Sunday, February 19, 2006

Caricatures & Convenient Contrivances

Strangely enough in Islamic Pakistan, riots over the insulting caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) came rather late compared to European Muslims, Middle Eastern nations, Indonesians and even Afghans. Five people had already been killed in the not-expected violence over what the Pakistanis saw as a blasphemous issue.

BBC correspondent in Karachi, Aamer Ahmed Khan provided an insight into possible reason for the outbreak of violence. He noted that though the riots, seemingly against Denmark, had the obligatory attacks against the symbols of US-Western presence and financial system - cinemas, mobile phone shops, fast food joints and banks - there were also the burning of motorcycles belonging to lower middle class Pakistani, where anyone with some semblance of supra-moronic IQ would know the latter have nothing to do with Denmark or the publishing of the caricatures.

How would the deliberate vandalism of properties of other Muslims - and lower middle class ones at that too - be relevant to protesting against or warning the alleged offenders, namely the editorial staff of some European newspapers, particularly the Danish Jylland-Posten? All the riots have managed to achieve has been to present a picture of fanatical Muslim violence to the outside world.

Could it be that the rioters wanted to demonstrate in the strongest possible terms to the world that Pakistanis remain a deeply religious people, contrary to the assurances by President Musharraf that the Pakistan government has a liberal approach in its conduct of affairs, and that the burning of motorcycles, even those belonging to Muslims, lent a more spectacular impression of Pakistani outrage? A sort of ‘collateral damage’ for a greater good?

However, Aamer Khan suspected that the underlying motive of the riots was to convey a message to Pakistan’s authority rather than to any overseas agency. The mullahs have been warning President Musharraf not to contradict, abandoned or sell out Pakistan Islamic orthodoxy with his uttered liberal rhetoric to the West, which of course have been mainly to soothe the ears of Western leaders.

Reading between the lines of such actions shouldn’t be strange to us Malaysians as we too have witnessed, indeed rather regularly, politically motivated actions. However, ours in comparison to the Pakistani mullahs have been in reverse-fashion, where Malaysian authorities at the highest level have punished selected Malaysian organisations or individuals as a not-too subtle demonstration to the Malay-Muslim constituencies the government (or rather UMNO) is uncompromisingly Islamic and Malay-centric.

For example, we saw the contrived sacking of 2 editors from China Press for a case of mis-identifying the nationality of a police victim - hardly an issue of importance, where a published apology would have sufficed. Yet, by disgraceful contrast, where the core issue matters most, no police personnel has been punished for the abuse, that of forcing the victim to perform the humiliating naked ear-squats, against universal principles and practices of human rights [taking the videoclip is a separate matter].

In fact, the mis-identification was caused in large part by the responsible ministers, who purportedly withheld known information about the victim, so as to enhance UMNO’s election success in Pengakalan Pasir by-election. But a scapegoat had to be offered to the high altar of its nationalistic credentials, and perhaps to divert attention from the connection between the by-election and the ministers withholding information about the victim's ethnicity.

The punishment meted out to the 2 editors via its owners was unusually and unacceptably disproportionate, but then sacrifices had to be made to protect the image of UMNO ministers.

Then, there’s the closing down of the Sarawak Tribune and the 2-weeks suspension of a Chinese language daily Guangming, being striking examples of how sensitive religious or ethnic issues could be exploited to boost partisan political interests.

How partisan political interests? Because the decision to punish the media for publishing the insulting caricatures was, unlike the penalties suffered by the Sarawak Tribune and Guangming, not extended to TV3 which had aired the offending caricatures too. But because TV3 has strong connection with the ruling UMNO political party, it was exempt from the witch hunting.

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