KUALA LUMPUR, July 31 — Putrajaya is sending out conflicting messages on its stance about religious moderation when its action does not match its leaders’ speeches, a public policy watchdog said today.
The Centre for a Better Tomorrow (Cenbet) urged the Home Ministry to review its censorship process for print publications following the ban on the book Breaking the Silence: Voices of Moderation: Islam in a Constitutional Democracy produced by pro-moderation group G25.
“Banning the book by pro-moderation group, G25, sends the wrong message about the government’s commitment to moderation, which CENBET also advocates.
“This also goes against wasatiyyah promoted by YAB Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak and his desire to become a global moderate Muslim leader,” Cenbet co-president Gan Ping Sieu said in a statement.
He argued that the book of essays by prominent and moderate opinion-shapers could improve the testy relationship among Malaysia’s various ethnic and religious groups.
He was also sceptical of the Home Ministry’s assertion that the book could be prejudicial to public order when it has been in the market for over one-and-a-half years and is also available on the Internet.
Gan noted that the ministry’s “questionable” bans on certain books and print material have caused Malaysia to suffer bad press globally over the years.
“Such questionable decisions only fuel suspicion that officials in the Home Ministry are stuck in a time warp or are susceptible to political interference,” he said.
He said the ministry should allow publications so long as they don’t fan racial and religious hatred or violence, adding that its heavy-handed censorship policy not only curbs freedom of speech but also discourages civil discussions from taking place.
“This is why a review of the SOP in the censorship process is necessary. Taxpayers have a right to know why certain publications do not see the light of day here,” he said.
Cenbet is the third non-governmental organisation to pan the G25 book ban and was today joined by MCA Youth.
In a separate statement, the Barisan Nasional party’s youth secretary-general Datuk Leong Kim Soon said the Home Ministry decision was “unreasonable”.
He too echoed the scepticism expressed by Cenbet as well as the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia and G25 spokesman Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin who found the ministry’s purported basis for the ban — that it is prejudicial to public order — puzzling and “far-fetched”.
He said the growing religious conservatism in the country was the bigger danger and pointed to the PAS-led Kelantan government’s enforcement of a strict interpretation of Islamic law as well as certain sectors of religious institutions in the federal government.
“Forcing people into accepting ultra-conservative religious doctrine will result in social division, and even endanger the moderate and democratic Constitution that we uphold,” Leong said.
“KDN should act against these extremist groups, and not do the opposite, which is to suppress remarks on moderation,” he added, referring to the Home Ministry by its Malay initials.