In Malaysia, there is a little nondescript object, made of wood, about six inches long, which acts as a powerful weapon against the bigots. Running the length of this six-inch long cylindrical object is a piece of lead. Just like the lead in the core of a bullet. This powerful weapon is called a pencil. It can be as lethal as the gun and bullet.
The pencil can inflict much damage, especially when it portrays the truth. Usually, the people who have the most to lose will try to punish the person with the pencil and metaphorically 'gag' him in one way or another. The people who do not like to be contradicted often attempt to stop others from expressing their opinions, which are in direct conflict with their own.
Last week, Malaysia had its own mini-Charlie Hebdo moment when the Chinese newspaper, Nanyang Siang Pau, published a cartoon called the 'Monkey Act'. It depicted the PAS president, Abdul Hadi Awang, and the speaker of Parliament, Pandikar Amin Mulia, as two monkeys on a tree. Nowhere is the expression, "a picture paints a thousand words" more apt than this. No wonder PAS was upset.
In the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Muslim fanatics killed several cartoonists and journalists for expressing their views through cartoons. Although Nanyang's 'Monkey Act' cartoon did not spark a shooting spree, PAS Youth threatened to protest against the newspaper and burn copies of the daily, before dumping them into the sea. Someone should tell them about the concept of 'Freedom of Expression' and then charge them with desecration of the environment.
The manner in which the amendments to Act 355 were tabled in Parliament on April 6 was a dodgy affair. Keeping MPs debating on mundane bills until 5am the next morning was itself suspicious. At noon that day, Act 355 was suddenly whisked to the top of the queue. This is a sign of a carefully-crafted manoeuvre.
The speaker then forbade a proper debate on Hadi's bill, and fined an opposition MP for questioning his refusal to allow proper discussion.
The objective of this monkey business was to enable both Hadi and the speaker to keep the Act 355 Bill ready to be dished-up at the next sitting of Parliament; like a wife keeps a dish warm in the oven for her husband when he returns from work. Parliament reconvenes in July.
Malaysians are being held to ransom by people who threaten violence at the slightest sign of perceived provocation. Malaysians will have to brace themselves for reprisals, because bigots cannot hear opposing views.
Disagreeing with a cartoon, or being intolerant to the views of a columnist, does not confer the right to protest, harm or kill. Threats of reprisals will only prove to the wider public that Muslims can only express their feelings through bloody and violent means.
Why do the bigots do it?
Political advantage is the main reason for the 'monkey business' linked with Act 355, but what is the underlying reason for the bigots' intolerance of dissenting views? Could it be the way we treat and bring up our children, both in schools and at home?
At school, the student who dares to question a teacher is usually punished or made to look like a fool in front of his class. When he grows up, his tyrannical teacher is his only role model for acting in public.
At home, the child who dares to answer his parents and elders will probably be clipped around his ears. He learns to keep quiet, even when he sees something wrong. When he grows up, he will have learnt that to speak out will invite a thrashing. He has learnt bad behaviour from bad parenting.
The child does not know what it feels like to be intellectually challenged in a verbal discourse. So, what does he do when someone disagrees with him? He dishes out the same treatment he received at school or at home. The child has morphed into an adult who threatens and promises violent retaliation when people contradict him.
The days when independent cartoonists and freelance journalists will be able to be socially responsible are numbered. They would like to get their message across, but they face several hurdles.
Even the most responsible journalist or cartoonist will find editorial censorship diluting his message. When a publisher reaches the big league, corporate bodies and advertisers breathing down the editor's neck may force the freelancer's drawing or article to be pulled. If it does get published, the government watchdogs and bigots are the next hurdle.
Today, the bigots will oppose all those who disagree with their views. How long will it be, before they start to censure people who disagree with them on other minor issues?
You must value your right to freedom of expression.