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