Censors are cowards

By Pak Bui

Compare the response of the American government towards a divisive, incendiary issue – the proposed burning of Qurans on September 11 by a sociopathic preacher – with the response of the Malaysian and Sarawakian governments towards citizens expressing fair comment.

On the one hand, there has been open and frank debate in the United States over an ugly, stupid threat by Terry Jones, a gun-loving self-proclaimed ‘Christian leader’ of the 50-member Dove Church in Florida. He announced he would burn 200 copies of the Quran to commemorate the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, but is now vacillating.

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has spoken out against this threatened “disrespectful, disgraceful act”. The US Attorney General, Eric Holder, called it “idiotic and dangerous”. Army leaders warned it would put American soldiers’ lives at risk.

Terry Jones may yet go ahead with this “warning message” to “radical Islam”. Although he admitted he “understood” the risks posed to soldiers and other Americans, he did not care. He defied 100 death threats sent to him, and promised that he would be armed on the day of his planned publicity stunt.

“We are prepared to give our lives for this,” he asserted. He is obviously prepared to give up others’ lives, too, including those of Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq.


The odd thing (from Sarawakians’ point of view) was that this halfwit was not arrested under any equivalent of our Internal Security Act (ISA) or Sedition Act. Neither did the government clamp down on public debate surrounding this empty provocation.

The US has many citizens with terrible flaws – greed, arrogance, disdain for environmental conservation, shallow pop culture, rabid Christian militancy, apathy towards the country’s huge income disparities and racial bigotry (and obesity and tolerance of bad food).

In 2003, the US launched an unjustifiable war on Iraq, resulting in the deaths of a hundred thousand women, men and children – a terrorist attack against Iraqi citizens, en masse. The US has also raised political leaders of almost unbelievable ignorance and idiocy, like George W Bush and Sarah Palin.

Sarawak too has most of the above flaws, except we have not started any wars (and also, our food is better, and obesity is not yet a common scourge).

But at least the US allows informed debate and freedom of expression.

Many Americans, encompassing atheists and believers, have attacked the Dove Church’s hawkish plan. Christian and Jewish leaders have announced they are “appalled by such disrespect for a sacred text”.

Some journalists have dug up some dirt on Terry Jones. He had previously run a church plus furniture business in Germany, but had left after one of their adult children accused him of abusing his workers, according to the report in the Times of London. The workforce comprised Jones’s religious followers, living in rundown quarters and receiving no wages.

Another report in German magazine Der Spiegel quoted Andrew Schafer, a Protestant Christian church official tasked with monitoring cults, as saying Jones’s congregation in Cologne numbered only around 100, and Jones was “delusional”.

The US has a free press, a responsive two-party democracy, a vibrant civil society, a relatively independent judiciary, and an engaged intellectual minority. The US ship of state also has an uncanny ability to steer herself back on an even keel, after lurching to extremes and almost capsizing. One recent example was the election of a black, charismatic President, after two disastrous terms of militant extremism under Bush the Younger.

Cowards in charge

Now we can compare the US response to its alarming religious crisis, with Sarawak’s and Malaysia’s reaction to our locally expressed views.

Our Barisan Nasional (BN) government has a long and not-so-proud history of censorship and suppression of information.

Recently, chief minister Taib Mahmud saw red over a perfectly rational Bernama article printed in the Sarawak Tribune. The article was an analysis of Taib’s melodramatic sandiwara that he was mulling over retiring before the state election.

Taib’s daughter threw a royal tantrum at the Tribune office, and sacked editor Paul Si. The Tribune staff were then bound by a gag order on their editor’s arbitrary removal. This was not so much a storm in a teacup, as it was a whirlpool in a toilet bowl.

The Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), under the desperate and chaotic leadership of George Chan, has maintained a gag order on all its members (except Chan himself) from speaking on the party’s grim prospects in the state BN.

A Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA)-owned company sacked popular Mandarin-speaking radio host Jamaluddin Ibrahim and 988FM’s chief executive officer Wong Lai Ngo on September 8.

What was their ‘offence’? The breakfast show had been attacked by the much-ridiculed Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) for interviewing a gay pastor and a chief minister, Lim Guan Eng, from the MCA’s bitter rival, the Democratic Action Party (DAP).

After 988FM suspended Jamaluddin on August 19, the radio station issued a gag order on its other DJs, and even pulled the station’s Facebook page because of scathing criticism of its censorship.

Burning books

The cowardly acts of Taib and his PBB, of the MCA, the SUPP and the MCMC all have common threads running through them.

They impose gag orders, they silence critics, they nitpick on tiny perceived faults, and they exercise what they perceive is their raw, unrestrained power. Yet they are, in fact, lashing out from positions of weakness: they are all bodies that have been mocked by the internet-savvy public, and have lost their self-respect and relevance.

They also demonstrate Prime Minister Najib Razak’s boasts of greater press freedom in Malaysia to be as hollow and pointless as his 1Malaysia rhetoric.

Read more at: http://hornbillunleashed.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/9570/