Saturday, May 07, 2005

16] Read Those Banned Books!

Read those banned books!
By Azly Rahman

Just when we are about to think of a TV-turning off campaign, we read of books being banned. This is a rude awakening for a nation in dire need of long reflective moments; of hiding in the Cave to think about Appearance and Reality and to reflect upon the condition we continue to be in.

"On TV and print media,"

just when we are about to think of how farmers can sustain themselves through traditional means, we came up with a National Bio-Technology Policy, without having a debate on the nature of the Frankenstein in us.

We need skills of reading TV. We cannot continue to ban books. We have not been studying too much about media and its impact psychologically, politically, and philosophically. We need to step outside of the box and "read the TV" instead. Reading and watching TV is like the difference between the Athenian teacher named Socrates and the American tele-product called Seinfeld. One is a philosopher of everything; one is a philosophy of nothing. We need to start reading Socrates instead of attempting to imitate Seinfeld.

The spotlight created by TV is too bright for us that we will not be able to see ourselves in broad daylight.

"TV and Idol Worship"

People worship artistes more than scholars. People want to know more about actors more than trying to understand what acts they are performing in life. If watching these artistes on TV is not enough, people read tabloid magazines to find out what these artistes are doing. Whoever invented the word “star” to describe these human creations of the media must be credited for inventing a sophisticated language of mental colonization.

We have so many of them; movie stars, musical stars, and political stars. These stars are trained to play with people’s emotions. The soap opera addicts criy when TV tells them to cry. They laugh when the machine in the TV tells them to laugh. They jump in exhilaration when somebody else wins in “Who wants to be a Millionaire”, they wreck the coffee table when one WWF wrestler pound on another. It is, borrowing the Russian thinker Bakhtin, a “carnival”.

The TV viewer controls the world through the remote control -- a world of switchable alternate realities. Many years ago, the whole kampong wondered who killed J.R. Ewing in Dallas. Now, people wanted to find out who is the “survivor” of the reality show shot in some remote island.

When Mahathir Mohamad wanted to lessen the power of the Malay traditional rulers, TV showed us three-part series of The French Revolution. Nowadays those who get plenty of exposure on TV get to have an easy pass to election landslide wins and political stardom next. This is the “Truman-Show” phenomena of reality TV. Sleek and clever TV.

The audience loves this propaganda and loves this mind-game. TV and the image of beauty Then there is the “sought after” TV image. Fat people, generally, don't get to be on TV. Fat and ugly people don't get to read the news, don't get jobs in the entertainment industry.

Rambling and media-critical professors don't get airtime. This is the dimension of image-making that TV holds on to. TV produces the concept of beauty and the concept will be used to advertise everything; from make-up, diet pills, Odorono, Sabun Cap Kapak, slimming and body toning machines to the concept of beauty itself. Beauty becomes a commodity. If your child is ugly, as defined by television or tabloid magazines, then your child might have to resolve his/her issue of self-esteem -- because TV tells the parent what beauty constitute.

The nation’s fashion industry will be foundationed upon the image produced by TV who produces the stars who then produce the popular image of beauty. We therefore have the “Pan Asian” look, just like those projected by Bollywood in which the Indo-Aryans from Kashmir get to be the stars and not the South Indians from Kerala.

The child's conversation will not revolve around good books but good looks TV promotes. This is how stereotypes develop. Teenage relationships will model after the relationship of the TV stars. A female will look out for a male who looks like her favorite TV and movie star and vice versa. It is a TV world entirely. It might have, for the Malays. began from the time of Saloma, P. Ramlee, Siput Sarawak, Nordin Ahmad, Roseyatimah, and Kasma Booty. Our world is now is a highly sophisticated world of communications. We become wired and TV-ed, and Radio-ed, and Internet-ed, and Paged, Instant-messaged and whatever that connects the human self to things outside of himself/herself.

Our children and teenagers can hide, but they cannot escape from the connections and from the heteroglossia of human existence. They become slaves to these personalized and miniaturized technologies. Being and becoming now means being and becoming technologized. The self in them is digitized, fragmented, and becomes objects of surveillance of those who owns the means of electronic surveillance.

We swipe our plastic card and the story of our life is transmitted electronically to credit card companies, market research companies, advertising companies, consumer research bodies, and government agencies. Our real self is corroded, colonized, digitized.

We become bytes in the entire scheme of a world increasingly digital. We are, borrowing the American digital guru, “being and becoming digital”. We are, borrowing eminent professor of media, Neil Postman, living in a “technopoly” in which the self is increasingly surrendered to digital technology. The Frankenstein in us has taken over the real self. The human self becomes "owned" by these communication technologies, including by the idiot box called TV.

