Friday, August 10, 2007

NegaraAnda

Although I'm not a one to speak (being a last vestige of the unspeakable white colonizers of this fair land) and am thus a bit of an outsider when it comes to celebrating the upcoming Merdeka celebrations commemorating 50 years of independence, I do wholeheartedly agree that all Malaysians must be free to create their art honestly and without fear of legal or physical reprisal ... because otherwise what can be created that's of value?

Therefore this:
Joint Statement by:
Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI),
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ),
Institut Kajian Dasar (IKD)

10 August 2007

Constitution guarantees Malaysians' freedom to celebrate Merdeka

Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI), Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and Institut Kajian Dasar (IKD) stress that the Federal Constitution guarantees Malaysians' freedom to celebrate Merdeka in any peaceful way they prefer. In fact, freedom as enshrined in the Constitution is central to the celebration of Merdeka. If we are not free, what independence is there to celebrate?

We express our gravest concern on the latest assault on artistic and cultural expression launched by some McCarthy wannabes in politics and media. Wee Meng Chee, a Malaysian student in Taiwan has attracted demonization in media and threat of legal action by politicians for writing a rap-song "I love my country, Negarakuku" with the national anthem Negaraku as its chorus, and sharing it on youtube.

We hold that Malaysians are mature enough to discuss and judge for themselves the content and form of arts. Political intervention into the world of arts hurts both arts and democracy. Unfortunately, before Wee, musicians performing genres like heavy metal and rock, movie directors like Mohamad Amir (sic!), Yasmin Ahmad and Tsai Ming-Liang, actress (sic) in Vagina Monologue, have all suffered harassment, vilification, censorship or ban for "offending" or "challenging" national culture, sensitivity, history, etc. in one way or another.

Malaysia, whose initial celebration 50 years ago and formation 44 years ago we are now supposed to celebrate, has become the greatest measure of political correctness upon which every artistic and cultural expression needs to be examined. Albeit without explicitly evoking Senator McCarthy's language, some Malaysians have set out to eliminate the crime of "unMalaysianness", a fact other Malaysians must now stand up and speak up.

We stress these three positions of principle:

1. The Federal Constitution of Malaysia explicitly guarantees every citizen "the right to freedom of speech and expression" (Article 10.1.a). While it also allows the Parliament to impose restrictions "by law", parodying the national anthem is not one of the eight permissible grounds. (Article 10.1.b) We remind all quarters that the suggestion of evoking a charge against Wee under the National Anthem Act has therefore risked defying the Federal Constitution itself, a more serious offence than any parodying of the National Anthem.

2. No one should be prosecuted or persecuted for their artistic expressions so long they are not propagating violence. Those who disagree with certain artistic expressions should reply with artistic critiques or counter-expressions, rather than banning or them or persecuting the artists with the state's power. The same principle applies on academic, social, political, religious, cultural views, where an opponent to a particular view should strive to defeat and debunk the view s/he opposes in free debates, rather than silencing whomever s/he considers heretic with the state's power. If we cannot hold on to this principle, we are making a mockery of the Article 10 of our Federal Constitution.

3. Inter-ethnic and inter-religious harmony cannot be promoted by suppressing freedom of expression. Suppression will only drive misunderstanding and animosity into frustrations and anger which will sweep everyone when suppression is no longer possible. Bigotry and hostility can only be addressed and eliminated under open and rational debates, where everyone respect each other's freedom of expression insofar no violence is used or advocated. If some are intolerant to views they consider insulting or offensive, the society must promote tolerance and respect, rather than conceding to emotional responses of the intolerant lot. Otherwise, if everyone protests against everything s/he considers offensive, perhaps no issue can be discussed publicly. This will only kill democracy as the state can dictate on matters of importance without public scrutiny and participation.

Thomas Paine said it aptly, "Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one." The white-terror Senator McCarthy brought to the US in 1950s – investigating and persecuting left-leaning artists under the charges of un-American activities - testified the danger when the government's power goes beyond the necessary.

