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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

AREN'T PERKASA, ISMA WORSE BUT GET OFF LIGHTER? Is being an online idiot a crime?

AREN'T PERKASA, ISMA WORSE BUT GET OFF LIGHTER? Is being an online idiot a crime?
Earlier this month a man named Chow Mun Fai was jailed for a year for being a “revolting individual”.
Actually, Chow was sentenced to jail for insulting Muslims on Facebook. In a couple of posts, he was, in my opinion, willfully insulting to Islam and the prophet.
Indeed, his rantings were so inflammatory that Malaysiakini editors decided against reproducing it, opting instead to paraphrase his vitriol.
Chow is better known to most Malaysians as 'Chow Jack'. A few months ago, a screenshot of his looney dramatics entered their social media timelines and instant messaging inbox, spreading rage among Muslim smartphone users faster than you can say 'copy, paste and send'.
The Internet uproar was so loud that eventually someone decided to lodge a police report, leading to his guilty plea.
Before Chow, there was the teacher who did not fancy Thaipusam. In his rage over the traffic congestion which usually accompanies this fantastic festival, he stupidly called devotees at the iconic temple "devils".
Unlike Chow, Hidayat Mohamed, who posted his rantings under a monicker, claimed trial after being charged with posting seditious material on Twitter. The trial is pending.
Both Chow and Hidayat had engaged in hate speech – it is difficult to argue otherwise – but in the absence of hate crime laws, Malaysians have resorted to citing anything remotely insulting as "seditious" - occasionally in jest, but in the case of these two incidents, in earnest.
Chow was charged with sedition, but was sentenced on an alternate charge under the Communications and Multimedia Act.
Between Chow, the teacher and the weeks after, Malaysian netizens continue to be bombarded with screenshots of tweets and Facebook statuses of private individuals behaving in a vile manner.
Vile, I believe, because it is both ignorant and disgusting that one can grow up in a multicultural society and hold those views. But is being a willfully ignorant turd a crime? And worse still, is it seditious?
Heavier penalties for hate crime
In the United Kingdom, where the Sedition Act 1948 originated from, it would not be seditious to be a bigoted looney. This is because the sedition as a common law offence has been abolished.
But that doesn’t mean that bigotry – or rather hate motivated by someone’s race, religion and other "protected characteristics" – is not a crime.
Hate crime in the UK goes beyond race and religion. It extends to gender, sexual orientation, transgender identity, age and disabilities.
If you do something that is already a crime – vandalism, murder, arson, or assault, for example – and it is proven in court that your intent was due to bigotry, it is mandatory on the court to extend the penalty.
For example, it is five years in jail for aggravated assault, but the judge may sentence the convict to seven years instead, if the crime was motivated by bigotry.
If you insult a certain group of people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, age, gender or disability, with the intention to stir up hate against this group – then that’s a hate crime.
However, even this must meet certain tests of fairness. Any complaint goes through several independent committees before the attorney-general (AG) can sign off on it for prosecution, the AG being the final safeguard.
The committees scrutinise for things such as whether it is of the public interest to prosecute, and also consider factors like remorse, the age of the offender and whether or not the offender has much influence.
In many cases, the police themselves decide the report does not warrant further scrutiny, and it is recorded as a "hate incident" but not a "hate crime".
Would Chow Jack, a nobody with his limited number of friends, be a danger and menace to society that he needs to be put away for one year, if he lived in England?
The British courts seem to think that someone with 50 friends on Facebook does not hold as much influence or is expected to be as reasonable as an elected representative, for example.
When safeguards falter
But sometimes even the best safeguards can falter, especially in the face of public pressure.
In 2012, a young man called Liam Stacey said horrendous things to his 34 friends on Twitter to mock black football player Fabrice Muamba, who had a heart attack on the pitch.
No one would have known about the tweets, but because he used a hashtag, his vicious missives were aggregated and found their way to former England footballer Stan Collymore, who then retweeted it to his thousands of followers as a cautionary tale.
Stacey pleaded guilty to a hate crime and was sentenced to 56 days in prison for what he admitted to be an act of "drunken stupidity".
What sort of influence did this student, Stacey, with 34 friends have? Hardly anything. If he had said it in a pub instead of on Twitter, would he have got away with it? My guess is yes.
What harm did this nutcase, spouting racism in his living room, really do?
Some argue that because his tweet got picked up and was broadcast to thousands of people, it 1) emboldened bigots 2) created a hostile environment for those of the same race as the footballer.
Some draw parallel to rape jokes. (Think of the abhorrent fratboy T-shirt which reads: 'Rape is just a cuddle with a struggle'.)
One could convincingly argue that making jokes about rape may just be dark humour, but others contend that sends signals to would-be rapists that it is okay to rape and to rapists that it is all right to continue raping. And for the victim, such jokes may just trigger a replay of what is likely the most traumatising incident of their lives.
Does a tweet by someone going bonkers, against a certain race, gender, sexual orientation, etc, have the same effect?
And again, is this, or indeed a rape joke, a crime? I occasionally want to launch an army of red ants on someone who makes rape jokes. But no, I don't think it is a crime.
Malaysians like to think that, on the ground level, we are the perfect picture of multiculturalism. That the politicians are the ones who are spewing venom to divide and conquer.
We say things like: "I love nasi lemak and had thosai and chee cheong fan served to my multiracial colleagues at my son’s party. Of course I am not racist."
But when the guests go home from the party, we sometimes we tell our children: "The Indian man (or your equivalent of other race boogeyman) will catch you" when they are being extra naughty.
Protection from the over-zealous
I am unequivocally opposed to discrimination on the basis of things people can’t even choose – whether you were born of certain race, or with or without eyesight, these are thing you have no control over.
Similarly, I am all for an Equal Opportunities Act (in the UK, this Act generally says any public-funded entity must not discriminate). I am all for mandating fairness in employment, education, housing and access to welfare.
I am all for the naming and shaming of elected officials and office bearers in political parties for bigotry and insensitivity. I believe they should be held to a higher standard because they are in positions of influence. In any case, people need to know who they vote for.
But at the same time, I am acutely aware of the kind of abuses that can take place if we start policing people’s private thoughts.
Indeed, big brother trawling through the Internet to weed out the crazies does not make up the bulk of my worries.
My greater concern is that over-zealous groups – either the idealists who feel everyone should always be politically correct, or those who get terribly offended over the slightest intimidation of the anything to do with royalty, religion or race – will use this to push their respective agendas.
Last weekend, somebody told me there is a call to change the name of popular game show 'Lawak King' (Comedy King) as it may be wrongly-inferred as making fun of the monarch.
Must we all be under the tyranny of the rabid and over-sensitive?
Imagine if all these people started retweeting screenshots of your mildest criticism of anything, and spreading that on the Internet to the extent that everyone is whipped up into a frenzy. Suddenly, your silly little post has influence.
Suddenly you are Liam Stacey, who in a kind of absurd lottery, was unlucky enough to be retweeted by an influential figure on Twitter and turned from a lone nut to a menace of society, robust independent committees and safeguards notwithstanding.
I am pessimistic that any 'independent' committee in Malaysia can act as a real safeguard against the likes of Rani Kulup  and his merry beret-wearing gang of police report makers.
The only way out, of course, is for everybody to stop posting every dastardly thought that comes to mind. If you don’t dare to say it in front of someone, then don’t do it online.
However, until the world suddenly morphs in this utopia where everybody is nice to one another, even in their deepest thoughts (and on Facebook!), my stand is to defend everybody's right to be a turd. -M'kini

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