"The glass coconut shell"

Turning off the TV does not mean we are regressing from the age of advancement in telecommunications revolution. It does not mean we are en mass, hiding under the “coconut shell”. We are already in it. It is already designed by us even before we gained Independence. We have been colonized first by TV programs produced by the colonials and next by the neo-colonials among us who produce colonial-like TV programs.

Our new coconut shell is made of glass. We need to take ourselves out of it. We are screaming for help while smiling and living a “mediated” world; a world wherein media has constructed human beings, defining us what it means to be a human being. We need to study the media.

We need to study how we are “mediated” and “opiated”. We need to teach people how pervasive it is and how its permeation into our lives is detrimental to our sense of selfhood. There is a worldview out there that is necessary for people to embrace.

One needs to start reading by first turning off the TV. Borrowing the idea of the media critic Sven Biekeerts, we need to begin to re-realize the power of the Print and slowly de-evolve from then onwards. The future, according to the Native American Indians, lies behind us.

We need to progress backwards by first arguing with the surrealistic nature of Technology. Banning books The problem is that in Malaysia, people love TV so much they start banning books. They start banning books they do not read or have trouble understanding either because of complex language or because of the intellectually challenging subject matter.

Their head spins when they read Karen Armstrong or Sheikh Nazim; because either they love TV too much or they love books less, or because, following the Allegory of the Cave, they are too much into Appearance and not into Reality.

By banning books, we are sending the following messages to the nation and the generation of readers we are trying to create. We are proclaiming to the nation that: ¨ It is enough to just read the title of the book and its back cover to decide if it should be banned¨ It is dangerous to read books on religion and philosophy written from a postmodern perspective¨ It is okay to ban books if the level of English and the depth of intellectual discussion is too much for us¨

It is okay to have an Open Sky policy in which sophisticated junk gets broadcast into the minds of the citizen, but it is not okay to have an Open Mind policy as exemplified in the banning of books¨ It is okay to assume that the citizens of Malaysia, in the year 2005, in the 21st. century is not yet intelligent and has a low Intelligence Quotient and therefore they cannot understand what the “banned authors” are saying, or cannot decide for themselves what constitutes a valid or invalid argument¨

It is okay for these books to only be available to an elite group of intellectuals in universities as they are endowed by the government to decide what is good and what is not for the nation to read¨

It is intelligent to have a group of retired Vice Chancellors to investigate who is writing what book and why in the case of the narratives of the ex-Malaysian communist party members¨ It is important to only broadcast one particular sect if Islam, one officially sanctioned by the ruling government, and to ban other sects ¨

It is necessary to let one point of view dominate and become totalitarianizing and hegemonizing ¨ It is good to ban books we do not understand, even though the authors such as Karen Armstrong and Sheikh Nazim are talking about religion from a different plane; one that challenges the reader to dive deeper into the oceans of mercy and swim back to the shores of human intellectual frontiers

"Read those banned books!"

In early Communist China, Mao Zedong discouraged people from reading too many books. According to him, it is not necessary for the masses to have knowledge that will confuse them and turn them into revisionists.

Our nation is not undergoing a Maoist styled-Cultural Revolution. We are neither in the Iran of Ayatollah Khomeini. We are neither in the Age of Copernicus. We are definitely not in Year Zero in Kampuchea where die-hard readers get sent to death camps.

The nation need not follow the dictates of those who do not read the books and yet are banning them. Those who banned books are not good readers. A good reader will read the books and publish critiques without even discouraging people reading them.

I would hate it if the Prime Minister tells me what book I should avoid reading -- he does not own my mind. Let me read it first and we will talk about it later. It is as if telling me not to “imagine that a pink elephant does not exist in my living room.

Even worse if the Prime Minister imagines that some books can be a threat to national security. With this form of thinking, we are indeed trapped in a “national security straightjacket” An author of a banned book became a Prime Minister of Malaysia many years ago. The Malay Dilemma was a banned book!

The political temper of the day determines the banned books of the year. When Dr. Mahathir Mohamad became a Prime Minister, the book became a best-seller and there were more sequels. Suddenly a banned book became a benevolent manifesto of national development. Is this not the beauty of not banning book?

We will create more prime ministers amongst banned book authors. Many children in Malaysia will aspire to become a banned author. Then we will, become, like the French, a nation of frontier thinkers.

