Is “confusion” a good excuse to ban books? And where does it lead?
by Hafidz Baharom
This question still lingers, since the whole “Ultraman” ban in 2014 by our authorities here in Malaysia. Apparently because someone wrongly translated a character in the comic as “the Allah’s of Ultraman“, it got banned.
And this use of one word to describe God has led to yet another charge of how using such a word, and defining it, will somehow lead to “confusion”.
In today’s case, the people from the Selangor Religious Department (JAIS) testified that Ezra Zaid’s translation of Irshad Manji’s book titled “Allah, Liberty and Love” into Bahasa Malaysia, was “confusing” and wrongly describing God, therefore the cause to take him to court.
He is facing a maximum RM3,000 fine, a 2-year prison sentence, or both.
Now, I’m not sure about all the other 32 million Malaysians, but if a book “confuses” me, what I do is a few things – I don’t go about banning books or raiding bookshops, I’d actually go about to bookshops and buy more books on the same subject to read.
Because if there is anything I know for sure, it is that Islam as a religion actually tells us to read – it tells us to avoid bad actions, but it does not say “stop reading, put the book down and ban anyone from touching it”.
Such limitations would have stymied the growth of knowledge altogether. Subsequently, we all should know that the knowledge during the Golden Eras have always been due to translating from one language to another – and thus those who conquered in the past, worked through the books in newly conquered libraries and translated such works to be propagated as “their own knowledge and discoveries” by adapting further on the original idea.
Surely, there were enough confused Spanish Christians after the fall of Granada, just as there were confused Muslims and Mongols during the fall of Iraq? And they probably moved on and read more, and further built on past ideas.
Thus, is “confusion” or even preempting that people could get confused, a good excuse to ban books?
No, it isn’t.
If the religious authorities have a problem with such books, guess what? They can always read the book, come up with their own thoughts, and write their own book to counter the ideas that supposedly confuse people.
The fact that they didn’t just goes to show something we can agree with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed about – people are lazy and lackadaisical to the point that they’d rather ban intellectual discourse and books, rather than talk about it openly.
This is what happened during Tun Abdullah Badawi’s time as prime minister as well, with the Interfaith Council talks that kept getting violently shut down, to avoid “confusing” the public.
This is also why a lot of Malaysians would rather emigrate than stay, because they would rather go to countries where knowledge, freedom of expression and even the freedom of speech, are not just banned to avoid “general butthurt” among the public at large – like how Taman Medan people reacted to a cross on a church somehow affecting their faith as Muslims.
But at the same time, I have to voice a question here – how did we get to such a situation in a country with a multicultural, with differing faiths, races, and even genders?
At what point did the general public start seeing crosses as a cause for eroding faith, charity mineral water from a church became suspected holy water, and even having books of a minority opinion became something to fear and ban?
What and when did this culture of fear for others, get triggered?
Was it earlier during the Iranian Revolution, with the ascending belief of an Islamic government, ironically a Shia government, which Malaysians want to emulate?
Or was it when multiculturalism was no longer a healthy mingling of the Malaysian masses, but continued self segregation?
Different neighbourhoods, different schools, different workplaces, even different restaurants for eating, leading to no interaction among different races and religions, thus creating a self-established siege mentality among different societies in the same country.
Subsequently, this siege mentality is used in politics in an “us versus them” situation, where both sides use race and religion as a basis to win votes, and it works – and this can even be seen in America as well.
So it is clear, that while there is a government agenda to stop people from getting “confused” by books, there is also a move among Malaysian population themselves to gravitate towards what they are comfortable with, their own groups by race, by religion, by gender even, creating their own silos.
And when that happens, you get racist jokes, religious jokes, and even sexual jokes, that end up creating racists, religious bigots, and sexists, who don’t know they’re doing wrong when it gets called out from beyond their echo chamber.