IS PAS ready for non-threatening, open dialogue with dissenting voices within civil society?
The recent resolution by PAS to investigate and possibly ban the women’s rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) suggests that PAS needs a reminder to react democratically to opposing views. This is not an unfamiliar call that civil society and political parties make to those in public life, a call that even PAS has made to others.
This resolution also sends a reminder to voters that we need to demand the highest respect for democratic processes from our political parties. We must insist that PAS accept differing opinions in a rational manner that does not demean democracy.
We urge PAS to retract this resolution and acknowledge the need for diversity and democracy. In addition to being regressive, this resolution sends a clear message that PAS will not tolerate differing thoughts and dissenting voices. By threatening to ban a non-governmental organisation for “espousing liberal” ideas, PAS is further limiting basic freedom of expression.
This ban, if effected, will set a distressing precedent for organisations that do not promote the same tenets as PAS. We firmly believe that our leaders, including PAS, must create and diligently safeguard the democratic space to permit all civil society voices to be heard.
We commend the two PAS Members of Parliament, Dr Lo’ Lo’ Mohamad Ghazali (Titiwangsa) and Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud (Kota Raja), who courageously encouraged open dialogue rather than banning SIS as a whole. We urge more PAS leaders and members to speak up in favour of democratic and inclusive practices.
There can be no compromise on the need to respect and uphold democratic norms. This process has for example involved, and continues to involve, the fight against oppressive laws, the fight for freedom of speech, the demand for elections in Perak, the release of those held under the Internal Security Act and so on. Those that compromise these higher principles in any one instance do so at great cost to their credibility.
The call for open discourse on these issues is a call made to all who are tempted to use repressive tactics to stifle differences of opinion. We call on our leaders to practise a policy of dialogue and constructive engagement in order to unite and build trust amongst all Malaysians.
Women’s Aid Organisation
Petaling Jaya, Selangor