Categorised | Letters to the Editor

Civil dialogue necessary for a civil society

WHILE investigations into the recent attacks on churches are ongoing, we shouldn’t point fingers willy-nilly and accuse Umno or the government as being the culprit behind these arsons. But let’s take a step back to think about how we have reached a point where Malaysians burn the places of worship of another.

A friend of mine wrote on Twitter: “… the [Malaysian] government has to consider [what it is] doing wrong if its own citizens can bomb churches in their own country.” Indeed, in the eyes of the world, we have been seen as a multireligious, multicultural country, where everybody lives harmoniously amid difference in culture and beliefs.

But for too long, there have been too many things “too sensitive” to be discussed, especially where religion and race are concerned.

As a young adult, my first experience with “too sensitive” was the Bar Council forum on religious conversion in 2008. The forum had to be stopped early because of threats by protesters to forcefully storm in to stop the forum.

An opportunity for dialogue on an issue that concerns both Muslims and non-Muslims had to be closed because some people decided that information was too powerful and too much to handle.

This was most unfortunate as dialogues and debates are necessary for a society to grow and mature. The absence of civil dialogue and debate allows room for misunderstanding, prejudice, and fear of one another, and allows politicians to use our fears and ignorance against us.

But are we ready for such dialogue to take place? When I read the news that the government would hold interfaith dialogues to resolve differences in views, I couldn’t help but feel cynical. Would this end up like the Interfaith Commission Initiative?

It will take the government a lot of political will to push for open discussion. Civil dialogue has to happen in a civil society, even if it forces some people out of their comfort zones. Maybe this should be a Key Performance Indicator for unity in our country?

11 Jan 2010

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