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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Jesus Caricature Draws Flak in Malaysia

By James Varghese
Special to ASSIST News Service

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (ANS) -- A local Tamil-language newspaper in Malaysia is in hot water for publishing a derogatory caricature of Jesus Christ on its front page.

Malaysia's Muslim-led government slapped a one-month publishing ban on a newspaper on Friday for printing a caricature of Jesus holding a cigarette and a can of beer.

According to The Times of India newspaper, Makkal Osai, the Tamil daily, printed the picture in its Tuesday, August 21st edition with a caption quoting Christ as saying, “If someone repents for his mistakes, then heaven awaits them.”

The caricature, taken from the Internet, was used to illustrate its quote for the day.

A police report against the paper has been lodged by a member of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) alleging that the picture was a “threat to national harmony,” the New Straits Times reported on Thursday.

The daily apologized for the publication, but MIC deputy president G. Palanivel urged the country’s internal security ministry to act against the newspaper for hurting the feelings of Christians in the country.

The MIC youth submitted a four page memorandum to the prime minister’s office asking the government to revoke Makkal Osai’s publication permit.

Makkal Osai General Manager said the offending picture published on its front page was “a mistake.”

Reuters has reported that just over half of Malaysia's roughly 26 million people are Muslims, almost all of them ethnic Malays, who are deemed to be Muslim by birth. The large non-Muslim minority is largely made up of Buddhists, Hindus and Christians.

“Malaysia has maintained peaceful relations between the races and religions since riots in 1969, in which hundreds were killed. Since then, the ruling multi-racial coalition has kept a tight rein on public debate over contentious religious issues,” said the Reuters story.

“Some Muslim groups joined church groups this week in calling for action to be taken against the newspaper. Christ is also considered a holy figure in Islam.”

James Varghese is a reporter for the “V” TV news in Gokak, Karnataka state, India, and is freelance journalist working for ANS.

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