(Updated 11pm, 9 March 2012)
ON 27 Feb 2012, an apology appeared in The Star regarding a photograph of US R&B singer Erykah Badu used on that day. The photograph showed Badu with body art, including the word “Allah” in Arabic script on her shoulders. Badu was due to perform in Malaysia on 29 Feb 20120.
The Nut Graph looks at the responses that followed.
“A photograph of American singer Erykah Badu with tattoos of various symbols, including the Arabic word for Allah, was inadvertently published in Star2 today. We sincerely apologise to Muslim readers for this oversight.”
The Star’s apology for the use of the photograph. The apology was repeated in the paper’s 28 Feb publication. (Source: Apology for Erykah Badu photo, The Star, 27 Feb 2012)
“Erykah Badu’s concert has been cancelled because it breached the [Central Agency for the Application for Filming and Performance by Foreign Artistes’] guidelines where it touched on religious sensitivities and Malaysian cultural values.”
“To proceed with such public performances would only bring bigger and more cascading effects, the likes of which we cannot afford to have under present circumstances.”
Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, through his Twitter account. (Source: Badu concert cancelled, New Straits Times, 29 Feb 2012)
“The Star has one week to respond. Any action to be taken will only be decided after receiving the daily’s written explanation to the ministry.”
Deputy Home Minister Datuk Lee Chee Leong, on the show-cause letter that has been issued to The Star. The Home Ministry may suspend or revoke The Star’s publishing license if the ministry is dissatisfied with the paper’s response. (Source: Badu concert cancelled, New Straits Times, 29 Feb 2012)
Muslim groups and state Islamic leaders
“The apology was too brief and it could hardly be noticed. It is like the publication is treating it as too trivial a matter.
“I believe that all Malaysians, including those of other races, know and recognise the Arabic word for Allah.
“Therefore, it is totally unacceptable if they (The Star) claim that the use of the picture was an oversight.”
Perlis Mufti Dr Juanda Jaya, who added that stern action should be taken against The Star, including banning the paper, to serve as a lesson to other publications. (Source: Muftis call for stern action against daily, New Straits Times, 29 Feb 2012)
“The Star‘s permit should be suspended for at least a month.”
“They may have done this on purpose to insult Muslims or create controversy that can give rise to racial discord and hatred among people of different faiths in the country.”
Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria, who also accused The Star of “repeatedly insulting Muslim sensitivities”. In August 2011, The Star’s editor-in-chief was hauled up by the Home Ministry for inadvertently advertising non-halal restaurants in a special Ramadan pullout. (Source: Muftis call for stern action against daily, New Straits Times, 29 Feb 2012)
PAS Youth (Updated 11pm, 9 March 2012)
“Kami khuatir imej penyanyi itu akan menjadi ikutan golongan muda beragama Islam, penampilan sebegitu tidak wajar diiktiraf di negara ini dengan kerajaan memberi kebenaran kepada artis itu mengadakan konsert.”
PAS Youth secretary Khairul Faizi Ahmad Kamil, after handing over the group’s memorandum supporting the Information, Communications and Culture’s ban on Badu’s concert. He said PAS Youth supported the government because it wanted to avoid more negative consequences for the rakyat. (Source: Pemuda Pas serah memo bantah konsert Erykah Badu, Sinar Harian, 28 Feb 2012)
“CIJ views the Home Ministry’s intervention as unnecessary and detrimental to media freedom. Media needs to be free to report on sensitive matters without being accused of perpetuating the perceived offence. If The Star had committed a mistake, these are easily rectifiable without the use of law – through dialogue and discussion of issues.”
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), which also criticised the executive power wielded by the Home Ministry via the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984. (Source: Ministry’s show-cause letter to Star unnecessary, spotlights draconian PPPA yet again, CIJ website, 28 Feb 2012).
Fans and others
“We all waiting to kill u… please u are welcome.” (sic)
One of several Facebook posts, including those claiming to wait with guns and knives for Badu’s arrival in Malaysia. Not all the Facebook posts were violent, however. Some supportive comments were made by those identifying as Badu’s Malaysian fans. (Source: Erykah Badu gets death threats, Yahoo Newsroom, 29 Feb 2012)
“He (Rais) doesn’t want anything to happen. I’m good with that.
“I think art is often misunderstood in the realm of religion, and it’s OK.”
“In America, it’s a lot different. Art is also misunderstood but it is not such a harsh gesture to promote the names of God. I am learning and understanding about Islam in other countries more as we travel.”
Badu, at a press conference. She also explained that the photo of her tattoo was inspired by images from The Holy Mountain, a 1973 surrealist movie by Chilean-French filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. (Source: Erykah Badu accepts Malaysia concert ban amid criticism of body art with Arabic word for Allah, Washington Post, 29 Feb 2012)
The Star … again
“Unfortunately, the editors who used the Badu photograph are non-Muslims and they did not recognise the word ‘Allah’ in Arabic.
“Ignorance may not be a good excuse but this is the real story behind the mistake. We wish to reiterate that it was made with no ill-intention or malice.
“We immediately acted to purge the photograph from our website and archives. We also published an apology online and on Twitter on Monday and in the newspaper the next day.
“Today, we once again apologise to all Muslims for the mistake and assure them that there was absolutely no niat jahat.”
The Star, apologising once again in an editorial. The paper suspended two staff, senior editor Lim Cheng Hoe and deputy editor Daryl Goh, indefinitely due to the incident. (Source: No malice intended, The Star, 1 Mar 2012)
JW Tan says
How am I supposed to know what the Arabic script for “Allah” looks like if a newspaper can’t publish it in a picture? I don’t recall ever being taught this particular sensitivity in school – no doubt an oversight by some insensitive teachers.
I was taught to respect any religious object or writing since young. For example, we were told not to step over the Bible, sam poh (triple gems) pendant or any talisman (fu in Chinese). The wearer of these items should not enter the toilet or walk under any clotheslines where undergarments are hung. I would, in similar vein, pay the highest respect to names of God, his prophets etc. Even if I do not belong to these religions, I would hold the highest respect to the Analect of Confucius, the Dhamapada, the Rig Veda or the Bagavad Gita. There is no excuse for oversight on the part of The Star, which is over 40 years old. I would recommend that the paper should be banned for a year as a punishment. I would not miss it at all for its lopsided reporting.