France produced Descartes, Rousseau, Danton, Marat, Robespierre, Diderot, Voltaire, Montesqieu, deTocqueville, Beaumarchais, Balzac, Saint-Simon, deBeauvoir, Durkheim, Levi-Strauss, Piaget, Camus, Kafka, de Sassaure, Sartre, Merle-Ponty, Bourdieu, Lacan, Foucault, Althusser, Baudelairre, Proust, Hugo, Baudrillard, and Derrida -- all these are thinkers whose work challenged the human mind globally.

We jailed our intellectual-dissidents and our profound thinkers such as Kassim Ahmad, Chandra Muzaffar, Lim Guan Eng, Syed Husin Ali, and many others, using the Internal Security Act. We imitated the British. To be, means, to be like the oppressor.

To oppress or not to oppress, that is not the question – we simply oppress. A dissident is still a dissident by any other name. Absolute power is the best form of power, absolutely.

We imitate the grandiose of the French in building our Putrajaya instead of emulating their culture of producing grandiose intellectuals. As long as we have our own Versailles to tell the world how wealthy a nation we are.

We next became thrilled when Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, in “The Entrapment” played in the movie of how the nation got robbed right through the two towers, right in front of our two eyes!

We implant American corporate culture but we failed to study the intellectual foundations of its republic; one that guarantees the rights of the individual and the rights of the government to be replaced whenever it becomes corrupt and no longer serves the people.

We produce a nation afraid to read and think but adores the TV and those who are beginning to look like Inspector Gadgets on Bintang Walk and the foot of The Petronas Twin Towers.

We need to seriously honor our public intellectuals by not banning their books. How dare we call our nation a knowledge society when we do not have respect for new knowledge? In a public university in the north, we even award honorary doctorate in management to a corporate executive who is now on trial for stealing money from a State-owned steel company.

How dare we call our institutions “universities” when we banish students for having differing points of view and we fire/remove/banish/kick out university lecturers for questioning autocratic and anti-intellectual Vice Chancellors that are totally unfit to be called leaders of a university.

We might as well call our public universities “National Service Institute for Adult Learners”. -- that would be an appropriate name for the culture of anti-intellectualism we are designing.

We should encourage frontier thinking and reward writers that possess strange ideas that are used to challenge our children intellectually. This is how nations will survive in a world of cut-throat globalization.

We cannot let a small group of people have monopoly over democracy. We cannot let book burners kill the last flicker of our intellectual flame. Democracy must be democractized. Intellectualism must be ingrained into the minds of our children. Schools must live and breathe democracy.

If we keep banning books, we will continue to impose our anti-intellectualism on the people. We wish to live as a nation of readers not a nation of efficient propaganda consumers, lazy thinkers and electronically-shackled beings.

People should be encouraged to read books such as: ¨ The various interpretations of the Koran¨ The major texts of all religions known to Man¨ Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and almanacs¨ The writings of humanists and philosophers of democracy¨

The writings of the major philosophers of science¨ The banned books of the Eastern and Western world¨ The banned books of the Malaysian world¨ Japanese Manga cartoon books¨ Banned books in general I do not think our children will go out on the streets screaming for religious, political, and cultural revolutions after reading banned books.

I do not think there will be sudden social and political upheavals when our youth finish reading the last chapter of any book that is about radical political theory. I do not think they will embrace anarchism immediately. Only those who do not read much become street protestors and shouters of “Reformasi!” or become theocratic leaders who do not understand and appreciate philosophy of multiculturalism.

Those who read will orchestrate their own silent peaceful revolutions that begin in the mind. A second Mental Revolution that will replace the first one produced in the 1970s; one that honored names like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Carnegies.

The first mental revolution merely created more millionaires whose interest are in buying power through corporate dominance and campaign financing. We want to see more radicals and intellectual produced in our universities; ones who will champion social justice, ethical foundations of civilization, and those who value transcultural philosophies.

Let us see the birth of ones who will challenge ridiculous and un-intelligent policies used by university leaders whose interest is to have an easy pass to political positions.

Let us allow universities to become intelligent. Only well-read students will become organic or committed intellectuals. Political parties come and go; governments undergo rejuvenations and extinctions and rise and falls, but ethical-intellectualism based on the virtues of transcultural philosophies reign supreme.

Life has expiry dates. Ideals do not. Republics of Virtue, Transculture, and Nature will emerge out of this foundation.

Only those with power and who do not read will ban books.

Only those who do not understand what they are reading will let his/her advisors decide on which book to ban.

This is the danger of a society that does not read. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. We do not have a philosopher-ruler.

We have book burners. We must, once and for all close this un-intelligent chapter of our intellectual history.

Turn off your TV and start reading those books.

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