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Fighting the likes of Ibrahim Ali and Utusan Malaysia

PERKASA president Datuk Ibrahim Ali‘s call for a “crusade” against Christians who challenge Islam’s position was disturbing, to say the least.  As was the unsubstantiated front-page Utusan Malaysia report that Christian leaders had pledged to make Christianity the official religion of Malaysia.

What should be the right response to such hurtful and false speech? Should action be taken against Ibrahim, or should Utusan Malaysia’s printing permit be revoked, as some Pakatan Rakyat politicians have suggested?

(Composite image)

As appealing as it may be to see Ibrahim charged for sedition and Utusan Malaysia shut down for its irresponsible content, I would urge those calling for such actions to think again. For how can we, on the one hand, push for greater freedom of speech, but on the other, call for draconian laws to be used against those who insult us? How would we be different from the Barisan Nasional (BN) government that has frequently wielded these laws to clamp down on free speech?

The right to speak

It has been argued that if one had to choose a paramount freedom among all the fundamental human rights, the freedom of expression would be the most obvious choice. For it is through the freedom of expression that one can speak up to uphold the other freedoms.

In Malaysia, however, the freedom of expression has been seriously curtailed, despite Article 10 of the Federal Constitution guaranteeing every citizen the right to freedom of speech and expression. The list of acts that allow the government to charge, harass and imprison citizens for speaking out is almost endless. Acts such as the Sedition Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act and Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) have often been used in the name of national security and public order to silence government critics.

Almost any discussion of governance and politics could potentially be classified a crime under the widely drafted clauses governing free speech in these acts. The CMA’s section 233, for example, makes it a crime to post comments that are “offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person”. This probably makes us one of the only countries in the world where to annoy someone could land you in prison.

Calling for these overly broad laws to be applied therefore cannot be the answer, despite Ibrahim and Utusan’s hurtful and misleading comments. To do so would entrench the very system that enables the government to silence legitimate and helpful voices in the community.

Talking back

Malaysians have become too accustomed to being told that things are too “sensitive” to be discussed. Perhaps this explains some people’s knee-jerk reaction in asking the government to silence Ibrahim and Utusan when they utter things we do not like to hear.

But in many instances, it would be more helpful to have open discussion and airing of views rather than a government clampdown. Suppressing comment in the name of sensitivity prevents genuine, legitimate views from being made known and helping to clear the air.

Datuk Paul Low

In Utusan’s so-called “Christian state” issue, it was helpful that the organisers of the event in question immediately came forward to deny the blog posts on which the article was based. A statement from Transparency International Malaysia’s president Datuk Paul Low, calling Utusan’s allegations “totally baseless”, was also helpful in clarifying matters. It also helped that newspapers such as theSun front-paged Low’s statement countering Utusan’s front-page report of the two unsubstantiated blog posts.

It is time people exercised their right to talk back when racial or religious slurs or misleading and hurtful statements are made. It is only then that dialogue and discourse can take place, and other Malaysians can be exposed to how different communities think and feel. For how are we to understand one another if we refrain from communicating?

Selective prosecution

Of course, for this to happen, the government must stop clamping down on free speech. It is utterly ironic that Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz cited avoidance of “selective prosecution” as a reason not to prosecute Ibrahim. It is precisely the BN government’s practice of selective prosecution that has encouraged the expression of certain hurtful sentiments while suppressing legitimate, though critical, views.

For the sake of political gain, the BN has systematically portrayed itself as the champion of Malay-Muslim views, resulting in an environment where some views are perceived as more equal than others. This could explain why certain groups have become used to clamouring for government action when feeling remotely insulted, while others have to have blatant mistruths published about them before being roused to some grudging retort.

No violence

Is there, then, no place at all for government intervention in the freedom of speech? Yes, there is, but an extremely limited one. The one area where the government should certainly step in is when threats of violence or actual violence are carried out.

In a recent Centre for Independent Journalism and Bar Council forum titled Towards a more ethical media, political scientist Wong Chin Huat said the freedom to offend is part of the price for freedom of speech. “What is not acceptable, however, is physical violence or threats of violence,” he said. “The state has failed to come down on threats of violence. If you remove impunity for violence and threats of violence, then we don’t have to be afraid.”

Wong said if at all, Ibrahim could possibly be investigated for inciting violence, but not for sedition or under the Internal Security Act. “We need to sort out what we want,” he added.

Fighting with our heads

Actor Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in the movie adaptation of 'To Kill A Mockingbird' (1962)

Actor Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in the movie adaptation of 'To Kill A Mockingbird' (1962)

As offensive, misleading and hurtful as some of the things Ibrahim and Utusan have said may have been, I would still advocate that no government action be taken against them. I don’t want to encourage a community where, if every time somebody’s feelings got hurt, someone else could be investigated, charged and jailed.

