Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Burying one's head in the sand - RPK of

A good article by RPK, who's the editor of about Malaysia's racial/religious divide. With Article 11, Moorthy & Nona, UPM - no doubt things are hotting up. The PM's directive to stop all talk does seem like a man cornered. His Islam Hadhari seems damned if it does, and damned if it doesn't. Either way, Malaysia loses.

Below's the full text but visit the original link in Malaysia-Today to read the comments, some of which I think are especially lucid.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Burying one's head in the sand
Raja Petra Kamarudin

Article 11: Stop the forums

Article 11 forums to discuss inter-faith issues must stop immediately because they are deemed to cause tension in our multi-religious society, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said.

The Prime Minister said the Umno supreme council had expressed its utmost concern over inter-faith issues that were being debated by Article 11, an umbrella body of 13 non-governmental organisations, through forums on Article 11 of the Federal Constitution.

"If the discussions are not kept in check or contained, they are bound to raise tension in our multi-religious society. Religious issues are even more sensitive than ethnic issues," he told reporters after chairing the Umno supreme council meeting here yesterday. - The Star

PM tells all parties to stop discussing status of Islam

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Tuesday told all parties to stop any discussion that questioned the status of Islam as the country's official religion as provided in the Federal Constitution.

He said discussion of the issue, if not kept in check, would create a tense situation among the country's multi-racial and multi-religious people.

"The issue of religion is very sensitive, more sensitive than the issue of race, so the press should be responsible and not blow it up. - Bernama

Religious right vows to uphold status of Islam

Malaysia's religious right is preparing to fight back against what it sees as a liberal tide sweeping the judiciary and viewed as a threat to Islam's position in the country. More than 50 groups representing Muslim lawyers, clerics, professionals and students met a week ago to plan a campaign and launch legal challenges to protect Islam. They formed an umbrella body known as Pembela Islam (Defenders of Islam).

Three court cases were at the root of their unhappiness. The first was that of a Hindu widow who had unsuccessfully challenged the Islamic authorities to prove that her late husband had converted to Islam. In another case, two weeks ago, Malaysia's Federal Court ruled that three Malay boys could not wear the Islamic turban to school. But the case which has received the most scorn from Islamic conservatives is that of Ms Lina Joy, a Malay who is seeking to drop Islam as the religion on her identity card.

Over the weekend, two small demonstrations were held here and in Johor Baru to protest against her case. - The Straits Times

Article 11 forum disrupted again

JOHOR BARU: A forum organised by the Article 11 Coalition here yesterday (22 July 2006) was cut short on the advice of the police as some 400 demonstrators gathered outside the forum venue. The "Federal Constitution: Protection for All" forum which was scheduled to run from 9am to 1pm at Hotel Selesa here, wrapped up at 11.15am following a "friendly recommendation" from the police.

Yesterday's protest was the second the coalition had encountered since it started a road-show on constitutional rights regarding religion. In May, the umbrella group for 13 non-governmental organisations held a similar forum in Penang which also attracted protesters and was again cut short on the advice of the police.

But this time the organisers are not complaining. - New Straits Times

Malaysia to set up racial conflict warning system

Malaysia plans to develop what could be the world's first computerised early-warning system on racial conflict. National Unity and Integration Department director-general Azman Amin Hassan said it will be installed in an operations room at the department's Putrajaya headquarters and will process a database of information and reports on unity in every district.

The system will assess how prone each area is to incidents involving race and religion, he said. Districts will be colour-coded on a map, with 'red' areas the most prone to strife. 'The system will monitor every inch of Malaysia. If we know which areas are prone to conflict, we will have a better chance to prevent an incident,' he said.

No date has been set for the system's roll-out. - New Sunday Times

What do the five news items above tell us? I do not know what it tells you, but it tells me that Malaysia is moving closer and closer to civil strife. What can be considered civil strife, a 'milder' form of civil war, is a conflict between those of the same nationality or ethnicity. Inter-ethnic conflicts of the same nationality would of course also qualify. And there are normally at least three things that can bring about civil strife. One would be economic, next race, and finally, the most potent of all, would be religion. Malaysia, unfortunately, has elements of all three.

