By Aisyah Osman, YP
As a member of civil society I feel compelled to respond to remarks reportedly made by G25 spokeswoman Dato’ Noor Farida Ariffin during her keynote address at the 6th Civil Society Award by the Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Chinese Assembly Hall recently.
Whining that authorities have been allegedly singling out “liberal Muslim” ideologies (whatever that means) as targets, she reportedly urged any NGO that has been “defamed” by Malaysian Islamic Strategic Research Institute (IKSIM) and the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) and others to lodge police reports for criminal defamation and sue for defamation.
In short, she advocates and legitimises the route of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, an ancient Biblical notion having no basis in contemporary society. It is apparent from their spokeswoman’s reported remarks that according to the G25, if one disagrees with or abhors what one’s intellectual opponents are saying, then one should pursue steps to shut them up by shutting them down, and such steps must include intimidating them with police complaints and lawsuits.
Such a position speaks volumes about the G25’s true leanings bearing in mind that it is an organisation that claims to uphold democracy and liberal values. The idea propounded by them is dangerous to our personal and intellectual wellbeing, imperils our national democracy and is a threat to freedom of speech protected by Article 10(1)(a) of our Constitution as well as Article 19 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 22 of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights on Human Rights in Islam and Article 23 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.
Even in other democratic and liberal states, such as the United States of America, it criminal defamation is rarely prosecuted, and civil defamation success rates are very low due to the requirement of actual malice in consequence of their strong free speech tradition protected by the First Amendment to their Constitution.
In the United Kingdom, criminal defamation has been abolished by section 73 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. Civil defamation law there has also been made much more stringent following the coming into force of the Defamation Act 2013, section 1 of which introduced the requirement of serious harm to the reputation of the complainant.
One would expect an NGO such as the G25, having branded itself a guardian of human rights, to advocate that our defamation laws be similarly abolished or amended in favour of greater free speech as well but alas, the NGO prefers that these draconian laws be made available as weapons to be employed against those critical of their agenda.
And then, having advocated the use of our civil and criminal defamation laws to silence their opponents, Datuk Noor Farida has the temerity to bemoan a so-called strict interpretation of Islam and opposition to any Islamic or intellectual discourse on their part.
Instead of responding to alleged Islamist authoritarianism by proposing the open dialogue she claims to stand for as a member of the G25, she instead suggests a forceful replacement of the same with a kind of secular authoritarianism. Such duplicity in their stand reeks of hypocrisy, and shows for all of us to see.
Authoritarianism, both Islamist as well as secular, have no place in a tolerant Malaysia where discourse and dialogue between groups holding vastly differing views are as varied as they are vibrant. Malaysians regardless of creed and origin must recognise the threat that the G25 and their like pose to our hitherto well-functioning and indeed flourishing liberal democracy.
Let us take heed the words of Voltaire, who defended the right of his opponents to their views, however repugnant they were to him, personally as well as intellectually. Let us not agitate against Islamist authoritarianism only to inadvertently consent to the secular authoritarianism propounded by the G25 and their ilk.
The G25 spokeswomen was further reported as saying that civil society needs to put a stop to the “nonsense” by the likes of IKSIM and JAKIM before “before we wake up one day and find ourselves in an Islamic state according to their interpretation of Islam”.
I digress. I believe it is far more likely that we are heading towards a day when we wake up to find ourselves in a secular state governed according to the G25’s interpretation of not just Islam, but pretty much everything else under the sun.
And that is the real nonsense that we in civil society groups, such as the Young Professionals, aim to put a stop to. We invite like-minded Malaysians to join us in this endeavour and help us save Malaysia by upholding free speech and other human rights adumbrated in our Constitution for all the citizenry regardless of politics and religion, before it is too late.
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