Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bishop warns against rising hate speech

Catholic bishop Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing cautioned against what he saw as the "growing incidence of hate and incitement speech in this pre-election season when passions on both sides of the political divide are inevitably high."

"It's the election season and so a certain amount of rash talk is to be expected but we have to guard against sudden and frenzied lurches against the boundaries of civic discourse," said the head of the Catholic Church in the Johor-Malacca diocese.

"While the evidence of the recent past suggests that the general public is not easily prey to the incitements of rumour mongers and those who engage in religion and race bashing, we have to guard against those purveyors of hatred that lie in wait for the opportunity to discharge their toxins," added Bishop Paul Tan.

NONEThe bishop gave as an example the comments made by columnist Ridhuan Tee Abdullah (right) in Sinar Harian who had painted the annual Thaipusam festival in Batu Caves as vexatious to the non-Hindu public and a provocation to the ethos of the majority religious community in Malaysia.

"This is an example of toxic arguments against a harmless and pacific religious community that are aimed at stirring revulsion against them," said the prelate.

"It is comparable to the call to burn Malay-language bibles that was recently issued by a leader purporting to safeguard the rights of a certain community that he claimed feels threatened by the proliferation of such texts," opined the bishop.

Beware of agent provocateurs

"In the one instance, you have an instance of hate speech and in the other, you have an example of incitement to do something rash and provocative," argued Bishop Paul Tan.

"Though we were heartened by the refusal in recent years of the general public to be provoked by cases of arson against places of worship and by instances of the desecration of mosques, we must guard against the evil designs of willful provocateurs who can be ingenious in their nefarious schemes," said the Jesuit-trained cleric.

"In this pre-election season, passions would understandably be high but this is no warrant for the proliferation of hate and incitement speech," he said.

Bishop Paul Tan praised politicians and other participants in the ongoing debate over national issues who keep within the bounds of rational and civic discourse.

He noted that the public would have been enlightened by the example set in Penang over the period of the Thaipusam celebrations recently when political, religious leaders and lay leaders engaged in rounds of diplomacy and community bridge-building.

"It was the most edifying phase of our recent past and I pray these instances would increase and inspire people of goodwill throughout the country," commented the bishop.

~ Malaysiakini

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