My previous episode of No Holds Barred was a 'letter' to Walter. I am sure everyone knew that it was a fictitious letter, but whether Walter really exists or not, I am of course not telling. What did you 'see' in that letter? Did you not see a reflection of yourself? And what about those many outraged responses in the Blog from both sides of the racial divide? Did the responses not reflect what is within their minds?

When one goes to a psychiatrist for therapy, he or she just makes us lie down on the couch and asks us to spill out what ails us. For all you know, he or she may not even be listening. But it is not whether they listen or not which counts. It is enabling us to reveal our innermost thoughts -- which under normal circumstances we would never reveal to anyone, stranger or otherwise -- is where the therapy lies. Somehow, we would unabashedly tell a psychiatrist everything. Maybe it is because we believe that telling our shrink what we would never tell any other living soul is going to cure us, so we do it.

Okay, so what then was the purpose of the 'Dear Walter' piece and how does this relate to 'therapy'? Well, basically I wanted everyone to 'see' how they felt about their follow Malaysian. It is not that we do not already know mind you. Even before the 'Dear Walter' piece there were more than enough racial-religious postings that lay bare what Malaysians really are. In fact, we really did not need 'Dear Walter' to reinforce this belief that Malaysians are intolerant bigots of the worst kind.

I once knew an American chap and his lovely Thai wife who lived in Malaysia for quite some time. And what he told me about 20 years ago not only jolted me, but still prevails until today. In fact, it is worse today than it was 20 years ago. "There are more racial prejudices and intolerance here in Malaysia than in the Deep South," said my American friend. "And things in the Deep South are really bad as it is."

Wow! I never thought of that. I mean, I knew that in the Deep South of the USA things can be very bad. But you are actually saying that Malaysia is worse? How can that be?

"Hey!" said my American friend. "You are local, so you don't get to see it. Chinese or Indians would never dare speak ill of your race or religion in front of you. But this does not mean that they don't talk badly about the Malays or Islam. It just means you do not hear them saying it. And you Malays say the same about the Chinese and Indians. But you talk amongst yourselves, never in front of the Chinese or Indians; the same for the Chinese and Indians as well."

"But then I am an American, not Malaysian, so I hear all sides talking -- Malays, Chinese, as well as Indians. I get to hear what everyone says, something you will never get to hear."

That is true to a point I suppose. We would try very hard not to run down another race or religion in front of 'the other chap'. We would of course say many unkind things about them if they can't hear what we are saying. But if they are within earshot, then we would restrain and refrain and not hurt their feelings. It is just not 'nice' to insult someone to his or her face. But we will do it behind their backs without remorse.

Malaysia Today allows, in fact at times encourage, this slinging match. And why do we do this? Is it to stir sentiments and try to trigger civil strife? Definitely not! In fact we would like to see the opposite. But burying our heads in the sand and pretending that all is peachy and honky-dory would never achieve this. It would be just like a pit-soil fire. The fire slowly burns below the surface unbeknownst to anyone. Then, after days or even weeks, the fire suddenly breaks through the surface. And by that time there is very little you can do. Feelings are like an iceberg. What you see above the surface is only 10%. The other 90% is hidden, lurking below the surface waiting to sink the unsinkable Titanic that the owners said, "Even God Himself cannot sink." Hey, never place a bet with God. God always wins.

And that is Malaysia. You see a lot of intolerance and hatred in Malaysia Today's Blogs. But what you see is merely a scratch on the surface. It is not even the 10% of the iceberg. It is not even the smoke from the pit-soil fire. Take my word for it. The Malays have not heard even 1% of what the Chinese and Indians think of them. And vice versa on what the Malays think of the Chinese and Indians as well. So, what do we do? Do we silence everyone? Do we say 'loose lips sink ships' and shut everyone's mouths? Do we make it illegal to 'talk bad' about another race and religion and arrest and jail all those who do? Will this eliminate the intolerance and hatred and make everyone suddenly love each other? Sure, and pigs can fly.

