“My people are going to learn the principles of democracy the dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go. Let them worship as they will, every man can follow his own conscience provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him act against the liberty of his fellow men.”
– Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic
The propaganda that Malaysia is an Islamic state is as fantastical as the idea that Malaysia is a secular state. By this I mean proponents of either have a hard time making their case because nobody seems to give a damn about Malaysia’s constitution.
Nobody is committed to the idea or spirit of a secular state, and Umno, PAS and any Muslim politician are merely using the idea of an Islamic state as a fig leaf to religious supremacy or as political capital to shore up Muslim support because of the numerous pecuniary scandals that plague the behemoth.
I can honestly say that if hands were chopped off for theft, nobody in Parliament would be not armed with prosthetics because political corruption always finds a way of differentiating itself from the average criminality that Muslims preachers seem obsessed with.
This, of course, brings me to hudud and Gerakan Youth deputy chief Andy Yong’s salvo against Malacca and Johor Catholic Diocese bishop Bernard Paul for not respecting the boundaries between church and state. When Yong cautions, “He (the bishop) should consider whether he risks fuelling the anger sentiment towards others with different faith and political support,” all this is part of the “fighting with one hand tied behind the back” propaganda that has been drummed into Malaysian oppositional voices post-1969.
There is no point in denying that there is an anti-Christian narrative in this country. Unlike many of my opposition brethren, I read many pro-Umno/establishment blogs and nowhere have I found credible evidence that “Christians” are attempting to convert Muslims and are attempting to set up a Christian state.
However, I have written this – “In my opinion, the central issue is how Islam has been weaponised in this country (and many parts of the world) by the state. This is not a legal issue but a political issue. Nowhere is this clearer in a constitution that privileges one community over the others. Nowhere is this clearer when on the eve of an important election, the head of a ruling coalition makes it clear that he will use his influence – influence that I may add is supposed to be anathema to an independent judiciary – to correct a grave injustice that was the Rooney Rebit case.”
There is no separation of church and state, or more accurately mosque and state, in this country. This idea of “tolerance” as opposed to “acceptance” has been the lynchpin of the so-called social contract when it comes to race and religion. The Umno establishment characterised the Bersih rally as a Chinese attempt to subvert power. The red-shirts led by – the unwashed for four days – Jamal Md Yunos was based on religious and racial superiority.
When the political, social and economic reality is predicated on religious superiority and oppression, religious people need to find ways to express themselves in democratic spaces and at the same time realise that the only security they have against further aggression is by supporting secular values.
Religious activism in support of democratic principles has a rich tradition from the Salt March to Selma, and while I agree that politics and religion should never mix, my belief is that this extends on to government policy and not individual conscience. While I despise politicians who wear their religious credentials like some sort of badge of honour, I do not have problem with religious organisations taking a stand on issues, especially those that impugn on their right of religious freedom.
And the best way to ensure your religious freedoms – besides advocating for a secular state, which so far no religious figure has overtly advocated – is by ensuring free and fair elections and ensuring that corrupt politicians do not make pacts with religious extremists with the aim of maintaining hegemony.
Anybody making the claim that Christians or their religious organisations should not interfere in politics but more importantly making the claim based on so-called secular values is either mendacious or naïve when it comes to the reality of the Malaysian political terrain. What I have been contemptuous of is the agenda of Christian politicians using religion as political capital and claiming to be secular while funding Islamic organisations to pander to the Malay/Muslim vote.
See the difference?
This difference is important. When Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi invites “Muslim” members of parliament for a special briefing on PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang’s proposed hudud bill, this is exactly the type of malfeasance that is detrimental to secular values. Opposition to this bill needs to made by credible individuals and credible individuals are those who have not used religion when it suits their purposes.
Credibility is achieved by politicians who leave their religious affiliations at the door and this is especially important for non-Muslim politicians when it comes to dealing with the Umno state. I have made this argument before – “I have argued that the non-Malay power structures are contributing to the indoctrination process by supporting Umno-enabled institutions thereby setting back any kind of progressive movement in the Malay community. Furthermore, I have been critical of opposition parties that have been reluctant to redefine and propagate ideas that are the exact opposite of the Umno narrative of what it means to be Malay and Muslim.”
In former law minister Zaid Ibrahim’s open letter to members of parliament, he specifically signalled out non-Muslims not to worry about voting against this “bad law”. To wit, “It’s your duty to oppose the bill, even if the law does not directly apply to you or your community. You have a duty to fight for justice for all Malaysians.”
This is an extremely important point. In answering Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj’s – one of the few politicians I admire – question, “Do non-Muslims have a right to object to the way in which Muslims choose to practise their religion?”, I wrote – “When we object to certain practices of the state which we deem immoral or corrupt, we do so as citizens of the country. The same principle applies to certain religious practices. We speak for those who cannot, we support those who have been unfairly targeted and who have no choice as to whether they accept or reject religious dogma as defined by the state.”
If the boundaries are blurred between mosque and state, it is because this Umno administration is mired in financial scandals and there are sub rosa agents who have always been part of the Umno establishment who would use a weak leader to further their Wahhabi goals.
We have to be careful when we cross that line between church and state but cross it we must, if we want to save our country.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.