‘Our leaders cannot afford to keep silent on religious, racial intolerance’

Baru Bian

State Parti Keadilan Rakyat chairman and Ba Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian says that Malaysian leaders should not and cannot keep silent over several recent disturbing incidents and events that show religious and racial intolerance is rising to alarming levels. In a press release dated Sept 29, 2017, he calls for strong leadership and a decisive stand from the government in these matters. Otherwise, it will be up to citizens to make their feelings known through the ballot box.

 

LEADERS MUST STAND AGAINST INTOLERANCE IN MALAYSIA

I wish to add my voice to the rational voices of Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, Dennis Ignatius and the Rev Justin Wan in response to several disturbing incidents or events in West Malaysia recently.

The recent incident of the Muslim-only laundrette in Muar, Johor is another troubling sign of a country in which religious and racial intolerance is rising to alarming levels. People like the owner of the laundrette are emboldened to act in such a way purely because the government has never taken any action against similar incidents in the past, and to make matters worse, the Johor Islamic Council advisor and Johor mufti supported his actions. It looks like this is the tip of the iceberg, with another Muslim-only laundrette being reported in Perlis.


The telling thing about the state of the leadership of this country is that there were very few voices against this discriminatory practice, among the few who spoke up being (Dato’ Seri Mohamed) Nazir Razak, the Perlis mufti (Datuk) Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin and Amanah vice-president Hasanuddin Mohd Yunus. Where was the voice of the Prime Minister who is supposed to lead this nation, and who boasts to the overseas community about Malaysia being a model country of moderation? His squeak was only heard after the royal telling off by the Sultan of Johor, who did not mince his words, saying the owner’s thinking was ‘sick’. Taking the cue from the Sultan, the PM could only offer his usual hollow platitudes about the ‘country’s desire to nurture a united, harmonious, moderate and tolerant society’. It has not escaped notice that he did not make a stand before the Sultan did, and this is yet another sign of his lack of leadership qualities and moral courage.

Other past incidences have been similarly badly handled. The ‘Allah’ issue, for example. Anwar Ibrahim and the late (Datuk) Nik Aziz (Nik Mat) made their stand very clear, that the word did not belong to the Muslim community. The Prime Minister and his minions however, made up some fatuous guidelines to placate Sarawakians and Sabahans, and yet the harassment of Christians continues.

The persistent pestering of (Selangor State Legislative Assembly Speaker and Subang Jaya assemblywoman) Hannah Yeoh by Muslim groups would stop if those in positions of authority and power would take a strong and unequivocal stand against such harassment. By keeping silent, they are condoning the unreasonable and hateful behaviour of these extremist groups. When I first knew of the harassment of Hannah by these extremists, I was concerned and sent Hannah my prayers. Dennis Ignatius is spot on in his analysis of the situation and his point about Christian phraseology being prone to being misunderstood. The need to be judicious about media postings is undeniable. In the same vein of his observation, it will not be surprising if one day, those extremists will call for the ban of our old hymns such as ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ and ‘Stand Up Stand Up for Jesus’.

The cancellation of the beer event in KL is also an indication of the slide towards intolerance and extremism, made worse by the fact that the authorities offered a variety of reasons for the cancellation after the fact, while the initial reason given was that PAS had objected to the festival, saying that it was immoral, could lead to ‘unIslamic acts such as sex outside marriage, criminal activity and even rape’ and turn Malaysia into the ‘largest vice centre in Asia’. These are spurious reasons and for DBKL to make their decision based on them is proof of the government pandering to extremist groups and their religious beliefs. This is racial and religious bigotry given tacit support by the authorities. The festival had been held at least twice before with no untoward incidents, and this cancellation has not only cost a huge loss of revenue to the organisers and the country, it has further damaged our image internationally.

Unsurprisingly, a few days after the cancellation, the police stepped in to explain that the reason for the cancellation was because of a security risk and that extremists were planning a terror attack on the event. This ever-evolving excuse game played by the authorities has become an accepted scenario and nobody bats an eyelid when this happens. It appears that only in Malaysia does the government cancel events for fear of terror attacks, and even then, these cancellations are selectively imposed. It is the job of the police to keep all these events safe. By recommending events be cancelled, the authorities are not only playing into the hands of these extremists and giving them unwarranted power, they are also taking the easy way out of their duties. What about standing up to these extremists and showing them that we cannot be cowed?

