Of tolerance, and of respect


Tolerance might be the basic condition for in a plural and multi-cultural society. However, for a multi-racial and religious society to truly flourish, we must have mutual respect. — Bernama photo

THERE was quite a storm last week when it was divulged that TVS (yes, Sarawak’s very own television station), turned down a request by the Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS) to replace one of the station’s chosen songs with the Christmas hymn ‘O Holy Night’.

ACS represents some 50 per cent of the population of Sarawak. TVS is organising the ‘A Christmas Carol, Sarawak in Diversity’, a grand celebration at the Padang Merdeka this evening (Dec 3).

Kudos to TVS for this gesture.

However, it failed miserably short when it refused the request by the ACS to replace the Disney-like cartoony ‘Jingle Bells Rock’ with the said signature Christmas song, ‘O Holy Night’.

It said that this song contained ‘religious elements’.

Huh? This is a Christmas celebration – a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the bedrock of the Christian faith. It is not a rock concert.

Apparently TVS said it could not accede to the request as ‘O Holy Night’ contained religious elements, and that this was in line with the protocol of the Film Censorship Board and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).

However, Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil (yes, the man in charge of controlling the agency MCMC) later said MCMC had nothing to do with the decision-making for the event.

Then TVS issued a statement saying that it was just a miscommunication. It had no intention of excluding the carol but, in fact, ‘was working to include the song at the event’.

Whatever it was, it was a classic ‘Little Napoleon’ manoeuvre.

It is a three-step process. First, issue the edict, off your own bat to assert your power. When being challenged, point your finger at another party, and when that party denies having anything to do with the decision, then pull out the trump card – say that ‘it was all a miscommunication’ (with or without apology).

Wow! That’s a manoeuvre that a Tai Chi master would be proud of. It is called ‘divert the force’.

Phew! We can collectively sigh in relief. Perhaps it is like the Shakespearean play: “All’s well that ends well”, or was it just a storm in the teacup?

But is it?

Then I read that Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek, while wrapping up the debate for her ministry on the 2024 Budget in Parliament on Monday (Nov 27), apologised to the Indian community for an incident where a few Tamil songs were barred from being played at an event in Penang earlier.

She said: “I would like to take this opportunity to take full responsibility and express my deepest regret on this issue. I would also like to apologise to the Indian community, especially those who felt slighted with the situation, ‘technical’ mistake and communications, and perhaps what transpired during the event.

“It really should not have happened.”

Apparently, the songs ‘Kadavul Valthu’ (a worship song) and ‘Tamil Valthu’ were not allowed during a Tamil language carnival. Perhaps the songs contained ‘religious elements’.

Wait a minute – where did I hear that refrain before? Does it sound familiar to you?

Am I being an alarmist, overthinking and seeing red flags? Well, red flag is a sign of danger.

What danger? It is a danger to Sarawak’s belief and creed of ‘Unity in Diversity’.

It seems that there is a ‘protocol’ by the federal authorities sanctioning and monitoring public performances that any ‘religious elements’ other than that of the official religion is not allowed in public events.

Hmm, this sounds very Orwellian 1984, a novel that depicts a dystopian society where a totalitarian government imposed its rule through censorship and propaganda. For those interested in more information on the novel, just search ‘Orwell 1984’.

Suffice for now to say, I note hints of that control censorship that typifies a totalitarian regime.

I imagine it akin to a sleeping beast in the room, bidding its time to wake up and threaten to trample us. Perhaps we are lulled by the mantra that in recognition of our multi-racial and multi-religious community, we are very tolerant. I hear more than one politician and public figure making that claim.

Tolerance might be the basic condition for a plural and multi-cultural society. However, for a multi-racial and religious society to truly flourish, we must have mutual respect.

Tolerance and respect are two concepts that are often talked about in the context of building a more just, peaceful and inclusive society.

Though related, there is a crucial difference.

Tolerance denotes patience. Respect goes further than merely to acknowledge the differences.

Respect accepts the rights, dignity, and worthiness of understanding of different views and ways of being.

There is a crucial difference. As I said, tolerance denotes patience and there is a possibility that one day the patience might run out.

Then what? This is where the equation of power comes in. Politicians know very well the might of power. They spend all their energy in accumulating power.

The so-called ‘protocol’ that tries to censor the communities of different views and religious beliefs from airing them is evidence of the limit of tolerance. The point is: do they have the power to exercise that ‘protocol’?

It is heartening that the Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek has rebuked the ban of the Tamil songs and apologised in Parliament for that misdeed.

Sarawak applauds our Premier and other leaders for standing up to the ‘Little Napoleons’ and ‘Big Napoleons’. Our state’s creed is ‘Unity in Diversity’.

I use the word ‘creed’ pointedly. ‘Unity in Diversity’ is not just a punch line, or a slogan to fish for popularity. It is the creed that we live by.

Let me share some demonstrations of respect. In my young days at the Christian Mission school in Mukah, at 6 o’clock we would ring the church bell. We called it ‘The Angelus’ when we would stop all activities, and spend the minute in silent prayer.

I mean ALL ACTIVITIES! Our football field was just near the church. It was such a sight to see the scores of boys, many of them Muslims, stood in silence. Particularly moving when we were in the frantic melee just outside the goal mouth and had to freeze in silence out of respect.

What about the lion dance troupe from Muara Tebas? It is an all-Malay group.

What about the churches and mosques that open their car parks for their respective use on Friday and Sunday?

Here, there are Muslim food stalls that sell ‘Chick-Kut-Teh’, and Chinese stalls selling ‘Nasi Lemak with Char Siew’.

I can go on, but maybe our compatriots from across the sea can come over to witness our ‘Unity in Diversity’.

For those in Kuching, perhaps you can come to Padang Merdeka this evening and join the multitude to sing our glorious hymn.