ONCE again Malaysians are faced with politicians who seek to repress and undermine the religious freedom of minorities in this country.
Firstly, we have the Barisan Nasional (BN) government, which has ordered the Catholic Church to cease its Malay-language edition of the Herald until the courts resolve a ban on the paper’s use of the word “Allah”. The move was part of a series of government restrictions put in place when the Home Ministry renewed the Catholic newspaper’s licence on 30 Dec 2008.
This order seems to assume that the state has a monopoly on who is allowed to use the national language and the word “Allah”. It completely ignores the reality that a large proportion of Catholics in Malaysia, particularly in East Malaysia, are bumiputera who mainly speak Malay.
Is this move part of the so-called moderate, progressive Islam Hadhari that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has been peddling to Malaysians and the international community since he came into power in 2004? He has clearly forgotten the BN’s 2008 manifesto of “guaranteeing the right to worship and encouraging inter-faith understanding among Malaysia’s multiethnic people.”
On the other hand, in Selangor, a Pakatan Rakyat-controlled state, we are seeing attacks on the Ahmadiyah, a Muslim minority community. According to a Malaysiakini report, Selangor Islamic Affairs, Malay Customs, Infrastructure and Basic Amenities Committee chairperson Dr Hasan Ali was quoted as vowing to “bury” the movement.
Because of their beliefs, the Ahmadiyah community are facing religious persecution in many countries including Pakistan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh — and now we can include Malaysia.
If I remember correctly, in April 2008, just a month after the general election, all the Pakatan Rakyat leaders signed a statement “reaffirming its solidarity for Malaysians”. The statement said the “Pakatan Rakyat is determined to implement and bring changes in accordance with the principles of democracy, socioeconomic justice, equal economic opportunities and religious freedom.”
It seems that Pakatan Rakyat leaders, especially PAS, have conveniently ignored their commitments to the rakyat, which includes the Ahmadiyah community. PAS has labeled them “deviant” and seems to be targeting the community. Why hasn’t Parti Keadilan Rakyat or the DAP come out to criticise these discriminatory actions, which clearly violate the fundamental right to believe and to practise one’s religion in an atmosphere free from fear, intimidation and persecution?
Politicians on both sides of the political fence seem to have a notion that religious diversity is somehow a threat to the political and social order. It has been demonstrated to us time and time again that this is a slippery slope that has led to discrimination and the persecution of minorities around the world.
It is crucial that as Malaysians committed to multiculturalism, we work to promote diversity and to affirm the dignity of and respect for all citizens whatever their religious identity, and speak out against these injustices.
Josef Roy Benedict
Subang Jaya, Selangor
See also: Let Catholic weekly run in Malay