Charter 2000-Aliran is appalled at the serious lapse of good judgement on the part of the Sarawak Tribune in re-publishing the offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in its 3 February 2006 edition. What the Tribune did was clearly inappropriate and provocative.
We hold to the principle that press freedom in a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic world carries with it the responsibility to refrain from gratuitous insult and hurt, more so when it involves the sacred and central beliefs of the faithful of all religions. There is no humour or caricature in gratuitously poking someone in the eye and then telling that person to have a sense of humour!
We are however opposed to any attempt by government to control the media through censorship under threat of closure.
Specifically, we hold that there is no place for a law such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 in a democratic society. Such a law throttles free reporting and debate and largely serves to prevent speaking truth to power and to cover up the abuse of power.
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It is, of course, within the government's right to counsel restraint on matters that have the potential of fomenting violence. But we do not believe that, in a democracy, it is the government's right to issue "show cause" letters. If there has been hurt, the aggrieved parties have recourse to our courts to sue the offending publication under any number of laws.
That said, we commend Malaysians for the great maturity they have shown so far in their response to the offensive cartoons. Whatever our problems and our differences, Malaysians have generally demonstrated a degree of social civility that can be a model to the world. We have once again done so in regard to this issue. We have nothing to gain, as Muslims and as Malaysians, and everything to lose, in any exercise of violence.
In the case of these offensive caricatures, the abuse of freedom of speech and the double standards of the publishers concerned and their supporters are obvious. We all know that no self-respecting publication in Europe would dare print a caricature of a Jew as a financier, as used to happen in Europe's disgraceful history of anti-semitism.
A heartfelt peaceful protest against these caricatures and an intellectual response would do much more to, hopefully, induce shame in societies that have apparently lost all sense of shame and of the sacred. Such a sober and reasoned response would reveal that these societies suffer from as much of a surfeit of self-righteousness as the societies that they would condemn.
Dr Mustafa Kamal Anuar and Anil Netto
Joint coordinators, Charter 2000-Aliran
7 February 2006