So the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission has summoned Patrick Teoh for remarks he wrote on his Facebook page, and UMNO Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin wants stern action to be taken against him.
Many people seem to think Patrick insulted Islam with what he wrote. I had a quick look at his Facebook page to see what the fuss was about, and I have to say I did not see anything that warrants criminal prosecution. He was ranting and using inappropriate language of course, which was rather thoughtless and insensitive of him, but his words were directed at some Muslims leaders in Kedah. He was insulting these leaders in particular, which is not the same thing as insulting Islam. We must learn to distinguish between the religion and its administrators.
Let’s look at his posting, which was referring to the Kedah state government’s Chinese New Year guidelines, carefully. Patrick asked in a rhetorical manner what kind of motivational songs would satisfy these Islamic administrators: songs requiring people to pray five times a day perhaps, or songs about getting them to cover their bodies? This was admittedly an insensitive way of articulating his concerns about how Islam is being administered in this country, but I don’t think it’s fair or correct to say he was insulting the religion.
Many people were also angry when he called the leaders in question “Quran thumping motherf*****s.” Again, his choice of language was not at all proper, but he was not referring to the Quran at all or describing the Holy Book in a disparaging manner. He was referring to these state administrators. It’s common in Western societies to refer to Christian evangelists as “Bible thumpers”, so I guess Patrick was in that mode of thinking when he wrote those words. But clearly, the Holy Book was not his target at all: the Muslims “evangelists” were.
Whenever we want to take action against others for their opinion we have to be extra careful. Way back in 2007, Khairy himself uttered some words which could be construed as offensive to some non-Malays. Fortunately, no action was taken against him. The latitude given to him should also be given to Patrick Teoh, even though they come from different stations in life.
If we prohibit anything that goes against our views or sensitivities, then there will be no freedom of expression. Although we may find them distasteful, we must also protect views that are stupid, gross and insensitive. Only then we can say we live in a democracy and a free society.