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Correcting the IGP

ARSONISTS attacked eight churches
Musa Hassan (Pic by Ridzuan Aziz / Wiki
between 8 and 11 Jan 2010 all over Malaysia — something unheard of in the country’s history. And yet, on 9 Jan, Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Musa Hassan advised churches to tighten security at their premises because there were not enough police officers to guard them.

On 11 Jan, 130 Muslim non-governmental organisations volunteered to work alongside voluntary corp Rela to prevent further attacks. Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia (PPIM) executive secretary Datuk Nadzim Johan said, “We wouldn’t want our Christian brothers to be in danger. This is an offer of peace and goodwill.”

Yet, PPIM’s 2 Jan press statement “strongly objected” the High Court decision to allow Catholic publication Herald to use the word “Allah”. PPIM said it was worried the decision would “spark chaos in the country due to the sentiments of Muslims who were sensitive with issues that touched on their faith”.

What is the picture that emerges after we put together the IGP’s stand and the stand taken by these Muslim NGOs? Firstly, our official law enforcers have abdicated responsibility in a moment of crisis, the moment law enforcement is urgently required. Secondly, this state-created vacuum has been filled up by special interest groups. In other words, the very people steadfast against Christians in Malaysia exercising freedom of religion are promising to “protect” them.

It could well be that the Muslim NGOs have noble intentions and might guard churches effectively. But this doesn’t change the fact that the state has inadvertently given the green light to vigilantes to take the law into their own hands, even if this is framed as a neighbourhood watch-like effort.

Seriously, how hard would it have been for Musa to have said, “The police force is committed to upholding the law and protecting those who are most vulnerable to attacks in these difficult times”?

In denial?

Perhaps there is just a sense of incredulity in the air — church burnings are alien to Malaysia, supposedly an oasis of diversity as per the government’s oft-repeated 1Malaysia slogan. And after all, didn’t the first prime minister of Malaya and then Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, say that we would be “forever a sovereign democratic and independent state founded upon the principle of liberty and justice”?

Tunku Abdul Rahman (Public domain)
But just because Tunku promised us a diverse and peaceful nation doesn’t mean we might not go down the path of sectarianism and violence. After all, the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, also said to its Constituent Assembly on 11 Aug 1947: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

But in August 2009, a Muslim mob entered a village in Gojra, Punjab, and torched Christian houses there. The violence erupted because of unconfirmed rumours that Christians had desecrated the Quran. Eight Christians were killed. Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti himself visited Gojra after the violence, and accused the police of negligence even after the government had asked for Christian minorities to be protected. Then in September 2009, a Muslim mob set fire to a church in Sambrial, again due to unconfirmed reports of desecration of the Quran by Christians.

What happened in the space of 62 years in modern Pakistan’s history? First of all, the country’s constitution was abrogated after a military coup in 1958, during which General Ayub Khan assumed presidency. Pakistan returned briefly to democratic rule in the 1970s when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became president. But he was then deposed by General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq in yet another military coup in 1977.

Zia then introduced a wave of Islamisation measures, including legislation outlawing blasphemy subsequently used to target Christians and Ahmadiyah. Also introduced was the Zina Ordinance, which introduced lashing and stoning as punishments for adultery. At the same time, Zia was a US ally and fought a proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Much of the violence against Christians in Pakistan has since stemmed from both legal and extra-legal attitudes towards the crime of “blasphemy”. For example, in May 1993, Christians Salamat Masih, 12, Manzoor Masih, 37, and Rehmat Masih, 42, were charged with writing derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad on a mosque wall in Gujranwala. The three were actually illiterate. In April 1994, after their court hearing, they were sprayed with bullets from individuals riding on two motorbikes. Manzoor died almost instantly.

In February 1995, Lahore High Court Judge Arif Iqbal Hussain Bhatti threw out the prosecution’s case and acquitted Salamat and Rehmat. In October 1997, the same judge was shot to death in his office. To date, his killer and Manzoor’s killers have not been brought to justice. Salamat and Rehmat have since gone into exile.

