list is a translated Indonesian version.
Two weeks ago, CIJ’s Sonia called up to check if it was indeed Darwin’s The Origin of Species on the gazetted list of banned book. Preferring to err on the side of caution and referring to the author’s name in the gazette - ‘F.susilohardo Basuki Hernowo‘ (line item 51) - I told her it was most probably some Indonesian Christian book.

Last night, a foreign correspondent telephoned to make the same inquiry. After the conversation, I thought it best to have this checked out with some friends.
This morning, well, one should by now anticipate the not-so-stunning news.

Yes, it’s Darwin.

~extract from Darwin Banned, Elizabeth Wong

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Independent's Banned Books.

UK's Independent is coming out with a lovely collection of specially published and packaged Banned Books:
Banned Books is an exclusive collection of 25 cutting-edge titles, censored classics and literary landmarks by authors including Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov, Franz Kafka, Andre Gide, Maya Angelou, William Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, Henry Miller and Ray Bradbury, specially published and packaged for Independent readers.
The covers look lovely! Too bad we might not see them over here, as their distribution is intentionally kept limited.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Censorship in UKM?

I learned about Shamsiah Fakeh's memoir when I was at the IIU seminar recently and Prof. Dr Ruzy Suliza Hashim was talking about the paucity of memoirs written by Malaysian women. She referred to Shamsiah Fakeh's book as one very important example: the author was former head of Communist Party Malaysia's Women's Wing. Dr. Ruzy mentioned that the book was now banned, and of course I was curious to hear another Malaysian banned book story.

But this time there's a twist - it isn't the KKDN (Ministry of Home Affairs) that's the villain of the piece, it was the Minister of Information who ordered the publisher UKM (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) to withdraw the book from sale.

I realised when I started to read about the book online that I'm coming to the story rather late, but I'm unapologetic because I'm fathoming this banned book business out for myself and laying out all the pieces to try to see the whole story.

What is clear from recent bannings of works by and about prominent communists (recent examples being Amir Muhammad's film and the book about the Kathigasu family which still remains in KKDN limbo) is that alternative views of The Emergency are not permitted to become part of the official historical discourse.

This article from 2005 in online newspaper Malaysiakini (you need to be a subscriber to access the piece in its entirety) mentions:
... hostile critics who mounted a media campaign in the Umno-controlled Utusan Malaysia ...
So the deciders of what can and cannot be read or seen appear to be the Malay Language press, which then puts pressure on the government. In Amir's case, of course, it was Berita Harian who stirred the whole controversy up after his film had already been given the green light.

The Malaysiankini article continues:
Nowadays, it has become a fashion for many Malaysians to read what the conservative or even reactionary elites do not like to read or would not like them to read. It augurs well for the opening up of the Malaysian minds and challenging the secular monopoly of truth, including holy ones, by Utusan Malaysia, Berita Harian, RTM and some of their fellow scribes in the universities and think-tanks.

However, the memoirs are published only in the context of a series of other memoirs, including those of the very anti-communist Ghazali Shafie, a former Malaysian foreign as well as home minister in the 1970s and also a former British agent of special operations with the anti-Japanese Force 136.

Indeed, whether one finally agrees with Ibrahim Chik or Shamsiah Fakeh or not, the mere publications of their memoirs are indeed intellectually courageous acts which must be commended by all right-minded persons. The question that remains now is whether there would be rational and fair-minded public discussions on the contents of the memoirs.
Apparently not.

The UKM authorities were apparently pressured to withdraw sales of Shamsiah Fakeh's book. (Wouldn't one expect a bit more guardianship of knowledge from a university publisher??)

Meanwhile pirated copies of the book are circulating. It's a tough job to keep a good book down ... and intellectuals in the dark.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Take the Banned Book Challenge!

A library in Canada is encouraging readers everywhere to read banned books by issuing this challenge:
Take the Banned Book Challenge
Set a goal for yourself to read as many banned or challenged books as you wish between February 26 (Freedom to Read Week) and June 30, 2007. Visit the Pelham Public Library’s Fahrenheit 451: Banned Book Blog to set your goal and report on your progress.
So what do you plan to read? I might just start with Fahrenheit 451 myself.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Local author's book banned

Author: Banning my work a denial of history
by Fauwaz Abdul Aziz, Malaysiakini, Jan 20, 07 4:47pm

The author of a book on the Kampung Medan clashes of 2001 has questioned why the authorities have banned his publication, given that the information contained therein is already available in the public domain.
>Can anyone with a Malaysiakini subsciption please help share the details of this article? Thanks.

However, I found a blog entry regarding the abovementioned book "March 8" which is written by K. Arumugam.
“March 8″, which was written in Tamil, records what had happened during the Kampung Medan racially-based clashes in which, til today, is still shrouded in mystery.

