Friday, June 01, 2007

Body blow to claim of tolerance

Baradan Kuppusamy
May 21, 07 11:45am

Malaysia's 11th hour cancellation of an international interfaith conference between Islam and Christianity is a major blow to the country's image as a tolerant multi-ethnic nation, opposition political leaders and civil society critics said.

Even government officials expressed shock at the sudden cancellation of the ‘Building Bridges' seminar which was set up in the wake of the Sept 11, 2001 aerial attacks on US cities.

Founded, supported and organised by the Anglican Church, the seminar, sixth in an annual series under the theme, ‘Humanity in Context: Christian and Muslim Perspectives’, brings together the finest minds in the Christian and Islamic worlds.

The seminar has come to be seen as an opportunity to discuss issues of mutual interest like the spiralling hate among communities, the damage wreaked by the US-led ‘War on Terror' and ways to promote inter-religious understanding and peace. Each year, it brings together senior scholars from both major faiths in either a Christian or a Muslim host country.

Qatar and Bosnia Herzegovina have hosted this prestigious event. Distinguished Muslim scholars and academicians such as the late Zaki Badawi, Mustafa Ceric, Ishtiyaq Ahmad Zilli, Mustansir Mir, Azyumardi Azra and Tariq Ramadan have all participated in previous dialogues.

This year's event was to have been held between May 7 and 11 in Kuala Lumpur but, one week before it was to begin, the government told the organisers that it "cannot support the conference because it was not opportune" to hold the seminar (in Malaysia) this year.

The conference was to coincide with the visit to Malaysia of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to consecrate a new bishop.

"The last minute cancellation makes a mockery of the government's claims of being a moderate Muslim administration. As a Muslim, I am embarrassed by the action of the Malaysian government," opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told IPS.

"There are many common issues and values that Muslims and Christians share. A dialogue can enable us to quell the tensions that arise from our differences. Islam has always enjoined Muslims to engage in dialogue with other religions, from the Abbasids in Baghdad to the Andalucians in Cordoba.''

Families torn apart

The Council of Churches of Malaysia also expressed shock at the decision which comes in the wake of rising tension between Muslims and non-Muslims over intrusion of Islamic Syariah law into secular areas.

Families have been torn apart, children taken away from parents and wives virtually abducted on the ground that one party is a Muslim and therefore not permitted to marry, live with or cohabit with persons of other religions.

In March Islamic officials forcibly separated a Hindu from his Muslim wife of 21 years, and their six children. He won custody of his children, but the couple was barred from living together because he is a Hindu and she a Muslim. The court however gave her "full visiting rights".

In January, a Muslim woman living with a Hindu as his wife, was arrested and sent for rehabilitation, separating her from her Hindu husband. Her baby daughter was also seized, and handed over to her Muslim mother.

This month, a Hindu truck driver Magendran Sababathy, 25, filed a suit alleging that Islamic authorities had illegally detained his Muslim wife. He said Islamic officials raided the couple's home on April 28 and took away his three-year old daughter telling him that his marriage under Hindu rites is illegal.

"All these cases are disturbing and reflect the rising Islamisation in the country, regardless of the price to national unity and interracial harmony," said Parliamentary Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang.

"The secular basis of the constitution is being eroded relentlessly. Many people beginning to feel helpless."

Under Syariah law anyone marrying a Muslim must convert to Islam and anyone born into a Muslim family cannot legally convert to another faith.

Rights activists say that interfaith dialogue is all the more urgent because of the frequency of such cases. However, the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, stampeded by strong opposition from conservative Muslims, has stopped a series of dialogues initiated last year by human rights activists grouped under a coalition called Article 11.

Civil society leaders now fear that opposition from conservative Muslims could be behind the reason why a government that initially supported the conference later pulled out.

The Times of London on May 11 quoted Canon Guy Wilkinson, the Archbishop's secretary for interfaith relations, as saying that some nine months had gone into organising the Malaysia conference.

"The situation (in Malaysia) is delicate. A whole series of inter-religious cases are in front of the constitutional court and awaiting judgment. The view was that it would be better not to have an international gathering of Muslims and Christians at the moment in that context," he said.

One potentially explosive case is that of a Muslim woman Azalina Jailani, who converted to Christianity. Renamed Lina Joy, she has filed an appeal to have the word ‘Islam’ removed from her identity card. She wants a declaration that Article 11 of the Federal Constitution gives the right to convert to another religion.

