02 January, 2007

The Year of Believing Dangerously

Farish A. Noor wrote on :"The Year of Believing Dangerously"

Faith, it appears, is no longer a private matter for Malaysians. This has been the year of believing dangerously; a year where the issue of personal belief and the choice of one’s faith has become a public concern; with debates being taken into the public sphere and consequently politicised. At the heart of the matter are several questions that we can no longer avoid: Is Malaysia still a constitutional democracy where Federal civil law reigns supreme? Are we Malaysians first and foremost, or are we – as suggested by the findings of some recent polls – now defined primarily in terms of our religious beliefs and/or ethnic backgrounds? And what holds for the future of Malaysia as religious and ethnic communitarian tendencies remain unchecked? How will the nation-building project develop in the years and decades to come, and will this country eventually be drawn apart by the centrifugal tendencies that compel some of us to seek solidarity and identity among our own?

Among the more spectacular developments of 2006, apart from frenetic episodes of keris-waving and the odd hysterical ethno-nationalist outburst, were the demonstrations and protests that took place in response to the nation-wide roadshow organised by the Article 11 coalition earlier this year. The photographs taken then resonate with the emotional temper that was released: ‘Do not insult the laws of God’, ‘Do not offend Islam and Muslims’, ‘Stop the Zionist conspiracy against Islam’, the banners warned. Conceding to the demands of the vocal protesters, a blanket ban was imposed by the government on public discussion of freedom of religion in Malaysia.

But silence is not an antidote or answer to questions that will not go away. Already there have been legal tussles over the fate of Malaysians whose religious identities were left hanging in the balance following their deaths: Rayappan Anthony, Chandran Dharmadass, M. Moorthy being among those whose families were forced to bear the brunt of emotional turmoil when the religious courts declared they had died as Muslims while their families insisted on the opposite.
Then there are the cases of those Muslims, like Lina Joy, who had chosen to leave the religion of their birth and convert to another, only to be told that their new status and identity had to be confirmed by the religious authorities again. The question then arises: Which law is supreme in Malaysia?

These questions are as politically loaded as they are complex, and they can only lead to anxiety for many – though they need to be raised honestly and openly once and for all. At stake here are the fundamental liberties of all Malaysians, as well as the future of the country itself.

To be sure, many a Muslim would admit that the question of freedom of religion and religious choice stands beyond the horizon of possibility for them. So deep is this anxiety that the modes of addressing them elsewhere have often been out of the ordinary. In the few celebrated cases abroad, Muslims who have chosen to convert to another faith have been summarily dubbed ‘insane’ or ‘unstable’ in places like Egypt and Afghanistan. Many ordinary Muslims still cannot understand how anyone who has chosen Islam can reconsider such a decision, and opt to leave it instead.

But here lies the crux of the matter, for this conundrum is based on the premise that all Muslims are free to be Muslims in the first place. Yet how many Muslims in Malaysia have chosen to become Muslims, and how many are Muslims by the contingent fact of being born into Muslim families? (For that matter how many Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs have chosen to be what they are? And how many of us have had our religious identities hoisted on us simply due to the variable factors of birth?)

Muslims, along with adherents of all other faiths today, will have to finally address the reality of living in plural complex societies where religious difference comes with religious alternatives as well. Living with those of other faiths means not only accepting and respecting these differences but also recognising the fact that others hold their faiths to be equally true and important. In the process of such daily cross-cultural interaction, the overstepping and crossing of frontiers (cultural, ethnic and religious) also takes place time to time. Yet few religious systems have accommodated themselves to this reality of individual choice in the face of real alternatives.

The failure to take into account the realities of multicultural life is what is painfully evident today in present-day Malaysia. Hence the knee-jerk reaction among the religious communities whenever one of them decides to leave the flock and join another. The refrain ‘Islam in danger’ is not unique, and the public domain of Malaysia is now a cacophony of similar laments: ‘Hinduism in danger’ cry the Hindus, ‘Christianity under threat’ bemoan the Christians. Having accepted that religious difference exists, we have failed to accept that religious choice is also a reality.