It incorporates the research of Dr. Nadarajah, who had studied the events for his PhD thesis.

CIJ: Book banning: Extreme censorship

taken from CIJ website, 9 January 2007
The banning of books is a serious violation of freedom of expression. It should not be done at all, and never done lightly. It is thus distressing that the Deputy Internal Security Minister Datuk Fu Ah Kiow implies that book bannings can be reversed or re-considered if there are complaints from distributors or importers. This implies firstly a lax attitude towards the banning of books, and second it puts the onus for action on book distributors, whereas the responsibility should lie with the Ministry to ensure that no frivolous bannings occur.

CIJ has learnt from local sources that Datuk Fu has responded to media coverage of banned or restricted books by saying that the Ministry has not received complaints about book banning from distributors. He further said that a meeting will be held with the distributors to discuss how the process of banning books can be made more transparent. While CIJ applauds the move to engage in consultation and improve openness within the Ministry, the underlying assumption that books must be banned is disconcerting.

It is also worrying that the Ministry is looking at making the banning process more streamlined, rather than reconsidering whether book banning is important, effective or consistent with Malaysia's aim of achieving Vision 2020 within the next decade and a half. When books are banned, ideas are removed from circulation. This stunts the ability of our students, academics and general public from dealing with controversial ideas, and assumes a paternalistic attitude that is not suited to a country with a high standard of educational achievement.

The Centre for Independent Journalism has, further, consistently condemned the banning of books, and with a group of over 100 individuals and 10 organizations had called for a repeal of the ban of 18 books banned in June 2006. The organization reiterates the call for an end to the banning of books and a repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.

The Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia (CIJ) is a media organization that aims to improve current Malaysian journalism practice and independence through advocacy, research and analysis, training and practical work. Started in 2001, CIJ has initiated various projects in developing grassroots communications skills through training, infrastructural support and direct action.


Issued by
Sonia Randhawa
Executive Director

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Books in KKDN Limbo

In the previous post I mentioned that publishers and distributors could apply for the green light from KKDN headquarters in Putrajaya for books they might fear had a chance of being "restricted" by the officers in Johor (as far as one can predict these things!), and could appeal if they felt that books were being "restricted" unfairly. (As Deputy Minister Datuk Fu Ah Kiow had promised.)

Well, an article in yesterday's Sun illustrated that while this might be so in theory, in practice books submitted in the HQ might well fall into a beaurocratic black hole.

Copies of a book called Faces of Courage, an "historical appreciation of colonial Malaya's legendary Kathigasu family" were apparently seized by KKDN officers in Johor Bahru in March. An appeal was immediately made to the KKDN headquarters in Putrajaya. Nine months on, no decision on the book has been reached by the officers of the publications and Quranic text control division. Principal assistant secretary Yaakob Samad has refused to say why the book was being withheld.

James Wong Wing On writes about Sybil Kathigasu in Malaysiakini:
The Christian Eurasian woman who was very un-apologetically pro-colonial and spoke Cantonese - was particularly remembered by older generations of Chinese residents of Ipoh and its satellite township Papan as one simple, kind-hearted and extraordinarily brave soul who saved many lives and inspired those in despair during the 44-month Japanese occupation from December 1941 to August 1945. To those who are younger, her legend is preserved in her wartime memoirs No Dram of Mercy first published in 1954.

According to the legend, the simple housewife of Dr AC Kathigasu, who operated a clinic at No.141 at Brewster Road in Ipoh, secretly helped to supply medicines and medical services to the anti-Japanese guerrilla forces in Papan where she and her family lived as war refugees. She also helped them to illegally keep shortwave radio sets and listen to broadcasts from Britain and the outside world. Because of those ‘subversive’ activities she and her husband were arrested, tortured and detained until the war ended.
Faces of Courage brings together the 1954 memoirs of Sybil Kathigasu (which has long been available in bookshops here), with a piece by former Communist Party Malaysia leader Chin Peng about the help he and his men received from the Kathigasus during the Emergency; and an account of the subsequent life of Dawn Kathigasu and an interview with Olga Kathigasu, 86, who resides in Ipoh.

It is of course the section by Chin Peng which might be the sticking point for the KKDN. However, his own memoir Alias Chin Peng: My Side of History is available in the bookshops.

Media Masters managing director Ian Ward describes the book as:
... a meticulously researched project based on documented material and actual oral interviews.It paints a very human picture of the Kathigasu story but one that is in significant contrast to the myths that have developed around this subject over the decades. It corrects a number of serious factual errors that have long accompanied the retelling of the Kathigasu saga.
The book is clearly of great local interest and an important historical document, and should be made available to readers here. I managed to buy a copy a month or two back from Silverfish.

And nine months in the booktrade is a very long time, especially when you are a small local publisher trying to recoup your investment.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Books ... or Ikan Bilis?