However Malays, invariably all Muslims, consider apostasy as a cardinal sin that merits the death sentence. Islamic clerics say if Malays are allowed to leave Islam it would open the floodgates.

"That would be the end of the Malay race," a prominent cleric said over national television recently.

Islam is the official state religion and Muslims are subject to a mix of Syariah and civil laws. Non-Muslims who make up about 40 percent of the population of 26 million are governed solely by civil law on all matters.

Blow to moderate Islam

In was under this complex background and rising inter-ethnic tensions that the conference was cancelled. Instead of lowering tension, a furious round of criticism has begun against Malaysia in the local and international media and on the Internet.

Under intense pressure, Abdullah backtracked but rejected speculation that the government had opposed the meeting because of religious sensitivities. He said the conference was only "postponed not cancelled".

While he suggested holding the conference in Malaysia at a later date, organisers are already looking for an alternative host.

The cancellation is a blow to Abdullah's own moderate brand of Islamic thought called Islam Hadhari or ‘civilisational Islam’ that he proclaimed in 2003 to keep the lid on rising orthodoxy which is feared is gaining ground within the Muslim majority.

Initially, a year ago, when organisers approached him, he was enthusiastic and saw it as the perfect platform to promote his Islam Hadhari, officials said. But events over the year have changed the Malay-Muslim perception of Christianity, of interfaith dialogue and of religious tolerance.

Civil society leaders, including moderate Muslims who had looked to Abdullah to show the way, now worry whether the divided between Muslim and others is now beyond repair.

Prominent Malaysian Christian pastor Hermen Shastri said: "We need to pursue interfaith dialogue to foster and build mutual respect and understanding between the world's religions."

Sisters in Islam, a Muslim feminist group, said it was time the government showed political will and uphold and safeguard the fundamental liberties of its citizens, including the freedom of religion as envisaged by the Quran, and as reflected in the Federal Constitution and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"The search for solutions to these challenges (religious divide) cannot be conducted in ways that violate the legitimate rights of all Malaysians," said Sisters in Islam.

"We also call on fellow Muslims to display the beauty, compassion, peace and wisdom of God's message for it is a disservice to Islam that we merely stand by and watch the agony of families torn apart."- IPS

From Malaysiakini


Anonymous said...

Education in Bolehland is a big joke. It is systematically being damaged, degraded, destroyed and impaired by the BN government ever since after Tunku. Why? So that the BN leaders kids can be comparatively better than common plebeians.

Why do you think they send their kids to overseas or private schools at a young age! They have no intention of sharing the rubbish education here period. Badawi like the big fool that he is blindly following it but christened it as his way. What joke!

Anonymous said...

The non-malays have heard this one before - If you think that Malaysia not good, please go out this country.

Umno has been brought up to think they are the prince of the land.

Every time they get cornered, Umno will tell the other race to go out where they belong. I think Umno must change their thinking or they will pull down the country to the middle age.

So far there is no Umno leader that can lead them to be modern 21st century citizens.

Rather Umno is anti this or anti that. There is no forward looking and thinking to break free perspective.

Malaysia developed nation on year 2020?

The problem with Malaysia ministers is that they are mostly underachievers academically!

That is the reason why they simply speak without logic and reasons. This is also the very reason that I admire Lim Kit Siang, Karpal Singh etc, who can debate intelligently with those monkeys who never bother to understand what is uttered.

Just compare the resume of Malaysia ministers with that from our southern neighbour! Then you will understand.

I know their prime minister has a first class honors in science from Cambridge if I am not mistaken. The rest of his cabinets are very highly qualified. Hence you don't hear nonsense from them.

For your information, some Malaysia ministers would not be at all qualified for even an assistant post!

Our country leaders, not necessary meaning the prime minister, but overall people in power, people of authority etc, have no self respect, no moral, no integrity, and most of no responsibility and accountability.

Let us not compare with other countries, as no countries have perfect leaders, but what they have is integrity.

When they do something wrong and they know it is wrong, nobody need to tell them to resign, they won't say our Malaysia usual line, "Nobody can resign me except the prime minister" - we should call this the ball-less line.

If you have integrity and honest enough, you should just resign.

This is why Malaysia is moving backward. With this kind of ministers who are not willing to tackle the root of the issue, but instead blaming others for exposing bad news and sweeping things under the carpet - what hope can you foresee for Malaysia in the future!

Perhaps we should have "Look Africa" policy, rather than "Look East" policy - since a lot of things are similar between Malaysia and African countries except oil.

