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Book ban: the two faces of Islam Hadhari

On Jan 29, the Malaysian government banned 11 books, one of them The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism authored by Stephen Schwartz, a Muslim convert.

Schwartz suggested that ‘Saudi-Wahhabi agents’ in Malaysia had become alarmed by the publication of the book in Bahasa Indonesia, Dua Wajah Islam .

In a protest statement against the Malaysian ban, Schwartz commented: ‘It’s contemptible and, frankly, reveals the backward-looking attitudes of authorities in Malaysia, a country which prides itself on its alleged modernisation as an economic tiger.

‘In reality, books cannot be banned today. They are smuggled, pirated – especially in Southeast Asia – downloaded, and, in the case of my book, can easily be imported from Indonesia and read by Malaysians who do not know English’.

Regardless of Schwartz’s wild guess, book banning in Malaysia of late has gone beyond ‘Saudi- Wahhabi agents’.

Before The Two Faces of Islam , the Internal Security Ministry banned four titles on religious fundamentalism over two years. They are:

Islamic Fundamentalism since 1945 (banned 07 June 2007),

Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism: The Limits of Postmodern Analysis (26 April 2007),

The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (8 June 2006) and,

A Fundamental Fear: Eurocentrism and The Emergence of Islamism (8 June 2006).

See the ministry's full list of banned books here .

Islamic fundamentalism is a broad phenomenon, not solely engineered or funded by the Saudi regime. In fact, fundamentalism is no longer a Christian or Muslim political landscape. It has gained currency and inflicted other religions too.

Karen Armstrong, in her banned book, describes religious fundamentalism of the 20th century as a response to modern, liberal, materialist globalised civilization. She writes: ‘The West has developed an entirely unprecedented and wholly different type of civilisation, so the religious response to it has been unique’.

Religious fundamentalists, she elaborates, ‘have absorbed the pragmatic rationalism of modernity, and, under the guidance of their charismatic leaders, they refine these ‘fundamentals’ so as to create an ideology that provides the faithful with a plan of action’.

Therefore, it is of no surprise that even Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Confucianism have developed fundamentalist factions.

That is why I find the banning is so overwhelming in that it shows the ‘two faces’ of Islam Hadhari as formulated by our present prime minister. On one hand, he tries to promote more tolerant, progressive and moderate Islam but on the other hand, his government has time and again banned such scholarly books on fundamentalism.

Does it mean our government is protecting and nurturing a fundamentalist mindset among Muslims? Has his Islam Hadhari project been infiltrated by fundamentalist elements in his bureaucracy?