Majority controlling the narrative is part of the problem - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Malaysiakini : “The most shocking idea in my book that can ‘alarm public opinion’ is that Islam should not be coerced.” - Mustafa Akyol on the banning of his book
| The call by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad for the majority to
counter the narrative of the minority, when it comes to banning
concerts, is a mendacious attempt to inject some feel-good rhetoric into
the dismal state of the social and political discourse in this country. All
this, of course, goes beyond merely voicing one's opinion on concerts.
This is about much more than that. It is simplistic to reduce everything
to a simple majority uber alles context, and hope nobody examines too closely what is at stake here.
reality is that it does not matter if a majority wants something in
this country. The fact is that when it comes to issues of race and
religion, only the Malay political elite can change the narrative, and
so far they have been unwilling or unable to do so.
I have no idea
why the call for the banning of a death metal band by the Council of
Churches was used as an illustration of a “minority” controlling the
narrative. When it comes to this issue, the majority of cases, be it
concerts, books and anything to do with free speech and expression, has
been at the mercy of the ruling elite and proxies whose agenda is to
subvert secular democratic norms in this country.
issue here is not that the majority should control the narrative, but
rather, the issue of freedom of speech and expression that, in a
functional democracy, would be protected from mob mentality. It
is wilfully naive to think that the majority in this country owe their
allegiance to values that would protect and embrace everyone, and to use
this in an attempt to project a “moderate” image is duplicitous.
it comes to Zakir Naik, does anyone seriously think that the majority
in this country are against him? In this instance, the minority view is
the more rational, not to mention having a legal basis. But should it be
swept aside merely because the majority controls the narrative?
Just last year, Turkish author Mustafa Akyol (above)
put up his book - “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty”
(Islam Tanpa Keekstreman: Berhujah Untuk Kebebasan) - for free online
after the High Court upheld the ban by the (then) home minster, citing
that “the book could hurt public order and alarm public opinion.” Keep
in mind that the back cover blurb includes a review by Education
Minister Mazlee Malik, who was at that time a Universiti Islam
Antarabangsa Malaysia lecturer.
In discussing the banning of his
book and his brief detention by the state security apparatus, Akyol
reminded us that the home minister and religious bodies like Jakim
control the Islamic narrative in this country. Hence any attempt to
imply that there is some sort of majority consensus - when it comes to
issues involving freedom of speech and expression - is misleading.
the political establishment organises mobs to voice the concern of
"citizens," this is a function of control, not public sentiment. The
establishment sets the tone, and uses proxies to buttress its argument.
If it is met with resistance – even if it is by a majority – the state
security apparatus and various laws would be used on dissenters.
Maryam Lee held a book launch and forum on “de-hijabbing”, Harapan’s
religious czar Mujahid Yusof Rawa was disturbed by this and sent Jais to
investigate. Why would he do something like this? If the majority were
supportive of this forum and book launch, would Mujahid still feel
Latheefa Koya, now MACC chief commissioner, illustrated
what extremist views in this country are when she said: “Just because a
person does not wear the veil, does that mean she will go to hell? Will
she become an apostate? Will she become a promiscuous woman? Come on
lah... this is an extremist view.”
Now I dare say that a majority
in the Malay/Muslim polity would object to Maryam’s agenda and they
would be supported by the state, but in cases like this, the state
should have supported Maryam Lee because of her right to free speech and
Now, what then can you say about Zakir Naik (above)?
Doesn’t he have the same right to free speech and expression? Well,
yes, he does, but his speech and expression, while vile, are not the
issue. The issue is that Malaysia is harbouring a wanted fugitive simply
because it is politically expedient to do so.
Most time issues
get conflated. When it comes to the LGBT issue, for instance, I think
the majority will find common ground using cultural and religious
objections. So when Mujahid says something bigoted against the LGBT
community while he is carrying on a familiar Islamic narrative, it finds
support - even if silent - with the religious and cultural mainstream
thinking in this country.
In a piece about how some of my Malay friends think public caning is a good idea, I wrote: “And
do you really think that only Malays think that their minds are
shackled or that their religion shackles their minds? Would you say the
same to a religious Christian, Hindu or Buddhist who does not share the
same religious dogma as Muslims, but in reality, when it comes to
cultural and social norms, they have exactly the same religious/cultural
prejudices? So really, some people do share the same religious dogma;
it is only they do not have the power of the state to back up their
prejudices.” If the prime minster was serious in his call for our
democratic spaces not to be held hostage by voices that would diminish
our freedom of speech and expression, his rhetoric would be different.
would have made it clear that racial and religious objections to
content deemed contrary to mainstream Malay/Muslim agendas, or any
religious or racial agendas for that matter, would be unacceptable when
it comes to restricting free speech and expression.
not be so eager to come up with laws and regulations constraining free
speech, and Putrajaya would be pointing out – but not sanctioning – the
hateful rhetoric coming from the far-right, which oftentimes mirrors