Call for establishment of a Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights whose terms of reference would include reviewing the ban of over 1,600 books in the past 40 years
It is an honour and privilege to be here to take part in the dialogue on “Maju Malaysia: Buku Sumber Kebijaksanaan atau P)enggugat Keharmonian?” at Summit USJ Mall organized at the initiative of the Office of Hannah Yeoh, Selangor State Assembly Speaker and to have such a distinguished panelists of discussants, namely Pak Samad Said, Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa, Art Harun and Al-Mustaqeem Mahmud Radhi.
Recently, there had been a spate of bans on books and publications, but the most shocking was the ban in July on the book produced by G25 titled “Breaking the Silence: Voices of Moderation ― Islam in a Constitutional Democracy” in a country founded on the principles of moderation, tolerance, openness and inclusivity and whose Prime Minister has gone to the United Nations General Assembly three times since 2010 to sell his international initiative of a Global Movement of Moderates, which has proved to be neither global, a movement nor moderate.
Early this month, the government banned the latest work of Malaysian cartoonist Junar, whose book “Sapuman: Man of Steal”, making a mockery of Malaysia’s commitment to human rights and freedom of expression. This follows earlier bans on Zunar’s other cartoon books – Gedung Kartun, 1 Funny Malaysia, Isu Dalam Kartun (Vol 1, 2, 3), Conspiracy to Imprison Anwar, Perak Darul Kartun and Pirates of Carry-BN. Zunar’s Ros in Kangkongland and other titles are also investigated under the Sedition Act.
Malaysia also banned the international best-seller “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty” published in United States in 2011, just after an unpleasantly-enforced end to a lecture tour by Turkish author Mustapha Akyol, who suddenly found himself a “persona non grata” by the religious authorities in Malaysia, subjected to harassment and detention.
Mustafa was in Malaysia to launch the Bahasa Malaysia version of his book, “Islam Tanpa Keekstreman: Berhujah Untuk Kebebasan”. Aside from Akyol, Ahmad Farouk Musa, director of Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), Nur Asyhraff Mohd Nor and Shuhaib Ar Rumy Ismail are credited as authors for the translated work.
At the same time, the home ministry announced the ban on two of Farouk’s own books – Wacana Pemikiran Reformis (Jilid 1) and (Jilid 2) – and Faisal Tehrani’s book entitled “Aku ___ maka aku ada”, the seventh book by Faisal that has fallen foul of the authorities. His first book to be banned in 2014, a novel Perempuan Nan Bercinta was launched by the Prime Minister in 2012.
As Faisal told the 4th ASEAN Literary Festival in Jakarta in August this year, the banning of books is a betrayal of the 1957 Merdeka Proclamation and a symptom of a defeated Constitution meant to safeguard fundamental rights and liberties.
What are we to make recent spate of book bans.
Firstly, it represents the rise of extremism, bigotry and intolerance.
I was struck by the pledge given by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last week to return to a moderate past and looked forward to a technology-driven future.
Speaking at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh last week, the Saudi Crown Prince said:
“We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.
“We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today.”
Although time will tell whether the Saudi kingdom could become an example of moderate Islam and become an open society, this is in stark contrast to some Malaysians who want to take the country towards an extremist direction, completely at odds with the country’s bedrock constitutional and nation-building principles of openness, tolerance, moderation and inclusivity.
All Malaysians must unite to defend these bedrock constitutional and nation-building principles as they will decide whether Malaysia, a nation of diverse races, religions, languages and cultures, will succeed and prosper as a nation and be a model to the world or become a failed state.
It is most ironic that while the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak had mooted the initiative of a Global Movement of Moderates in international forums, there has been a rise of extremism, intolerance and bigotry inside the country resulting in the worst racial and religious polarization in the country’s history.
All Malaysians, regardless of race, region or even politics, should reject such a dangerous trend of rising intolerance, bigotry and extremism, as they threaten the very basis of the nation’s Constitution and existence.
The spate of book bans are not only a violation of human rights of Malaysians to freedom of expression, they represent a direct attack on the bedrock principles of Malaysian Constitution and nation-building.
There must be a Parliamentary Committee to review the ban on over 1,600 books in the past 40 years to uphold the bedrock principles of moderation, openness, tolerance and inclusivity in the nation’s Constitution and nation-building process.
However, such a Parliamentary Committee is not possible under the present regime, as at present, MPs cannot even submit controversial questions about the 1MDB scandal or have a wide-ranging and comprehensive debate on the 1MDB scandal which has made Malaysia infamous worldwide as a global kleptocracy.
Such a parliamentary reform will have to await a Pakatan Harapan victory in the 13th General Election, which will usher in a spate of parliamentary reforms in the first 100 days of Pakatan Harapan in Putrajaya.