Hornbill Unleashed

November 8, 2013

Words as weapons

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

NONEEric Loo

“We fought the good fight; we just didn’t win,” Republican House speaker John A Boehner said on Oct 16 after the US Congress voted to end the government shutdown.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in declaring the end of Australia’s mission in Afghanistan, said, “Australians do not fight wars of conquest, we fight wars of freedom” (Oct 29, The Australian).

‘We didn’t win’ certainly sounds more dignified than ‘We lost’. ‘Wars of freedom’ sounds less hegemonic than ‘wars of conquest’.

That’s the power of words – to heal or hurt, to hope or hate. They shape perceptions, and stir our senses.  A rose by any other name certainly wouldn’t smell as sweet.

As advised by high-salaried spinmasters, politicians use different words to connote different associations on the same issue: gun control (gun violence prevention); gun rights (Second Amendment); oil drilling (energy exploration); anti-abortion (pro-life); abortion (pro-choice); global warming (climate change); illegal migrants (undocumented workers); civilians killed (collateral damage); shell-shocked (post-traumatic stress disorder); occupation (resettlement); invasion (liberation); same sex marriage (marriage equality).

Words reflect the speaker’s beliefs and values – which are potent in fuelling religious intolerance, and its impact pernicious when used deftly to manipulate an uninformed public for political gains.

Hence, the racialised statements to outdo each other’s ethnocentricity with each party elections – such as the home minister’s straight ‘shoot first and question later’ policing method; the prime minister’s flip-flopping statements and sloganeering, and Ibrahim Ali’s spat on Christians for using the word ‘Allah’. It amazes me how one could greet ‘Assalamualaikum’ (‘Peace be upon you’) in one moment, and the next, as caustic and vilifying in speech.
Much have been written on the ‘Allah’ issue, among the most informative is this expositionfrom the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s religion and ethics site. The issue has been so politicised beyond reason and good faith, which in the days of the Prophet Muhammad the conflicting parties would have invoked a ‘mubahala’ to settle the theological argument and anticipate Allah’s curse on the distortionists.

What’s the mainstream media doing to moderate the religious rancour? They have merely reported, but stopped short of moderating. They have failed by not educating the public, by not exposing Perkasa’s vilifications of Christianity, which the authorities have allowed to go on with impunity.

Common sacred roots

Journalists should check the facts, and research the abundant literature that reveals the common sacred roots of Islam and Christianity, that Muslims and Christians once walked on common grounds, that both religions share as many similarities as there aresignificant differences – the main being Islam’s denial that Jesus Christ was and is God, and that Christ died on the cross to atone for the sins of humanity.

How should Muslims and Christians respond to religious controversies? Not with vile threats, caustic speeches or implied violence, but with reason and knowledge, respect and responsibility.

NONEI’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s advice to the Jews and Gentiles (who were at that time politically and theologically divided in their interpretation of the gospel), to renew their mind in the knowledge of God and how as Christians they are to relate to others, to the state and its laws. The key message? Persuade with words, not impose by force.

Paul said: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… live in harmony with one another… do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:14-18).

Responsible journalists should certainly be better informed, especially in the reporting of religious issues, to fairly represent the sentiments of different faith communities. This is a case of not just straight reporting of what the demagogues sputter, but checking the factual, theological and contextual accuracy of what they utter.

Given the explosive nature of religious issues in Malaysia, journalists must get it right, speak to thoughtful and informed sources from the secular and religious sectors, and not be manipulated by the radical views that demagogues are wont to spew. Stupidities should not deserve any space.

But where Muslims and Christians see their God through a narrow and literal reading of the Quran and the Bible, where everyone is convinced of their own truths, we will never have a reasoned conversation across faith lines based on knowledge, respect and acceptance of different worldviews.

Hence the onus also falls on the majority of moderate learned Muslims and Christians who disapprove of the Court of Appeal’s judgment and the irrational reactions of Perkasa to pull their weight and make their reasoned voice heard in the mainstream media, especially in Utusan and the Malay language papers.

Muslims and Christians seriously need a heightened sense of self-awareness to do what edify and eschew that which dishonour their faith. The politicisation of race and religion, the systemic corruption and rent-seeking show how far the Muslim majority government have fallen short of doing what are right, good and noble according to what Islam teaches.


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