Pluralism, Tolerance and Broadmindedness
I have always revered freedom of expression as a principle. I believe, reverence to it is mandatory for all civilized men and women; anything short of that amounts to ignorance, backwardness and is a sign of an unrefined man. The world needs a multitude of views. I need a multitude of views. It makes my life complete, wholesome and full knowing that I have pondered the different philosophies to life.
The Qur’an and the Bible shocks and offends me, but I choose to argue against both books on grounds of reason and logic instead of physically resisting with uncontrolled emotions and mindless fanaticism. I have never burnt a Qur’an nor stepped on a Bible even if I disagree with both books because the writers of those books are entitled to state their ‘ideas’ – as much as it is the freedom of its readers and devotees to reject or accept the ‘ideas’ therein.
Akin to the passages in the Qur’an and the Bible, many other things said have also offended me. Some are by friends, enemies, politicians, religious leaders and even taxi drivers. But I always make it a point to respond with civility, foundation and rationality; that is what is expected of a civilized man. What I don’t do is threaten bloodshed, send bullets to politicians, firebomb churches, disrupt public forums, intimidate MP’s, send death threats, hurl petrol bombs into houses, burn embassies, instruct murder or commit murder.
Pugnacious, savage and barbaric acts such as these are unbecoming of anyone with an intellect or of anyone who respects himself, Democracy or the Constitution.
On the other hand, we, bright Malaysians – people of conscience and reason – must never cower to any threat nor bow down before any bully or ruffian. We must stand boldly amid the adversities and live for our ideals; our pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness must always steer us and guide our actions.
Our Freedom of Expression (and Speech) is sacred and we must guard it jealously, protect and defend it. Our forefathers gave their lives for our Freedoms and we must never EVER allow their efforts to be in vain.
Where is the Government protection?
The Government, instead of curtailing the discussion of sensitive issues or supporting intolerance (thereby implying it’s OK to cause disharmony), should be encouraging free speech wherever possible and apprehending anyone causing terror or fear in order to discourage Malaysians from voicing their opinions. Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution states:
“every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression;”
This, the Government must uphold diligently.
One critical argument often used by the Government to suppress free speech and expression is the argument of ‘Public Order‘.
What do you think? If you ask me, I think it’s pure bunkum!
‘Public Order‘ denotes that there must be imminent lawless action (Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969)) or that the security which every person feels under the protection of the law is threatened (Tan Boon Liat v Menteri Hal Ehwal Dalam Negeri, Malaysia & Ors  2 MLJ 83).
In short, the Government must demonstrate some potential of a riot or disorder. The only disorder I have seen in Malaysia is the tear gasses and water cannons being pounded on unarmed and defenseless citizens for simply expressing an opinion; exercising their constitutional Rights. The Government is supposed to protect the Rights of the citizens not trample on them.
Further, when it comes to written material, the Government cannot simply suppress writings just because what is being written is ‘anti-government‘ or ‘it causes confusion (kekeliruan) and uneasiness (kegelisahan)‘.
When a Government acts absurdly or unreasonably, it is inviting its citizenry to be ‘anti-government‘. That is in fact one of the purposes of free speech; to curb abuses by the Government.
Confusion (kekeliruan) will only be cured if the Government encourages its citizenry to read, learn and seek knowledge. Uneasiness (kegelisahan) will only be treated if the Government promotes public debates, thus allowing its citizenry to be well informed. Banning books, censoring words or suppressing liberties is not the way forward. It is the very opposite.
In fact, it is only when a Government curtails free speech that incidences of ‘public order’ will occur. When you criminalize free speech, you hamper people’s ability to express themselves, you would drive them underground where repression and fear breeds and this translates to anger and hatred. Hatred will rear its ugly head one day and it would destroy the foundations of a stable government while also annihilating decades of peace and harmony. Is that what the Government of Malaysia wants? Chaos and pandemonium resulting from its own policies?
It is only with avenues to discuss grievances and forward complaints that people can breathe and hope. Further, what is wrong with complaints and grievances? The Government of Malaysia should be happy about it. They are getting feedback on how to better themselves and how to stay in power longer. They should be welcoming it with open arms.
I’d like to also think that Malaysians are a far more mature lot than the Government really gives them credit for. It’s only a select few ridiculous numbskulls that do the rash things that you read in the papers. It would be unfair to associate this handful of rogues with the rest of the 27 million Malaysians.
But unless and until the Government is willing to listen and encourage communication, it is only shooting itself in the foot. And I think, this is rightfully so.
Where are the public intellectuals?
Public intellectuals are crucial in any society to provide enlightenment; to specialize, to cogitate and to philosophize for society. That is what their duty entails. They side with none and only care for the truth. They are a beacon of verity and impartiality during our stormy tempestuous states of confusion.
But only a minute proportion of intellectuals in this country have actually stood for the truth, and when referring to the Herald case, one valiantly said:-
“The Catholic church must not back down on this matter. It is in the right and if it gives in now, it will set the precedence that a bunch of thugs with firebombs can dictate the type of country we live in.
For the good of the country as a whole, not just any specific religious or ethnic group, we must never allow the mob to rule.“[my emphasis]
I commend such courage.
On the other hand, there seems to be a larger bunch of “public intellectuals” in Malaysia who have utterly failed in their duty to be the sage of truth and wisdom to the nation. Intellectuals and academicians such as these are known for making inane slogans like:-
“Freedom per se has no value. It is what freedom is for.”
What utter horseshit! The mere fact that one needs to inquire into what freedom is for, is already an illegitimate restriction upon freedom. It is this same kind of illogical outlook that the Government of Malaysia adheres to in its crackdown of people’s civil liberties. Rhetoric in the veins of:-
“You are Free, to do as we tell you.”
“You have Freedom of Speech as long as you remain silent.”
“You have a Right to Assemble Peaceably as long as nobody can see you assemble.”
Crucially, public intellectuals must always ensure that they have their heads dislodged from the Government’s arse at all times. It’s either they dropped their insecure paternalism and nauseating Government pandering or cease to call themselves “academicians”, thus rescuing legal academia from the clutches of atrophy, mediocrity and timidity.
I am thoroughly Shocked by what I see!
To be continued tomorrow…