Critical Book on Mahathir Still Held Up

Malaysia's Home Affairs Ministry is continuing to dither over the release of 800 copies of a critical book by former Asian Wall Street Journal Editor Barry Wain, Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times.

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussain Friday told the Dewan Rakyat, or national parliament, that the book "was found to have insulted the national leadership and the institution of Malay rulers," according to local media in Kuala Lumpur.

The 800 copies have been sitting on a loading dock in Port Klang since November. In the meantime, bookstores in Singapore have been doing a land office business in the book, which has since gone through several more printings, as Malaysian visitors from across the Causeway buy what they can't get at home. It has since sold 12,500 copies in hardback at S$49.90, 11,000 of them in Singapore, and was on the Singapore Sunday Times' best-seller list for 11 weeks, dropping out only last week.

"This is pretty extraordinary considering that it is a serious, political book selling in Singapore for S$49.90, while most of the other big selling non-fiction books are feel-good or lifestyle tracts. "Have a Little Faith" by Mitch Albom, for example," said a Singapore source.

The book was reviewed in Asia Sentinel on Dec. 4. Although it remains on the loading dock, it is also available through Amazon and other online booksellers. Also, for readers who buy Kindle or another electronic reader, it's easy to get.

The book is a critical but fair account of Mahathir's 22 years in power although it postulates that as much as RM$100 billion (US$40 billion at exchange rates at the time) was lost to the country through corruption or grandiose schemes that came to nothing during Mahathir's reign.

Mahathir, Wain wrote, "relentlessly badgered, berated and browbeat Malaysians, especially Malays, to shape up and convert his dreams into reality. If necessary, he would crucify opponents, sacrifice allies and tolerate monumental institutional and social abuses to advance his project."

Like Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore and Indonesia's Suharto, "Dr Mahathir integrated his country deeply with the Western economies and achieved an enviable development record."

Wain wrote that during a visit to Washington DC in which Mahathir met President Ronald Reagan, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and others, he secretly launched an innocuous sounding Bilateral Training and Consultation Treaty, which Wain described as a series of working groups for exercises, intelligence sharing, logistical support and general security issues. In the meantime, Mahathir continued display a public antipathy on general principles at the Americans while his jungle was crawling with US troops quietly training for jungle warfare.

Mahathir responded with several references to Wain in his blog, Che Det, including one agreeing to the establishment of a Royal Commission to see if Wain's charges were true. "Barry Wain must provide documentary proof of any sum that he alleged I had burned," he said. "I will co-operate fully with the commission. Depending upon the result of the commission, I reserve the right to sue Barry Wain, (Opposition leader) Lim Kit Siang and Malaysiakini.com for libel for a sum to be disclosed later. If the Government is withholding the book... I would request that the book be released forthwith. I am not in need of Government protection.

"If it is found that the book does not go against the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, there is no reason for the government to prevent the book to be allowed into the country," Hishammuddin told the parliament Friday. After the initial period of 60 days expired, the Home Ministry on Jan. 28 decided to extend its investigation of the book by another two months.

Foreign published books air-freighted into Malaysia often go through customs without being checked, or with only a cursory check at the airport. Books sent by ship or by land from Singapore are often stopped for inspection, however, which can mean customs officers spending weeks reading the material. Sometimes they just sit on the book, leaving the publisher with little option but to withdraw it or be faced with being hit with storage charges, leaving the book effectively banned without the government having to face criticism for formally banning it.