The Irony of ‘Celebrating’ Banned Book Week

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Since today is the last day of Banned Book Week. I am called to write another entry focusing on the subject, mostly because there are things about this week other than the Goodreads censorship thing that brought to my attention about how problematic it was to “celebrate” banned book week.

It never made sense to me why the word “celebrate” and “banned books” ever to exist in one sentence. I suppose the whole time I’ve been seeing postings of people extorting their love of “banned” materials, all I see was books that wasn’t banned at all. What I mean is… my definition of banned books and its consequences actually mean these :

  • the author will get thrown in a jail or buried under defamation lawsuits
  • readers will get jail sentence for having a banned material
  • publisher sued for distributing, printing and publishing the said banned items

or more aptly, I wondered why those who “celebrates” Banned Book Week seem to tiptoed around the censorship issues and instead seem to focus on book promotions. Like really, the way to celebrate your freedom of speech is driven by the need to sell more books. Right…

Why does a week supposedly bringing the light about book censorship turned into an actual book marketing?

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Are you kidding me? Most of these weren’t even banned. Yes, they’re challenged by certain groups of people or school or library but I don’t think it’s barely an issue considering these books are still widely available for them with one click of a button. Yes, I don’t see how a big deal when actual censorship law was alive and well around the world and of course, in Malaysia, the land where citizens were continuously being told to not use our brain and that we’re in constant need of help and we need to listen to others who rather do the thinking for you. (Oh, I haven’t even starting on book pulping at libraries and bookstores to keep book market in control but I’ll save that for another day)

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A couple of days ago I’ve talked about stuff about the VERY recent persecution on public, publishers, booksellers and even writers in this country and I’ve never been the one who accept censorship of any form. Book censorship is also something I put away at the deepest recesses of my mind and mostly everyone here think what we had here wasn’t as bad as in China. However, even our ridiculous censorship and inept censorship legislation was the one restricting the freedom of expression and also in creative art and to add an even worst, we were taught to love censorship and that it prevent all sorts of social problems without our society.

Even that made me want to barf.

As much as I want to keep politics out of this blog but the things remains that we’ve seen information barred and some differences of opinions being taken  as libel and sedition and the only way for anyone to express themselves freely and question everything was through the internet but with wrong choice words, we’re doomed to being slap with a lawsuit by those who are invested in keeping the citizen ignorant. To add salt to the open wound, censorship does nothing except to drain national resources.

By the way, how does the implementation of book censorship had its impact on us?

To be exact, this country have spent millions per year merely on moral policing book, media and cinema productions and restricting the creative energies of Malaysians and also contribute to the decline of quality of the mind among its people. Those millions they’ve spent could have better spent on upgrading hospitals and public infrastructure or fund research and development in our universities instead they imposing inept attempt to pacify the nation’s population while doing exactly nothing to solve their so called moral degradation. Without realizing it, we downgrade our education system, we took away our generation’s freedom of expression and seed dissent and segregation among our community. 

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Although I primarily write fiction for leisure, I can’t help but being in a situation where I do feel restricted as a writer here especially with the whole “if you publish this, you’ll get arrested” discussions.

Tell me again how I should celebrate my freedom of speech and celebrate banned and challenged books when I genuinely think there’s nothing to celebrate about a serious thing such as this. This is an ongoing battle that we had and for what internet has to offer was the space for me to say, “I hate censorship. Censorship legislation is an archaic form of law that does nothing in this age of information transparency.  Don’t think too much about others who can think for themselves and for a fact that misinformation lead more problems than restricting anything that came from the world of information. Grow up for the sake of the future.”

And besides, we already had a bigger problem such as we had high literacy rate but low readership rate and passive student culture. There are more shopping malls than bookstores and more bookstores than libraries.  We regularly have warehouse book sales with more recent book than our own national library. This is the sad state of reading culture in Malaysia and I haven’t even started on the regularly reads and publishing trends and published materials in the stores.

For once, I am thankful that books like Fahrenheit 451, 1984 and even Fifty Shades of Grey are still accessible in some chain bookstores since censorship board doesn’t regulate much foreign books (that doesn’t criticise/talk a specific religion) than local books as a friend once said, “Since when they even read.” and I agreed. I do have some solace and manage to avoid much of the brunt of book censorship by reading mostly in English.

But it’s disheartening that even in our multicultural and multiracial nation with a lot of language medium and mother-tongues, we still have moral policing on literature even in this age where you hardly find most people read regularly. So, no. I’m not in the mood of celebrating anything about banned books or challenged book. We need to start abolishing these nonsense and provide more breathing space for publisher and writers if we want to compete with the international market and let readers decide their own reading materials. Like it or not, you can’t keep the industry decapitated with restriction just because it offended your ‘sensitivity’. Well, everybody offend my own sensitivity all the time and so far, I don’t drown them all with defamation lawsuits. We’re a civilized nation. So less propagating ignorance and denial and start working on nurturing a good environment for our society.

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“You don’t have to burn books, do you, if the world starts to fill up with non-readers, non-learners, non-knowers?” — Ray Bradbury

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For more information on Malaysian book censorship, Silverfish had a good article discussing about it.

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