Malaysia: When cartoons and comedy become national threats

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Malaysia: When cartoons and comedy become national threats
By Zan Azlee

WHEN comedy becomes a threat to national security, we know society is heading down a deep, dark chasm where everyone has lost their sense of humour, personality and just plain humanity.

A few days ago, Malaysian cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known by his moniker Zunar, was arrested by the police at a meet-the-fans event in the capital city. The headlines said: Zunar arrested… again. Its true. It was not the political cartoonist’s first brush with our men in blue. It was not even his second. In fact, Zunar’s work has landed him in trouble so many times that its becoming quite hard to keep track of his run-ins with the authorities.

The last time he was arrested was last month in the northern state of Penang during an exhibition of some of his works. Why? Because some people found his caricatures overly sensitive and decided they should be flagged to the authorities.

Zunar is known for producing cartoons that are very critical of the current government in Malaysia and Prime Minister Najib Razak. His tagline, “To fight through cartoon”, appropriately encapsulates the nature of his work.

Although his cartoons are high in political and social critique, they are quite entertaining and funny too. Or at least some of us think so. But I guess they aren’t so funny to the authorities, seeing how they continue to harass and intimidate him.

It seems that the powers that be in Malaysia don’t enjoy satire, parody or comedy. Freedom of speech and expression just aren’t as free as one would like to think, not especially when even a little humour can lead to one being hauled up to the lock-up.

Local cartoonists have come together to show their displeasure for the authorities’ constant harassment of Zunar. Most recently, another prominent Malaysian cartoonist, Ujang, voiced his feelings on Facebook saying:

“Yesterday evening my friend Zunar got arrested again. In Malaysia today, the cartoonist profession has become more dangerous than robbers who plunder the country.”

International cartoonists have also voiced their condemnation, including New York Times’ Patrick Chappatte, Washington Post’s Jeff Danziger and Ann Telnaes, New Yorker’s Liza Donnelly, Belgian daily Le Vif’s Nicolas Vadot and Cartoonist Rights Network International’s Robert Russell.

But it looks like this isn’t just happening in Malaysia.

Recent events indicate it may also be starting to happen in a country long regarded as one of the world’s fiercest protectors of democracy and freedom. Yes, I do mean the United States of America.

President-elect Donald J. Trump has been criticised and parodied right, left and center by the media. One of the boldest and loudest has to be comedy sketch show Saturday Night live (SNL). Trump has almost become the programme’s mainstay, with a consistent string of sketches making fun of The Donald.

Trump has come out to say that he thinks the jokes of him on SNL are not funny, distasteful and mean-spirited. He has also said that the long-running show is terrible, unwatchable and that its on its way to being cancelled.

But the show’s producers and cast have not been arrested or detained. Maybe that’s because Trump is only president-elect and hasn’t officially been sworn in yet (haha!). But him responding as he did was enough to show how his administration is going to be handling political satire.

It’s a huge wonder if the Malaysian authorities or Donald J. Trump actually know anything about the term ‘trolling’. From their reactions, it might be safe to assume they don’t quite get it.

According to the online urban dictionary, trolling means “make a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them”.

To put it simply, here’s an analogy that most people would understand.

You know how in school, when someone teases you or makes fun of you on purpose?

If you’re on the receiving end of that, you should know that all your tormentor really wants is to annoy you and make you upset or angry. And when you do get upset by either screaming back or even crying, he or she would feel really satisfied and would run away laughing like crazy.

That’s what we call a troll.

Basically, if you give a troll what he or she is looking for (usually an upset response), then what you’re really doing is feeding the troll, and inviting him or her to keep coming back for more.

If you ask me, the best strategy would actually be to just ignore the troll. When the troll expends all that energy to tease you and still elicits zero response, he or she is bound to call it quits.

But of course, it would be much easier to ignore the troll if what he or she is saying about you is untrue. You’d simply brush it off and maybe even forget about it.

But what if what the troll says is true? Hmm…

[This article was originally written for and published at]

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