Regretful bigotry and intolerance

The past one year has seen and witnessed happenings that do not bring cheer to our hearts. If anything, it has been a year of disappointments and disillusions.

By P Ramakrishnan (President, Aliran)

Greed and corruption was made use of to topple a people’s government in Perak. In that process the legislative assembly was dragged in the mud and made a laughing stock without any compunction. Goons were deployed to evict a duly elected Speaker of the Assembly in order to foist a pretender as Speaker.

The much awaited Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission did not live up to the expectations of the Malaysian public. We thought that it would do a better job than its predecessor, the ACA. Giving a new label to an old institution that was famous for going after the small fish, cannot make it do wonders. As they say old habits die hard.

 It is still seen as going after the opposition rather than the big timers. Teoh Beng Hock and the RM2,700 was a case that was given top priority over millions of ringgit involving Khir Toyol. There are other glaring examples of mind-boggling corruption that had unsurprisingly escaped the scrutiny of the MAAC.

Our judiciary is such a let-down that Malaysians are wondering whether the right people have been appointed to dispense justice without fear or favour. Some of the decisions were blatantly appalling and baffling even to the legal fraternity who understand the intricacies of the finer points of the law. Certain judges are apparently incapable of living up to their oath of office in delivering judgments so much so the whole judicial process is brought to public contempt.

The rule of law, it seems, is not only trampled upon by the executive, it is equally ignored by the judiciary at times when it mattered most.

But of all that has happened that has really disturbed me and caused me much anguish is the cow head’s incident. What happened is not merely the display of a cow head to oppose a legitimate right of a community but the declaration that a minority community cannot have a place of worship in an area where a majority of another faith resides. It is an issue that challenges the right of a community to profess and practice its faith as a matter of fundamental right as conferred by the Federal Constitution.  No man has a right to deny another his place of worship.

It is a universal right that is proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which has been rectified by the Malaysian government. Article 18 states,

“Every person has the right of thought, conscience and religion….and in public or private to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

No man or community, whether in the majority or minority, has any right to oppose the construction of a place of worship. It simply doesn’t have that right.

Religion is personal, it is essential and it is an integral part of a person and a community. No man or group of people have any right to oppose it or deny their right to have a temple, church, mosque or a gudwara or a synagogue.

This is why it was so grossly unjust for some misguided bigots to drag a cow’s head to protest the relocation of a Hindu temple from Section 19 to Section 23 in Shah Alam. They threatened bloodshed if the construction of the temple went ahead in a 90% Malay-Muslim neighbourhood.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister did not go on TV to condemn this highly provocative and unbecoming behaviour of these 50 odd irresponsible protestors. This is what the PM should have done immediately to send the message that Malaysia will not tolerate irresponsible elements who threaten our unity and harmony.   

What is wrong in having a place of worship in a Malay majority area? The majority of Malays who are accommodating, tolerant, and peace-loving Malaysians who have lived in harmony with the various other communities in this country do not subscribe to this position of intolerance as propagated by these unruly elements that are bent in wreaking our unity.

Don’t they know that the Holy Prophet had even invited the Christians to carry out their rituals within his mosque when the Christians wanted to go out into the desert to perform their mass.

When the Holy Prophet can invite them into his own place of worship, what is so objectionable in having a temple quite a distance from the residential area of the Muslims? According to Hisham al-Zoubeir, what the Holy Prophet did “was not mere tolerance; this was respect, if not acceptance. He met them with what he considered to be absolute truths, but not as a bigot.”  

What happens if in Europe the majority of Christians take a stand to disallow a place of worship of another community that professes a different faith, will we say that is a right of that community? If India adopts that undemocratic stand and refuses to allow the worship of another faith in the predominantly Hindu community, would we condone that?

It is a matter of great regret that our top leaders did not take an uncompromising stand and condemn the misled recalcitrants in our midst.  

Calling the cow a stupid animal to criticize the state government displays gross ignorance and stupidity.

(Aliran President delivered the above message during Aliran’s annual general meeting on 29 November 2009. This is carried in the latest Aliran Monthly, Vol. 29 No. 10)