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Book banning frenzy must end, say civil society organisations

(CIJ/IFEX) - June 4, 2012 - We the undersigned are alarmed at the increasing rate of hostilities leveled against certain publications, leading to either their outright banning and seizures, or even in some cases, hostility against and the arrest of their authors and publishers.

While there has been uproar against Irshad Manji's "Allah, Kebebasan dan Cinta" [Allah, Liberty and Love] recently, the trend started much earlier with the banning of works by Karen Armstrong, Salman Rushdie, Khalil Gibran, Irvine Welsh and Iris Chang, among others.

Even the works of local authors such as Faisal Tehrani and Kassim Ahmad and cartoonist Zunar have not been spared. It seems this banning frenzy led by the Home Ministry knows no limit. Zulkifli Noordin, Member of Parliament for Kulim-Bandar Baharu, also recently called for the ban of "Kahwin Campur antara Muslim dengan Non-Muslim" published by Institut Kajian Dasar.

Not only do such measures contradict the government's supposedly moderate or wasatiyah stand on issues of diversity and tolerance, they stifle discourse and views required by any mature and developing democracy. In a healthy democracy, progress can be measured by the space given to different views without fear of retribution.

It also provides a pretext for the wanton exercise of power under the guise of religious order, with not only the Home Ministry's Publications Control and Quranic Text Division carrying out the seizure of books but also the Federal Territories Islamic Affairs Department (JAWI) and the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (JAIS).

These measures blatantly favour only one or two interpretations or solutions to key issues affecting Malaysian life and society at the expense of others.

Book banning is a draconian measure that is not only ineffective but contrary to the spirit of dialogue and engagement that Malaysia desperately needs. Malaysia as a nation of diverse identities, religions and cultures should embrace and welcome the complex interaction and exchange of ideas that is rapidly expanding in this era of globalisation. In that, the ethics of agreeing to disagree is crucial to ensure mutual respect for diverging ideas and dissenting views.

We call upon the authorities in Malaysia to put an end to book banning as the first step towards promoting diversity and respect in our society.

Endorsed by:

1. Aliran
2. All Women's Action Society (AWAM)
3. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
4. Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF)
5. Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)
6. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
7. Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor & Wilayah Persekutuan (Permas)
8. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor
9. Pusat KOMAS
10. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
11. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
12. Suaram
13. Tenaganita
14. Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)
15. Women's Centre for Change (WCC)
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