Only words

Demonstrators against the “Allah” ruling, at the National Mosque on 8 Jan

What the example of Pakistan demonstrates is this: proclamations of peace and respect for diversity become meaningless if the state abdicates its role to uphold peace and diversity. And the state can abdicate its responsibility in many ways. The executive might decide to disregard the constitution, or allow unelected institutions such as the police and army to abuse their powers, or refuse to protect and respect the judiciary’s independence.

True, extremism and bigotry among certain sectors will always be a problem. But the nature of the public is that there will always be a diversity of views and beliefs. Take the Muslim NGOs who protested against the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims after Friday prayers on 8 Jan. The NGOs claimed to represent “Islam” in all its glory, and yet the demonstrations were not well-attended even by fellow Friday-prayer congregants.

We need to hold the right individuals and institutions accountable. At this juncture, we must ask the IGP what exactly he means when he says the police are unable to ensure the security of churches in Malaysia.

We must tell him that his explanation is unacceptable to peace-loving citizens in a “sovereign democratic and independent state founded upon the principle of liberty and justice”. And we must make sure he understands that Malaysia should learn from the experiences of countries like Pakistan and not repeat their mistakes. This can easily be done — after all, he has given us his mobile phone number.

For related stories, see In the Spotlight: Political Islam

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12 Responses to “Correcting the IGP”

  1. Ashraf says:

    I completely agree that with your point, and two examples of ‘Muslim’ states abdicating its role. But as a Muslim who agrees to this, which is also shared by many, as you said [the protests] not attended by fellow congregants, it pains to see that every other example of state ‘failure’ in the mass media is always another Muslim country when it is not the case.

    In India, thousands of Muslims died and that was only few years back. The same thing happened in South Thailand. How about Catherine the Great’s Russia abdicating its role in Crimea and Kazan Khanate? There are countless examples of state abuse in the name of religion if you care to look a bit further.

    I have accepted the fact that we have a failed state, but I do hope that ‘failed’ journalism has not descended upon us.

    Editor’s note: Of course you are right – Muslims do not have the monopoly on failed states. Take the military junta in Myanmar, for example. However, the parallel that needed to be drawn in this particular analysis was between incidences of church burnings, and the role of the state in the matter. The experiences of Pakistan are therefore instructive.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

  2. Farouq Omaro says:

    Dear Ashraf,

    Yes, but do not forget that when it comes to religious freedom, there are no countries which systematically outlaw Islam or any of its practices. You might say in France veils are banned in universities, but then again it is not banned elsewhere. You might say in Switzerland, mosque minarets have been objected to, but there are no laws against spreading Islam among Christians there. You might say in many European nations and the United States, the Azan is not allowed to be projected through loudspeakers, but using loudspeakers has never traditionally been part of Islam, it is a recent development.

    The truth here is that in modern times, there is no single country in the world where Islam is curtailed, its propagation is banned, its followers are persecuted for their belief in the religion or its practices infringed upon. But the same cannot be said of other religions in Islamic countries. See persecution of Bahais and Christians in Egypt, persecution of Hindus and Christians in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and not to mention the curbing of propagation of non-Islamic religions in most Muslim countries. Why? What message is this sending to non-Muslims?

  3. PH Chin says:

    The acid test for any government that claims to be fair and just to itss people is whether the right of the minority are being fervently protected.

    Sad to say, I don’t see that it happens in this beloved nation.

  4. Ben Nordin says:

    Actually, thus far, the governing political leaders and their ilk have never disappointed me. I’ve always expected them to do something idiotic. And they have. In spades.

    The word Allah has always been used by Arabic speaking people of the Abrahamic faiths (Jews, Christians and Muslims) since centuries ago. The word comes from the definitive article ‘Al’ meaning ‘the’ and ‘Ilah’ meaning ‘God’. Even the respected Arabic speaking PAS leaders agreed with the court’s decision.

    And guess what happened?

