Offending someone should not be a crime.

Boo Su-Lyn, The Malay Mail Online

Muslim preacher Zamihan Mat Zin made some toe-curling racist comments about the Chinese in a speech at a mosque in Shah Alam, recorded on video, when he expressed his support for Muslim-only laundromats.

“The Chinese usually don’t wash after they pee and poop. What about menstrual blood on their underwear? Some hug and embrace dogs, consume alcohol, spill alcohol, eat pork, pork soup staining their clothes. This is all synonymous with them, synonymous with them; it’s not that we’re prejudiced. Elements of alcohol, pigs and dogs are synonymous with them. If they want to enter a dobi, enter a normal dobi lah,” he had said.

He also said a sultan “should not” have said that a Muslim-friendly laundromat should not be opened in the latter’s state.

Zamihan is now under a sedition investigation, seemingly over his comments about the ruler rather than about his racist insults of the Chinese.

Many people have condemned him. There is even a petition for Zamihan to be charged with sedition, citing his “extremely demeaning” comments about the Chinese and accusing him of stirring racial hatred. It was signed by over 3,000 people in just a day.

Several MCA leaders welcomed the sedition investigation, saying Zamihan had “seriously offended” the feelings of the ethnic Chinese and non-Muslims.

It is unfortunate that only ethnic Chinese politicians see it fit to censure Zamihan, while their Malay-Muslim colleagues across the political divide remain silent to avoid offending their voter base.

In the new millennium, we really should not use the racist outdated model of politicians only speaking out for those of the same ethnicity and faith.

Lawmakers and politicians should not be afraid of calling out people from their own ethnic or religious communities. This will help curb race politics as our representatives can then truly represent Malaysians across ethnicity and faith, instead of only “their own kind.”

The other worrying issue is Malaysians’ tendency to push for State action whenever anyone makes offensive remarks. This proclivity for police action against any speech deemed unacceptable, especially when it relates to race and religion, cuts across political ideology, ethnic and religious boundaries.

Liberals and conservatives, Muslims and non-Muslims, Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH) are all the same in this regard.

If we really want freedom of speech, then we have to stop asking for State action against people who offend us. There is no such thing as drawing the line between so-called “polite” and “rude” comments because offensiveness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Offending someone should not be a crime.

If we are angry about book bans and the criminalisation of intellectual talks on Islam, then we cannot be asking for the same State action against things that offend us. The same goes for those who want an expansion of Shariah law, for example — they cannot be calling for the imprisonment of people who disagree with them just because they are offended. All opinions should be equally protected from State action.

Malaysia is a democracy. Citizens should have the right to express any opinion about governance and policymaking without fear of sanctions simply for disagreeing with an unelected person.

Having said that, Zamihan’s speech was one of the most offensive and racist things I have heard in a long time. It almost borders on hate speech because he seems to imply that the Chinese are essentially vermin. This is just a step removed from advocating violence against a particular group of people that have already been dehumanised.

However, I have a very narrow definition of hate speech and believe that State action should only be taken on comments that explicitly promote physical violence against people, whether it is based on their ethnicity, faith, gender, or sexuality.

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