This post hasn't been updated in over 3 years.
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This is a post which took me a while to do, as I rewrote it many times, over several months. I wanted to promote criticism, which meant two things to me:
- that we should encourage the writing of informed critiques about the development of various fields in Brunei, such as art, technology, business, and so on;
- to encourage a culture of being able to question others, in a civil way, while at the same time being able to be questioned by others, and also respond in a civil way.
However, part of me feels that I have waited too long to write this. When I began, I believed that criticism in itself is not really a cause for concern for a Bruneian that wants to question something. I believed that their chosen approach in offering the criticism, and their topic of choice, are the factors that determine whether their voice would stand the threat of censorship. Hence, I felt safe in writing this post.
But in recent times, my belief has been challenged. The government is not to be disrespected, despite the multitude of channels – existing long before Tumblr, Disqus or Whatsapp – where people write all manner of things that insult their neighbours, other nationalities, and the government. Rational comments, calling for clarification and assurance, can be seen as rebellious. Questioning rules or policies can be seen as a rejection.
Also, if my post had been written half a year ago – before the news reports began to closely follow the Syariah law implementations, before we saw a deluge of commentary around the topic – I still think the core of my points would have been the same. But now, posting this seems to be highly coloured by those events, even though it hadn’t been my intention. I regret that it should be the case.
My post below continues, nonetheless. What can I say? I’m a young, stupid idealist.
There is a culture in Brunei around criticism that has puzzled and frustrated me. The local media is not very critical – or not openly so. And because open criticism does not appear in the media, it is instead carried out in mostly “non-official” capacity: breakfast conversations over teh tarik, private groups on Whatsapp, anonymous or pseudonym-credited comments on websites and forums. You may argue that some of those are private spaces, while others are not. Those who are bolder, or less concerned about their identity, write to their newspapers, or comment on Facebook groups and pages with their short names. There are few blogs with significant readership that present criticism.