From Ibrahim M Ahmad
Kudos to communications and digital minister Fahmi Fadzil for pulling the plug on the Good Vibes Festival over the weekend. There are times when decisive action – even if unpopular – is necessary, and the unity government certainly delivered on this occasion.
This is not going to be a popular opinion, especially among members of the entertainment industry as well as activists and friends of the LGBTQ+ community.
Industry players are asking why it was necessary to punish all those who were slated to perform during the remainder of the festival on account of the transgressions of one insolent man and his band.
The reality is that, based on what has been reported in the media, the organiser must bear a fair share of the blame for what happened.
The 1975, and specifically their frontman, Matty Healy, have a history of histrionics of this sort.
According to the Independent, Healy did something similar in a concert in Dubai four years ago, defiantly seeking out and locking lips with a male concertgoer who had held up a sign that read “Marry Me” in a country where homosexuality and gay marriage are forbidden by law.
Healy reportedly admitted being threatened with arrest by the UAE police following the incident.
He later tweeted: “I don’t think we’ll be allowed back due to my ‘behaviour’ but know that I love you and I wouldn’t have done anything differently given the chance again.”
FMT columnist Frankie D’Cruz says he has resorted to such abhorrent behaviour on multiple other occasions.
Regrettably, he repeated his antics on Friday night, with a source close to the band later telling the BBC he did it “to stand up for (Malaysia’s) LGBTQ+ fans and community.”
That being the case, it falls on the organiser to come clean about why it was so insistent on this band performing in Malaysia.
Unlike Coldplay and Taylor Swift, there has been no real clamour for The 1975 – by no means a household name here – to perform in Malaysia.
A tweet by the minister’s special functions officer, Thoo Suet Mei, quoted by The Guardian, explained what transpired:
“Backstory is Puspal (the central agency which coordinates applications for foreign artistes to perform in Malaysia) rejected The 1975’s application on June 22.
“Organiser appealed on July 13, vouched for The 1975 in writing that the band will not act out and (said they) will take full responsibility should there be any non-compliance of the rules.
“Then guess what, they did act out.”
On that score, who can blame the minister for cancelling the remainder of the festival?
What due diligence did the organiser perform on The 1975 before seeking to bring the band in?
What steps did the organiser take to ensure compliance by the artiste with the existing guidelines in place?
When the initial application was rejected, what grounds did the organiser advance to secure The 1975’s participation in the festival? What added assurances did the organiser secure from the band before appealing for approval?
Given what transpired, how could the ministry trust the organiser to ensure that the remaining performers would adhere to the rules?
The organiser must keep to its word and accept full responsibility for what happened. Otherwise, any assurance given by organisers of such events to the authorities when seeking approval would be meaningless.
Let’s put it this way. By and large, Malaysia’s Federal Constitution specifies that Islam shall be the religion of the Federation and that Malaysians of other religions may practice their respective religions in peace and harmony.
Homosexuality and gay marriages are clearly forbidden both in Islam and Christianity. That accounts for a sizeable majority of Malaysians.
This is reflected in homosexuality being expressly forbidden by the Penal Code, a written law passed by a parliament made up of representatives elected by the rakyat.
So far, there has been no attempt in Malaysia to legalise homosexuality. Like it or not, until an amendment to de-criminalise it is passed by Parliament, homosexuality will remain illegal in this country.
Western values on the subject may have changed, but there is no reason for Malaysia to follow suit.
The West may have severed their laws from their roots in religion, but nothing can compel Malaysia to follow suit except if its people acting through their elected representatives in the Dewan Rakyat agree to do so.
Many will argue that homosexual acts between consenting adults are the private rights of individuals and that the state has no business interfering in them. In Western-speak, they will say no one can tell anyone “who to love”.
From a legal, religious and moral standpoint, I respectfully disagree. I am quite sure the majority of Malaysians would as well.
Yet, I will not tell anyone who they can or cannot love. That is a choice for each person to make based on their upbringing, according to their conscience and choice, and without running afoul of the law.
Foreign entertainment artistes, many of whom are well-known for their excesses in life, have no business preaching to the government or to Malaysians in general what shape or form our laws should take. That power is given exclusively to the representatives we elect.
The 1975 was allowed in the country to entertain concertgoers with their music. The organiser assured the government that was all the band was going to do.
Matty Healy disrespected Malaysia in an unacceptable way. He should thank his lucky stars that he was allowed to slip out of the country without being arrested.
The government was acting leniently in that respect. Clearly, in doing so, it was avoiding the incident escalating into an international dispute with a friendly nation.
Kudos to the government on that score, as well.
Ibrahim M Ahmad is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.