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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Profiling the Serial Book-Killer

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If you've been reading myAsylum long enough, you'd know that one of the things that peeves Walski to no end is censorship. That, and maybe Professional Wrestling, too - but we'll leave that for another day.

Image hosting by PhotobucketAnd few things could be worse, from a censorship standpoint, than the wholesale banning of books. (Why they don't just ban Professional Wrestling instead remains a mystery to Walski). So it was with great distress when, over the last couple of weeks, a number of blog posts have been talking about the increased occurrences book banning in Malaysia, of late.

First, there is the "de facto" banned list from the Ministry for Internal Security (Kementerian Keselamatan Dalam Negeri or KKDN) - or in a more concise PDF version, courtesy of Silverfish Books. And then, to add insult to injury, Walski found out about another, more ad hoc list, from the Johor Bahru KDN (see here), which was first read about at Manuscripts Don't Burn, a book-banning watchdog and activist blog.

Walski's mid-post note of appreciation: Hat tips all around go to the good folks behind Manuscripts Don't Burn, namely Midnite Lily, Erna, Eyeris, Bibliobibuli, and Ted Mahsun, for putting this most excellent site together!

Now, this "unofficial" (i.e. un-Gazetted) list contains some of the most surprising titles that you would expect to find. Most prominent on the list is Booker of Booker Prize-winning book Midnight's Children, by acclaimed author Salman Rushdie. It won this prize in 1981. The book was released a year earlier, in 1980.

A quick side-note about Malaysian Governmental directives: Official Directives from the central authority are frequently disputed (sometimes even ignored) by local Napoleonic authorities. In this case, in addition to the official banned book list, the Johor KDN has probably added their own banned list. You'll just have to trust Walski on this one - but it's based on his experience importing stuff through the various ports of entry, and having to deal with the various regional Customs authorities. Malaysian Customs authorities at every entry point have their own discretionary powers, and they make full use of these powers. Walski assumes the same applies to KDN/KKDN.

For fun, lets assume that the "unofficial" banned list is the work of one individual, whom we shall call Suspect Zero, again for the sheer heck of it. Let's attempt to profile our Suspect Zero, and although the list is probably not the work of one person, it does assist in understanding the mentality behind this draconian stupidity.

A few preliminary questions come to mind:
(a) What kind of civil service moron takes 25 years to read a damn book (its only about 624 pages long)?
(b) Why "restrict" (a nice, politically correct term for ban) a book that's been on sale for the last quarter of a century?
(c) Why now?

Reading through the unofficial restricted list, you will also find other titles from Salman Rushdie, such as (his latest) "Shalimar the Clown", and "Fury". This gives Walski a clue to answering the three questions above. It indicates that it is the author, not the books, that's the target of this ban.
(Walski answers the questions, and more, in the full post)

Even the most ignorant of ignoramuses would probably know the name Salman Rushdie, as that heretic who insulted Prophet Muhammad in his book The Satanic Verses, and as a result got a fatwa issued against the book and himself (by the late Ayatollah Khomeini, calling for his death). This most clearly points to the probability that Suspect Zero is Malay/Muslim, and perhaps one that is not all that well-read, relying instead on hearsay and wisdom from the religious authorities (who are themselves typically not well-read outside their field).

This is further supported by the fact that there are a few books on Islam or Islam-related, which may not promote the official mainstream dogamatic views of Islam (a book on Osama bin Laden, one on al-Qaeda, and even Karen Armstrong's History of God, which incidentally is also in Walski's personal collection - only for the last almost 8 years!)

So far so good - we have a criteria to start our further investigation with.

Alright, what else is on the list? Many of the books are related to sex. Yes, that evil activity, against which moralists usually bend over backwards to repress. In this case, however, anything even the slightest bit perceptibly relating to sex - and it always makes Walski wonder what kind of warped mind would categorize as prurient sex material, book titles including one on women's health, one on breastfeeding (the baby, not husband), an historical revue of the brassiere, and the critically acclaimed The Vagina Monologues - anything with vagina in the title must be pruriently sexual, right? Plus a few books that promote a Western liberal view of feminism.

Suspect Zero, we can conclude, therefore, is male, primarily due to the misogynistic leanings exhibited in the list. The incidence of female misogyny is rare, and probably statistically insignificant for the purposes of this analysis.

