Pondering Freedom of Speech during Ramadan

Janet's Notebook

I love British comedy: dry, witty and deep. However, even with the help of subtitles, some of the time, I still don’t understand the jokes. I would need interpretation. My husband has become fed up because I keep interrupting him, and he would reply, “Don’t worry. You won’t get it.” or “It’s not worth explaining.”

I remember when I first watched British comedies 14 years ago, I was shocked with horror what comedians were allowed to say in public. They freely poked fun of the Pope and the Queen, made rude jokes about themselves, politicians, people with disabilities, or made sarcastic jokes about religions. I constantly told my husband — No, in Malaysia or Thailand or Singapore or China, you definitely can’t say this, this, this, this……, using horrid stories about judicial caning, death sentence and disappearance as solid evidence.

My husband will never understand my fear of total freedom of…

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About Maxim Sense

I hope to write for a cause someday but for now all I wanted really is to write for a cost and I haven't started yet, or better still, nobody wants to pay me :-)
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7 Responses to Pondering Freedom of Speech during Ramadan

  1. Maxim Sense says:

    Another thought-provoking post, Janet.

    The problem with “freedom of speech” is the “freedom” itself. No one has a universal definition of this, and even if there is one, it will not be universally accepted I’m sure. This is due to the socio-cultural sensitivities or implications that we cannot totally detach from every meaning and connotation of words, implied or otherwise.

    Added to this is the way one culture or society would take the action, intention or purpose more than the meaning of a word or words, which I think, was what exactly happened in this particular case. There is always a good joke and a bad joke as well as differences in humour. What may be funny to you, for example, may not be funny to me, as in your case, sometimes finding it hard to understand a British joke, or wowing in disbelief at how they can poke fun or joke even about the British monarchy. Something that you cannot do in Saudi, otherwise you go to jail. There is even a joke among non-Arabs or non-Saudi residents like “make joke with God, not with the King”.

    I pity those two sex-bloggers who thought all the while they had unearthed the best and funniest joke that they can make without thinking what they had done was no longer funny but rather a great insult to a revered religion (Islam). They realized the severity of what they had done afterwards, hence, those unreservedly and open apologies they made. But even then “the damage was already done” as you’ve said. And even if we claim that WE Muslims are supposed to be more compassionate and forgiving in the light of the Ramadhan fast, it was much different to be simply hurt or offended than insulted. This was aggravated by the fact that since those two sex bloggers had been living in Malaysia they were supposed to know this, yet they did it just the same. That made it a little more “revolting” I should say.

    I repeat, I really pity the two. In fact, I really personally feel that they should be given the chance to be forgiven after knowing that those apologies they offered were sincere and heartfelt with a promise not to do the same thing again. But, you know my friend, not too many Muslims will agree with me, even if I say that it is more blessed to be compassionate, not only during Ramadhan (incidentally, when this kind of joke hurt the most) but any time any where.

    Well, WORDS.. they are better written and spoken decently than enjoyed by the tremendous meanings and implications they are able to make.


  2. Thank you very much for sharing my blog post with your readers, to a different part of the world. I’m very privileged. Thank you too for your honest views on this topic. I’ve learnt a lot from reading your points of view.

    I agree that there’re always good jokes and bad jokes, and some jokes are really in bad taste. The problem is some people are not aware that they’re hurting other people, or perhaps they’re aware of it, but they choose to challenge the limit, and to intentionally hurt others, who are different from them, in religion, race, or social status.

    I think the word you used — insulted — was correct in this case. Yes, the two bloggers insulted Islam by their action. However, I also wondered, what really propelled them to do so — they’re educated young people, who’re living in Malaysia and have been around multi-religions all their lives, but why did they make a judgement as such this time? Was it because of fame seeking? Naivety?

    I’m more interested in understanding their intention than focusing on the insult itself. If we could understand their intention, perhaps we could use that as an example to educate other people. The bloggers have received a lot of criticism from people from different religions and cultural backgrounds. A lot of people share the same view that we must respect other people’s beliefs and ways of life. This unfortunate case has just strengthened people’s yearning for peace, regardless of their colour or religion.


    • Maxim Sense says:

      You are welcome, Janet. This thought-provoking and probably life-changing post deserve to be disseminated in the widest circulation possible. People should learn from this. People should learn to appreciate that jokes are only jokes when they make all people laugh and feel entertained. When you have enticed laughter from one-half of the people but made the other half trembling in anger and disgust, then you do not have a perfectly entertaining joke.

      I can only suspect ‘bad faith’ in the intention of those two bloggers because they were supposed to know how pork has been so unacceptable to Muslims after living with Muslim neighbors for quite a long time already. That is why it is quite difficult to think of forgiving them at this point in time. I sincerely wish though that they are safe from where they are now. They should not be harmed regardless of the intention that drove them to make such ridiculous and insulting joke. They should rather be tamed, educated and disciplined in a manner accepted by decent and civil societies.

      Thank you Janet for this visit. I am honored.


      • Interestingly, some people do suggest that these bloggers perhaps should do community work, such as working in a Muslim community, to try to understand their culture. They need punishment that also gets them educated. They have been condemned and now they should know a moment of madness/stupidity/ignorance/unkind behaviour can harm, physically and mentally, and can cost racial and religious harmony. If this episode serves any purpose, we know that the future generation will learn from this lesson and our children will show more respect and kindness to each other.

        Recently, I blogged about Nelson Mandela Day. Mr Mandela uses his life of struggle to show a good example to the world, and he wants the whole world to do good, and by being kind, we make everyday a Mandela Day.

        Thank you once again for the conversation.


    • Maxim Sense says:

      You see, when several civilized people come together to condemn a stupid act and in the end suggest ways to deal with it in a manner acceptable to decent and civil societies, people will learn a great deal out of it. I agree that those two should be given some kind of lesson to learn, and more importantly, to learn to mend their ways. The “Golden Rule” should always be our amulet that should be kept hanging in the heart so that it will stand to remind us everyday of our lives.

      Certainly, there are a lot of people whose attitude/behaviour and examples we can learn from: Mandela, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Prophet Mohammad, etc. If we look at their lives we see love, compassion, and selflessness as the foundation of their virtuous lives.

      Thank you, Janet and I love how we are discussing this issue here. May your family continue to be blessed by the Good Lord.


      • I agree with you that the bloggers, or people who offend or insult other people’s religions should learn respect, kindness, and learn to mend their own ways.

        History repeats itself when people don’t learn from mistakes.

        We know how peace and harmony do not come by easily. In Asia, people pay their price and make a lot of effort in centuries to try to reach harmony amongst us. However, harmony is very fragile. No one need unnecessary tension caused by selfishness.


  3. Maxim Sense says:

    Update: 25 July: According to New Straits Times, both sex bloggers have just been granted bail. The Malaysia High Court today allowed sex bloggers Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee to be released on RM30,000 bail each in two sureties.

    Judge Datuk Mohd Azman ordered the two to surrender their passports to the court and report to the nearest police station once a month.

    They are also not allowed to upload any provocative comments, articles or photos on the Internet. They are prohibited from using network communication devices to repeat similar offences.

    (source: janet’snotebook.com)


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