Censors blasted for outlawing 'Last Temptation'ment -- Books


SINGAPORE -- Book lovers who quietly complied with bans on erotic and politically sensitive books are clamoring for an end to the sudden ban on 'The Last Temptation of Christ,' sold without a murmur for 30 years, and the movie made from it.

Government censors are accustomed to docile acceptance of prohibitions against such best-selling authors as Jackie Collins and Harold Robbins. They are hard put to defend blacklisting both the book and the controversial film about Christ in a nation which is predominantly Buddhist.


Readers who already own Nikos Kazantzakis's book, which portrays Jesus as a man with sexual urges, are even consulting lawyers to find out what they are guilty of, if anything.

'Do our censors think they are the pope, archbishops, church elders or what?' asked Sinnathumbay Rajaratman, a retired minister of culture. He said 176 books in the past five months have been deemed unfit for sale by 'trigger-happy' censors.


Rajaratman, spearheading the drive to reverse the decision making Singapore the first country to forbid both the book and the movie, branded the decision 'a triumph of hysteria over sanity.'

Lai Choon Seng, whose title is Controller of Undesirable Publications, said the censors were acting 'on the side of caution' after receiving numerous objections to the film.

Published in 1955, 'The Last Temptation' has been available from libraries and stores for more than three decades. Martin Scorsese's movie, which includes a dream sequence of Jesus making love to Mary Magdalene, was released worldwide earlier this year but was barred here in August.

The censors 'have consistently disallowed books that offend the sensitivities of the different races and religions,' Lai said in defense of the latest step, taken in November. The book, he said, portrays Jesus in the same manner as the film.

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's government further explained it 'cannot allow any book or film that denigrates any religion or its leaders and causes distress to the people.'

The official statement added 'The Last Temptation' contains passages that are contrary to biblical records.

'The censors seem to have forgotten there are those who read for the love of literature,' said an outraged H.G. Ng, an avid book collector. 'The rights of religious fanatics should not be allowed to triumph over non-believers of Jesus.'


Censors have broad powers to stop distribution of any publication believed to be 'prejudical to public safety or public interest.' Blacklisted books range from comics to historical epics.

Among the notables are Collins' 'Rock Star,' Robbins' 'Spellbound,' Judith Krantz's 'Scruples,' Esmond Wright's 'History of the World' and 'The Satanic Verses,' by Salman Rushdie, this year's winner of Great Britain's prestigious Whitbread literary prize.

Even 'The Savage Sword of Conan,' by the Marvel Comics Group, and Playboy magazine have not escaped the censor's ax.

Since most are available in neighboring countries, Singaporeans haven't made an issue of the expanding list. But the banning of 'The Last Temptation' has demonstrated 'the way our access to knowledge is controlled,' an educator said.

Every month more books are added to the pool of frowned-upon texts. Under the law, those who sell or circulate such volumes may be fined up to $1,000 or jailed for a year, or both.

Attorneys are advising those who previously purchased 'The Last Temptation' to deposit their copies at a police station.

'However, it's a hard law to enforce,' a lawyer said. 'There is no way they are going to send a police squad to check on every household, only those specified in a complaint.'


While a handful of Christians applauded the book ban, many more are upset by it.

'If a mere literary reworking of part of the Bible cannot be allowed, what of the claims of the Koran and the Book of Mormon?' asked Ashleigh Seow, a legal aide, who identified himself as a Christian. 'Where will it end?'

'Like the majority, I find it distressing to be held to intellectual ransom by book-burners.'

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