Press Statement

Books should be read, not banned

3 August 2017

Lawyers for Liberty view with grave concern the government’s continued trigger happy approach in using the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 to arbitrarily ban books they find prejudicial to public order, morality or security, including books on moderate and progressive interpretations of Islam.

In particular, the banning of “Breaking the Silence: Voices of Moderation – Islam in a Constitutional Democracy” by G25, “From Majapahit to Putrajaya: Searching for Another Malaysia” by Dr. Farish A Noor, and “Menuju Reformasi Perundangan Islam” by Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im raises serious concerns regarding the government’s commitment to fundamental freedoms, academia and intellectual knowledge.

“Breaking the Silence”, is a collection of scholarly articles by G25, calling for a more moderate approach to Islam and for the Federal Constitution to be upheld in order to tackle intolerance and extremism.

In a similar vein, “Menuju Reformasi Perundangan Islam”, a translation of the book “Toward an Islamic Reformation” by Prof. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im of the Emory University School of Law, a distinguished scholar of constitutionalism and human rights in Islam, calls for the reformation of Syariah law and for it to be line with international law and human rights.

Finally, “From Majapahit to Putrajaya”, by renowned historian Dr. Farish A Noor of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, critically analyses the contemporary rise of Malay nationalism and Islamic extremism in Malaysia and Indonesia.

By no stretch of the imagination have any of these books at any time remotely threatened public disorder or security to justify the authorities banning them. Furthermore, none of the three books are recent publications, with the latter two being in print for over a decade.  Therefore, the government’s ban can only be described as irrational and out of step with reality, especially in the age of the Internet and social media. It has also turned the Prime Minister’s repeated claim that Malaysia was a model of moderate Islam, as meaningless and without basis.

The banning of such books can only be counterproductive of the government’s own efforts to curb extremism in the country. The suppression of debate on the current narrative regarding religion, particularly Islam, can only further embolden the intolerant environment that is unaccepting of different viewpoints and especially of minority rights, and has led to increasing numbers of individuals being radicalised.

Hundreds of Malaysians have been arrested by the police for suspected ISIS-related activities and many more are fighting or supporting them in Syria, Iraq and the Philippines. More recently, death threats against lawyer Siti Kasim for her LGBT views and calls for Marina Mahathir’s faith to be investigated following her ‘liking’ of a pro-LGBT tweet demonstrate the intolerant climate that is threatening all those who are seen to be have ‘adverse’ viewpoints on Islam.

Malaysia, as a supposedly modern democracy, should not continue down the path of repression and totalitarianism where books can be banned on a whim. Why fear differing viewpoints and knowledge? Books should be read, not banned, confiscated and destroyed.

Book banning is a relic from a bygone era, an irrational policy that can only set back the Prime Minister’s ambitious Transformasi Nasional (TN50) plan. It has no place in any modern and civilised society, much less among the top 20 nations of the world as Malaysia aspires to be by 2050. We therefore call for the ban of these books and others to be lifted.

Released by:
Eric Paulsen
Executive Director
Lawyers for Liberty