BANNED!! Image from, hosting by PhotobucketMoving along... Now there are some titles on the unofficial list that are simply mind-boggling: a children's read-aloud fairy tale book, a Spongebob Squarepants interactive book, a book on Bali architectural and cultural styles, and even one on globalization!

But this almost fits into the profile we have so far. "Fairy Tales" and Spongebob Squarepants are probably construed as un-Islamic, and therefore "dangerous" for the young mind. The same applies to anything Bali-esque - Hindu influence in Malay/Nusantara culture... perish the thought... failing which, ban the book. And how can globalization be anything but bad for the pampered and mollycoddled Malay psyche? Ban the f*cker!!

Add to that what we already know - Suspect Zero is a civil servant - and to use the common stereotypes - would be a person that follows orders to the latter, usually devoid of any common sense or reasonable judgement. And since this is someone with some level of authority within the civil service, we would put Suspect Zero at between 30 - 55 years of age.

And so we have Suspect Zero's profile: Malay/Muslim, male, age between 30 - 55, dogmatically devout believer in mainstream official Islam, has mysogynistic tendencies, and who is devoid of independent and critical analytical thought. Sound like any civil servant you know? Better yet - transpose the profile (except the age/sex part) - and you get the mindset behind this, and other government-related anti-progressive trends that we see plaguing our nation.

Now some of you will probably start branding Walski with all kinds of labels after the last paragraph: heretic, Islamophobe, racist anti-Malay, betrayer of race and religion, free thinker, and liberal - Walski's heard them all, and frankly doesn't give a rat's ass. Stick and stones...

It also underlines Walski's larger concern about conservative Islamic thought, which clearly is becoming more pervasive. It's not just about their adverse views towards liberalism and libertarianism. To Walski, book banning is one of the more insidious side-effects that perhaps is not very obvious to most.

The real point is this: banning books is not going to help Malaysia achieve a thinking citizenry, regardless of ethnicity, creed or deoderant preferance. Stick, spray, gel or roll-on, not having free and unrestricted access to books, and other reading materials, means retarding our own human potential for intellectual growth. And a Malaysia of our collective ideals - progressive, respected, and with an intelligent citizenry - can only be achieved through the development of our intellect.

What better way is there to grow our intellect than through reading? Walski sure can't think of any, and if you actually have an alterantive to reading, you may very well be on your way to the next Nobel Prize. Yeah... Walski didn't think you did, either.

Banning Spongebob Squarepants is not going to help. Neither is repressing any discussion of a sexual nature. Neither is denying enquiring females the opportunity to learn about the biological workings of their own body (which reminds Walski of an anecdote, which is at the very end of this post).

How can you help?
If you feel that censorship is wrong, and the banning of books an even bigger wrong (Walski does), then you can do your part to make more people aware about this incidious trend that threatens our nation's intellectual health. Go to this specific post at Manuscripts Don't Burn, copy one of their nice-looking buttons, and put it on your blog (or website), if you have one. And don't forget to link the image back to Manuscripts Don't Burn.

But don't just stop at embedding the pretty buttons - write something about why you think book banning is bad, dangerous, plain idiotic, etc. - about whatever your thoughts are pertaining to this. If you don't already have a blog (or website), writing about it anywhere is a good way to start. And Walski is happy to accept contributed writings to post on myAsylum (it helps with the occassional writer's block...), on any subject, but particularly this one.

Finally, read a banned book. Yes, you may be risking persecution prosecution, but doing this does help to understand the mindset behind this ridiculous policy of banning books. Understanding is the first step to fighting it. And reading is your all-access transit ticket towards understanding.

Walski's female reproductive system ignorance anecdote: Some years ago, Walski had a colleague - a rather naive Malay/Muslim girl, single, in her early 30's. Because any discussion of sex and reproductive health was a strict taboo in family circles then (heck, it still is today), her ignorance led her to believe that newborn children came out of the anus, and was dreading the thought of becoming a mother. We had a good laugh at work that day, needless to say - and did educate her on how babies are actually born (in very non-explicit terms). But this sort of ignorance is clearly a result of repression of information, instituted through morality-based justifications. Today, close to a decade and a half later, Walski's ex-colleague is happily married, with a couple of boisterous kids. Walski is also happy to report that all her kids came out through the proper channel.