Censorship-Loving Malaysia and Malaysian English Paranoia

I’ve explored this topic some months ago during “Banned Book Week” and apparently it come to light again recently when DAP Zairil Khir Johari criticized KDN for banning certain books translations in Malay (notably, Charles Darwin’s the Origins of Species) but the ministry was fine about letting the original version being sold locally. Apparently, he blamed the ministry aggressive stance on book censorship on translations on the basis on oppressing Malay intellectualism.

I am and always against censorship of any sort and everything in this blog is of my own opinion. In simpler words, I’m living in a Fahrenheit 451 nation and I’m a Malay who read English books but fluent enough that KDN ban on Malay translations doesn’t even faze me but it is still disturbing nonetheless. As a disclaimer , I am a legit voter but I don’t support any political parties or politicians and this isn’t politically influenced post but whenever one discuss about censorship in this country, we’re talking about genuine government censorship. This post is mostly a reaction to this, this and this.

Malaysian seems to love censorship. We probably spend a lot of time and millions of tax money each year obsessing about censoring everything from selective curse words to classical nudes painting books to kiss scenes to Game of Thrones. It is amazing to see HBO Asia were able to G-rated Game of Thrones. Local film industry was one of those who suffered the most from these sort of laws that we even do commercials and tv programs that continuously extols the virtues of ministry censorship to preserve the harmony between races and culture. Sort of a losing battle right there.

Unfortunately, many are conditioned to accept censorship as a way of life. Because it is ministry sanctioned, many will think you’re anti-government and seemingly fine with letting the government think the average population doesn’t have an ounce of brain in them to decide what was offensive and what was not and everything bad that happened in this world was the result of western influences that was destructive to our eastern values.

Westernization in Eastern countries was an ancient propaganda. It was a sort of mythic  “save your children from the evils of the west” motto our parents grew up on. Nowadays, its more about Islamizing your life against the dark western influences (ironically, came from the west too). It is an oversimplification that people ate up and I try not to judge them by that. Of course, until they started to be offensive to my delicate sensibilities. So, this whole paranoia about English started from there. Since Christian missionaries often promote English here during since the colonial era, English language have often being referred to as “Kafir” language because the missionaries use Bible in English (and many many folks still think English language = Christian here). Despite that we still encourage English proficiency in public education and bemoan the fact that we have more graduates with abysmal English (no statistics here curiously) that there’s always a call for trying to make Malaysian better in English.  But there are still folks retaining close-minded stereotypes about English that many still do think that being proficient in English is a betrayal of our eastern culture and values. I see more of this types when I was at Terengganu where most of the population are Malay Muslim and apparently there are folks who was annoyed that I only read English books in front of them that they love to dis me about it. Ah, teenage life.

I said this again, I don’t live in an English-medium family. We speak Malay all the time in my house. While I’ve spent four years in an English-medium grade school (where I spent most of the time in last classes because I have some attention problems and stuff), I don’t really think they had anything to do with my interest in reading and English as I grew up. In the end, it was really just me and watching English subs movies like everybody else. Most of my family are proficient in English. My dad lived in Singapore when he was growing up and relatives there do speak in English most of the the time but his accent was out of the world. My mother also proficient to a degree that she can understand English and teach Science and Biology in English but even she had her limitations. My siblings are all fluent and able to comprehend English well in variable degree but so far I’m still the only one who are proficient enough that native English users (like some of my relatives who can’t speak Malay) can converse normally and comprehend me well enough and I can converse and speak normally to them too. Sometimes I also speak English to my sisters especially around English examinations time because hey, we all need live practice. Also I read bucket loads these girls still don’t touch (I tried) but what the heck right? Of course, I’m still learning English from time to time like trying to write grammatically correct sentences and I still mix tenses even when I usually score perfect with average English test and my vocabularies was fine and sometimes I’ve grown used to speaking Mangled English and that was fine too. So really, being proficient fluent took a lot of time and years of practice and it doesn’t came out overnight.

Now we’ve settle that, at the same time, I am one of UKM graduate. UKM, the Malaysian university who first pioneered teaching in Malay exclusively that almost EVERYONE think I was studying science only in Malay. Haha. Nope. We do learn some topics in Malay but that depended on the type of lecturers and topics but most of the time, we learn everything in English. Even if the slides in Malay, the lecturer do lecture in English and vice versa. I guess that might offend some of the Malay language proponent against teaching Science in English. (Yes, they exist.) But journals, academical literature and such are easily available in English and the only thing that you can get Science literature in Malay was grade/high school level and nobody really care about translating advance textbooks that go outdated easily. This bear repeating : Nobody care about translating higher level academical content. You can’t find translated journals or various recent medical textbook for your own use. English is now the world standard language in Science and Technology, embrace that. We aren’t like China or Japan or European countries, we have the advantage in this.

So yes, in this case, you are academically limited if you’re not fluent in English. That is why many university MUET requirement demand at least Band 3 for a lot of field of study. MUET itself is a rather unreliable marker of English proficiency but it was good as any ESL tests. However, Malay language proponents often argued that Malay language will die because its not actively being promoted in such academical settings. Well, four years of university education had taught me that it was a pain to translate obscure Latin-Greek-English words into Malay that sometimes you come out with nonsense and it was easier if you don’t confuse yourself with scientific facts when memorizing both Malay and English versions. So, having ugly prejudices on English as a language doesn’t help at all with academical folks.