Recently, there has been news of a vigilante group in Flora Damansara issuing warnings and making demands on other communities, and video clips of a group of Muslim men shouting abuse and threatening some Indians at a temple.

Then there is the issue with dress codes. The case of the man being threatened with a fine for wearing shorts to play futsal in Kelantan is just unbelievable. And only today, there was another uproar on social media when a professional lady was denied entry into DBKL by a security guard even though she was smartly and decently dressed. We are turning into a country that places more importance on outward appearances – on form instead of substance. Moral policing and imposing religious belief on others is unacceptable in a progressive and moderate country, any yet, it is happening more and more in Malaysia.

Even as Saudi Arabia is showing signs of liberalisation in the recent move to allow women to drive, Malaysian society continues to regress with all these muftis and ulamas making up rules and laws never heard of before. The Malaysia of the 60’s and 70’s was one where life was easy, light and fun for all the races in the community. Today, there is suspicion and distrust, and it appears that the qualities that made a good Muslim in those days are no longer good enough now. There are so many impositions not only on the Muslims, but non-Muslims are also being told to modify their lifestyles and behaviour in order to help the Muslims be good Muslims by removing all forms of temptation from their surroundings.

The reknowned Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol who was recently detained in Malaysia said it best when he wrote about his experience in Malaysia: ‘By policing religion, the authorities are not really protecting it. They are only enfeebling their societies, raising hypocrites and causing many people to lose their faith in or respect for Islam.’ (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/28/opinion/mustafa-akyol-detention-malaysia.html?mcubz=1)

I fully agree with Rev Justin Wan that these events point to the creeping Islamisation of Malaysia, and Sarawakians view this development with much anxiety and disquiet. I must applaud Minister (of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Datuk) Abdul Karim (Rahman) Hamzah for the stand he took that Sarawak will have no issue with holding Oktoberfest and I urge more leaders to take this sensible and rational view.

Sarawak and Sabah have many non-Muslims and our festivals such as Gawai and Keamaatan involve alcohol such as tuak. As far as I know, these celebrations have not brought about any of those problems that PAS is so concerned about. They are an integral part of our culture and identity, and we must be vigilant to protect them from the creeping influence of the moral and religious policing that is happening in West Malaysia. Will we be told one day that Gawai celebrations must be stopped in order not to offend the Muslim sensibilities?

Not only should we be worried about our lifestyle here, we should be concerned about our friends and family members who may be living or studying in West Malaysia and are subject to this religious and moral policing. Sarawakians must speak up and reject these elements which were not present when our forefathers agreed to join in the federation of Malaysia. They had envisaged a secular Malaysia, not on an Islamic Malaysia, which these extremist groups and even government bodies are trying to turn this country into.

We need our leaders to show by example that Malaysia still has the spirit of acceptance and harmonious co-existence that was evident in the early days. I believe that this is what most Malaysians wish for, but the majority do not dare to speak up, for fear of being labelled unIslamic or being targeted by extremist groups. Our leaders must follow the example shown by the Sultan of Johor, and emphatically reject the extremist elements, and discriminatory and bigoted practices that are creeping into our society.

Sadly, instead of resounding support from the government leaders and other royal houses, the positive responses have mainly been from members of the public. In the absence of a decisive stance and direction from the current government, it is up to the citizens to make their feelings known through the ballot box,

This country is losing our most valuable and intangible asset – the free and easy mixing of the people, and the freedom to enjoy our lives without hindrance from racial and religious bigots whether they be individuals, NGOs, government bodies or Islamic authorities. As said by the Coalition on Plan of Action for Malaysia (GBM), ‘Malaysians need to think hard where this country is going’. The longer we wait to take action, the more difficult it will be to undo the damage done to the country.

Baru Bian
Chairman, KEADILAN Sarawak / ADUN N81 Ba’ Kelalan

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