I wish to comment on the recent decision to suspend indefinitely two senior editors of The Star newspaper in the controversy over the Erykah Badu affair and the decision by the Muslims to blame the newspaper for having a ‘bad intention' whether intentionally or unintentionally.
It is my personal finding and conclusion after weighing the matter deeply that The Star is totally blameless in this affair.
If there were to be any blame assigned, it would have to be against the organisers as well as the government agency responsible for allowing the concert to be planned.
This may come as a surprise to many but please let me make my case clearer.
In the first place, I wish to question Muslims in Malaysia why the organisers of the concert were not sensitive to researching the background of Erykah Badu?
I personally do not know who Erykah Badu was until recently when this controversy erupted. When I did a quick internet search, I found the following excerpt from Wikipedia about the artist as follows:
On March 13, 2010, Badu filmed the video for her song "Window Seat", at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, which Badu wrote on her Twitter feed "was shot guerrilla style, no crew, 1 take, no closed set, no warning, 2 min., Downtown Dallas, then ran like hell."
Without acquiring permission or permits from the city, Badu shed her clothes as she walked along a Dallas, Texas, sidewalk until she was nude at the site where President Kennedy was assassinated.
A shot rang out as the song ended, and Badu's head jerked back and she fell to the ground. Children with their families could be seen nearby as Badu stripped.
When asked about stripping nude in the presence of minors, Badu said, "I didn't think about them until I saw them, and in my mind I tried to telepathically communicate my good intent to them. That's all I could do, and I hoped they wouldn't be traumatized."
Badu also explained on The Wanda Sykes Show on April 3, 2010, that it was not her intention to insult the memory of the late President Kennedy, saying "My point was grossly misunderstood all over America. JFK is one of my heroes, one of the nation's heroes. John F Kennedy was a revolutionary; he was not afraid to butt heads with America, and I was not afraid to show America my butt-naked truth."
Coodie and Chike, directors of the 'Window Seat' video, admitted they had bail money ready during filming if Badu was to be arrested. Badu said the video was a protest against "groupthink" and was inspired by Matt and Kim's music video Lessons Learned. Badu has also said she has "no regrets."
With such a simple half a minute research I would have cast my doubts on the style and perhaps moral values of such an artist. My question is, did the organisers and the government agency researched the background of the artist?
And if they did, on what basis was the concert allowed to be planned? I wonder what would have happened had the concert was held and the artist decided to shed her attire completely?
In the second case, I wish to draw attention to the choice of the photograph of the artist that shows clearly the controversial tattoos.
This time The Star was accused of ‘deliberately' choosing a photograph that has the Allah tattoo in order to degrade Islam.
On a lesser charge, it was said The Star was negligent and insensitive in choosing the picture. I would argue that The Star had no intention at all to degrade Islam by the choice of photograph.
Again, in a simple Internet search I found many pictures of Erykah Badu and her obsession with tattoos. I saw tattoos in almost all parts of her body.
I do not care to know whether it was a strong belief on her part or simply pure exhibitionism, how she chooses to treat her body is her own private affair.
But the fact of the matter was, The Star was perhaps trying to show off in a single photograph the clear character of the person. And one of the revealing and intriguing characteristic or style of the artist is certainly her tattoo.
There are other characteristics like nudity or erotic dancing perhaps and maybe political messages in her song which form her own artistic concept of her performance and art.
I am not making excuses for that. I have had two semesters of Art History courses in the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, USA to know what nude figures represent in Western ideas of art.
Through their artwork, we can understand the inner workings of the minds of our friends in the West. I am also told (I am not sure of this information) that the picture shown by The Star is one of the most recent photographs of the artist.
So, to me, The Star was going for a recent photographs which depicts the artist's character most.
In one sense, if The Star had not shown the true character of Erykah in her complete ‘splendour', we Muslims would not have known to feel a bit insecure over this artists.
In fact, I would argue that The Star has done a great service to the Muslims, albeit accidentally, by sparking this controversy.
What if we were to follow some politician's suggestion of The Star choosing a fully clothed Erykah as a photo and then on the stage she decides to bare her naked top and display the tattoos concerned? What then, pray tell?
I would like to end this article about the story of the Prophet Muhammad in the book ‘Anecdotes of Islam' which I read as a young undergraduate in USA.
In the story, the Prophet Muhammad had gone to the settlement of Ta'if to seek protection for his followers and spread the religion of Islam after the hurtful boycott of his tribe and family in Mecca.
Unfortunately the leaders of Ta'if not only rejected his pleas but set upon him the ruffians and children to pelt stones on his body in a manner that blood filled his shoes and he fainted from the ordeal.
But when he came to, he prayed for Allah's forgivenes at his own weakness in conveying His message.
Then it was reported by the narrator that the Prophet saw the Angel Jibrail appearing in the horizon with a vast army and he told the Prophet that upon his command the horde would devastate the settlement in a single campaign.
The Prophet recoiled in fear and cried that the people of Ta'if must be forgiven because "they knew not what they had done" and that if they were not to be converted perhaps future generations were willing to accept the message.
The Prophet had described to Aisyah, one of his wives, that that was the greatest fear in his life when he was given the means by Allah to destroy a whole tribe but he did not give in to his ego or anger.
From the narration above, I hope our religious clerics could learn the art of tolerance for those unintended deeds and not jump the gun calling for the sacking of thousands of workers by the revoking of a publishing permit.
Muslims in Malaysia must rise above their racist hatred of The Star as being a ‘mouthpiece of one ethnic party' and merely stick to the facts and research the situation first hand.
I am saddened that our religious officials have kept silent over such attrocities as the sex video of an alleged politicians being circulated freely as well as the stepping on cow heads by Muslims as well as threats to burn churches.
I sincerely hope that our respected clerics write about real matters of Islamic values without fear or favour and follow the actions of the highly respected Dr Mohamad Asri Zainal Abidin in expounding religious and social matters in a clear and non-partisan manner.
I think the lesson here is that the organisers of such concert must look beyond their dollars and cents and replace it with the right moralistic values and sense.
That suggestion is valid also to be considered by the government authority tasked with evaluating such application.
Finally, we Muslims must show our forgiving and magnanimous nature that the Prophet had personally illustrated in the Ta'if affair.
I think it is enough that The Star had apologised, though I personally do not think that they should have had to so many times.
We all have our faults and weaknesses. Ironically, it is through knowing them that God has allowed us to grow.
Thus, I plead to the leadership of decent Malays, Muslims and Malaysians that have no political agenda other than to raise our children in peaceful harmony to reconsider the harsh action against The Star and reinstate the two editors...please.