Categorised | Columns

The price of speaking up


(Pic by circo de invierno @ Flickr)

CONSIDER this. Despite the available evidence of Al Islam‘s unethical undercover report in which the magazine’s Muslim journalist spat out the holy communion to photograph, no action is going to be taken. The Attorney-General’s Chambers decided this despite the police reports and a memorandum lodged by Catholics about the insensitive treatment of a holy sacrament in Christianity.

Then consider this. Because some Muslims perceive that Islam is being challenged by a non-Muslim journalist, English-language daily The Star could potentially lose its publishing permit. At the same time, because some Muslim groups have taken offence at a statement by Sisters in Islam (SIS), the Muslim women’s group will likely be investigated under Section 298A of the Penal Code for causing disharmony and disunity on grounds of religion.

What exactly do these developments tell us about the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration’s idea of justice and fairness? And how can citizens make sense of how our government is responding to these issues?

Muslim “sensitivities” paramount

It’s clear that when it comes to defending a particular faith community’s sensitivities, Muslim sensitivities trump all others. And because the majority of Muslims in Malaysia are racially categorised as Malay, it would be logical to surmise that the BN government is only interested in defending Malay-Muslim Malaysians’ rights.

Other faith communities, mostly comprising the other races, will just have to contend with being second-class citizens who will not be accorded the same protection as the majority.


Al-Islam magazine containing the
offensive article
Actually, the state shouldn’t even be in the business of defending those who have been personally offended by the views or actions of others. Indeed, Al Islam‘s offence was unethical journalism and acting in ways which were un-Islamic despite its pretext of acting in the ummah’s interest. Hardly a crime against an individual or the state. No, the state should not be in the business of penalising offensive actions or words.

But since the state has decided to be the guardian of public sensitivities through various legal provisions, it needs to demonstrate that it will treat all citizens and their complaints fairly and equally.

By not doing so, the BN administration, now under Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s leadership, is clearly proving that it is incapable of treating all citizens with equality. And that if you’re not a Malay-Muslim in Malaysia, there are no guarantees that the state will do right by you.

How else would we be able to make sense of why the administration will not act on addressing Catholics’ hurt feelings, but will immediately snap to action when some Muslims’ sensitivities are affected?

Price to pay

There is another lesson to be learnt from what has happened recently. If one speaks up for justice and compassion in Malaysia, there is a strong likelihood that there will be a penalty to pay. More troublingly, it is the state that will ensure a price is exacted against citizens who speak up against injustice.


Marina Mahathir (Courtesy of
Marina Mahathir)
What exactly was The Star‘s managing editor P Gunasegaram‘s crime when he appealed for compassion in the name of religion in his 19 Feb 2010 column titled Persuasion, not compulsion?

Why was The Star made to feel so threatened by the state that it felt compelled to remove Gunasegaram’s column from its online version, issue a public apology, and censor long-time columnist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir?

Sure, at least five police reports have been lodged against The Star, including by the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS). But what crime was committed that the daily should be given a show-cause letter by the Home Ministry? And why is it a crime for a non-Muslim to reasonably appeal for justice and compassion in the name of Islam? How does doing that denigrate and undermine Islam? How can it even be offensive to Muslim sensibilities when Islam preaches justice, peace, compassion and fairness?

To be sure, the argument used by these complainants — that no non-Muslim should speak up about the administration of Islam in Malaysia — is actually just a red herring. Because SIS, too, hasn’t been spared from the wrath of those who have been “offended” by the organisation’s statement condemning the clandestine caning of three Muslim women for “illicit sex”.


SIS logo
And what was SIS’s crime? Seems like it was that SIS spoke out against the state’s use of Islam to justify the cruel and inhumane punishment of Muslim women for a private sin the state should have no business policing. Its crime was that it was courageous enough to speak up against abuse of power in the interest of justice and compassion.

So what can we conclude? It’s not about whether one is Muslim or non-Muslim. Anyone, regardless of faith, who dares to challenge the state’s interpretation of Islam will be threatened and punished until they back down.

Really, we shouldn’t be too surprised that the BN administration is doing this. After more than 50 years of BN rule, there are more than enough examples of how the government will crack down on those who speak up for truth and justice. From arrests under the Internal Security Act and charges under the Sedition Act to the closure of newspapers including The Star during 1987′s Operasi Lalang, the BN is a government that will be neither challenged nor held accountable.