No, not talking about it will not make it go away. Banning racial and religious slurs will not make Malaysians understand each other better. Sure, slandering another race and religion does have its downside as well. It certainly does not make things better. In fact, it may even increase the divide. But allowing it to surface would show the powers-that-be how dicey race relations in Malaysia has become. The government can legislate behaviour all it wants. It can clamp down hard and detain under the Sedition Act all those who make 'dangerous' statements that may trigger civil strife. But it will not make Malaysians love each other. It will just send the hate underground. And anything stifled is even more dangerous. It will build up and, one day, explode. A smouldering fire can be controlled. An explosion is devastating. And Malaysia is heading for an explosion. Let the powers-that-be be warned.

There is great discontentment building up. The non-Malays (meaning non-Muslims as well) are determined to take their case to the nation. The 'Chapter 11' seminars in Penang and Johor recently are but one case in point. The Moorthy, Lina Joy, and many other incidences are unsettling both Malays and non-Malays alike. The Malays too have their own road-shows planned and are challenging efforts of the Chapter 11 group, IFC, SIS, etc, to bring about greater religious liberalisation; meaning freedom of religion for all, not only for non-Muslims.

Do I have any solutions to offer? Unfortunately I do not. All I am saying is that things are moving in a very dangerous direction. What you read in Malaysia Today's Blogs is nothing. That does not even begin to describe the problem. The problem is deeper than that. And unless something is done super-fast, then get ready for problems.

The Malays will not compromise on the issue of murtad (apostasy). Islam is a one-way street. If you are born a Muslim then you die a Muslim, or die if you leave Islam. The same goes for those who convert to Islam later in life. There is no compromise here and Malays would go to war to uphold this. So when the non-Muslims organise road-shows or movements such as IFC, that is interpreted as an act of war and retaliation becomes halal. This is something the non-Muslims have not comprehended yet.

Even the government is lost as to what to do. It knows it cannot ignore the issue. But then what can they do about it? If the government agrees that there should be freedom of religion and those who wish to leave Islam should be allowed to do so, then it would have a rebellion on its hands. On the other hand, if the government agrees that Islam is a one-way street and no murtad would be allowed, it would also have a rebellion on its hands.

Now you know why I refuse to be in government even if I was able to get in (which I would not be able to anyway). Being in government is no vacation. There is this serious problem hanging over our heads with no solutions in sight. Either the government agrees that Malaysia is an Islamic State and it implements Islamic laws such as the anti-murtad law, or it agrees that Malaysia is a Secular State and go along with those seeking religious liberalisation. Either way is going to see conflict.

Should I be saying all this? Should I be openly writing something like this on the Internet? If there was such a thing as the Internet at lunchtime on 13 May 1969, I would have posted a message warning all and sundry that later that day a riot was going to erupt. I would have done so because for the first time in his life my father had come home from the office before the sun went down. He came home in the afternoon to be exact. And he came home because he had been warned that a riot was going to erupt and that he should stay home. And maybe, just maybe, that posting of mine would have limited, if not prevented, the riot from happening. And maybe, just maybe, some of the friends I lost on 13 May 1969 would still be around today. But I certainly would have gone to jail for that posting. The end result would have been worth it though if I go to jail to prevent at least one life from being lost.

Well, a riot is not about to erupt today. It will not erupt tomorrow, next week, or even next month. But if the present state of affairs is not addressed, it would erupt in time. The only question is when. And all Malaysians better be aware of this. Things are not peachy and honky-dory. Things are very tense. And things are going to develop over the next few weeks and months that will make it even tenser.

And don't say I didn't warn you as much as I may sound like a doomsday soothsayer.

Oh, by the way, just to digress a bit, the second time my father came home from the office early was the day he was not feeling well. He suffered a heart attack a few hours later and died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Yes, the two occasions my father came home early from work were days of tragedies -- one a national tragedy and the other my personal tragedy, but tragedies nevertheless, and tragedies that would haunt me for the rest of my life.

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