Malaysians of all walks of life and religious backgrounds will therefore have to deal with the question of freedom of religion sooner or later. The recourse to the rhetoric of conspiracy theories and the nefarious plots of the so-called ‘evil Zionist enemy’ does little more than mobilise a mob; but will not ease the process of religious choice and agency. For too long we have been entertaining the mistaken notion that the multicultural fabric of Malaysian society can be propped up by tourist posters and ads. And while the ads tell the tourists that we are a multi-culti multi-religious society of love and harmony, Malaysian temples are being demolished and the pre-Islamic history of Malaysia sidelined.

Ultimately these thorny questions bring us back to the original question of who, and what, is a Malaysian? If ours is going to be a national politics predicated on the concept of universal citizenship where racial, ethnic and religious identities are secondary to our national identity, then the debates on freedom of religion have to be set in a Malaysian context that prioritises Malaysian civil law above all else. This is the legal system that guarantees the right to anyone converting to Islam, and should likewise guarantee the right for someone to leave Islam: Not because Islam is secondary, but because a Malaysian should have the right to make Islam his or her religion and primary in his or her life. But this rule has to be a universal one that does not discriminate. It is precisely this universal spirit and value that is being debated now, and for the future of a Malaysia that belongs to all Malaysians, we must defend this universalism in our private particular corners, each and every one of us. Believing should never be a dangerous matter.

(NOTE: This Other Malaysia article first appeared in the Sun newspaper's Yearender issue, 30 December 2006. )



Azly Rahman wrote on "Ideology, idiocy and independence"

We have a new dilemma of independence. We have developed a new sense of idiocy.

The Malays are still indoctrinated by the idea that the Chinese control the economy. The Chinese are indoctrinated by the idea that the Malays must still be represented by leaders who know how to play the race card. The Indians are still left on their own to suffer. We have the dilemma of the growing population of immigrants whose sense of Malaysian nationalism needs to be cultivated.

The Malays continue to be misrepresented by yet another generation of leaders who refuse to grow up and grow out of the ideology of idiocy – that race, not other factors, is still the root cause of social injustices.

More and more intelligent Malays, nauseated by this misrepresentation that grew out of historical accident and post-colonialist convenience, are numbed by this continuing idiotic pride. The media and the control of wealth and resources by just a few Malays and their families have made possible the sustenance of this ideology.

The Malays are made to believe that their survival must continue to lie in believing there is a bogeyman – other races, namely the Chinese, who allegedly continues to control the economy.

Malays are fed with this ideology even though they and non-Malays alike are struggling to make ends meet in an economy that is at the mercy of huge international corporations interested in wiping off clean family businesses in the name of free enterprise.

Chinese youth leaders continue to collaborate with Malay youth leaders in the business of sustaining this ideology of economic race-hate. The Malays wield the keris and the Chinese position themselves with Jackie Chan moves. Then they warn one another not to step beyond the imaginary boundary of who-controls-what in the magical mystical economic pie baked by neo- colonialist chefs.

Indian youth remain a silent reproduction of the economic system and will continue to be the ultra-marginalised. They will continue to be played up by their leaders interested in the sustenance of power and wealth even though the nation has progresses materially with fantastic highways and structures built by an Indian Malaysian, the works minister.

“Mind-numbing happiness”

The Malay mind continues to be bombarded with all the ingredients that make
it happy and numb – a televised grand wedding of a singer, the continuing saga of an old man who refuses to retire with wisdom and dignity, more shopping malls, more junk tabloid reading materials, more Astro channels, more boot camps to indoctrinate its youth, more signs and symbols of mental oppression that adorn the economic landscape, and more ways to massacre neurons in the brain.

The Malay political drama continues to be played up by old stories of warring factions cast in newer light, using better actors, and produced with better multimedia technology. The stories are now spun and told by the those who monopolise the dissemination of the neo-colonialist ideology.

Chinese youth continue to be played up by the idea that the Malays are in the universities because of privilege alone and therefore the latter are of lesser intelligence. This misconception borne out of anger is understandable – the deserving non-Malay youth are sidelined and victimised in the university selection process.

They are like ideological reproductions in an educational conveyor belt that produces human beings like batch-processors in a microchip industry owned by some foreign corporation.

Indian youth continue to be left behind in the process, after 43 years of the formation of multiracial Malaysia. Who speaks for them? Life continues to offer them the most unnecessary challenges and despair in which the economic system of lose-lose predominates.

“Critique our ideology”

We must critique our ideology, as the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas would propose. We must all – Malay, Chinese, Indian and native of this Independent Malaysia – teach others what continues to sicken/ail our nation
and why we still allow race-hate politicians and race-based political parties to survive.

