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GRAMMY-winning neo-soul artiste Erykah Badu was most gracious over the cancellation of her scheduled Kuala Lumpur concert, the first leg of her Australasian Tour. Going by the grounds for the cancellation, anyone would have mistakenly thought that Badu is an obnoxious and arrogant anti-Islam ignoramus. A foreign artiste to boot. So what do you expect. Any other artiste would have understandably been insulted, not to mention absolutely perplexed, by such a decision. Haven't we forgotten that we are a moderate Muslim country? Badu tweeted under @fatbellybella: "The government of Malaysia had to be responsible to its people's beliefs. Even if it were just 1 or 2 complaints. I understand." At her press conference held the following day (on Wednesday), she said she was pleased to be asked to perform in Malaysia as it would have given her a chance to connect with her fans but described the cancellation caused by "the image" as "my biggest loss". Badu was, of course, referring to the now infamous publicity photo of her with what was initially thought were tattoos of the word Allah in Arabic on her bare shoulders. (Badu later explained that they were body art, not tattoos.) The reaction was fast and furious, typically from Malaysia's very own moral guardian -- Pas Youth -- and one or two NGOs said to be representing Muslims. Badu had insulted Islam and offended Muslims and was a bad role model for young Malaysians. But to describe the reaction as a public uproar would be an exaggeration. It was not across the board. If one cared enough to read the social media, then one would know that the ruckus came from a small bunch of people who probably don't care for her or her music. Or any kind of music. By that time, some 1,500 tickets priced at RM188, RM288, RM388 and RM488 had been sold. Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim's explanation on why the ministry had decided to have the concert cancelled would have frightened anyone. He said that a government committee that included the police and Islamic policy officials decided to forbid Badu's show because the body art was "an insult to Islam and a very serious offence" and had "triggered public criticism that could jeopardise national security and cause a negative impact to the government's image". The concert had breached the Central Agency for the Application for Filming and Performance by Foreign Artistes (Puspal) guidelines where it touched on religious sensitivities and Malaysian cultural values. "To proceed with such public performances would only bring bigger and more cascading effects, the likes of which we cannot afford to have under present circumstances." Frankly, I thought we overreacted. Should we have given her or her representatives a chance to be heard and to explain instead of inflicting the easiest course of action under such pathetic circumstances -- to cancel her concert? If Muslims were insulted by her body art, Badu had apologised and had explained how the photo came about. It was inspired by her "fave film maker", Alejandro Jodorowsky and his movie called The Holy Mountain in the 70s. "One of his characters is called the painted lady. She wore all symbols and names of God on her body. I posed as her in a photo shoot for New Am pt2. This idea embodies who we All are...One." To me, Erykah Badu did not insult Islam, or Muslims. Her music or her songs are not demonic, nor are they anti-Islam. She was not going to perform in Kuala Lumpur with songs that insult the Almighty, Prophet Muhammad or Islam. She was not going to display those very words on stage. She, herself, is understanding of Islam, going by background research on her. Did you know that Badu had that body art before that publicity photo? I didn't. Some Muslims might have been offended when they first saw it. But if only they had understood that when people have tattoos, or in this case, body art of an image, it is not because they hate that image, it is definitely that they admire, respect or love it. One does not imprint something odious or contemptuous on one's body. The 41-year-old Texan native was not disheartened when she left the press conference where "real tears were shed, for the love of music" (she tweeted). She understood Rais' decision and bore no grudge against anyone who shared the same sentiment. Badu, who is now in Indonesia to perform at the Java Jazz Festival, hopes to perform in Malaysia in the future -- "I have faith in people's ability to evolve. That's why I do what I do." How gracious is that?
Sports Journalist with the New Straits Times since 1994.
My main beat is field hockey, so this blog will have stories that I have written for the NST, as well as hockey news from around the globe. There will be regular updates. I was also the Secretary General of the National Press Club, Malaysia for three terms (six years).