Books and the fear they cause

Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.

– George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright

To officially or legally prohibit (something) or officially prevent (someone) from doing something — this is the meaning of ‘banned’ according to the Oxford Dictionary.

Books have always been a common medium through which writers can communicate with the masses.

Many writers have across the centuries shared their opinions, experiences, thoughts, philosophies, political ideologies and other matters through the publication of books.

Reading these books helps us to acquire more knowledge and also further develop new ideas. Very importantly the publication of books helps to preserve information and ideas across time.

According to some online sources, China is the origin of the oldest known printed text — sometime in the first millennium AD.

Later around 868 AD, the Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist book during the Tang Dynasty, is claimed to be the oldest known printed book.

There has been no looking back since and the knowledge disseminated by books has led to great advancements in our society.

Gradually with more people having access to books, the expansion of knowledge led to more people thinking for themselves.

However, there are situations where books are banned by governments on certain grounds that could be political, legal, religious or moral. This can also be seen to be a form of censorship.

There are obviously justifications and grounds for banning some books such as those propagating hate and violence.

On the other hand, there are also times when the reasons for banning books are flimsy with weak justifications.

Going back in history, some forms of banning have been extreme, such as the burning of books and the alleged burying of the scholars under the Qin Dynasty (213–210 BC).

History is littered with many cases of officially sanctioned book burnings and destruction of public libraries.

This is usually done by the powers that be when they believe the dissenting views are a threat to them.

The Malaysian government has powers under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 to ban books.

This has usually been done on the grounds a book is “prejudicial to public order”.

Even our past prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir has had his book ‘The Malay Dilemma’ banned in 1970, 11 years before he became the prime minister.

The ban was subsequently lifted in 1981 and many of the policies suggested in the book were eventually implemented by the government.

Recently, there has been a call by some quarters to ban another book. This book is ‘My Story: Justice in the Wilderness’ by Tommy Thomas, Malaysia’s past Attorney-General.

I have not had the opportunity to read the book and have only read some extracts and reviews of the book.

At the time of writing, the publication of this book has triggered 134 police reports. I am sure more police reports will be filed, allowing some people their five minutes of fame and glory.

Generally, I tend not to rush out and buy this nature of books and always take my sweet time about it.

However, with all these allegations of defamation and sedition, it captured my attention even more.

Based on some of the reviews in this book, of more interest to me would be to the inner workings of our federal government and obviously the machinations that lead to the eventual downfall of the PH government.

The police reports lodged against Thomas and talk of banning the book has led to the first edition being sold out.

I believe that as long as books or any form of speech or publication does not instigate violence or hate it ought to be allowed.

I hope there continues to be a healthy discussion on the contents of the book.

Whatever the final outcome, the book has already established itself on to the ‘must read’ category in Malaysia and some indications suggest even on the international level.

If they are falsehoods, then we have courts to adjudicate. The arbitrary banning of books as a tool is outmoded. It is a retarded way to go about suppressing the flow of information in modern society.

Ultimately whatever the truth of the situation with the federal politics, it is important that we in Sarawak must not take the current stability here for granted.

We certainly do not want the wilderness of Malayan politics coming here.

Our Sarawak leadership has been able to establish peace and stability. Personally, I would like to see this maintained as I am sure you would as well. 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.