At the very least Malaysians expect the PM to categorically denounce extremist expressions, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
In the recent past, middle-ground Malaysia has borne witness to a series of disturbing public expressions by certain groups and individuals that border on ethnic slurring, slander and rabid racism.
And many a time, these public expressions have without exception insulted the intelligence of the average Malaysians, irrespective of ethnic and religious backgrounds.
What’s equally disturbing is that such articulation has caused hurt, pain and even outrage among the people who have been subjected to these irrational outbursts from the lunatic fringe. ‘Lunatic fringe’ here refers to the fanatical, extremist or irrational members of society who seem to be on the rise lately. Perkasa and other groups of similar disposition come to mind immediately.
This political posturing of the lunatic fringe could possibly pose a threat to our ethnic relations as well as national security.
And yet de facto law minister Nazri Aziz insists irrationally that Malaysia’s political landscape has changed so drastically that what was taboo or “sensitive” a few years ago is now acceptable to Malaysians.
“Sensitive matters are now being discussed in the open,” he told The Malaysian Insider (20 May 2011) recently. He added, “When something is mentioned all the time, it becomes less sensitive and this is a good thing because then things can be mentioned but people will not take offence of it.”
Nazri’s statement was made in the context of the recent claim by certain blogs and subsequently quoted by the irrepressible and irresponsible Utusan Malaysia that the Christian community in Malaysia was involved in a conspiracy to replace Islam with Christianity as the official religion of the federation. This matter, as it turned out, became easy fodder for groups such as Perkasa to publicly express their dismay and disgust and to agitate – although armed with no iota of evidence!
Freedom of expression or freedom to incite?
The minister’s ‘explanation’ seems to imply that freedom of expression and of the press is in full swing in contemporary Malaysia. Is this really so?
I don’t think so. If anything, this so-called freedom of expression has been applied by the powers that be in a very selective manner. When was the last time Malaysians were encouraged, let alone permitted, to publicly discuss pertinent but ‘sensitive’ issues such as religious conversion that has implications on a couple’s children, meritocracy, the brain drain, institutional racism, the NEP; history text books and the ISA, to name but a few?
Anyway, to follow the minister’s argument to its logical conclusion, does freedom of expression provide the licence to the citizenry to mouth racist remarks that could well spark ethno-religious uneasiness or even conflict in multi-ethnic and multireligious Malaysia? Have the authorities subscribed to the creed that freedom of expression includes the right to cause hatred among ethnic and religious communities?
If so, wouldn’t this new political philosophy run counter to and make a mockery of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s recent plea at Oxford University for moderates from all religious communities to join hands in promoting justice, freedom, hope, compassion and goodwill (The Malaysian Insider, 17 May 2011) ? Or was that mere PR spiel for the international crowd?
If the Najib administration is serious about reining in the extremist and irrational elements in our midst, one would have thought that he and his cabinet ministers would have reprimanded and condemned the wild utterings of the lunatic fringe. Of course, we’re not suggesting that the federal government make use of such undemocratic legal tools as the ISA, but at the very least Malaysians expect him to make a public statement to categorically denounce such extremist expressions.
And in the case of the Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia, one would think that the supposedly concerned prime minister, who is also the Umno president, would have taken the paper to task for having published unverified reports and commentaries that invariably hurt the feelings of certain segments of Malaysian society, thus causing disharmony and dissatisfaction among Malaysians..
Nazri’s assertion that everyone is entitled to speak their minds could possibly help groups such as Perkasa to delude themselves into believing that they have been entrusted to represent the sentiments and interests of ‘the Malay-Muslim community’. To be sure, many Malays and Muslims — who believe that Islam stands for peace, justice and mutual respect and at the same time abhors slander, divisiveness, and enmity – are averse to many of the things expressed in their name by Perkasa and its ilk.
It is in moments like this that one is baffled by the elegant silence displayed by many religious leaders, particularly the Muslim religious authorities. One would think that the Muslim religious leaders would be in a better position to rein in these social recalcitrants in keeping with the true teachings of Islam.
Dr Mustafa K Anuar is assistant secretary of Aliran.