Rebuilding Malaysia

“Are cartoons more hurting than words?” asks P Ramakrishnan

By P Ramakrishnan

Ramakrishanan wonders why the Kedah MB, who was so enraged by Zunar’s cartoon, had failed to take the cartoonist to court and sue him for defamation? Instead, a number of police reports were lodged against Zunar, and he had to travel up to Kedah, from KL where he lives, just to answer a few questions.

PAS’ insensitive decision to cancel the Thaipusam holiday in Kedah in January had been lambasted by many, including the MIC. The Deputy President of MIC, M.Saravanan, blasted the Menteri Besar of Kedah for reportedly displaying ignorance and bias towards Hindus.

Besides MIC, members of other parties including the former Prime Minister, Najib Abdul Razak, have soundly condemned and blasted the Kedah Menteri Besar, Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor, in the strongest terms to express their outrage. Without pulling their punches, they denounced him, as can be seen in the following selected responses:

       Sanusi’s decision has the potential of spreading the fires of racism and threatens the racial harmony in the country –

       Sausi’s decision is an affront to multiculturalism that we celebrate and a sign of intolerance.

       Sanusi’s announcement hurt the feelings of the Hindus because it looks like their celebrations, traditions and cultures are being disrespected.

       Sanusi has given a bad impression of Malay-Muslims to non-Malays and non-Muslims, whereas Islam has never discriminated against any race.

       Sanusi’s move was tantamount to extremism and racism.

       Sanusi’s decision was insensitive to the Indian community in Kedah.

       Sanusi does not honour the spirit of Malaysia’s diversity and as a multiracial and multireligious country.

       Sanusi’s action was even more embarrassing as he represents PAS which touts itself as the ideal approach to a Malay-Muslim government.

       Sanusi disrespected the rights of minorities in this country.

       Sanusi’s decision is both irrational and wholly disproportionate in the circumstances.

       Sanusi has violated the rights of the minority in this country.

       Kedah government’s decision defied logic.

       Sanusi’s move “arrogant and ignorant”.

       Sanusi’s decision is illogical, unacceptable and infringes on the rights of the minorities.

If you count the words in all their full statements, they would have run into many thousands. But these words did not upset the Menteri Besar or his minions. The attitude seemed to be: You can scream for all I care!

But a cartoon, a single cartoon, had upset the followers of PAS and enraged them so terribly and strangely – something that thousands of words had failed to do. Did this single cartoon express more vitriolic sentiments compared to all the above examples put together? For God’s sake, it’s only a picture!

 Why this insane action to go after Zunar because of a mere cartoon?

It is claimed that a visual caricature has the power to convey an idea so instantly and dramatically! No wonder, it is truly said a picture can convey a thousand words. That was how effective Zunar’s cartoon was – probably!

So he must be silenced. It is as simple as that!

If the Menteri Besar felt scandalized, why didn’t he take a civil suit and sue Zunar for defamation? That would have been the proper thing to do.

But instead, he apparently wanted the state and the police to get involved in this controversy. So, three police reports were lodged with the police in Kedah. And the police have now got into the picture and had summoned Zunar to the Padang Terap police station in Kedah. Zunar who is domiciled in Kuala Lumpur had to travel all the way to Kedah for the two-hour session with the police involving about 20 questions posed to Zunar on 7 May 2021.

Even before he is charged, he is put through a lot of inconvenience and stress which is most unfair. He did not commit the perceived offence in Kedah. He drew his cartoon in KL. Why couldn’t he be investigated in KL?

Malaysians will be surprised that the three police reports against Zunar had so much effect on the police requiring them to act. Compare this to a thousand over police reports made all over the country against two Muslim converts, Zamri Vinoth Kalimuthu and Firdaus Wong Wai Hung, who had wantonly disparaged and insulted the other faiths but their case was closed – NFA: no further action!

When it comes to a political party’s interest as against the society’s well-being which should have precedence; which should deserve greater attention and swifter action?

Be it as it may, the police did not act immediately, meaning it wasn’t a case that was urgent or posing a grave danger to the state. That was why, even though the three police reports were made against Zunar in January, the police did not act urgently. It took them more than four months to attend to this case. They only took the statement from Zunar on 7 May 2021.

What was his offence?

The probe was carried out under Section 505(c) of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act.

Section 505(c) concerns “intent to incite” or “likely to incite any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community of persons”.

Zunar did not draw his cartoon with “intent to incite.” There is no evidence – and none has been established – that his cartoon was “likely to incite any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community of persons”.

The very fact that no one reacted adversely or overtly and that there were no disturbances would mean it was a mere presumption that had no basis. When there was no likelihood of any danger ever taking place even after four months since the cartoon was drawn, why was it necessary to probe Zunar? What necessitated this investigation? None! As such, it was totally unnecessary and a complete waste of precious police time.

The police should not be seen as being at the beck and call of a political party. They should be seen as being independent and looking after the well-being of the nation without being beholden to anybody.

What is happening should not be viewed as an isolated case. Harassment usually starts with an individual and later it will spread to the others. That’s how the system works!

This is why we must stand in solidarity with Zunar who has been waging the good battle on our behalf and facing so many hardships and court cases. Whatever he does, it is not for himself but it has always been for the larger interest of the nation.

It is wisely said, “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”

First published at this link on 23 May 2021

(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)

P Ramakrishnan is the long-serving former president of Aliran who served three and a half decades on its executive committee, and has been with Aliran since its inception in 1977. Now an ordinary Aliran member, he continues to highlight issues of public interest to a larger audience.

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