Threats of physical harm are unjustified

A YOUNG woman, Aisyah Tajudin, made a video satirising the Kelantan State Government's decision to table the hudud bill at the Kelantan State Legislative Assembly. The video went viral and caused a furore. Many were offended by the video, deeming Aisyah's comments in it as 'insulting Islam'. As a result, many people condemned Aisyah and the video. But most worryingly, she also received threats of physical harm and rape. It became so bad that her father, Prof Dr Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi came out to the media and questioned whether Malaysia "is safe for our children."

The extreme reactions to the video, especially the threats to Aisyah are unfortunately not a new phenomenon. We have seen it many times before. Remember what happened last year to one of the organiser of the 'I want to touch a dog' event? He too received thousands of physical threats, even death. What was worse for him was that his personal mobile number was in the public domain and so these threats were received on his mobile phone.

It does not seem that Aisyah's number is available to the public, so most of the threats appear to have been made on social media. But because Aisyah is a woman, on top of the threats of physical harm some have also threatened to rape her.

This trend of threats being made against those who purportedly insult religion is most disconcerting. It is as if we lose all sense of decency when it comes to what we find offensive to our religious sensibilities.

Religion is an emotional issue which many people hold dear. To be offended when we see something that we feel is insulting to our religion is a normal and human reaction. There is nothing inherently wrong with being offended. In fact, you are entitled to be offended.

Yet offence is not an excuse to resort to violence. Even if we are deeply offended at what was said, even if it is something so abhorrent or offensive to us that it makes us angry, still does not justify threats of violence to the person who caused the offence.

We are, after all, a civilised society, are we not? We live in a democratic country, with certain fundamental freedoms guaranteed. These freedoms include freedom of speech and expression. Like it or not, people can say things which cause offence to us.

Freedoms are not absolute, of course. There are limits to freedom of speech and expression, and those limits should be threats of physical harm to persons or property. Criticising the need to table a state enactment is within the limits, even if we do not like it. However, threatening violence and rape against goes beyond that limit.  This is not double standards. The difference between the former and the latter is the threat of physical harm, which justifies intervention by the State.

There are ways to put across objections to the video. One can try to engage with Aisyah and the makers of the video. One can create a counter video on Youtube. One can write an article or come out with a press statement in response to the video. There are numerous ways to respond when we are offended without having to resort to violence.

We cannot ignore this trend of threatening physical harm. The fear is that if we leave this trend unchecked, we may legitimise such behaviour as acceptable responses to those who offend us. Already we are seeing people who, although they do not agree to the physical threats, think that those who received them deserved it and 'had it coming'.

At least despite the threats no one has been hurt, yet. But we certainly should not wait for that to happen.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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