Singapore has shown us that if the government plan properly and harness all the human talents and resources, a small country without much natural resources can be better than a big country with lots of natural resources.

We all started equal, RM1 = S$1, but see what happen now.

MSA = MAS and SIA. See the difference?

If we continue to ignore human talents and resources, by year 2020, the two countries will be even further apart!

Anonymous said...

In fact the Umno members brains are flat and empty. That is why they refuse to accept the fact that the world is flat which require playing field is being leveled.

Thus the discriminations and affirmative policies of Never Ending Policy will continue until the world ends and not until the world is flat!

We can only read the book (The World Is Flat) and dream about it but cannot practice and look the impact of it. It will never going to happen in Bodohland!

Anonymous said...

For the Chinese and Indian Malaysians, PAS is no doubt a bigger 'evil' because of the revolutionary changes they would bring to the country.

This despite the rampant corruption and abuse of human rights by the current BN regime.

The real question we should ask is, why have we (Malaysians) ended up in a situation where we have to choose between the lesser of two evils?

The Chinese and Indian Malaysians (as well as the Ibans, Kadazans and the rest) being the minorities, really can't do much.

The question should be posed to the malays instead. It is only when the malays decide to 'reject' the racist and feudalistic Umno as well as the religiously fanatic PAS - can a strong, meaningful alternative focusing on progressive and moderate agenda emerge.

As a Malaysian of Chinese descent, I will vote and support a political party which is multiracial. A party that seeks justice upholds the rule of law and a return to the sacredness of the constitution.

Many matured democracies have seen a change in government many times over. This is proof of a working and healthy democracy. But many Asian countries have not demonstrated this in that they have had the same political party ruling since their independence.

The 'ruler' mentality is very strong in the minds of Asians but it has bred corruption, nepotism and stifled progressive thoughts and fresh ideas for the development of the nation.

Often leaders stay on way past their shelf life, scheming and fighting tooth and nail to stay on in power.

It is my hope that Malaysia will be the first among Asian countries to demonstrate maturity in allowing an opposition party to take over the helm of government should the scenario warrant it.

Will there be smooth transition of power and can the security forces be counted on to ensure peace and harmony? We can only wait for the day.

Anonymous said...

Open communication or not does not make sense anymore - and we have to live in this Bolehland unless we got money and a chance to emigrate.

This is how they want the country to be rule and rot. Malaysians have given many comments on all this crap, but all remain unheard.

Sometimes I just felt that we are wasting our time putting up comments for a better Malaysia where the government is not prepared for and yet still dwell in denial.

In this Bolehland of denial, any effort to improve the country is considered unpatriotic and insult. There is no way it can change and that is the fact.

We only can change our own destiny and not this country by emigrating.

No wonder there are so many government-sponsored students (non-malays and malays) choose to remain overseas to work and live - to stay away from this Bolehland……….

You need globalisation to teach them a lesson - it won't be long and soon you will see the effect - in fact the rot has already started.

What you and Malaysians want is just a transparent, fair and accountable government to equip the country to face the globalisation challenge, and yet the government take it as a plot to discredit the country.

Whatever good deeds you fight for, they label you as unpatriotic, traitor, party agenda, nonsense and communist.

Hearing all this really breaks my heart and many Malaysians hearts.

Those contributing from their hearts are true, proud and courageous Malaysians - they are very concerned for the future of their motherland and the welfare of its ordinary people.

Anonymous said...

While major nations in the world build their future with successful education systems, Malaysia still cannot make up its mind up on whether schools are about nation-building or brain-building.

Our political leaders are without question, completely hopeless on this matter. And they are probably less bothered because their children are not to suffer. Plus, it helps them that most Malaysians have no opinion on education except on the teaching of mother tongues.

Vernacular schools in Malaysia are better than national schools in general, but in a general world they are still both lagging far behind.

Malaysians want to earn more and more and have more and more Indonesian maids in their homes and condominiums. But their children are slowly getting more and more dysfunctional in challenging the world.

So Malaysians do what Malaysians do best - pretend like there is no problem and repeat this senselessly in our media, till all of the constituents are convinced there is no problem.

Standards have to appear from the bottom to the top, without fear or favour. And when these teachers are in the schools, their promotion system has to be based on teaching skills, not politics. Ethnic-based promotions have to stop.

This is about political will. Politicians have to act more as national leaders and less as leaders of racial zealousness. It is paradoxical when the minister in charge is actually the leader of his party's youth wing which prides in being racist over the years.

No one sees the need of a national educational structure when no one believes that this is possible. Perhaps it is the politicians who will be need the schooling.

