PERKASA president Datuk Ibrahim Ali is no stranger to controversy. The antagonistic politician is yet again making national headlines because of his recent call for Malay-language Bibles using “Allah” to be burned.
As of 27 Jan 2013, seven police reports have been lodged against Ibrahim, who is also an independent Member of Parliament for Pasir Mas. One of these reports was filed by a citizens’ initiative comprising 12 individuals of various beliefs and races[i].
Why would 12 citizens of various persuasions lodge a police report against a politician who has repeatedly, in the past, gotten away with publicly provocative statements that attempt to create derision and division between Malay-Muslim and non-Malay, non-Muslim Malaysians? In an exclusive interview with these citizens in Kuala Lumpur on 25 January 2013, Petra Gimbad finds out why.
Q: How did this citizens’ initiative come about?
Yusmar Mohd Yusof: The Attorney-General (AG) said that nothing can be done until a police report was lodged [and Malay-language Bibles burned]. So, when Siti (Zabedah Kasim) asked me whether I wanted to lodge a report, I said, “Let’s do it!”
Hafidz Baharom: I was talking about it a lot. Criticising and asking, “Why isn’t anyone doing anything? When Yusmar asked me whether I was interested in joining the citizens’ initiative, I just asked: “Where and when?”
Yusmar: Siti, Hafidz, a few others and I met up and we worked on the press statement together. It took us two days to gather the group and file the police report.
Joshua Lopez: I was contemplating making a report on my own before this whole thing happened. Politicians can take this to Parliament. But what can we do? All the citizens have are the police.
Q: What motivated you to lodge the police report?
Hafidz: The initial report said that [Ibrahim’s] statement was made in UiTM. It is a bumiputera university with people from Sabah and Sarawak. If there were students from Sabah and Sarawak attending, this means that Ibrahim was inciting hatred. I would say it is seditious. But it is also illegal under the Penal Code.
Jerome Kugan: This issue really targets East Malaysians. These Bibles have existed in Sabah and Sarawak for the longest time. I think people there are fine with it.
Yusmar: For me, Ibrahim Ali is not a representative of all Malays or of all Malaysians. So he should stop saying that all Malays want this. Stop representing us.
If he talks about Malays, Indians, Christians, Chinese, then he is talking about my family. Don’t divide us into Muslims or non-Muslims. Enough is enough — enough of separating Malaysians.
Lopez: This is a security and human rights issue. It has nothing to do with being Christian.
Vigneswaran Veeramuthu: Personally, I believe that whatever your religion or faith is, you need to respect others.
Imposing thoughts such as my faith is superior to yours or yours is superior to mine has no place in a multicultural country. So my position is: this is a statement of my rights. Equality is for all and not just reserved for one particular community, race or religion. As long as people understand that, you make the world a better place.
Siti Zabedah Kasim: I knew we could get him through the law. So I said, let’s do it. This action is about a criminal act that has been committed. He has said many times in the past things that cannot be pinned down, [likely] thinking that he can get away with things he said on ketuanan Melayu. If there was no strong case or evidence I would not file a police report against him.
This [statement about Bible-burning] is worse than seditious, it is inciting. Ibrahim Ali was inciting for a crime to be committed.
Q: How do you feel about the police report?
Lopez: I found it fulfilling. It was about a national issue, a security threat, about causing hatred.
Vigneswaran: I have no regrets filing the police report because I believe in what this country has to offer. So why allow Ibrahim Ali, Perkasa or any other extremist group to mushroom?
It is time for the silent majority to make noise. Many do not do so and it is time for me to step out of my comfort zone.
Kugan: A lot of people were surprised when the news came out. There were people on my Facebook page who asked, “Why do you want to lodge a police report?” My answer: “Why not?”
As Malaysians, we have the right to speak up against actions that promote hate. We talk about reformasi-making and change. This is something concrete we can do. It may not lead anywhere. But as long as people don’t take it lying down, it is enough.
Hafidz: I felt good. It was about making a stand. Perkasa is always saying, Malays must do this. They must do that. I am part of the Malay group.
My neighbours are Perkasa members. I have talked to them and some of them do not agree with the vilifying of other races and religions. So when you hear that from them, and you have Ibrahim Ali making statements to burn Bibles with hardcore members following him, how many Malays do they really represent? Do they have a consensus? What does it mean to be Malay?
They do not represent me.
Q: What is the message you want to put out there through your action of lodging the police report?
Vigneswaran: I think we have forgotten to respect one another. For instance, you have government functions where you have Hindus attending, and yet they are served beef. The same with Muslims who microwave beef in a microwave shared with Hindus. Sounds petty, a non-issue, right? I have seen people who go berserk when their colleagues of other faiths do the same but with pork. It’s like saying “Respect my belief but I won’t respect yours.”
Hafidz: My message is very simple. Whether you agree or disagree with the use of “Allah” in the Bible, you don’t burn a holy book and you do not determine whether it is a holy book. You say a Bible is not a Bible because it is in Malay and uses the word “Allah”. Using the same logic, is it ok then for Christians to burn a tafsiran of the Qu’ran?
Lopez: If (Home Minister Datuk Seri) Hishammuddin (Hussein) says we are making a big fuss, what if the same statement (about burning) was made of the Qu’ran?
Vigneswaran: I was 7-years-old when we read the Alkitab and there was the word “Allah”. I am now 33-years-old.
Who are humans to own God? Who are we to own His name?
Petra Gimbad has worked on child rights and with refugees, and is an English graduate.
[i] The 12 individuals who jointly lodged a police report against Ibrahim Ali were Elton Tan, Ahmad Hafidz Baharom Alam Shah, Hartini Zainudin, Jerome Kugan, Joshua Lopez, Joseph Koh, Khoh Wei Jin, Mahi Ramakrishnan, Norhayati Kaprawi, Siti Zabedah Kasim, Vigneswaran Veeramuthu and Yusmar Mohd Yusof. Norhayati is currently a columnist with The Nut Graph, while Hafidz Baharom is a former columnist.