Hence, the use of Islam and the introduction of the notion that Malaysia is an “Islamic state” is really just another way to stifle challenges and attempts at holding state power accountable. After all, God’s laws, unlike human-made laws, are sacrosanct and cannot ever be challenged. How convenient, no?

This, then, is what our current government is all about. My question is, do we really want more of the same?


Jacqueline Ann Surin wishes more citizens, newspapers and organisations would stop allowing state and non-state actors from bullying us into submitting to injustice and violence. She believes that standing up to bullies is the best way to stop them from getting their way.

See also: Who speaks for Islam?

Read previous Shape of a Pocket columns

The Nut Graph needs your support
Please take our five-minute reader survey

Post to Twitter Post to Google Buzz Post to Delicious Post to Digg Post to Facebook Post to StumbleUpon

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

22 Responses to “The price of speaking up”

  1. For the people says:

    DARK DAYS FOR JUSTICE

    It shows what happens when politicians play the race and religion cards to keep themselves in power. It is time for the people to stand up and fight for justice.

  2. zark says:

    “Other faith communities, mostly comprising the other races, will just have to contend with being second-class citizens who will not be accorded the same protection as the majority.”

    This statement is warped because in reality, it is actually the Muslims who are being discriminated in this country and not those who practise other religions.

    Under the federal / state religious departments, there exist extensive mechanisms to implement the syariah, including a separate court system, fulltime prosecutors, raiding parties and not to mention vigilante groups.

    So while Muslims risk being humiliated and punished through fines and whipping etc, the non-Muslims are free to be in the proximity of a person of the opposite sex in an enclosed space, indulge in extra marital sexual relations, booze, gamble, and pig out at lunch during Ramadhan…

    So who’s second class?

    To be fair, the syariah should apply to all Malaysians regardless of race, colour or their religion…

  3. enlightened says:

    There is nothing Muslim about their actions, they want to win over 60% of the Malay [Malaysian] electorate for their votes only.

    There is more to it than meets the eye. They caned women for sex sins for the first time just to show how Islamic we are in order to justify action against Anwar to the whole world. They want to portray that the West won’t understand that Malaysia takes Islamic laws seriously.

    Everything they do is far from religious and is for political gain.

    As for [Marina], she partly has her father to blame for all the miseries of the Muslim women.

  4. thebaDderman says:

    That , tragically is Malaysian politics. Race and religion is a cover for rampant corruption and other devious criminal acts (even murder).

    This is nothing new, since it is already the norm de force in other failed countries of the world (notably Zimbabwe and Burma for e.g.) except that it is now happening in Tunku Abdul Rahman’s Malaysia, under the disguise of the Najib’s government, a pale proxy and failed protege of [Mahathir]. [Najib is] fighting for his own dear life [...] should Pakatan Rakyat take over Malaysia in 2012.

  5. abingkasan says:

    Jac, hi.
    Could not agree with you more. It’s sad. It’s tragic. It’s not fair. In my position, where do i draw the line?

    Time will tell how best we can respond as Malaysians, to all these “injustices”…at least that’s what my friends on the street say…hoping against hope.

    Btw, stay strong and do what you do best…like this article. Congrats.

  6. kenntzen says:

    Is this not a national issue? We could see very clearly that none of these MCA, MIC or other BN members are making any comments. Looks like we the minorities in Malaysia are being denied justice by all BN-controlled agencies. It is better to support PAS than the [...] BN.

    Those Pakatan renegades can defect as many as they wish. We the people will vote BN out very soon.

  7. thokiat says:

    1 Malaysia = 1 BN, 2 criteria = selective prosecution. 3rd class mentality and democracy.

  8. Peter says:

    Good article.

    It’s simple, really:

    1) Religion is used to unite voters and shore up support because we are easy suckers when it comes to defending your religion/race (let’s face it).
    2) Mass media is used to constantly blitz the public that the religion/race is under attack.
    3) Therefore, the only choice is to unite and support the only party that will protect one’s religion.
    4) Any protests will simply be spun around to look like another attack on the religion.

    The more we bicker, the deeper we fall into the trap of dividing ourselves according to religious lines.

    If you have Muslims friends, it’s time for a friendly chat. If you don’t, isn’t it time to have some? Vice versa.

    The change has to start from the grassroots … that means us.

