Mainstreaming the lunatic fringe?


By Mustafa Kamal Anuar, Aliran

In the recent past, middle-ground Malaysia has borne witness to a series of disturbing public expressions by certain groups and individuals that border on ethnic slurring, slander and rabid racism.

And many a time, these public expressions have without exception insulted the intelligence of the average Malaysians, irrespective of ethnic and religious backgrounds.

What’s equally disturbing is that such articulation has caused hurt, pain and even outrage among the people who have been subjected to these irrational outbursts from the lunatic fringe. ‘Lunatic fringe’ here refers to the fanatical, extremist or irrational members of society who seem to be on the rise lately. Perkasa and other groups of similar disposition come to mind immediately.

This political posturing of the lunatic fringe could possibly pose a threat to our ethnic relations as well as national security.

And yet de facto law minister Nazri Aziz insists irrationally that Malaysia’s political landscape has changed so drastically that what was taboo or “sensitive” a few years ago is now acceptable to Malaysians.

“Sensitive matters are now being discussed in the open,” he told The Malaysian Insider (20 May 2011) recently. He added, “When something is mentioned all the time, it becomes less sensitive and this is a good thing because then things can be mentioned but people will not take offence of it.”

Nazri’s statement was made in the context of the recent claim by certain blogs and subsequently quoted by the irrepressible and irresponsible Utusan Malaysia that the Christian community in Malaysia was involved in a conspiracy to replace Islam with Christianity as the official religion of the federation. This matter, as it turned out, became easy fodder for groups such as Perkasa to publicly express their dismay and disgust and to agitate – although armed with no iota of evidence!

Freedom of expression or freedom to incite?

The minister’s ‘explanation’ seems to imply that freedom of expression and of the press is in full swing in contemporary Malaysia. Is this really so?

I don’t think so. If anything, this so-called freedom of expression has been applied by the powers that be in a very selective manner. When was the last time Malaysians were encouraged, let alone permitted, to publicly discuss pertinent but ‘sensitive’ issues such as religious conversion that has implications on a couple’s children, meritocracy, the brain drain, institutional racism, the NEP; history text books and the ISA, to name but a few?

Anyway, to follow the minister’s argument to its logical conclusion, does freedom of expression provide the licence to the citizenry to mouth racist remarks that could well spark ethno-religious uneasiness or even conflict in multi-ethnic and multireligious Malaysia? Have the authorities subscribed to the creed that freedom of expression includes the right to cause hatred among ethnic and religious communities?

If so, wouldn’t this new political philosophy run counter to and make a mockery of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s recent plea at Oxford University for moderates from all religious communities to join hands in promoting justice, freedom, hope, compassion and goodwill (The Malaysian Insider, 17 May 2011) ? Or was that mere PR spiel for the international crowd?

If the Najib administration is serious about reining in the extremist and irrational elements in our midst, one would have thought that he and his cabinet ministers would have reprimanded and condemned the wild utterings of the lunatic fringe. Of course, we’re not suggesting that the federal government make use of such undemocratic legal tools as the ISA, but at the very least Malaysians expect him to make a public statement to categorically denounce such extremist expressions.