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Passion: Malaysia first in rating movies by religion

It seems that Malaysian censors have passed Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' uncut but with one caveat: that only Christians can watch it. On the face of it, the decision raises one question - how is this ruling going to be enforced?

But on closer examination, and rather inadvertently, it tells us more about the Malaysian government and the split personality of the country.

Back to the question, how are the cinemas going to ensure that the ticket holder is a Christian? Just through the cumbersome process of IC verification alone? What if as an Indian or Chinese I had just recently converted to Christianity?

From their appearance, the only race that will not be admitted in will be the Malays. But what about those from Sabah and Sarawak who may look like their Muslim Malay brethren, but may not be Muslims? What about the offspring of those Indian-Chinese liaisons who look like Malays? Pity the cinema usher!

And the idea that the tickets will be only be sold in churches is rather strange. Involving a third party, in this case a religious institution, as the sole agent to sell tickets, forces the issue into a greater degree of a partisan approach.

A film, even if it is based on real life figure, is still a fictional work by an artist. Its merits and demerits will be judged by the cinema-goers, while it is duty of the censors to ascertain if it is fit for mass consumption.

Either it is or it isn't. If it is, it is released classified by age (the universal demarcation). But Malaysia will release a film classified by religious affiliation (and inadvertently or deliberately by race too), and this may be a first in the world.

Malaysian censors are trying to have it both ways. With the decision to allow for the screening of 'Passion' uncut and with a U-rating (i.e. for general audience) the government aims to demonstrate how tolerant it is.

But by restricting the release to certain section of the population, it tells the world that there are two Malaysia's, that's need to be protected them from one another, and the twain shall not meet.

Not even in art.