Instead, we should counter baseless allegations with fact, sense and good arguments. And never respond with threats of violence or actual violence. As Atticus Finch told his daughter Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: “You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ‘em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change.”

Ding Jo-Ann hopes more Malaysians will start learning to fight with their heads for a change.

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27 Responses to “Fighting the likes of Ibrahim Ali and Utusan Malaysia

  1. Bad Rabbit says:

    In the UK there is a fairly disgusting character called Nick Griffin. Mr Griffin is the head of the BNP, British National Party a racist, anti-immigrant political party with links to neo-fascist political violence.

    In October 2009, the BBC invited Nick Griffin onto Question Time, a long-standing show where members of the public can meet with a three politicians and another commentator and ask questions directly. His invitation was justified by the fact that the BNP had recently had two members voted in as MEPs or Members of the European Parliament.

    There were vast protests outside the studio where the show was filmed by both pro- and anti-BNP supporters. Many column inches of the press were written on whether this was a good idea or a bad one.

    In the end, it was a wonderful show, Nick Griffin displayed himself as a slippery, untrustworthy and completely dishonest man. Over the previous few years, he had been able to latch onto the dissatisfaction of ordinary people and claim vast conspiracies against him, his party and by association the fears of Britons. This had directly led to the electoral wins by the BNP MEPs.

    The one-hour debate show finished that, and since then the BNP has polled much worse numbers. Those protesters who tried to stop him being heard were wrong; the freedom of speech is essential. Only then can you have the freedom to think, respond and reject. The more odious someone is, the more you MUST let them speak, you MUST give them the widest possible audience. Only in the sunlight can people see how deep and rank the open sore of their argument is. Only by challenging it openly can you hope to win the argument.

    • Capt Sudhir says:

      Agreed. Let them open their mouths and let everyone know how ridiculous they really are.

      “It is better to stay silent and let people think you are stupid than to prove them right by voicing out your thoughts…”

      This advice is not for them or their like.

    • Kamal says:

      Agreed. We shouldn’t advocate censorship when it contradicts our views – that would also be hypocritical. And letting dissenting views debate their position will allow people to make informed decisions.

    • tanman says:

      The main issue between the Nick Griffin and Ibrahim Ali is the audience.

      The supporters for Nick Griffin, although growing, were still a minority, and possibly educated enough to make a judgment call. I am not confident that Ibrahim Ali supporters would have a change of mind; most of his statements are already ludicrous to the rational mind, but he is still holding on because of the years of mass brainwashing.

      • Bad Rabbit says:


        You do not need to fear the followers of Ibrahim Ali, those who declare themselves enamored with ALL his words and deeds. There’s is a small number, loud but small.

        The ones you need to fear are those who only hear the filtered words, the ones who do not declare themselves for Ibrahim Ali. Those are the people who listen to one phrase and say “well he’s got a point on this issue…”

        Only by allowing Ibrahim Ali open, unfettered access can you show the limits of his intellect and the unbounded scope of his bigotry and hatred.

  2. Phua Kai Lit says:

    Agree with “Bad Rabbit”.

    Give this Malaysian […] more opportunities to demonstrate his utter lack of finesse and further discredit himself (and his Machiavellian patron) in the eyes of Malaysian voters of goodwill.

    Remember his “Sh*t!, Sh*t!, Sh*t!” comments on international TV?

  3. Phua Kai Lit says:

    Would you want this man to be your MP?

  4. Reza says:

    As much as I hate to admit it, I must agree with the author’s stance that Ibrahim not be prosecuted for his comments as they are personal and should be protected under Article 10. However, I must disagree with the author’s same view on Utusan’s report.

    I have never believed in a completely free press, such as that which exists in the Western countries. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that the media should have the freedom to pursue and report the truth. But they should also be held accountable when they have not done their due diligence in verifying the validity of their sources. The press cannot be given the same liberties as individuals when it comes to freedom of speech because of the power and influence they wield in shaping the opinions and perceptions of the masses.

    Furthermore, total freedom of the press is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it gives them an unhindered ability to investigate and uncover that which the cruel and corrupt would rather leave uncovered. Yet, on the other hand, this freedom also allows the less than principled to act with impunity in propagating half-truths and misperceptions (and sometimes outright lies) for their own ulterior motives, as is not uncommon in the Western media.

    Ideally, there should be an independent body to regulate the media. It’s mandate would be to:
    1) Ensure the freedom of the media to seek and report the truth.
    2) Ensure that all media adhere to the highest standards of journalistic ethics.

