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Malaysia bans more books deemed prejudicial to public order

July 13, 2006
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 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
rl-research@crossnet.org.au

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/

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