On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Why bother with bigots?

But the damage has been done. Pastor Terry Jones has stoked up enough emotions, especially among radical Muslims in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, who have seized the opportunity to stage riots.

Now, some news organisations are saying they would not cover Jones if he decides to proceed with his original plan. Even CNN commentators have said that this rabble-rouser does not deserve media coverage.

They have described him as an idiot and a jerk and that they (the media) should simply switch off the microphones and lighting outside his church. Well said.

Jones’ hysterical plan has placed minority Christians in many countries in a precarious position. Their lives are in danger if the government in their countries remain indifferent to angry Muslims who lump any Christian in the same category as Jones.

President Barack Obama is right in saying that the plan by Jones has been a “recruitment bonanza” for al-Qaeda.

In Malaysia, we have our fair share of extremists who fan racial emotions with their hurtful words and statements.

Obviously, these egomaniacs enjoy reading about themselves in newspapers and online portals but the question is whether the media need to encourage these communal champions by giving them the platform.

Some would say that they are entitled to express their views, no matter how much we disagree with them, in the name of freedom of speech. It’s a tough call to make, some leaders admit, when it comes to question of expression.

That was precisely the initial argument forwarded by many on the position of Jones. Even the US president was totally helpless in dealing with the situation since the right to freedom of expression is clearly stipulated in the US Constitution.

The consequences of Jones’ actions were never thought of until angry reactions broke out worldwide. Only then did the Americans realise that their lives could be in danger if there was a backlash from Muslims.

In short, terrible things could happen and the thought of standing up for an idiot’s right of expression no longer seemed so noble and practical.

Suddenly, it dawned on the media that the idea of giving Jones the platform wasn’t so clever after all, no matter how good his sound bites have been, particularly in giving the annual Sept 11 anniversary coverage a fresh spin.

For sure, Jones has made good copy for the media and right-wing politicians have also been quick to jump on the bandwagon. But the point is that extremists, religious fanatics and racial bigots must never be allowed to hijack the platform.

No level-headed Christian would agree with the Florida pastor. It is good that the majority of Christian groups have spoken up clearly and strongly against him.

We must stand together to speak for what we believe in. There is no need to be apologetic even if those that we speak up against could be members of our faith or race. There is only right and wrong.

The extremists in Malaysia are the same. We need to dissociate ourselves unequivocally from those who preach hatred and trample on goodwill instead of building bridges to bring Malaysians together.

It is encouraging to hear top leaders from Umno openly saying “no” to Perkasa on the eve of Hari Raya. It is the strongest ever statement from Umno leaders in distancing themselves from the group that has caused much concern among Malaysians.

Malaysia was built on the politics of moderation and accommodation. It has kept the nation glued even during times that we seem so flawed.

But we have managed race relations reasonably well and Malaysians live amicably together, taking better care of this themselves than politicians and the self-appointed champions of our races.

Similarly, it is good to hear the majority of Christians saying that they would not condone Quran-burning pastors and churches.

And certainly, for the first time ever, media organisations are asking themselves whether religious extremists deserve space and air time in their newspapers, online portals and television.

Most of us would agree – don’t encourage them.