Anonymous said...

Obviously Singapore is also advancing much faster than Malaysia who is losing its best talents to Singapore. Malaysia's loss is Singapore's gain. In the end, as the Malaysia nation goes down the drain, it is the ordinary malays who suffer the most.

It is obviously time for the ordinary malays to get rid of the Umno thugs who is in reality robbing them of the kind of prosperity their Singaporean cousins are having.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese are not in control of the economy at all. Consider this:

Tenaga, Telekom, Proton, Petronas, Maybank, Genting accounts for more than 50% of the market capitalization of KLSE.

So basically malays already control more than 50% of the economy.

But problem is, only a few malays enjoy ownership of the economy and businesses while the rest are bleed dry. These people are millionaires and billionaires man. That is where the lies about the Chinese controlling the economy comes in, to keep themselves in that position.

So the ordinary malays are angry because they feel the Chinese stole their money. The Chinese and Indians and others are angry because they feel they are further discriminated on top of discrimination.

Non-malays on the other hand owned only 10% of such equity.

People like the Robert Kuok group were so pissed that the government pressure them to sell their business, they shifted their headquarter to Hong Kong. But when we want the world to see that one of the richest tycoons is from Malaysia, when we want fame, we said Robert Kuok is from Malaysia, not knowing that he has long gone.

What minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew has said is absolutely true. It is a simple fact. The Chinese and Indians have been marginalised since 1957, so what is new?

While the Chinese have been economically strong, the Indians have been lagging behind, simply by being a minority race in Malaysia and by being led by a complete moron for the last three decades. What is Najib so upset about?

Prove your worth as a race that can stand on theirs own two feet and succeed and you will have our respect. Until then, please just stop making a complete idiot of yourself and shut your gap.

This goes for the entire Malaysia cabinet. You are all a disgrace and a bunch of corrupt hypocrites! Malaysia would have been much better off if it had remained a British colony. Only then would there have been equality.

The malays are fall into the trap of other Umno malays should treat like shit in Malaysia. When we demand over basic rights, they always like to quote Singapore malays on not holding public position……….Please la, Singapore practise the real meritocracy, not the fake one like Malaysia.

Do Singapore systematically marginalised the malays there, the answer is definitely no, do Singapore practise discrimination on education or limited their entry to university, do Singapore limited the critical field business license to the malays, do Singapore force the Singapore malays sold off their business to the Singapore Chinese, the answer is again a big NO.

And this make Singapore malays stand high when compare to Malaysia malays.

What make the Malaysian Chinese not happy is, we already being discriminated by our home country, when anything go wrong in Umno or in malay community, the Malaysian Chinese will be the target - for shooting or divert the attention to their own problems.

Have you wondered why there are fewer Indians than malays in the general population in Singapore, that there are many more Indians than malays in high positions in politics, medicine, law, business, and many other fields that require talent and hard work in Singapore!

In Malaysia, there are tongkat or crutches available, but in meritocratic Singapore, even the smaller minority Indians outperform the bigger minority malays.

To Chinese, education is the most important thing to their next generation, so don't ask me why Chinese insist to have own stream of education until today.

To tell you frankly, I feel much comfortable when I move to UK, after few years I know they will offer me citizenship being a professional here. And as far as I know, there isn't a classification on the citizenship, I will get equal treatment as others fairly.

Anonymous said...

I have the same thoughts. The Islamic peoples, especially the malays, think they are somehow superior because they don't eat pork.

Or reverse, they think the Chinese and other pork eating peoples such as the Americans, Europeans, Japanese etc, are filthy because they eat pork. But the truth is the pork eating peoples are much healthier, wealthier, and overall superior.

The life expectancy of the Japanese is the highest in the world and the Japanese peoples eat a lot of pork. In fact, judging by the life expectancy, the Islamic peoples have the shortest expectancy or the most inferior level of living standard. If this means that they are inferior, then they certainly are.

Maybe as suggested, the malays should copy the Chinese and start eating pork to improve themselves overall. Obviously, not eating pork hasn't helped them to advance.

Anonymous said...

Our Malaysia BN government is apartheid, corrupted and racist. Decisions are made for a few and a specific group and not for the masses. Period.

40 years ago Singapore left Malaysia. A little red dot with no natural resources has become a country which enables its citizens to average a per capita income six times that of Malaysia, based on foreign exchange rate.

The success story was made possible because the civil servants of Singapore are not corrupted, the ministers are not corrupted, and also the police are not corrupted.