The monopoly of Merdeka outdoor celebration by the Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry has signaled earlier a dangerous trend that our nation's Independence or its celebration is now seen as the Government's prerogative or private property. The zest to persecute Wee is but the second manifestation of such mentality. Malaysians, regardless whether they agree with Wee's views, must stand up to defend the right to celebrate Merdeka in any peaceful way they like, against the assaults of the Little McCarthys in politics and the media.

This statement is initiated by WAMI,

Jointly issued by:
Wong Chin Huat, Chairperson, WAMI
Gayathry V., Executive Director, CIJ
Khalid Jaafar, Executive Director, IKD

11 comments:

yasmin said...

dearest, may i quote from this for my blog? if yes, please say so on yasminthestoryteller.blogspot.com

i too am outraged by how petty certain ministers have become, riling up public sentiments and feeding on the insecurities of certain quarters, no doubt to gather support.

bibliobibuli said...

yasmin - left you a reply (no.209!) on your latest post. i'm delighted if you quote me.

the post is also up on the CIJ site

http://www.cijmalaysia.org/display_story.asp?ID=529

(three wows! - yasmin dropped by my blog, yasmin wants to quote me, yasmin called me dearest! haha)

Anonymous said...

None of the rakyat has made a fuss and it's the politicians trying to get their names into the papers again. A friend said something quite true - if Wee weren't patriotic he wouldn't have gone to all that trouble to make a video lah - APATHY is the greatest sign of non-patriotism. Wee cared enough to say something, put his safety at risk. He is a true Malaysian.

bibliobibuli said...

i don't know what the lyrics say but i think that it's a very well done song and video - i played it several times and enjoyed it.

i think the national anthem is beautiful - although the range makes it difficult for ordinary folks to sing well. the biggest travesty was when the pace got speeded up several years back to make it a marching tune in line with becoming a faster paced nation! thankfully it has been slowed down a bit again.

Chet said...

I'm waiting for the video to complete loading, but what I've seen of it so far has brought tears to my eyes.

The first line says "I love my country. Got country, got home."

This is a direct translation. The Chinese term for country is made up of the characters for "country" and "home", that's why the second part of the line says "got country, got home". Which means, I think - having a country is having a home, or my country is my home, or my country has given me a home, or generally a sense of belonging.

There's reference to the durian and how it's so smelly, and also how our policemen are called "mata", maybe because their eyes are extra bright. Haha ...

Okay, I've finished watching the video. It contains criticism of Government policy and is quite racist in some parts (the same old Malay - Chinese divide).

bibliobibuli said...

thanks for the interpretation, chet.

Chet said...

Negarakuku with English translation

bibliobibuli said...

yeah it is pretty racist, chet. but there is expression of genuine grievances there too ... stuff i hear all the time.

musically very effective.

Jen said...

I first saw this guy's Muar Chinese video, which I thought was funny, true and racist.
This tops that video is racistness - but I think that at the root of the racism are some genuine grievances.
Having said that, I think that threatening legal action is going too far. As Malaysia strives to reach developed country status, Malaysians will need to negotiate a balance between freedom of expression and political correctness, keeping in mind that these two will often be in opposition. It'll help a lot if Malaysians develop thicker hides and higher self-esteem. It'll also help a lot if Malaysians elect less self-serving politicians.
(You can probably tell I lean towards more freedom of expression rather than less.)

bibliobibuli said...

just read in the paper that you aren't even allowed to put the national flag on a cake in icing because then it would be cut and that is disrespectful.

Anonymous said...

No one will stop you though, I don't suppose there's a law that will stop you from doing that. They're up in arms a little because of the racism. Lots of these people remember '69, and are a bit worried about that happening again.

The fact that a bunch of writers can't write a statement without obvious grammatical errors should be more worrying, don't you think ?