The childish show of authority by the home ministry and Jakim has further made the country a laughing stock in the eyes of the intellectual minds.
From the look of things, Malaysia lacks the “credentials” necessary to achieve its “Vision 2020”. To begin with, the journey towards 2020 long took off on a wrong footing, with the government of the day busy “brainwashing” the rakyat instead of encouraging the development of critical minds.
The government wants to have an absolute say in every thing – from the haphazardly structured education system to what the people should read and to what is going on in the bedroom.
First, the federal government declared that sex education was not suitable for classroom teaching and this “musical chair” went on for a decade. Next, the government proclaimed it was coming down hard on the LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender) communities because of their deviant lifestyle.
Then the government tried to look “wise” in justifying why it scrambled to ban all books written by a New York University professor, Irshad Manji, the latest being “Allah, Liberty and Love – Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom”.
The excuse that the book was “prejudicial to morality and public order” was given by Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.
Being gay seems to be the biggest price Irshad is paying for trying to share her thoughts with the world. Malaysia is no exception when Hishammuddin banned the book on May 29 and the very “efficient” Islamic Development Department (Jakim) proceeded to issue the ban on the same day.
What is Hishammuddin scared of – that a gay Muslim woman talks about “Allah, Love and Liberty” in the same breath? Or is he troubled by the fact that a gay woman dared make her way to town on May 19 to launch the Bahasa Malaysia version of her “Allah, Liberty and Love” book?
On what grounds did Hishammuddin conclude that Irshad’s work is “prejudicial to morality and public order”? Did he not know that her previous book “The Trouble With Islam Today” was on the shelves of major bookstores for several years prior to the ban being imposed on May 29? There was no danger or threat to “morality and public order” then, so why the uncalled-for antics now?
Obviously, the issue here is not that Irshad writes about “Allah, Love and Liberty”; on the contrary, it has all to do with her sexuality, which she has no qualms about.
Such childish show of authority by both Hishammuddin and Jakim has further made the country a laughing stock in the eyes of the intellectual minds. Whatever more does the home minister plan to do to mock Malaysia globally?
Following orders, blindly
Not only were copies of “Allah, Love and Liberty” confiscated by Jakim, the authority also arrested its Malaysian publisher, ZI Publications’ proprietor Ezra Zaid, who was charged with publishing the book. He was later released on bail.
The drama did not end there. Officials from Jakim later raided the bookstore Borders, scavenging for all books penned by Irshad. In the process, they chose to display “supremacy” when the Federal Territories Religious Department (Jawi) raided the bookstore’s outlet in Garden’s Mall, Mid Valley on May 23.
However, Berjaya Books Sdn Bhd, which operates retail chain, Borders, says it never received news from Jawi of any edict from the National Fatwa Council banning Irshad’s books.
“There was also no fatwa or any form of notification issued by Jawi to Borders. There was no way for Borders to know that Jawi considered Irshad’s books to be objectionable,” Berjaya Books’ chief operations officer Yau Su Peng had said.
Yau’s contention is that the home ministry’s ban was gazetted only on May 29 and made public on June 14. She said Berjaya Books had yet to receive a response from Hishammuddin and Minister in Prime Minister’s Department, Jamil Khir Baharom, to a letter regarding the May 23 raid by Jawi.
It does not look like Berjaya Books will ever receive a reply from either party.
Stop the abuse of authority
If storming into a bookstore all because it was blindly “following orders” was not bad enough, Jawi further made a fool of itself by charging Borders store manager Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz with distributing or selling “Allah, Liberty and Love”.
He was charged at the Kuala Lumpur Syariah Court under Section 13(1) of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997 on June 19.
If convicted, Nik Raina faces a RM3,000 fine or a maximum of two years’ jail or both.
Is Jawi not aware of who calls the shots at a bookstore? What authority does a store manager have in determining which book goes on or off the shelves? Is this not the prerogative of the bookstore owner?
Yau also accused Jawi of being unprofessional, despite Nik Raina giving her full cooperation and complying with Jawi’s directive.
“She was treated roughly by Jawi personnel and was issued an arrest warrant. Jawi also refused to allow legal representation for Nik Raina. We view this as outright victimisation and violation of the constitutional and legal rights of our employees,” said Yau.
Jawi’s bullying episode did not end with Nik Raina. According to Yau, on May 24, Jawi interrogated a Muslim female employee of Borders at its Bangsar Village 2 outlet and accused her of lying when she had told them that Irshad’s books have been taken off the shelf.
This show of “high-handedness” has landed Jawi in trouble as Berjaya Books has applied for a judicial review against Jawi’s raid at the High Court. Both Hishammuddin and Jamil have been named as respondents.
Instead of continuing its uncalled-for tirade against authors who dare speak their mind, the home ministry should look into its own backyard and realise the many grave mistakes it continues to make by denying the rakyat the right to freedom of thought and freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media.
If Vision 2020 is strictly about Malaysia becoming a fully developed nation emphasising solely on physical infrastructures and not on “intellectual” growth, it is useless gloating about using 20/20 vision as the benchmark in determing the nation’s direction.
Jeswan Kaur is a freelance writer and a FMT columnist.