Stop stifling open discussions

ALIRAN condemns the recent assault on freedom of speech by social and cyber bullies, aided and abetted by officials who clearly need to critically examine their priorities and review their standard operating procedures.

Indeed, Aliran is shocked and disheartened to hear that Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mujahid Yusof Rawa has seen fit to initiate investigations into an incident-free, innocuous book launch on April 13 at the Gerakbudaya bookstore in Petaling Jaya.

The book in question, Unveiling Choice principally revolves around the difficulties, pain and suffering faced by Muslim women in opting to wear or not to wear a hijab.

It is an important discussion, as around the world we continue to see instances of women being coerced to wear the hijab (for example, in Iran) and also to take it off (in France). There is a need to discuss and analyse the roots of such insistence on controlling what women can or cannot wear.

As the panel members at the book launch put it, “It was an intellectual discourse based on women’s lived realities, looking at the phenomenon from sociological and historical perspectives, alongside discussions on the sociopolitical realities of Malaysian women today”.

But, following a social media backlash led by cyber bullies, many of whom had apparently not attended the book launch (which, unfortunately, seems to be the case a lot of the time in digitised Malaysia), this simple book launch was demonised.

This depressing tactic of demonisation based on misinformation and falsehoods was common under the Barisan Nasional government before the 2018 general election. In Malaysia Baharu, this must stop.

It stops with our leaders acting in ways that will make it stop – not in ways that cater to the dictates of what is essentially mob rule.

It stops by us allowing civil discussions to grow – and not be stifled and silenced by loud bullies, shouting down others using the excuse of race and religion. Most times, the misogynistic and racist language used by these bullies reflects badly on what constitutes their religiosity.

It stops by the authorities no longer harassing and victimising those who are helping to make us think about a better, kinder and more inclusive tomorrow.

It stops by us – and, more, our leaders – refusing to dance to the tune set by the close-minded and the ignorant.

In a supposedly new Malaysia, civilised discourse, especially on things considered controversial, is not an option; it is essential.


letters , hijab , free speech