On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

It’s a blessing to have religious freedom

Religious sensitivity is likely to be a factor because
the Censorship Board's guidelines ban the screening of movies with scenes or
images depicting prophets. Then there are the obvious violent scenes in the
movie, which is unlikely to get past the scissors of the censors.

In Singapore,
only those above 18 years old are allowed to watch the movie. In France,
the movie has been banned because of the government's strong secular stance and
concern that it would lead to anti-Semitic feelings.

Malaysians, who have become used to the archaic decisions
of the Censorship Board, are no longer bothered by the workings of the board.

Sometimes, movies are so mutilated after censorship that
they might as well be banned. For instance, kissing scenes snipped off when
there is no sexual passion by the characters.

In short, many Malaysians have given up on the Censorship
Board. After all, even local movies have been given the thumbs down for
questionable reasons.

With its multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural
setting, Malaysia
is more guarded and cautious. None of us would want to be seen to be creating
offence – it's understandable, even commendable.

But sometimes, we tend to over-react. We underestimate
the maturity and openness of Malaysians, regardless of their religion.
Something perceived to be offensive to politicians and bureaucrats may be
acceptable to the public.

Many Malaysians must have watched The Passion by now
because pirated copies of the movie hit the streets a month ago for as little
as RM8.

This is one reason so many of us have always said that Malaysia
is the best place to live in. There is a lot of tolerance and alternatives. The
authorities may have clamped down on a certain movie but you get to watch it in
the comfort of your home.

But, hey, we are Malaysians, so we will not admit it.

In the case of The Passion, the copy I saw was quite
clear except for one scene when a moviegoer at an undisclosed cinema in an
undisclosed country decided to leave his seat – probably for a quick visit to
the restroom – and spoilt the cameraman's otherwise professional job.

The movie, for many, is an education of faith. For the
past few days, Christians including myself have attended church services in the
run-up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Easter is a religious event bigger than Christmas and is
regarded as the basis of the faith – that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on
the third day after his crucifixion on Good Friday.

For Christians, the movie has great significance in its
timing. Many would want to see whether the movie has accurately portrayed the
Bible and which particular scene is the result of director Mel Gibson's poetic

But as we celebrate Easter today, Christians here must
remember that we have been blessed. We are able to celebrate this festive
season openly when we read of pilgrims flocking to the Church
of Nativity in Bethlehem,
the birthplace of Jesus, in the hope of receiving the much-coveted Israeli
permit to allow them to travel to Jerusalem.

has imposed a shutdown on the Palestinian territories following the killing of
Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

In communist countries, Christianity is still banned
while some West Asian countries disallow the Bible from being brought in.

Even as we express some of our frustrations, Christians
must also acknowledge the liberties we enjoy in this wonderful country of ours.

Within the Cabinet and government, we find Christians
being appointed. Heading the list is Minister in the Prime Minister's Department
Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili, an active Christian leader.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has
certainly made his mark as a great Malaysian leader. Some of us must remember
his decision to lift the ban on the Iban-language Bible. Last Christmas, he
created history when he sent greeting cards to church leaders nationwide.

This is the kind of moderate and fair-minded leader the
country needs. Without saying much, he has sent a message to Malaysians
reinforcing his commitment to minorities that their rights are guaranteed under
our Federal Constitution.

The lower-level bureaucrats and politicians must learn to
appreciate the support of the minorities. There have been cases where churches
have met with obstacles when they sought to build in residential areas.

Some of these obstacles are the result of
over-zealousness and the racist attitude of bureaucrats at implementation
level. They are certainly not the policies of the government leadership.

Whether we agree or not with the contents of The Passion,
there is no denying that morality, moderation and justice are universal values.

We must hold on to these passionately.