    A handful of people, obviously through sheer ignorance and arrogance, objected to it. And these handful of people are the kind that almost always associate race with religion and don’t really understand Arabic except to recite the verses of Al Quran, aided by another minority who group, as it is, seated at the helm of the government.

    And you know what is even more deafening? The sounds of the so-called religious leaders and imams working for the ruling government where they should be working for God.

    Their silence has been indeed deafening.

  5. The state is composed of the people put in their positions by the people by democratic and fair means or through devious and militaristic means. When the state fails to uphold its responsibilities and its duties, it is the fundamental right and duty of the people to remove such people from the places they were thrust upon. The state rules or governs by the will of the people. If any organ of the state fails then the state fails or it should have the rotten portion amputated to save the state and the people. Of course, that is daydreaming in Malaysia.

  6. churches says:

    Dear editor, if you care to look further, there are more churches burnt in Indonesia than you combined burnt churches in Malaysia and Pakistan, please adjust your perspective. Do not conveniently become a lap dog for The Nut Graph. Be a responsible journalist, thank you.

    Editor’s note: Surely the fact that *any* houses of worship are attacked (in this case the places of worship of a minority group) is the issue. Trying to make this a numbers game is misleading, and an illogical way of addressing what is basically an issue of civil rights and people’s safety.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

  7. Azli Othman says:

    UMNO is a racist party and now we wonder if it is a terrorist organisation as well. The M’sian police is a laughing stock … how can it provide security in the country when it can’t even protect the churches in a state. You are right, we have state-sanctioned terrorism against minorities in Malaysia.

  8. Ashraf says:

    I believe the right angle of analysis of the current situation is that the Malay majority behavior is not far off, in fact is in parallel with countless behaviors of ruling majorities recorded in history, which is the indirect oppression of minorities by systematically desecrating religious symbols, which include place of worship.

    And Farouq Omaro, it is not what message is this sending to non-Muslims, but rather what message does this send to minorities? If you look at history, 11th century Hungary, King Coloman passed a law that coerced Muslims to eat pork, go to church, intermarry and forbid celebrating Friday. Only 200 years ago, mosques were destroyed in Crimea, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece. A Muslim contemporary in the 11th and 19th century would say what message is this sending to Muslims? There are countless other examples, persecution of Jews by majority Spanish and the Holocaust, [and] persecution of early Christians by majority Jews.

    And the end to all this is very telling, there are virtually no Muslims in many Balkan nations, also no Jews after inquisition. So is Malaysia heading that way? And is this what the current leader wants? One thing I like is that the question of migration is very well-covered in other TNG articles.

  9. Habib RAK says:

    Shanon Shah’s view is acceptable to me. Shanon is making a specific point and have cited an applicable comparison. This IGP is a total failure for Malaysia. Even if all other allegations against him are hearsay, just look at the ogoing trial notes of Rosli Dahlan and previously on his role in Anwar’s sodomy case. He is not fit to be an IGP and yet he is kept there despite past retirement to serve a selfish purpose. To Farouq Omaro, I don’t condone religious persecution by any country. Unfortunately, it is not only by the Islamic countries. I’m just wondering how Israel escaped your list and also China’s persecution of the Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Israel’s persecution of Muslims is the most wanton act of cruelty of all time and they are tacitly supported by USA and many European countries. All the same, I condemn all forms of persecution regardless of race or religion or anything for that matter.

    Editor’s note: Actually, Israel’s policies also target Arabs who are Christians, not just Muslims.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

  10. steve says:

    With reference to the first post by Ashraf, I do not know of what happened in India a few years back, but in South Thailand, we hear of news reports of Muslim terrorists killing holy Buddhists monks and decapitating their heads. Don’t say this is a victimisation of the Muslims there and abuse of power by the Thai government.

  11. What is That says:

    Notice how Umno youth and other hardcore Umno [division] against the use of “Allah” never ever refers to the Qur’an. Let me remind every Malaysian: the Qu’ran is the ultimate authority on Islam, NOT Jakim, NOT Mahathir or Iqbar or whatever his name is.

  12. pastor carey says:

    Are there any more nuts in the police and Umno?

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