  5. Andre Das says:

    Thanks for making me think clearly again. After being faced with all the injustices and selective prosecutions that I detest, I find that I am becoming like them and wishing for the same punishment that has been meted out to others. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. If Ibrahim and Utusan is the price for freedom of expression, then so be it. It is how we react that defines us.

    • Idris says:

      Not that I agree with the likes of Ibrahim and Utusan, but I do think it may be worthwhile trying to understand where nutcases like these are coming from.

      You might argue that, as the ‘oppressed’ group, it should be the other way round.

      I would think you’re wrong. People like them are nothing but simple folk. It is for the likes of you to attend to simple folk like them, to help them ‘see some sense’.

      • Andre Das says:

        I do not believe that Ibrahim Ali is a simple or even stupid man but neither do i think he is that smart. I believe he is a willing puppet that fits the sinister cause of bigger and smarter evils who are pulling the strings. He is entitled to his moments whether [or not] they make sense. Its how we react to him that matters.

    • Idris says:

      Ah, apologies. Simple folk should have been in inverted commas. Just as TNG is of the opinion that Ibrahim and Utusan have malicious intent at worst and are simple minded at best (due to those ‘hurtful and misleading’ comments), we should always bear in mind that these ‘simple folk’ probably think the same of TNG and its supposedly ‘enlightened’ readers.

      • JW Tan says:

        I would consider any attempt to suborn my rights as a Malaysian by Malay Malaysian chauvinists such as Ibrahim Ali and Utusan to be malicious.

        I do not doubt that Utusan and Ibrahim Ali know exactly which buttons they are pressing in the Malay psyche when they say that certain Christian leaders wish to make Malaysia a Christian nation. They might believe that it is true, but they certainly wish to elicit a certain type of reaction, and have tailored their tone and message to do so.

      • Alvin says:

        Ibrahim Ali is not simple-minded. All you need to do is take a look at his political background and history and you will realize that he is a dishonorable man with no loyalty to anyone but himself. This is a man who will say or do anything in order to remain politically relevant.

        I doubt if he truly believes half the crap that he spouts at times. It’s just that he has found his niche and intends to take full advantage of it. In my humble opinion, he does not truly care about the Malay agenda. He cares more about himself. There’s no reasoning with such a person.

        • Idris says:

          Regarding your assessment of Ibrahim Ali, you could be right (as far as possibilities are concerned) and I tend to agree with you. Nonetheless, I am still of the opinion that such people should be reasoned with. Better to assume he and those at Utusan can be reasoned with.

          Please note some of the comments on TNG. Some people speak with such, how shall we say, superiority and sarcasm (for example, “Least, you are intelligent enought to know the difference.”, “Wow, you have many facts but little to show here.”)… I believe this does not help discussion. You don’t reason with people in this manner. Why bother arguing with someone who sees you as intellectually inferior? Speak to Ibrahim Ali and his ilk like this and all you’ll get is no response, a response full of spite and hate, or in the worst case, a keris […]

          Perhaps if more people argued as you did (“In my humble opinion…”), jokers like Ibrahim Ali might be more amenable to reason.

          Perhaps TNG could next write an article on how NOT to put forth one’s argument on TNG (to start with). Also, on some practical, civilised, steps on how to approach Perkasa and the rempits. I certainly could do with such advice.

          • Alvin says:

            Fact is Ibrahim Ali does the Malay agenda a great disservice. I can understand their concerns. However, you cannot push such issues with threats of violence. Is he a politician or a gangster?

            Perkasa needs a more articulate and reasonable leader. Ibrahim Ali is not such a person. While he remains in the spotlight, racial and religious issues will continue to be at the forefront of Malaysian politics. Important economic issues like accountability, transparency, etc. will continue to be sidelined to the detriment of all – including the Malays. Especially the Malays, in fact. You know that they cannot rely on crutches forever (Dr M’s own words, not mine). The only issue is when, and our coffers are fast running dry.

            Since you believe that Ibrahim Ali and Perkasa can be reasoned with, perhaps you will deign to offer suggestions as to how this can be achieved. How do we reason with a man who’s only tactic is to deflect the issue by turning it into a racial or religious one, hence making it too sensitive for further discussion?

          • Adam says:

            One could reason with simple-minded folks who may be gullible but are not hypocrites. [I think that] with people like Ibrahim who have malicious ulterior motives, it is actually a waste of time to reason with him. He has already made up his mind to stir things up. No amount of reasoning would make him see sense.

            He is spoiling for a fight. The best way is to avoid him.

          • Kong Kek Kuat says:

            @ Idris

            Ya… you are right. For once I find myself agreeing with you completely.

            I mean, I remember that some [who comment] here on TNG even think that most readers here on TNG are… how shall I say, “intellectually inferior”.

