Responsible freedom of expression


I READ with a heavy heart some of the responses to the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire. Barely a month has passed since the Christchurch mosque shootings, where the res­ponse by Kiwis led by Jacinda Ardern was one of compassion, action, and grace; and here I am reading vile, insensitive responses made by the very community of faith shown that compassion.

I had wondered what would have been the reaction if, touch wood, such an incident had happened in Malaysia.

Reading the comments by a number of Malaysian Muslims who celebrated the destruction of a Catholic church proved my sus­picion that such an incident would have brought out the worst in some of us.

A few years back, The Star orga­nised a Harmony Walk in my hometown of Penang.

The year I participated, I realised how I have taken for granted the very fact that I grew up among people of diverse faiths and ethnic backgrounds – something that we on social media today seem to have forgotten completely.

My question to many of those who actually celebrated the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire: would you have dared to walk up to your neighbour’s house and heckle at them when their house is burning? Perhaps this exercise is for nought, after all, I am writing in a bubble and to a bubble.

I digress. Social media is a big part of our lives now, to the point of ultimate control and addiction, but what really matters, truly, is our human connection.

How many of us in Peninsular Malaysia actually know that this weekend is Easter weekend? Are we aware of the similarities between what was written in the Quran and the Bible about the story of the Prophet Isa?

There are contentions, for sure, that gave rise to differing religions. But what is similar is the human story, of how a man was ridiculed by an unbelieving society for spreading faith and the belief of a God.

What are the odds that Notre-Dame Cathedral, Al-Aqsa mosque and closer to home, a longhouse in Uma Bawang that served as a church caught fire on the same day? Why do some of us feel the need to compete – with our respon­ses, with our attention, where our donations should go to and compare between all these incidences?

Can we not help all? Can we not respond with action, assistance and compassion?

Over this issue, a friend of mine commented that our education system needs to change, that today we are merely practising rituals rather than embodying the spirit of the Islamic faith. I agree, and this is why I place my support with the efforts for a value-based education pushed by our current Education Minister.

Yet, the question remains on the how? We can pass or repeal an Act, we can control what gets put on social media and turn Malaysia into a Big Brother State, we can investigate forums on discourse and speeches made in Geneva, we can only listen to favourable views and to those who feed our ego over those who cautioned us that the right thing to do is the hardest thing.

We have done all these policing already. Yet have we reflected on the consequences of these actions?

Nation-building does not mean blind loyalty. It means constructive criticism, discourse and taking a principled stand. It means acting responsibly, speaking responsibly, and of course, to put our love for country and faith.

We cannot have a value-driven society that is progressive, imbue integrity, and have polite discourse when we stifle freedom of expression, police thoughts, and allow hate speech to propagate.

Our response to hate should not be more oppression and hate, instead we must respond with gene­rosity and taking the higher moral ground.

Of the three fires, the one closest to home that affected longhouses in Miri have received the least attention on social media.

According to a news report, about 100 residents from 30 families at two blocks of Uma Bawang longhouses in Sungai Asap were left homeless after their houses caught fire.

One of the houses that served as a church was destroyed, with one resident suffering burns. I have seen heart-warming responses from Malaysians during the 2015 East Coast floods and the 2014 MH tragedies, and I now seek the same from every one of you reading my nonsensical thoughts every fortnight.

Help. If you cannot do so financially, help by giving your time or effort.

As I type this column, efforts are ongoing to set up a fund to assist those affected in Uma Bawang, Miri, led by the group Malaysians for Malaysia (M4M).

Let’s contribute what we can, and in the meantime extend a hand of friendship to our neighbours and friends, especially those who hold different beliefs than us.

For at the end of the day, all of us are surviving our daily lives, seek acceptance into community, and desire to be allowed to “just be”; the core of what makes all of us, humans.

Lyana Khairuddin is a virologist turned policy nerd living in Kuala Lumpur. The views expressed here are entirely her own.


   

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