What You Think

On blasphemy and fascists — Azrul Mohd Khalib

DECEMBER 22 — Let me state a caveat from the onset: I am probably one of those who would fall into the classification of “neo-Fascists” recently described so eloquently by Azril Mohd Amin and Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar in their article “Liberal fascists camouflaged as freedom fighters.”

Putting the name calling and near-deification of journalist Zurairi AR with horns, tail and a pitchfork aside, Azril and Rafidah’s arguments and perspectives are confusing, contradictory and troubling for those of sound, reasonable and rational mind.

As we have seen in other countries such as Pakistan and in our own, blasphemy laws, particularly those that are broadly defined, open and widen the door towards State-sanctioned religious tyranny and oppression.

Portraying this issue as the freedom to mock and insult other religions is a misrepresentation which belittles the seriousness of the implications of such laws.

Who defines “blasphemy” and how is it determined? Blasphemy against whom? Would a seminar organised by a religious department on the supposed threat of Christians and Christianisation, be considered blasphemy? Will criticism of religious interpretation and practice be considered blasphemy? What we will most likely see are judgements and punishments which lean towards one particular religion but are blind to others.

Such laws suppress freedom of speech and expression in the guise of preventing blasphemy. That is the reality. Perhaps what really needs to be championed is the freedom from religion. A separation of mosque and state.

There is insufficient coherent and reasonable debate on issues of public interest in this country. It is a real concern and requires a serious appreciation and response. However, the article’s authors insinuate that the term “hate speech” is used to stymie or silence such discussions.

It demonstrates not only a lack of understanding of the term but also a deficit in appreciation of the seriousness of what it is. Blasphemy is not hate speech.

Hate speech is the real problem. It has caused upheaval and violence among races and ethnicities, created religious distrust and paranoia, discriminated people deemed unsuitable in the eyes of the majority, and even resulted in the physical abuse and killing of individuals such as transgender persons. The victims of hate speech are often the most vulnerable in society, the marginalised, discriminated and excluded.

To address hate speech, we need amendments to existing Malaysian laws which govern freedom of speech to further define and narrow the definition for offences. We don’t need more laws for blasphemy.

The article’s authors also disparaged the social inclusion and acceptance of marginalised people and communities by invoking homophobia and transphobia.

Surely there is nothing wrong with us recognising the rights and dignity of all people to take part in society, regardless of their identity, gender, race, creed and culture. Or does a person have to fit a certain template before you can be deemed socially acceptable? Who decides what that is?

The true measure of a great democracy is the way the majority treats its minorities. That’s the yardstick to use to see whether you as a country and people are doing a good job on human rights. You don’t sneer at it.

The Federal Constitution exists to protect the minority against the tyranny of the majority. This includes people from marginalised and discriminated communities. It guarantees that all Malaysians are afforded the same fundamental rights and protections.

The Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the UPR Process (Macsa)’s blinkered interpretation of gender, would result in not only institutional mistreatment and victimisation, it could also end up denying those rights and protections to affected individuals.

For a Muslim, that view provides religious authorities and vigilantes, with license to marginalise or oppress other Muslims, especially if they are transgender. For those faced with the reality of persecution and threat of violence, non-recognition of their gender isn’t a fashionable theory, it is tyranny.

The assertion that there is compelled speech in this country regarding the use of gender neutral or gender inclusive pronouns, is not only false but an absurd claim. No one has been punished legally or otherwise for not using such pronouns, neither are there existing regulations or laws to compel their usage.

Using Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution is a favourite strategy to browbeat and silence detractors and to imply that civil liberties and freedoms of all Malaysians are secondary to Islamic scriptures.

Macsa and their partners hate to be reminded of the fact that Malaysia is a secular state. That the Shariah system is subordinate to the civil courts established by the Federal Constitution and under federal law.

But they are working hard to change this reality.

One example comes to mind. In April 2012, the Kedah state government made an amendment to the Mufti and Fatwa (Kedah Darul Aman) Enactment 2008. Passed unanimously by the Kedah State Legislative Assembly, the amendment, makes any fatwa decided by the state Mufti or Fatwa Committee, whether gazetted or not, unable to be challenged, appealed, reviewed, denied or questioned in any civil or syariah court. This kind of legislation is actually ultra vires the Federal Constitution.

There are many other examples of ongoing activities where religious bodies and individuals are silently undermining secular structures, are acting with impunity and forcing others into unthinking and unquestioning compliance and obedience. All in the name of religion. This is what is happening and that is what we are worried about.

Organisations like Macsa, Islamic and Strategic Studies Institute of Malaysia (Iksim), Malaysian Muslim Solidarity (Isma), Centre for Human Rights Research & Advocacy (Centhra) and International Women's Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (Wafiq) seem to consistently believe, portray and behave as if they are the victims of an oppressive majority. As if they are a minority fighting against a totalitarian regime hell-bent on imposing their views on others.

Maybe they should check themselves and wake up from their alternative reality. If they do so, they might find out that they are the majority.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.