Thursday, July 13, 2006

Malaysia bans more books deemed prejudicial to public order.

Date: Thursday 13 July 2006
Subj: Malaysia bans more books deemed prejudicial to public order.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


Once again, Malaysia's Internal Security Ministry has used the Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984 to ban books on religion. The banned titles are books that critique Islam and books that assist in Christian witness to Muslims. Many are international best sellers and have been in circulation, including in Malaysia, for many years. They are banned on the grounds that the Internal Security Ministry has deemed them prejudicial to public order. In reality however, the only members of the public likely to be provoked by these books are apostaphobic Islamists who rely on repression because they are threatened by public debate and public access to alternatives. That the government should pander to this element in this way is very disturbing.

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In early April 2003 the Malaysian Home Ministry (KDN) banned 35 books that they considered detrimental to public peace. Twelve of these were Christian books, eleven of which were in the national language, Bahasa Malaysia. The twelfth was a translation of the Bible in Iban, the language of the Iban people of Sarawak. Amongst the banned titles were translated works by J I Packer and John R W Stott. After much prayer and advocacy, and a meeting between Malaysian Christian leaders and Acting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the ban on the Iban-language Bible was lifted.

Then in April 2005 the Malaysian government banned eleven more titles dealing with religious topics on the grounds that they were "detrimental to public order". The books included: "Great Religions of the World" (published by National Geographic and in circulation for more than 30 years), "The Word of Islam" Edited by John Alden Williams, "A History of God" and "Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet" both by Karen Armstrong, "The Cross and the Crescent" by Phil Parshall, and "Women and Islam" by Fatima Mernissi (a Moroccan feminist). (For full list see Link 1)

Malaysia's Democratic Alliance Party called for an explanation, saying "Simply stating that the publications are detrimental to public order without justifying how they are so is plainly unacceptable. The decision of the Ministry to ban the books concerned is clearly retrogressive and does not square with the government's aspiration of creating a knowledge based society, especially in the present information technology era where people should have the fundamental freedom of access to information; not only information which the governing authorities deem appropriate." (Link 2)

In early June 2006, a further eighteen books on religious topics were banned on the grounds that they could disrupt public peace and harmony. Under the Printing Presses and Publications Act, all forms of reproduction or distribution of these books are thereby banned. Six of the titles are in Malay language and the rest are in English.

The newly banned titles include: "Lifting the Veil" by Trudie Crawford, "A Fundamental Fear of Eurocentrism and the Emergence of Islamism" by Bobby S Sayyid, "Islam Revealed - A Christian Arab's View of Islam" by Dr Anis A Shorrosh, "What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam" by John L Esposito, "Sharing Your Faith with A Muslim" by Akbidayah Akbar Abdul-Haqq, "The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam" by Karen Armstrong, and "Mini Skirts Mothers & Muslims" by Christine Mallouhi. Amongst the Malaysian language titles are two works by critic Kassim Ahmad, whose book, "Hadith: A Re-evaluation", challenges the infallibility of the Hadith, the purported words of Muhammad. (For full list see Link 3)

"THE SPACE FOR DISCOURSE IS NARROWING"

On 4 July the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) reported, "The Kuala Lumpur-based women's rights group Sisters-in-Islam is protesting the ministry's decision. 'We are particularly concerned over the increasing number of books on Islam and religion that are being banned,' the group said in an appeal to be sent to the ministry. 'The space for discourse is narrowing and Malaysian readers are being deprived of ideas and debates by renowned scholars and writers, published by reputable institutions such as the Oxford University Press.'

"Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is walking a tightrope between ensuring open discussions about liberalism and pluralism in Islam, and maintaining a strong political base among Muslim conservatives." (Link 4)

While PM Badawi is walking his tightrope, he is being pulled to each side by opposing forces. In reality, he needs to choose which side to jump into before he and his coalition are torn apart.

ARTICLE 19 (http://www.article19.org), an international human rights organisation which defends and promotes freedom of expression and freedom of information all over the world (the name comes from Article 19 of the UDHR) has strongly condemned the Malaysian government over the book bans.

In its 10 July press release ARTICLE 19 stated, "Any restriction on freedom of expression must be the least restrictive means possible to protect a legitimate interest, and must be carefully tailored to effectively protect that interest." ARTICLE 19 maintains that the bans violate international standards governing the right to freedom of expression. However, ARTICLE 19 also notes, "Malaysia is one of the few countries around the world which has not signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which under Article 19 guarantees freedom of expression and access to information." (Link 5)

New Straits Times columnist Syed Nadzri lamented the ban on books and strict regulation of local television, saying it is antithetical to the whole notion of "openness and transparency" as is often bandied about by the Abdullah administration. (Link 6)

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Banning Books. 12 May 2005
http://thebookaholic.blogspot.com/2005/05/banning-books.html
(This page has links to the banned English titles.)

2) The Internal Security Minister should review and lift the ban on
11 foreign language publications. DAP press release April 2005
http://www.dapmalaysia.org/english/bul/apr05/bul2679.htm (2005)

3) Ministry Bans 18 Books.15 June 2006
http://bernama.com/bernama/v3/news.php?id=203457
http://thebookaholic.blogspot.com/2006/06/more-banned-books.html
(This page contains links to the banned English titles.)

4) Government bans 18 books on Islam. 4 July 2006
http://www.seapabkk.org/newdesign/newsdetail.php?No=489

5) ARTICLE 19 condemns authorities' banning of 18 books for
disrupting peace and harmony. IFEX 11 July 2006
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/75609/
(original press release from Article 19:
http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/malaysia-18-books-banned.pdf)

6) Burning concern for democracy and press freedom
4 July 2006. http://www.aliran.com/content/view/86/22/