Closing an eye or denying the evils of radicalism is a risk no democratic nation can afford to take, says Syerleena Abdul Rashid.
As the world experiences the worrying expansion of global radicalism, reports of violence and killings committed in the name of religion evoke all sorts of emotions – it propels humanity into extreme ends: you either strongly disagree or strongly agree with the atrocities committed in the name of God, religion and faith.
Many of us are still trying to make sense of the recent attacks in Paris, the battles fought by Isis and the massacres carried out by Boko Haram. These aggressions aren’t just about a series of offensive cartoons or the overzealousness in installing an Islamic caliphate or even the evil of Western education, but it is a declaration of war against freedom of expression and human rights.
Most of all, it signals the breakdown of logic – the raison d’être of religious wisdom and prudence; it indicates an abrupt shift to feverish radicalism.
Every heinous attack committed by religious extremists leaves many of us wondering: what is it about religion that makes one more inclined to embrace violence and lose one’s sense of humour or common sense? Where do you draw the line between jest and insolence?
When the freedom to freely express oneself becomes incompatible with another religion, humanity is faced with the classic dilemma: do we adhere to religious constitutions or internationally protected rights? Although the idea of freedom (in this case, freedom of expression) is not without its fair share of controversy, it is not an absolute right but a privilege for some nations. On the other hand, freedom sometimes lacks precise guidelines needed to identify the uncertainties as to whether it can absolutely safeguard one’s faith from insult and mockery.
Although most of us were not entirely shocked that such heinous crimes were committed (Charlie Hebdo, a weekly French satirical publication, was notorious for publishing materials that were tasteless, offensive and insensitive to religious communities. The publication had been attacked in the past and various staff received death threats), what transpired on the morning of 7 January 2015 introduced us to another layer of evil – ‘sleeper cells’ that violate freedom, democracy and most of all, common sense.
But what transpired in Paris wasn’t just about satire; it was about radicalism asserting its dominance over democracy and overshadowing the positive teachings of religion. This has been the dominating message extremists and religious fanatics convey worldwide.
Yes, satire can be dangerous and offensive because there are people who will not understand such jokes. It takes a certain level of political sophistication to appreciate an otherwise very serious message through humour. There is a saying that when rationality in politics begins to break down, the shift towards satire becomes eminent because at the end of the day, that is the only thing that makes any sense.
When the lives of civilians are threatened because certain factions are unable to resolve conflict through discussions or open debates, our lives become a commodity that is not without an expiry date. Democracy often becomes collateral damage in this tug-of-war between logic and religious fanaticism. This is when opinions, beliefs and feelings can get you killed.
But the threat of suppression of one’s beliefs or opinion isn’t always as black and white as you would like to believe. It is almost always complicated and the more you look for explanations, the more you find yourself engulfed in the horrors of religious conflict that seemingly have no end and whose beginnings are difficult to ascertain.
Most of us view freedom of expression as a right for all humans because it permits people to express their thoughts and opinions and allows them to be themselves. Unfortunately, not many understand the responsibilities that come with freedom – freedom of expression and speech can be harmful to some communities who may have an oversimplified view of life.
These factions believe that freedom of expression can be used to discriminate against and harm people without themselves suffering any consequences. They also believe that it allows them to convey slanderous opinions just so they can gain trust and attain power over communities. And this concept is something Malaysians are growing weary of.
In Malaysia, we witness how certain factions misuse power and curtail our own liberties. We are told that freedom is a myth and that human rights is a ruse invented by the Judeo-Christians. Freedom can only lead to chaos, riots and anarchy which will have an adverse effect on our Malaysian way of life.
Malaysians do not like confrontation and can be regarded as peaceful, but we aren’t by any means dumb. Freedom of expression serves many functions. It is a catalyst that encourages discussion and considerations needed at decision-making levels.
Proper evaluation and judgment can only be passed after sufficient consultation has been made. Freedom is an important factor at all levels of society and a crucial issue for the government. It has been said that a “government which does not know what the people feel or think is in a dangerous position. The government that muzzles free speech runs a risk of destroying the creative instincts of its people”.
The rise of radicalism and the spread of intolerance will continue to bully democracy and peace unless something drastic is done to curb this rot. Closing an eye or denying the evils of radicalism is a risk no democratic nation can afford to take.
Freedom of expression and other civil liberties that come with democratic practices exist to protect the common good of the people. It is the keystone of democracy and the foundation of civility, important factors for society to thrive on.
But when living itself becomes too dangerous, it is no longer a democracy but an unjust system against which humanity must dissent.