Manuscripts Don't Burn
November 7, 2006 2:32 AM   Subscribe

Malaysian bookstore Silverfish Books recently pubhlished a list of books restricted by the Malaysian Home Ministry (confiscated at the border by Customs) - a list that includes Chinese teapots, children's prayers, and Dora the Explorer. Banned books & magazines aren't exactly news in Malaysia; indeed, possession of said books can lead to severe penalties, even jail time.The Opposition has made a statement before, but that hasn't led anywhere. However, since Silverfish's list, Malaysian bloggers have had enough with the arbitrary and Kafka-esque bans and restrictions, and have come together to form Manuscripts Don't Burn, to protest and talk about banned books and the larger issue of freedom of speech in Malaysia.
posted by divabat (19 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, I see some books that I've read in that list! I'm surprised that Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Fury and Shame are banned in Malaysia, while the more controversial Satanic Verses isn't.

Also, quite interesting that they banned this book, called No Money, No Honey! A Candid Look at Sex-for-Sale in Singapore. I'm fairly certain I saw this book down at Kinokuniya's here in Singapore. In fact, it seemed rather tame, really, in content; wondering why they banned it. Did anyone in power actually read this book?

In any case, good to know about this schedule. I keep popping into JB and KL all the time for the weekends, and invariably cross the border clutching a book; staggering to imagine that I could be arrested for munching on Midnight's Children of all the books.

posted by the cydonian at 3:43 AM on November 7, 2006

Right, so I then read this. Much more clearer now.

Incidentally, I was amused recently to find out that Philosophy in the Bedroom is still banned in Singapore, although, clearly, nobody told Big Brother about La Philosophie dans le boudoir, or its English translation! :-)
posted by the cydonian at 3:53 AM on November 7, 2006

Under the Chinese Teapot link:


Conspiracy? What is it about the teapots that they don't want us to know?
posted by Pollomacho at 4:27 AM on November 7, 2006

Satanic Verses is still banned; I think the lists they have are from this year though. SV would have been in an earlier list.

I have the book...mailed to me without any trouble!
posted by divabat at 5:12 AM on November 7, 2006

Good post—thanks.

In case anyone's wondering about "Manuscripts don't burn," it's a famous (in Russia) quote from Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita and was used, for instance, as the title of a documentary biography of Bulgakov. In Russian it's Рукописи не горят (Rúkopisi ne goryát); as it says here:
This phrase became a popular saying in the Soviet Union. It was used especially in reference to writers whose works were considered dangerous by the government. Many of these writers never wrote down their stories or poems. They memorized their works so that the police would not find copies of the writings. This method helped preserve their stories for years. As a result, "manuscripts don't burn" because no matter what happens to the written copy of the work, it will always exist in the mind of its author.
I hope the people of Singapore get fed up enough to force the government to stop treating them like children.
posted by languagehat at 5:44 AM on November 7, 2006

psst, languagehat, it's Malaysia not Singapore ;) however, it does make me wonder how permissive Singapore is. Are things pretty similar across the Causeway?
posted by divabat at 6:15 AM on November 7, 2006

Good post—thanks.


This is why this tourist leaves "Malaysia, truely Asia" off the travel plans.
posted by three blind mice at 6:18 AM on November 7, 2006

psst, languagehat, it's Malaysia not Singapore

D'oh! Sorry, got too caught up in Bulgakov.
posted by languagehat at 7:06 AM on November 7, 2006

Damn those subversive Wiggles.
posted by MikeMc at 7:45 AM on November 7, 2006

When I was growing up in Malaysia [as an expat] Mahathir Mohammed's book, The Malay Dilemma was the most banned, controversial book during the seventies and eighties.

When I finally read, I was surprised to find nothing objectionable in there.
posted by infini at 9:16 AM on November 7, 2006

Singapore and Malaysia both banned Cosmopolitan magazine for example. And those issues that I did see in M'sia were defaced with thick black marker across women's exposed body parts.
posted by infini at 9:17 AM on November 7, 2006

I will never forget crossing back into Malaysia from Thailand (in the early 90s) and watching a customs/border guard leaving through a traveller's Sears catalogue (or somesuch), ripping out any page w/exposed female skin.

Malaysia is a wonderful place, despite the jackasses in UMNO.
posted by docgonzo at 11:39 AM on November 7, 2006

Uh, "leafing" through, obv.
posted by docgonzo at 11:41 AM on November 7, 2006

So what about exposed male skin? Also, are tank-tops or bikinis illegal in Malaysia?
posted by Citizen Premier at 2:33 PM on November 7, 2006

No, but pictures of 'em can't be imported.

I'd be innerested to know how Dr. M's jackasses are dealing with the intarwebben.
posted by docgonzo at 5:23 PM on November 7, 2006

to be honest, malaysia is hyperparanoid and overly jealous of Singapore's success since they both parted ways in 65. almost like pakistan and india. sibling rivalry, that is all.
posted by infini at 6:28 PM on November 7, 2006

infini: I doubt this has anything to do with Singapore - more to do with general distrust of all things non-traditional and non-conservative.

Lists from 2000 to 2006.
posted by divabat at 1:53 AM on November 8, 2006

Divabat, about your copy of the Satanic Verses... heheh!

My absolute favourite story on SV is about getting this pirated copy off Hyderabad's (that's in India) streets; surprisingly enough, the guy selling it actually knew that SV was banned in India, and was entrepreneural enough to charge extra for that. I asked him if he was Muslim (he was), and if he knew why it was banned. I may have sounded accusatory at that point - wasn't trying to be, I disagreed with the ban myself - so the guy quickly asked if I really wanted the book; buy or move away, but don't lecture me, he seemed to be saying.

As for books banned in Singapore, let's just say one of the better places to find that out in M'sia is at the KLIA; the bookshop there seems to be rather interested in marketing books that are banned here. :-)

General rule of thumb though, most books seem to be banned because of their political content; printed risque material seems to be getting passed without much trouble these days. Then again, I was mostly referring to the big bookshops here, the Kinokuniyas, the Borders', and MPH's; would be interesting to find out if my neighbourhood distributor got into trouble for importing any book. Wouldn't be surprised if he did, obviously; know for a fact, for instance, that some books dealing with Malaysian/ Singaporean independence are restricted reading. You must be present in this certain room to read those books, and a librarian will be with you all the time.

infini: Can't say about Cosmopolitan, but there are LOADS of women's magazines at the corner kiosk. Elle, for example, is widely sold, and so are other special-interest titles I can't recollect at the moment. Very few political news-magazines though, in fact, NONE dealing with Asian news.
posted by the cydonian at 5:37 AM on November 9, 2006

On reflection, I'll modify that. I actually know jackshit about the kind of books that are banned in Singapore; unless you're actively tracking governmental circulars (like you guys are), it's all about the unknown-unknowns isn't it.

What I can deduce, though, is that it seems to be rather difficult to get books off the list, apparently; consider the case of Philosophy of the Bedroom, for instance.
posted by the cydonian at 6:00 AM on November 9, 2006

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