  9. Once a christian says:

    You forgot one thing.. those Muslims who are against The Star or The Herald or Sisters in Islam are not only from Barisan Nasional but a lot more from outside the political parameters than you would like to see.

    So just climb down from your high horse and smell the reality. You transgress the Muslims without batting an eyelid or giving apology, you will get the same treatment from them.

    You don’t speak for Islam by the way.

    Understand?

  10. semuanya OK kot says:

    When logic fails, some Malaysians have fundamental righst to riot. This is the real meaning of “sensitive issue”.

  11. M.K. says:

    Another gem; very well said! Cases like this are clear indications that we need a change. This change can happen at GE13 when all right-thinking Malaysians may unite and discard BN into the dustbins of history..

  12. Reza says:

    Does anyone have a link to the Star article in question? I missed it and would like to give it a read.

  13. joehancl says:

    Once a christian Posted: 5 Mar 10 : 2.49PM

    “You forgot one thing.. those Muslims who are against The Star or The Herald or Sisters in Islam are not only from Barisan Nasional but a lot more from outside the political parameters than you would like to see.

    So just climb down from your high horse and smell the reality. You transgress the Muslims without batting an eyelid or giving apology, you will get the same treatment from them.

    You don’t speak for Islam by the way.

    Understand?”

    So you speak for Islam do you? Where did you get this right? [...]

  14. never once a christian, not an issue says:

    @Once a christian

    You seem to have missed the point of the article. The writer never said she spoke for Islam, or that those Muslims ‘who are against The Star or The Herald or Sisters in Islam’ are from BN. Completely beside the point, and reflects the black and white mentality you are espousing, unable to see past the labels and true teachings [...]. The issue was about the unjust actions of the govt, and how institutions and people are bullied for their ends.

    [...]

  15. Once a Muslim says:

    To Once a Christian,

    Please be logical brother…what is happening in Malaysia is definitely wrong….doesn’t matter if you agree or not, it’s a fact [...].

    Open your mind and see the world is my advice to you – have some sense.

  16. the truth hurts but it'll set you free says:

    The only right thing to do is for each voter to get another- and vote these [people] out in the next GE. Please let us all do our part!

  17. copperhead says:

    “From arrests under the Internal Security Act and charges under the Sedition Act to the closure of newspapers including The Star during 1987′s Operasi Lalang, the BN is a government that will be neither challenged nor held accountable.”

    If that is the case, then people should wake up and vote out this despicable government when the next GE comes around.

  18. AThiru says:

    Shame on The Star for tendering an apology – for what? By doing so, the The Star is admiting that it had commited an offence. They are no different from the other [traditional media] such as Utusan, NST, Bernama and Tamil Nesan. Shame on all these [media] for being Umno’s [sycophants].

  19. rube's says:

    Dear Jac,

    Well summarized but the most important question is: how do we get these articles to the mainstream Malaysians?

    To the average population whom are without internet and whom are still reading all news and the poison fed by the current government?

    How do we get the average Malaysian to read an English article like this?

    If we are all serious about change, then it is paramount that there must be strategies put in place (to formulate a plan) for better dissemination of proper information / news to the broader rakyat!

    Otherwise, while it is a good read, all this journalism is strictly directed to just a small niche targeted audience, nothing more!

    All of us having this opportunity to read from alternative media should give this a serious thought. This should be our immediate challenge!

    Clearly, we are running out of time if we don’t invest more effort and time and initiate this drive! Malaysians need to be better informed with the real information!

    We don’t have that luxury time if we want to see a big change in government.

  20. jeffrey says:

    A third world in the making, going the way of Myammar, Zimbabwe and North Korea. Come the 13th GE, if BN still manages to rule, it will definitely come to pass that Malaysia will join these countries as another [failed] state. [...]

  21. Wen says:

    @Zark,

    Whatever [...] happened to freedom of religion.

    You CHOSE to practice Islam.

    Why would something I choose NOT to practice apply to me?

    Just because you have no choice means I have to suffer equally?

    This article is about how the govt discriminates the rights of one religion from another.

    It is not about how you cannot get cozy with your girlfriend, get drunk or have pork.

  22. Patrick says:

    Well, apparently if you’ve apologised for it, you can be let off the hook.


Most Read (Past 3 Months)

Most Comments (Past 3 Months)

  • None found

Advertisement


<

Advertisement


  • The Nut Graph

 

Switch to our mobile site