Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Say what you really think

Tuesday's Straits Times reported on an Islamic (Sharia) court in Terenganu, Malaysia which passed a 2 year jail sentence on a 57 year old woman for being a follower of a cult centered on a giant tea pot. Her (religious) crime was to declare herself apostate while still a Muslim. Apostasy can be a capital crime for Muslims and she did refuse to repent but you have to wonder if the real offence was taken over being spiritually dumped for a piece of crockery. That's got to hurt. The money quote is from presiding judge Mohamad Abdullah:

"What she did was not within the concept of freedom of religion".

What tickled me about this story is not so much the venerated tea pot, or even a jail sentence for an unusual belief but the problem of communicating with the world from a particular perspective and not sounding daft. It reminds me of when the French were still doing nuclear weapon testing in the Pacific and their Ambassador to New Zealand, speaking at the National Press Club there, tried to correct what he perceived as inaccurate reporting:

"I don't like this word bomb. It is not a bomb, it is a device, which explodes."

Technically correct as all tests were underground by that time, but still a classically funny quote. In both cases, the speaker is factually spot on, but I suspect many non-Muslims will mis-understand the term "freedom of religion" as used here.

The extent to which this is a failure of reporting is hard to judge. The same paper carried an article about one of the paper's own board of Directors essentially arguing that self-restraint, indeed "ex extremis, censorship" is necessary. He came across as a committed journalist but I'll leave you with the final paragraph:

Our role is to read the verdict of the people correctly so that the Government can continue to retain the mandate of heaven to rule.