The restricted books issue has gone quiet, hasn't it, after our initial outpourings of outrage and a brief flurry of press?

What happens next?

Well, Animah's letter has gone to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Culture, and many more individuals and agencies. I am waiting for her go ahead before I paste it up here. We need to give all these bodies time to digest and respond to it.

Meanwhile we wait and see.

Raman says
We have been told that this matter was actually raised in the parliament but it was neatly sidestepped and ignored. Truth is, very few in the Government, and in the opposition, actually care. There are more 'important' issues.
Frankly, this cannot be a fight for book lovers alone. Those in the book industry must also express their dismay over the bannings.

I was talking to one of the larger local publishers the other day, with two of the books on the restricted list - two of the extremely innocent titles we all were joking about.
"Any idea why your books were restricted?"
"None at all."
"Have you tried appealing?"
"Can we?"
Oh yes. Didn't Deputy Internal Security Minister, Datuk Fu Ah Kiow say the other day:
If the distributors feel that any of the restrictions are unfair, they can always appeal by sending the book to our Putrajaya headquarters for review. We will see what the problem is and correct it if necessary.
Perhaps there is inertia in the book industry and as Raman suggests, those involved might feel more comfortable "selling rice, ikan bilis and sugar instead". One book restricted, never mind there are plenty more books on the shelves.

Perhaps also there is fear. Raman reports that another book distributor had promised to give Raman a list of books which had been restricted, but was told:
No lah, my boss does not want to get involved, he said. After they stop all our shipment from Singapore, susah lah.
As Raman says:
This is precisely what book banners and book burners thrive on: fear. And book banning and book burning is where it all starts.
(Do read Raman's post in full as he works up a better head of outrage than I'm capable of.)

The books that are restricted, by the way, are not the only books missing from our shelves. There are now the books the distributors aren't even attempting to bring in.

I spoke to a distributor recently who said that he had brought in just a handful of copies of a book published in Singapore which contained three memoirs by individuals involved in the Emergency. (I have the book and it is of definite historical interest.)

He was sure that if he brought in copies in larger quantities to supply the bookshops, his books would be confiscated in Johor.

How many more books don't even make it here?

But he did say that with any title he feels might be considered controversial, he submits a copy to the Ministry headquarters in Putrajaya. And that so far he has had no trouble getting approval.

So please distributors and publishers, do appeal. For the sake of all those who love books (and let's put it bluntly, keep you in business.) And please let us know what happens.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Censors make genies disappear

article taken from The Sun
PETALING JAYA (Jan 8, 2007): It seems that reading about genies is inappropriate for local readers, and the authorities have chosen to black out the information -- rather than let readers discern for themselves if it is beneficial to read and know about them.

In the Dec 23 issue of The Economist an entire two-page article has been torn off and two sentences from another article have been blacked out.

The first article, a special report entitled Jinn -- Born of fire is about the belief among Muslims in Somalia and Afghanistan in the existence of the jinn or genie.

In the second article, A child of Bethlehem -- No end of history, an excerpt about Muslim and Christian women visiting a shrine related to the Blessed Virgin Mary has been obliterated with black ink.

When the matter was brought to his attention, Deputy Minister of Internal Security Datuk Fu Ah Kiow said he was not aware of this.

However, he pointed out that the government has the responsibility to censor all imported publications to ensure their contents are appropriate and suitable for Malaysian readers.

"We have guidelines in doing our job. We do not allow certain things such as pornographic materials and writings which are seditious, sensitive to religion and contain subversive elements," he told theSun.

However, in the day and age of the Internet, readers can read the whole version of the two articles in The Economist on its website at www.economist.com -- which makes the ministry's attempt to filter information seem futile.

"That is beside the point," Fu said, adding that while no one can control the Internet, the government has the power to control the kind of books and magazines being circulated in the country.

"It does not mean that if the Internet allows it, we should also allow it. It is just the same logic as nude photos. People can get it freely over the Internet but we do not allow them to be brought in here easily," he said.

While there is a guideline, the interpretation has not been consistent across the different entry points to the country and the ministry is trying to address this.

He said the ministry is improving the procedure and guidelines on the approval of permits to bring in foreign publications.

This includes streamlining the procedure at the entry points and creating better understanding between the ministry and local importers and publishers.

"The ministry's Publications and Quranic Text Control Division will meet book importers and publishers soon and if all goes well, we will have a better standardised guideline by March.

"We want a better understanding so that the industry will not incur unnecessary costs when they bring in books which will end up being banned and our officials will not have extra work for no reason," he said.

At present, he said, although there is a guideline, enforcement officers at different entry points tend to make different judgments when deciding on whether a particular book should be allowed into the country.

That is why we are also training our staff so that everyone will agree on the same thing when looking at a certain picture, he said.
Updated: 12:44AM Mon, 08 Jan 2007