With the publication last week of my third book of columns for Malaysiakini, I wonder if I’ll get lucky and make the banned list this time around. I had high hopes that the powers that be would disapprove of its two predecessors, considering that they were full of criticisms of the countless ways in which the BN government systematically blots its own and the nation’s copybook.
But no sign or even threat of a ban, or of the resultant spike in internet and black-market sales that so often follows. So that frankly, considering that Zunar’s Gedung Kartun and 1Funny Malaysia, and the Nat Tan-edited Where is Justice are all under police and home ministry investigation pending the official stamp of disapproval, I was starting to feel that I was facing some anti-foreigner prejudice in the book-banning department.
But this conspiracy theory of mine has been comprehensively disproven by the long delayal of permission for the importation of fellow foreigner Barry Wain’s blockbuster, Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times. And I read in Malaysiakini that 7,000 or so other books by overseas authors have been banned by the BN regime over the past 20 years.
So I’m left to take my previous non-rejections personally and face the fact that as a would-be BN-banned author I’ve thus far failed miserably.
Maybe the titles of my books are the problem. As I say in the introduction to my latest one, coming up with a reader-grabbing title, let alone a sure-fire bannable one, is far from easy. If only it was as simple to come up with an impressive title for a book as it is for a person. Just call it Datuk Buku, or Dato, Dato Seri, Datin, Tan/Puan Sri or even Tun Buku and, as we say in Australia, “Bob’s your uncle”.
But unfortunately publishing doesn’t work like politics, and entitling a book can be tough. Not that I had any trouble with the first collection of my Malaysiakini columns. The title Mad about Malaysia felt just right somehow; short, snappy, and above all suitably ambiguous if not outright sarcastic.
And when it came to the question of what to call its sequel, Even madder about Malaysia seemed like the logical if predictable next step.
But where could I go from there with this third one in the series? Maddest about Malaysia, though obviously the next in the established, escalating sequence, unfortunately seemed to me to come across as a bit odd.
And in any case I could hardly claim to be madder at the political state of affairs in Malaysia than some of my fellows in fury like Antares, Zorro or Ktemoc, for example, or that most outrageous crusading Malaysian of all, the incomparable Raja Petra Kamarudin.
In any event, I felt that another title on the “mad” theme would be more repetitive than I or any readers I still retain could possibly stand. After almost 200 columns harping on the same old same old topics, the endless criminality, incompetence and deceit of the Umno/BN regime, I sometimes feel like a dripping tap.
Or should I make that a tapping drip? Whichever, I decided it was high time I came up with something different for this, my latest collection of damp squibs, hence Missing Malaysia.
Like it or not, this title is at least shorter if not sweeter than those of its two predecessors and, most crucially, has a similarly double meaning.
On the one hand it’s perfectly true that I’m missing Malaysia, or at least my family, friends and favourite foods back there.
And on the other hand nobody can deny that, thanks to 50-odd years of Umno/BN rule, or rather misrule, there’s a great deal of Malaysia that’s missing.
Like the RM100 billion (or US$100 billion, depending on whose estimate you accept) allegedly misspent and/or misappropriated by the Umno/BN government and its cronies over the past 30 years.
And like the two fighter-jet engines that went missing from a Royal Malaysian Airforce base in 2007, and whose whereabouts remains a mystery, as does the matter of whether police and RMA investigations have identified any or all of the miscreants involved.
Besides untold billions in public money and property, Malaysia’s also missing, or at least has very good reason to deeply mistrust, most of its civil institutions.
The Malaysian judiciary is infamous for its miscarriages of justice. The Malaysian police and Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission both routinely mistreat ‘suspects’, misuse their powers on the government’s behalf, and turn a blind eye to the crimes and misconduct of the rich, the powerful and politically-connected.
And to prop-up this whole misbegotten system, the ‘information’ ministry and the miserable mainstream media it controls are on a mission to misinform and generally mystify the populace.
In short, Missing Malaysia is as apt a title as any I can think of for this latest book of columns decrying the misdeeds of the misleaders and mismanagers of Malaysia.
But I worry that, like its predecessors evidently were, it might be too subtly sarcastic for the bookworms of BN. I’m also concerned that this book contains absolutely no pictures, and thus the police might find it even harder going than Zunar’s Gedung Kartun and 1Funny Malaysia, which they claim to have been ‘studying’ for months.
This program of study also inevitably raises the question of how well-qualified the police might be to comprehend the contents of other peoples’ written works when they clearly haven’t read or understood the book of rules concerning their own professional conduct.
But whatever, at least I’ve done my best – or worst – to finally get into BN’s bad books with my latest collection of columns for Malaysiakini. And I can only hope that the moral and ethical illiterates who administer Malaysia’s pathetic Printing, Presses and Publications Act will throw the book at Missing Malaysia, thus restoring some of my self-respect as a political critic and stimulating my publisher’s sales.