Editorial: Naked morality
Fri, 10/31/2008 9:55 AM | Opinion
Preventing the sexual exploitation of children and protecting women's rights
are societal duties of surpassing importance. There can be no qualms about
But where is the moral right, the disciples of the Pornography Bill, when a
middle-aged religious figure weds a minor or polygamy is openly consented to?
Nietzsche said morality was the herd instinct of the individual.
We laud morality, but reproach the "herd" -- political parties, the
congregation of conscientious housewives and the axis advocates claiming to
save the children -- who allowed the Pornography Bill to pass on Thursday in
the tainted halls of our legislature.
Morals did not spur the passing of this bill -- political convenience, we
It was an act of unscrupulous voting to boost the moral credentials of parties
fearful of losing their captive moral voice.
Any bill motivated by expedience, like obscenity, is objectionable.
Our gravest concerns do not cease there. As it stands the bill represents many
elements detrimental to a free society: moral dogma, censorship and
The definition of pornography remains a question of great debate in the exalted
halls of justice throughout the world.
We recall the opinion of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who, in
reviewing a 1964 case, said, "I can't define pornography, but I know it when I
The definition as contained in the present Pornography Bill -- "which violates
the norms of societal morality/decency" -- is dangerously ambiguous.
Who defines the "moral code" of decency?
The ulemas who once forbade women from being president? The priest who speaks
of principles but cannot live by them? Or the politician who serves the party's
business interests and not the voters?
How does such a definition take into account the evolving paradigms of social
Such vagueness opens the door for persecution as standards can be easily
shifted to suit prevailing interests. What may be permissible here, may be
One paramount test of law is its potential consistency in application. This
bill will fail that test.
Laws cannot be left to the eyes of the beholder.
In an age where freedom of information is fundamental to a thriving society,
this bill festers in the stench of censorship.
Written works and other forms of communication deemed inconsistent with the
(ambiguous) set of definitions can be banned.
How sad that we now intend to emulate the Chinese government by proposing
digital censorship with the alibi of restricting Internet porn.
How easily we forget other societies who in their zealousness rejected the
greatest works of humanity.
Cornerstones of modern literature such as D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's
Lover, Henry Miller's Tropic of Capricorn, James Joyce's Ulysses and Arundhati
Roy's The God of Small Things were all banned for their "immoral" content.
Proponents of the bill brush aside these concerns as "exaggeration", but even
without the bill we have already seen the innocuous book Adik Baru, Cara
Menjelaskan Seks Kepada Anak (A New Sibling, How to Explain Sex to Children)
wrongly labeled here as porn by the Attorney General's Office.
The great works of Pramoedya Ananta Toer were banished under carping politics,
and we fear censorship is arising once again in a different guise.
Perhaps the most worrying concern in the bill is the promotion of vigilantism
by allowing the public to "prevent" the spread of pornography.
The use of the word pembinaan (education) in Article 21 on the role of society
reeks of New Order dogma in which those very words were tantamount to
Such acts of indoctrination, irrespective of the presiding rules of
intervention, are akin to the invasion of privacy which can result in "morality
police" inspecting the contents of your laptop.
Rarely do we reject a law once it has been passed. But this occasion requires
serious contemplation of civic resistance by demanding a review through the
There are ways in which we can target the porn industry without violating the
rights and freedoms of the individual.
We must never forget that censorship only ultimately creates a society unable
of exercising real discretion