AUTHOR Dr Mohd Faizal Musa has slammed the banning of books as a betrayal of the 1957 Proclamation of Independence and a form of “terror”, following the recent ban on “mind-disturbing” publications.
He said the ban was a symptom of a defeated Constitution, which was meant to safeguard fundamental rights and liberties.
“Book-banning in Malaysia is, among others, a sign of rising extremism globally, the kind that stifles and violates the rights of people. It is another kind of terror,” he said in his opening speech at the 4th Asean Literary Festival in Jakarta, Indonesia, tonight.
Yesterday, Home Ministry secretary-general Alwi Ibrahim said eight books had been banned since March for having content that “disturb the mind, pose a threat to public peace, go against moral teachings and are obscene”.Five publications on Islam were banned after they were found to have content contradictory to the teachings of the religion as practised in Malaysia, while well-known political scientist and historian Dr Farish A. Noor’s From Majapahit to Putrajaya: Searching for Another Malaysia was banned for “giving a negative impression of Malaysia’s national security”.
Apart from the eight, G25’s Breaking the Silence: Voices of Moderation – Islam in a Constitutional Democracy was banned last week after the go-ahead was given by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Faizal, a research fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of the Malay World and Civilisation, said such decisions violated the rights of both the creator of artworks and the audience.
He likened the controlling, banning and censoring of artworks as “taking human dignity hostage, and violating the artists’ freedom as a human being”.
He said the interpretation of artworks was the right of the audience, and the banning of such works, including books, deprived people of the agency to think for themselves, forcing an “authoritative interpretation, intended to control the mindset of readers,” on them instead.
Faizal said there was no doubt that denying readers their right to understand and interpret on their own was a human rights violation.
“In literature, close reading is to observe humanity, or should I say, humanity reading, and this is derived from humanism, be it secular or religious.
“However, Islamic authorities in Malaysia have their own methods of close reading. Their version is by closing other readings, and by closing the door to other readings, they violate a basic human right: to enjoy, celebrate, accept or reject my works.
“By only allowing their reading and denying access to the rest, this authoritative move violates my rights and the rights of the audience.”
He blamed “infallible” Muslim clerics, who could not be challenged, for the problem.
Faizal, whose pen name is “Faisal Tehrani”, speaks from experience, having been a repeat “casualty” of the government’s book bans.
His 2012 novel, Perempuan Nan Bercinta, launched by Prime Minister Najib Razak, was the first to be banned in 2014.
Five more, including Karbala and Sebongkah Batu di Kuala Berang, were banned in 2015 and last year after the government claimed they promoted Shia Islam and were prejudicial to public order.
“For years my name has been excluded from anthologies, dropped from school textbooks, erased from university syllabuses, and strangely, in the name of ‘protecting’ God, six of my books have been banned,” said Faizal, who now finds his latest work, Bagaimana Anyss Naik Ke Langit, about the plight of the Penan in Sarawak, being shunned by booksellers.
“Although it is not banned, bookstores refuse to sell it. This commercial censorship proves that fear is creeping up effectively.
“It is lonely to be banned. Nobody invites you to poetry readings any more. Your most important books are suddenly not available on bookshelves.”
Despite the challenges, he said, words and stories were the real weapons in fighting the “war imposed by extremists”.
He urged fellow writers to be masters of their own works and to offer solutions as it was no longer enough to just present stories to highlight rights violations.
“Refugees, terrorism, hybrid democracy… these are the issues that must be confronted among us, to be written and shared, to call attention to and work towards a solution.
“We should not adopt the non-interference policy at the government level. We should not submit ourselves to the regime.
“We should not allow a ‘master’ to dictate or limit our work. As authors, we are in control of the meaning and words we convey.”