Badu deserves partial credit if she got a tattoo (rather, temporary body art) in non-Roman characters and actually knows what it says, unlike so many hipsters with “exotic” tattoos that may actually say “I have gout.” The case is also a study in how multiculturalist arrogance — the presumption of open-minded enlightenment — can actually shoot itself in the foot and wind up committing various blunders through its free-wheeling and patronizing appropriation of other cultures’ sacred symbols (the “Coexist” bumper sticker comes to mind).
Ultimately, though, it is another episode in the saga of Easily Offended Malaysia, where something that may once have been brushed off as silly and ignorant becomes a political football as an affront to Islam. “US singer Badu saddened by Malaysia concert ban,” from Agence France-Presse, February 28:
KUALA LUMPUR “” American singer Erykah Badu expressed sadness Wednesday at Malaysia’s decision to ban her show after a photo of her with body art including the Arabic word for “Allah” caused anger.
Authorities in Muslim-majority Malaysia scrapped the concert Tuesday, a day before it was scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur after Badu’s photo appeared in the biggest English-language paper, The Star.
The photo depicts the acclaimed singer with various symbols on her upper body including in Arabic and Hebrew.
Despite the fact the body art was not permanent and Badu no longer has it, Information Minister Rais Yatim banned the concert, saying it breached guidelines on “religious sensitivities and cultural values”.
Tattoos are forbidden in Islam and many Muslims also frown upon depictions of the word “Allah” that are deemed frivolous or disrespectful.
A teary-eyed Badu said Wednesday she was “sad” not to be able to perform but understood the decision.
“I feel I understand. I don’t have any heavy feelings about it because I understand (the minister’s) position, and I respect the beliefs of the people who also feel the way he does,” she told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
Badu said she would press ahead with plans to travel on Thursday to Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, to perform there before returning to the United States.
She added art was often misunderstood, including in the US, but there “it is not such a harsh gesture to promote the name of God.”
Razman Razali, managing director of organiser Pineapple Concerts, said The Star should have been more responsible. Rahman said government approval was given in December and more than 1,500 tickets had been sold.
Malaysian Islamic groups frequently oppose concerts by Western artists whom they accuse of promoting promiscuity and corrupting youths, but rarely are high-profile acts cancelled once initial approval has been granted.
The Star ran an apology on Tuesday, a day after the photo was published. Badu has stirred controversy before. She raised eyebrows in 2010 with a music video in which she strips naked while walking the street in Dallas, Texas, where president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.