IN a civilised society, no one will resort to violence, or the threat of violence, to stifle voices that one does not want to hear.
Unfortunately, this is what happened in Kuala Lumpur on July 13 when some people forced the cancellation of a public seminar on “The Amman Message”, organised by civil society groups.
A Facebook account holder had threatened to bomb the venue of the seminar, the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies.
Threatening to bomb a place constitutes an act of terror. While there have been instances when force has been employed by groups to disrupt public gatherings, this is perhaps one of those rare occasions where an individual links himself and the group he is representing — Gerakan Banteras Syiah, a movement to stop the spread of Shia — to a terrorist threat.
It suggests a degree of boldness that we have not witnessed before.
What is shocking about this brazen act is that it is driven by a stark lie. It projects the Amman Message as a devious instrument to propagate Shia teachings when anyone who has a basic understanding of the message knows that it merely recognises the validity of all eight Mathhabs (legal schools) of Islam and forbids takfir (declarations of apostasy) between Muslims.
Aimed at creating unity and harmony within the Muslim Ummah, the message was initiated by a Sunni ruler, King Abdullah of Jordan, in 2004. The majority of those involved in drafting and endorsing the document were Sunnis. Besides, the Amman Message was unanimously adopted by the the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (now Cooperation) in Makkah in 2005.
The Amman Message is one of the most important documents produced by the Muslim world in the last 100 years.
Manufacturing a lie to tarnish a noble effort and then deploying that lie to whip up popular emotions is becoming pervasive in our society.
Of course, the manipulation of lies is so much a part of politics in Malaysia and other countries.
Nonetheless, in a situation in which fears are exaggerated and uncertainties are exploited even more than in the past, lies becomes more impactful, and therefore, more dangerous.
It is a pity that so few Malaysians, including human rights advocates, are prepared to expose lies.
Even the threat of violence to silence the truth has not elicited as much condemnation from sane and rational people as it should.
When the people are not doing enough, it becomes imperative for those in authority to act with courage and firmness.
As one of the three organisers of the seminar, the International Movement for a Just World (JUST) would like to know what action has been taken by the police against the individual and group that threatened to bomb the venue.
It is only when action is taken against those who threaten peace and peaceful dialogue that we will be convinced that the rule of law is supreme in our society and that we uphold civilised norms of human behaviour.
Dr Chandra Muzaffar
President, International Movement for a Just World (JUST) Malaysia.