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Stop selective official harassment of minority groups

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Aliran condemns the recent assault on freedom of speech by social and cyber bullies, aided and abetted by officials who clearly need to critically examine their priorities and review their standard operating procedures.

Indeed, Aliran is shocked and disheartened to hear that Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, has seen it fit to initiate investigations into an incident-free and innocuous book launch on 13 April at the Gerakbudaya bookstore in Petaling Jaya.

The book in question, Unveiling Choice – and the discussion surrounding it – principally revolves around the difficulties, pain and suffering faced by Muslim women in opting to wear or not wear a hijab.

It is a discussion which is important as around the world we continue to see instances of the coercion of women in wearing the hijab (for example, in Iran) but also in taking it off (for example, in France). There is a need to discuss and analyse the roots of such coercion and insistence on controlling what women can or cannot wear.

As the panel members put it, “It was an intellectual discourse based on the women’s lived realities, looking at the phenomenon from sociological and historical perspectives, alongside discussions on the socio-political realities of Malaysian girls and women today.”

But, following a social media backlash led by cyber bullies, many of whom had apparently not attended the book launch– which unfortunately, seems to be the case a lot of times in digitised Malaysia – this simple book launch was demonised.

This depressing pattern and tactic of demonisation based on misinformation, on falsehoods, was common in Barisan Nasional (BN) Malaysia before the 2018 general election.

In Malaysia Baru, this must stop.

It stops with our `leaders’ acting in ways that will make it stop – not in ways that cater to the dictates of what is essentially mob rule.

It stops by us allowing civil discussions about the environment surrounding us to grow – and not be stifled and silenced by loud bullies, shouting down others using the excuse of race and religion. Most times, the misogynistic and racist language used by these bullies reflects badly on what constitutes their religiosity.

It stops by us – and, more, the authorities – no longer harassing and victimising those, especially young Malaysians, who are helping to make us think about a better, kinder and inclusive tomorrow.

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It stops by us – and, more, our leaders – refusing to dance to the tune set by the close-minded, the ignorant; indeed, those who need to be challenged and hopefully educated.

It stops by otherwise decent leaders like Mujahid acting based on their conscience and not based on political expedience.

In a supposedly new Malaysia, civilised discourse especially on things considered controversial is not an option; it is essential.

Aliran executive committee

19 April 2019

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