Ministers in Malaysia may be paid RM300000 a year, but they live in palatial dwellings. Apparently, the ministers here only do part time job for their positions, and spend the rest of the time doing business. Is there no rule to prohibit minister doing business?

If there is, then it is easy enough to check whether their salaries and allowances could provide them the wealth and lifestyle. If not, then there is clear evidence of moonlighting.

Even though Malaysia ministers are paid maybe one-sixth that of their Singapore counterparts, Malaysia ministers are really Boleh in accumulating wealth. Either they earn it themselves, or they have especially gifted siblings or off-springs.

Without substantial inheritance to start with, there are many siblings and off-springs of past and current ministers who have accumulated hundreds of millions or billions in matter of years.

When ministers have such rich relatives, they are naturally surprised that price increase in ringgit and sen should arouse those "uncalled for reactions" such as what happened last time. The incident was a threat to the "Semuanya ok" image of Malaysia and had to be dealt with sternly.

If only Malaysia had uncorruptable ministers, then with our natural resources we should have at least the same level of per capita income as Singapore. If only the people subscribed to Malaysian Malaysia back then, we will not have to be so concerned about the price increase now.

Due to poor financial management of previous leader, the old man, the current government is running in deficit, thus the increase and change lifestyle. Most of the thing we buy today is not value for money.

A crooked people will vote for government that build crooked bridge. So as a corrupted people will vote for corrupted government. It is democracy, incompetence government reflects its incapable people. Wake up, Malaysians.

Most of government's subsidies were channeled back to support those Ali Babas, corporate bailouts for MAS and Proton, cronies, lazy-to-work entrepreneurs, university students with few As, and etc.

What is the use of saving government subsidies on oil? So that Umno leaders can buy more luxury cars and feed their cronies?

This is the corrupted lifestyle of BN politicians and their cronies. They should change their lifestyle first before asking the people to change! They are doing unimaginable damage to this country and its future through their arrogance, corruption, and sheer incompetence!

50 years is enough because we do not choose you to tell us "change our lifestyle". The BN government is not admitting its mistake in mismanagement of public fund.

Najib and all Umno leaders are living in a different world altogether. They do not have the slightest inkling about the pains the people have to bear. They are filthy rich. Without empathy, how can the leaders think of the sufferings of the people!

Suffice to say, the affluent are much too detached from the realities of ordinary people to empathise with the struggles of daily living and therefore, make nonsensical comments about a paradise not known to many simple Malaysians.

How many more years do we have to put up with this shitty thing call BN. Gosh……….50 years is damn long, enough is enough.

Yes, let us change lifestyle once and for all by changing the government - that make perfect sense.

Andrew said...

I guess that the Malay leaders are faced with a dilemma. They have to pander to their constituency, the hoi polloi who seem to think that the preferential status would somehow benefit them economically but don’t realize that it only benefits the elite Umnoputras. At the same time, they also realize that to be competitive, this crutch will have to be removed. But how? Without losing the election?

But economic power and the loss of the spectre of the non-Muslim economic threat with the BN government the upholding bumi rights is a dangerous thing. Which leads to education and the perception of the people.

The educational dilemma is the same. To create a thinking and innovative breed of students is to open the government and its policies to questioning. It’s an oxymoron to have smart and obedient students when it comes to politics. And so the dilemma persists.

It looks to be that fear is the main problem. The fear of those in power of losing it. The fear of the Umnoputras of losing economic clout. The fear of the Muslims of a mass wave of apostasy. The fear of the non-Muslims of Islamization. We fear each other now and the ‘other’ has become an enemy. In the days of the Tunku, the leaders of the various component parties used to stay together and shared a genuine friendship. Not anymore. And this is symptomatic of the general state of race relations today, among the people as well.

We need to get over this fear and look at the world around us. As the Chinese and Indian economic Goliaths raise their shadow over the region, we are still fighting between their feet, not realizing the threat above is, too myopic and engrossed in our petty struggles.

We Malays need to have their self confidence restored. The Muslims need to have their self confidence restored. They need to believe in themselves and, should they find themselves lacking, to correct themselves. Using the threat of May 13th is not the way to establish the superiority, the false superiority, of their race. It’s a jaguh kampong mentality. Using the law to keep someone Muslim is also seriously misguided. Islam, if it is great and peaceful, should be allowed to contend and stand on its own merits and gain converts by persuasion.

Unless this happens, our own myopia and internal squabbles will finish us off before the Chinese and Indians do.