I am not the definition of an “intellectual” being but since I am a scientist (even if I don’t go to the labs anymore), I do agree about many things intellectualism stands for like natural curiosity, logical thinking, knowledge expansion and rationalization. Sad thing is, many of these publicly influential folks argued that one should always look to the Islamic intellectualism rather than western version of intellectualism and ignored the values of being intellectual itself. I have a problem with these folks who could only accept everything through their version of filtered concepts and attachment with the word “Islam”. They only see the Islamic history as correct, Islamic science as perfection, Islamic economy as appropriate because they couldn’t see anything ahead without the word “Islam” in it Problem is, they couldn’t see the world outside their box and still insist that everyone should alter their thinking of everything. I am a Muslim myself but all I see is that they’re appropriating Islam to suit their version faith and belief and deny that for others as well and they often do this ruthlessly and blindly without consideration of others who don’t share the same belief system as they are. They couldn’t dissociate themselves to accept that and that denialism was destructive as well. One shouldn’t appropriate their religion to begin with.

It is a fact that book censorship laws here are abused for mostly religious reasons. If you walk into any of local bookstores, you can get almost every books you want but recently only specific books are targeted by censorship mobs was anything Islamic related. Specific as in, everything that divert someone’s version of Islam which includes Muslims from western worlds who had unconventional life or western commentary or other sects like Syiah or books about satirizing religious figures or anything that strike the moral police’s mood including anything that had the word “Allah” that doesn’t relate to Islamic version of “Allah” (despite the fact that Allah literally means “the God” in Arab and Arab non-Muslim do use the word to refer to their own version of God). Instead of discussing it like average people, the ministry just slap a ban on the book and immediately, you’ll get folks hoarding the books from publishing house, warehouses and bookstores and they accuse the sellers of apostasy for selling religiously conspicuous products and what not and then they pulp these banned books or burn them somewhere in their special book burning place. Why they can do this? Because this country have separate laws and anything Islam-related have a greater immunity than some other issues. Why again? Somewhere along these paragraphs probably have that answer. I don’t know, Malay Muslims are curiously the easy victims in this situation because its easier to impose religious persecution upon Muslims here that non-Muslim do get off easy. It is factual and there’s no rationalizing these issues and we still argue about it all the time and if you’re Muslim, just wait until someone point finger at you and call you a “bad Muslim” and off you go somewhere for religious rehabilitation. Yes, I’m living in a dystopia. Weirdly enough, you can see more folks get off easy publishing anything supernatural and pseudoscience as long as you dress it with Islamic words and boom it became bestsellers.

The past few years, government had tighten the law on all sorts of media publication that translation services became one of those field that had an invisible line between successful venture, public ignorance and active persecution. But English books have a certain immunity of some sort. Ironically, nobody would look twice at a rack full of erotica with chains and handcuffs and bodice-ripper cover but if its about some liberal muslims writing about her issues with cyber-bullying that revolve around her faith, that was banned book material and we all should mob about it. I guess, the current issue with Darwinism is that many still think its a book about a mad English guy thinking human descended from apes. That’s why I safely assume that people who censor books don’t even read these books.

Look at this picture. Congratulations, you’re a pro at evolutionary theory.

I haven’t read Origins of Species fully myself but I have learn about it because heck, I am a Biochemistry major and that include Genetics. Evolutionary theory can be applicable in real life. Charles Darwin was a naturalist and geologist. He observe and use scientific methods to come up with his theories. It wasn’t flawless but it spark the study of natural science and expanded it to various field. Geneticists do use his theory in disease studies for genetic drifts. Microbiology uses his theory to study about microbial evolution, pathogenicity, virulence and genetic divergence and many more stuff that had some basis to Darwin research. He wasn’t some shepherd with no basic education who go to people and preach about how he heard something in his head and he write a book about that. Nope. Oh, by the way. Charles Darwin’s The Origins of Species is a public domain book. You can easily read it off the web. Score one for internet.

This is the fallacy of general knowledge of average folks here. This is the knowledge you gain from hearsay. That is why I am frustrated by these sort of people who also have opinions but based their knowledge from the things they saw or hear from others rather than the things they read and analyse. You get non-science major discussing these theories because it doesn’t fit into their belief system and it convenient to just focus on that rather than studying the whole field. Just because Darwinism trying to think outside the Creationism conundrum, it doesn’t mean its false.

But the real issue is, people who have the power to impose book banning are in constant paranoia of the content that they choose to burn books instead. That was by definition of regressing into dark age mentality. Burn a library because it have stuff you’re offended about. Instead of trying to create an open discussion, they just slap a ban on it on their own whim without thinking. While many urge people to read, these people are actively trying to discourage others from doing so. These specific censorship on translations can only mean one thing, they’re just doing it because they can and the victim is those who couldn’t read in other language.

Censorship does nothing except giving more publicity to the books and most of the time, it wasn’t even worth mentioning. There’s millions of books out there and all they do was thinking that they’re doing public service by constantly doing the thinking for others. The problem is, they don’t even read. Yes, that is why readers reviewer are needed in these case because you need us more in this Bradbury world we’re in.

Weirdly, they don’t even make an issue about locally publishing Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf here (also a public domain book). Then again, I know people here who aced school level History who still don’t know who Adolf Hitler is. That discussion is for another day apparently.

Oh, should I translate this post in Malay just to make my point across again? I guess, I could make a list of books that these people should censor next. In fact, I don’t think everything I read is Syariah-compliant to begin with. Hail Hydra.


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