            I distinctly remember that there was one [comment which] argued that if incestuous relations are banned, so should other non-conventional relations such as LBGTs. But the best part [was] he was trying to tell everyone that the world is merely a simple existence of life and death, black and white, males and females. […].

          • Idris says:

            I am glad you agree completely with my comment above and hope you put this agreement into practice. Hopefully we will see more tactful arguments from all parties, myself included, in TNG.

            Apologies, maybe I did not communicate my thoughts properly. I don’t know if the likes of Ibrahim Ali can actually be reasoned with. In fact, like you and Adam, I tend to think he can’t. Nonetheless, I think we should assume he can – holding on to such an assumption, I believe, should result in more respectful debate – at the least.

            Please look up a previous argument on TNG regarding LGBTs – there you can see how the debate degrades into (what I think is) an elementary school argument simply because of an utter lack of respect (and, perhaps, selective editing by the people at TNG).

            As for how exactly to reason with him… I haven’t the slightest idea.

          • Kong Kek Kuat says:

            @ Idris

            “Tactful arguments”? I think you better learn to live with the fact that arguments are done in more ways than the adat Melayu way.

            Anyway, “tactful arguments” with Ibrahim Ali??? Bwahahahaa…

          • Kong Kek Kuat says:

            @ Idris

            Why don´t you first tell Ibrahim Ali to [use] “tactful arguments” with people in general, then maybe people will [use] “tactful arguments” with him… keeping in mind what he has already tactfully said to the world.

  6. Abraham Odin says:

    It is sad such things have happened right before our eyes. Nevertheless, I agree and support this article. Violence beget violence. Rational thinking has been thrown out of the window in the name of “sensitivity”. Where’s the 21st-century, developed-world mindset?

    Ibrahim Ali and Utusan owed an apology to the Christian community in this country. Is it so hard to admit fault? The Christian community in this country had no intention to hope or plan for Christianity to be the official religion of this country. Anything official Christians wanted had been enshrined in the constitution, and that is the freedom to exercise one’s religion.

  7. a coin will forever has two sides says:

    During the years of the birth of Islam, Muslims were a minority, struggling to protect their faith and suffering oppression and torture from the pagans of the city of Mecca. Due to this persecution, some Muslims decided to flee Mecca and shelter in a safe country with a just ruler. The Prophet Muhammad told them to take refuge with King Negus, the Christian king of Ethiopia. The Muslims who followed this advice found a very fair administration that embraced them with love and respect when they went to Ethiopia. King Negus refused the demands of the pagan messengers who asked him to surrender the Muslims to them, and announced that Muslims could live freely in his country.

    “Such attitudes of Christian people that are based on the concepts of compassion, mercy, modesty and justice, constitute a fact that God has pointed out in the Quran.”

  8. orang lama says:

    This, [in my opinion], is symptomatic of the rot affecting the Malays. They have become weak, spoilt and stupid after 55 years of the NEP. The opinion leaders have put the Malay mind under siege. They have done so in order to maintain their stranglehold on the Malay mentality. On no account must the Malay be allowed to “see” the world and “think” for themselves. Umno putras alone are allowed to do that.

    So, after so many years of being under mental siege, what do you expect of the Malay? Even if you send them to the universities locally or abroad, they are still incapable of being achievement-oriented, self-reliant and creative. That’s why even after one million Chinese have migrated from Malaysia, the 10 million Malay graduates cannot fill the gap left by the Chinese. Looks like they are just milking the Malaysian cow and not putting anything back into the country. Our civil service is four times that of Japan! We are not even 0.0000001% of the efficiency and morality of the Japan civil service. The Japanese would resign at the slightest whiff of corruption/incompetence — in Malaysia, the same crime will earn you a promotion.

    So now Malaysia is stuck. Umno refuses to admit its NEP is to blame and is still blocking the Chinese from contributing to the country. That’s Dr M’s policy of marginalising the Chinese — don’t let them achieve anything that will make the Malays look stupid. The Malays have no sense of nationhood — all they can think of is their race and Islam.

    • Alvin says:

      Yeah, delivering your opinion in such an arrogant and derogatory fashion is so going to win over the support of the Malays to our cause. The issues that you speak off might be true, but can you not find a more diplomatic way to express them? For starters, stop making sweeping generalizations about an entire race.

      The Malays are the majority in this country. We need to work TOGETHER with them in order to bring about change to this country. Fat chance of that happening if you only know how to belittle and look down on them. How on earth do you expect them to react in any other manner but defensively?

      You are guilty of the very same prejudices that you accuse Malay [Malaysians] of having. You are just too blind to see it yourself. And that, is also my humble opinion for whatever its worth.

  9. Philip says:

    Ibrahim Ali and Perkasa are Umno’s shock troopers, paid and fed by the government. Period!

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