By Arveent Kathirtchelvan

There was recently an uproar over the health ministry’s decision to allow medical graduates who do not have an SPM pass in Bahasa Melayu (BM) to undergo training as housemen and be employed under a two-year contract with the government.

This was introduced with the caveat that they need to study for and obtain that grade in the given time period. The wise decision by the ministry opened up an avenue for some medical graduates who were stuck with an O-Level in the Malay language to undergo housemanship. Mind you, these graduates were competent communicators in the Malay language, it is just that they were lacking an SPM pass grade.

However, some individuals who likened themselves to warriors of the language were enraged, misunderstanding this to mean that medical officers would be hired on a permanent basis while foregoing the proper qualification in BM.

This was not the case. The requirement of a minimum pass in BM before being able to serve in a permanent post in the government was maintained, and there was only a temporary leeway created to help those of a specific position be trained in a streamlined manner. Such was the backlash that the cabinet decided to remove the leeway, letting another great idea die due to societal pressure.

As Malaysian, we are used to this.

The facts of a case are often completely ignored in lieu of fiery rhetoric or sentimental tag lines. Facebook drama excites those whose activism rarely leaves their armchairs, but it does little to further the cause of understanding the world around us.

Freedom of speech should not take away from the inherent responsibility one has in spreading and receiving information. In the transference of a message from source to destination, distortions are bound to occur.

This is due to a variety of factors, including the incompetence of the messenger, understanding of the audience and losses in nuanced meaning when translating from one language to another. It is important to be clear both when receiving and imparting a message.

To do this, proper understanding of the message is necessary. The message should be taken from the source wherever possible to dispel outside rhetoric before it is associated with a third party. Furthermore, proper context should also be highlighted when learning and imparting knowledge.

For example, when talking about Islamic influences in Malaysia, one has to understand the difference between the types of Islam that exist. Sunni and Shia Islam are very different sets of beliefs. In fact, the jurisprudence of Sunni Islam alone is split into four major schools of thought, namely Hanafi, Shafie, Hanbali and Maliki, of which the second became the official one practised in Malaysia.

In addition to that, there are currently over 30 schools of thought in Islam considered to be heretic in Malaysia. And this is just jurisprudence. What about theology or ethics or restrictions? How many non-Muslims know about the difference between haram and makruh?

So when we are discussing any topic in Islam, it is wise to not judge it as a monolithic block, but rather to be more sensitive to the subtleties navigated by many Muslims in their day-to-day lives. Similar consideration should be extended to all other topics.

Other than this, the biggest fault of audiences is not giving a chance to those who present an idea that is novel or unpopular. Far too often, audiences judge whatever is being said through their own biased lenses, succumbing to fallacies such as straw man arguments and slippery slopes to bolster their own skewed narratives.

This causes whatever points raised by the presenter, even if they are valid, to be completely ignored under the tide of people taking offence or arguing about something else entirely.

It is disappointing that knowledge is treated in such a crass manner. How many times have we seen liberals being branded as entitled snowflakes? Or, on the flip side, isn’t it the norm for a person preaching moderation to be labelled as out of touch and completely ignored?

This attitude halts communication. We are no longer willing to learn from one another. Is it any wonder that there are so many divisions in society, between races, religions and even social classes? All are fuelled by a fundamental disrespect for knowledge.

If we are to become a nation worthy of respect, our society has to become knowledge-based. A love for verified facts spread as honestly as possible should be the norm. Reading into arguments, trying to pick them apart for the sake of preserving one’s own ideals, does not help.

Moreover, taking offence to those who present controversial ideas without proper retort based on facts, figures and logic would only stifle mental growth.

How can we be surprised at the existence of certain hate-filled organisations that thrive on ignorance if we constantly let our emotions cloud logic? How are we an Islamic nation if we forgo the very first surah revealed in the Quran?

Knowledge, not emotions, should be held supreme, treated with the respect it deserves and handled with the proper responsibility.

Arveent Kathirtchelvan is the Founder and Chief Coordinator of #Liberasi. This article was first published in Free Malaysia Today on the 11th of July 2017.

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