From the Selangor Times 17 August 2012. Ask Lord Bobo is a weekly column by LoyarBurok where all your profound, abstruse, erudite, hermetic, recondite, sagacious, and other thesaurus-described queries are answered!
Lord Bobo, what is the fuss about this #Stop114A that has been all over my Facebook, Twitter, and email inbox this week? I know it’s about the Evidence Act amendments which have been extensively written about, but why has the campaign been so controversial? (Becca, via email)
As you say, the Evidence Act amendments have been extensively written about, and you can read many good articles about it on LoyarBurok.com. So we will not go into the details.
The controversy is surely unavoidable. His Supreme Eminenceness has observed a few types of negative responses to the #Stop114A campaign.
First off are the people who think that they are smarter than these #Stop114A folk. You can recognise them by their repeated assertions that people who are against the Evidence Act amendments obviously are not well-schooled in the law, or are just “sheep” who are following the latest protest trend.
This first group includes the #Yes114A gang, who tweet using that hashtag to voice their support for the Evidence Act amendments. Their view is that as long as you are well-behaved online, there is no need to fear Section 114A.
Unfortunately, this one-eyed view does not take into account the fact that Section 114A can implicate even the most innocent parties, including those whose account has been hacked, own WiFi networks that have been used by unknown people, or even have a public Facebook wall where someone put up something naughty.
Then of course there are those who oppose #Stop114A because it is “a Pakatan Rakyat campaign”. This is, sadly, becoming the norm in Malaysia. Anything which is remotely critical of the government is “an Opposition campaign”. So the government can, apparently, do no wrong, and anyone who says otherwise is obviously doing so for political reasons, rather than on merit.
#Stop114A has succeeded in giving even more publicity to the cause.
Earlier this week, Barisan’s Saifuddin Abdullah and Khairy Jamaluddin said some BN MPs would submit a request to the government to review the controversial amendments. This obviously is good news, but one wonders what these BN MPs were doing when the amendments were passed in the first place.
Next up? Watch as the #Yes114A gang clamber over each other to laud the cancellation of the amendments. You heard it here first.
Dear Lord Bobo, why is Malaysia banning books? Isn’t that soooo last century? (Jega G, via email)
Ah, Jega. We assume this question arose because of the Home Minister’s ban on Irshad Manji’s book “Allah, Liberty & Love” and its Malay translation called “Allah, Kebebasan dan Cinta”. The rest of the world can read the book. Those of us with Internet access can purchase an ebook and read it. But ordinary Malaysians are denied the ability to read this book.
The ban is reminiscent of the ban on the book produced by Sisters in Islam titled “Muslim Women and the Challenges of Islamic Extremism”. That book was “unbanned” by the High Court last year, and the Court of Appeal upheld that decision recently. The ostensible reason for that ban was that the government felt that Muslims, particularly Muslim women, would be “confused” by the book.
It seems the Malaysian government has not learnt from that incident, and still feels that Malaysians, particularly Muslims, must be protected from knowledge, opinions and intellectual freedom.
To add insult to most serious injury, a sales manager from the Borders bookstore was hauled up and charged in the Syariah court for “distributing” the book, despite the fact that she has no role to play in the purchase of books and doesn’t even stack shelves.
Someone obviously felt that a lesson needed to be taught, and she is the unfortunate example being presented.
Ezra Zaid, the director of the book’s Malaysian publisher was also arrested.
However, the Malaysian courts have ordered a stay of these prosecutions in the Syariah courts whilst they hear challenges against these arrests. A challenge is also being mounted against the ban itself.
Books can be banned by the Home Minister under Section 7 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
Yes – in Malaysia, you have to get a permit in order to own a printing press. And you need to get a licence to publish a newspaper or other periodical. But you don’t need to get prior permission to publish a one-off publication like a book.
The Home Minister can ban a book only if the book is “in any manner prejudicial to or likely to be prejudicial to public order, morality, security, or which is likely to alarm public opinion, or which is or is likely to be contrary to any law or is otherwise prejudicial to or is likely to be prejudicial to public interest or national interest”. Fuh, powerful stuff.
Now, whether all that is constitutional and complies with Article 10 of our Federal Constitution, which as you all know protects free speech, is a totally different question.
And whether or not Malaysian authorities and courts even bother whether all that is constitutional or not is also a totally different question.
Once a book is banned, the book and any “copy, reproduction, extract or any translation, precis or paraphrase thereof” is not allowed – in fact, it’s a criminal offence! (And yes, that probably applies even to those e-books!)
So, you see, the power to ban books is granted by law. The Home Minister in all his infinite wisdom wants to protect us gullible, soft-headed, commoner Malaysians from having our minds permeated by insidious books.
If you are Muslim, you are easily confused in Malaysia and must be protected.
If you are Muslim and distribute a book about Islam which is not liked by the religious authorities, you can go to jail. If you are non-Muslim, you won’t.
But as you said, the banning of books is indeed so last century. It is common knowledge that smart governments now have realised that the best way to keep “deviant” books out of the hands of its citizens is not to ban them. Instead, pack the shelves with trashy romance novels, get-rich tips, celebrity gossip, and all manner of self-help fluff.
But hey, sorry to wander off topic, why is Lord Bobo talking about smart governments when you asked about Malaysia?
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