We must in fact interrogate why we have come to an idiotic stage in our political consciousness – on why we have not evolved as efficient as our will to build taller buildings and bigger malls.

Our independence is an illusion. We are in fact allowing our nation to become a haven for rate-hate power elites to structure our lives at their whims and fancies in an economic system that allows the maximum exploitation by foreign investors operating in cohorts with local business-political elites.

We have developed a class of multi-cultural power elites who are masters of skimming off the nation’s wealth and skilled at playing the race card. We have allowed this pyramid scheme of corrupt practice to happen in sync with the capitalist economic design we adopt without much understanding how to trickle it down with morality and altruism.

The Malays need a cure for the idiocy brought by the ideology of post-colonial Malaya. A truly intelligent Malay would insist that any political leader who uses bankrupt race-based arguments to hold on a little power but a lot of wealth must be flushed down the sewer of colonial history. It simply is not a sensible, let alone fertile, argument any more if we are to share this living space called Malaysia.

The Chinese need to realise that they need to open up their mind to enter a dialogue of race-relations with other races, on the issue of building a truly democratic Malaysia that looks at other classes of people to be helped through philanthropy, rather than at race and ethnicity.

The Indians need to continue to throw out leaders who are insincere about helping them improve their lot. In 43 years, they have not made much progress in human dignity. Their rights as human beings continue to be abused in a nation that prides itself in making billions of Ringgit abroad through our oil-drilling activities .

Independence can only be achieved when we begin to engineer radical social changes, develop grassroots political consciousness on the issue of basic needs and human rights, elect sensible and stronger leaders regardless of race, democratise our educational institutions, teach our children tools of media analysis, deconstruct propaganda, make our Smart Schools benefit all, refuse to allow foreign nuclear submarines to patrol our waters, become a reading society more than one glued to the TV set, develop strong local governments that will resist state-sponsored environmental destruction, attend to the special needs of our at-risk youth and children, vote in a stronger opposition, and protect our cultural heritage from the covert and overt onslaught of brutal Americanism.

Only then will we begin to evolve as a truly independent and intelligent nation. Happy Merdeka.

Dr. Azly Rahman,
Educator & Adjunct Professor;
Foundations of Civilizations, Education, & Politics


*********


A SPECIAL NEW YEAR MESSAGE 2007
BY YB DATIN DR WAN AZIZAH WAN ISMAIL
PRESIDENT, PARTI KEADILAN RAKYAT (People's Justice Party)

Assalamu 'alaikum and Warmest Greetings

As the New Year dawns, we look forward to the 50th anniversary of Malaysia's Independence. The Golden Anniversary of Independence Day should be savoured by every citizen; there should be no individual and no group of people who is excluded from its celebration.

Each one of us should be proud that our nation has achieved 50 years of independence. However, the question arises as to whether people such as the residents of Berembang and Chubadak Villages are able to feel such pride, having been hounded out their homes although they are citizens of this country. Their rights were denied, their houses torn down in front of their eyes ¡V is this the way of a caring society? This question must be answered honestly by a government which has been given a mandate to govern and been entrusted with looking after the people's welfare.

Worse still, as we welcome the New Year, we are being regaled with threats related to the rise in road toll rates. With the people still reeling from the recent hike in the price of petrol, they are now being hit with a rise in toll rates by as much as 60%. This additional cost places a huge burden on the people. In addition, traders have been warned not to raise prices of their goods, whereas the basic laws of mathematics and of economics dictate that they will not be able to avoid doing so.

Let us therefore resolve to bring change for the people and for the nation in the coming year ¡V and indeed in the years that follow. Changes in terms of establishing the principles and practice of genuine democracy, of making the concept of equitable distribution of national wealth a reality, of restoring the dignity of each and every person, and of ensuring that justice is guaranteed for everyone. And let us work together to strengthen unity among all Malaysians.

For KeADILan the celebration of the New Year gives us renewed strength and firms our resolve in the continuing saga of our struggle. Let us work side by side to bring about changes which will foster and enable excellence in society and in the country. Let us make 2007 the starting point for creating a truly independent nation, of which every Malaysian will be really proud and which will hold its head high on the international stage.

Wishing you a Happy 2007.


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