Saturday, May 02, 2009

"Freedom of speech"

RPK’s latest introspection on Islam in Malaysia is, if nothing else, and as usual, a fascinating read, consisting of the usual heady bromide of refreshing bluntness, with a leavening of shameless apologetics for his faith. It goes without saying that Muslims of course, in RPK’s view, are guilty of any number of crimes, which may or may not be committed in the name of their religion. But as always, Islam is itself entirely blameless.

On the other hand, those non Muslims who dare to ‘whack’ Islam with alleged ‘cut and paste’ jobs from ‘anti Islamic websites’ are, in RPK’s opinion, instantly suspect. Never mind the content of their arguments—RPK cannot be bothered to examine any of that, let alone rebut it. The methodology alone is what matters.

I suppose in RPK’s mind, one may only criticise something after receiving formal training in said field. Or, in his own words:

“…I whack those non-Muslims who try to give an impression that they are experts on Islam and then make uncomplimentary or negative statements about Islam. These people, the non-Muslims, have never gone to a madrasah or Islamic college or university to receive tutoring in Islam. But they talk as if they have a diploma or degree in Islamic studies.”

So, on one hand, RPK (as he has stated previously) correctly identifies Islam as a major facet of public life in Malaysia, thereby making it everyone’s business, both Muslim and infidel alike. A few paragraphs later, he has performed a head-snapping 180 degree turn, declaring in essence that only formally-trained scholars graduated from a madrasah, Islamic college, et al. have the ‘right’ to critically examine Islam. This decree pretty much rules out every kafir in Malaysia, and a lot of the Muslims as well. Naturally, RPK and his co-religionists would welcome complimentary or positive statements about Islam from any and all, no degree required. If this isn’t the epitome of chutzpah in action, I don’t know what is.

But it only gets worse. RPK has decreed that there is some sort of difference between ‘commenting’ and ‘insulting’ religions:

“But what is comment and what is insult? I can comment, but I should not insult. And this is where many do not understand the difference between the two. They feel that commenting also means the freedom to insult. And this is when the problem begins.”

Pray tell, sir, what are the differences between a comment and an insult? RPK, alas, has left that little part out. While anyone can consult a right proper dictionary to get the book answer, in the end the difference between the two terms is moot. And the reason is simple. Since anything but the most innocuous comment regarding Islam may be eventually interpreted by a third party as an ‘insult’ to that faith, the insidious result of discouraging the aforementioned ‘insults’ is what we have seen happening all along in Malaysia. Namely, relentless self censorship, a stifling of public discourse, a lack of any meaningful freedom of expression, no freedom of the press worthy of the name, and a pervasive and undeniable undercurrent of fear have all long been prominent features in Malaysian society.

The same tragic and predictable dynamic has played out in virtually every Muslim country time and time again, from Morocco to Malaysia and beyond. The same holds true now even in many non Muslim countries also. Whatever you do, one mustn’t ‘insult’ Islam, or you may suffer something far worse than RPK’s tut tutting. Does RPK ever wonder why criticism of Islam is consistently hazardous to one’s health? Maybe because Islam’s core teachings have consistently taught that such behaviour is a grave crime?

Lastly, lest RPK or his numerous fans presume otherwise, let me say this. I have no truck with arguments against Christianity, or the many websites, groups, etc. that are devoted to whacking Christianity or its followers. They are absolutely entitled to express their thoughts, comments and, yes, even their supposed ‘insults’ to Christianity, no matter how reprehensible I may find such views. After all, Christianity, like any other religion, is an ideological system that can and should be poked, prodded, chewed on, and spit out if need be. And while everyone worries about notoriously thin-skinned Muslims who can and do take offence at the slightest pretext, no one seems to worry too much about offending Christians. Does RPK or any of his ideological cohorts ever wonder why that is? I suppose not.

Freedom of speech is meaningless unless one has the actual right to say things that might offend other people. The alternative to that freedom is a toxic political culture that spawns petty tyrants like the ones of UMNO, a society of the politically deaf, dumb, and blind that continues to reign supreme in this country. It’s really too bad that one of Malaysia’s leading intellectual lights fails to grasp this essential truth.

1 comment:

Pk said...

Spot on observation. Malays are brainwashed and indoctrinated from a very young age in their religious schools and by their dogmatic paranoid families.

To have Malay blood is to inherit brains that do not process properly. Add arrogance and ignorance to this for a genuine ketuanan recipe for disaster.

Praying 5 times a day and studying the Quran will never fix this.