Hi, please

Individual vs Collective Freedom

The trap made me think of different concepts of freedom and I ended up pondering about religious freedom in Malaysia considering the recent burning of three churches by Islamists as the result of a religious discourse that had been going on for a while. The debate was that anybody who is not a Muslim should not be allowed to use the word “Allah” but a Catholic newspaper kept using it. The case went to court and the newspaper won its right to continue using it. Shortly after Malaysia witnessed an awful response; three churches were attacked. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/09/world/asia/09malaysia.html

Malaysians with all its different races, religions and ethnicities used to accept and tolerate the others’ freedom to practice their religion as they wished. What has happened with it? Is it a mistrust that spreads in unstable and uncertain times? Is it the media?
New media in Malaysia allows for more individual freedom to express thoughts and can serve as a buffer. Users can voice their opinions but may stay anonymous. But then, words might be said to easily without much reflection. Once “out there” it cannot be taken back and can easily develop into a heated debated. I am not sure if the “Allah” debate started online but it is likely that all the media networks helped to spread and stir the discourse.

This leads me to think of individual freedom versus collective freedom. Where should one draw the line, if the interest and pursuit of individual freedom of a few go against the interests and endanger the freedom of many? Where does freedom start and stop for a nation and the individuals living in it? And which would be the best political system for it?

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  1. Harris 18:52, Jan 26th, 10

    ‘A nation’ – what is it anyway? When people assign an ideology to a geographically defined area, those who do not share that ideology are marginalized. Islam is the ‘official’ religion of Malaysia.

    As long as specific census data clearly defines minorities in a nation, the majority can be tolerant of them. The problem comes when the boundary between minority and majority is blurred.

    The majorities are extremely uneasy with this blurring of traditional boundaries, and struggle for purity, in the face of an onslaught of globalization and free media. They go after not those who are clearly the enemy, but those who appear to be similar.
    (So Christians in Malaysia will be only be tolerated if they are clearly different, and say God rather than Allah.)

    An example of this phenomenon is the recent violence against Muslims and Christians in the secular India. In my terror-infested home country Pakistan, which was founded in the name of Islam, there are more bomb attacks on people who belong to various smaller sects of Islam than on people from other religions.

    The very concepts these nations were founded on have now become their Achilles’ heal. While the traditional media controlled by the establishment brought people together, the new free media (in the case you mention, a newspaper) are creating rifts and fragmentation.

    Are nation-states viable in an era where the new media are steering us towards positive liberty?

  2. lindai 19:35, Jan 26th, 10

    thank you harris, that is an interesting question if nation states would be still viable. i personally doubt it in the case of malaysia, but malaysia’s government does believe in it, or at least tries to make malaysians believe it. one of the prime minister’s main ambitions is laid out in the concept of “1Malaysia” but it has been received critically among the opposition and the recent incidents don’t really support it either. the different ethnic groups feel fooled by the government and don’t believe in “1Malaysia” as long as legal and economic inequalities exist among them. i would like to see a more united Malaysia though (of course, it’s my home country ;) ) and i think it is not completely unrealistic in the future, but considering the current state it is in, more dramatic changes have to happen, in which (new) media can play a decisive role.