Bolstering and Breeding Bigotry in Bolehland

The light, lenient, ludicrous and laughable court sentences on the cow-head protestors lend credence to the growing belief that Umno lives and lasts on bigotry

Martin Jalleh

On 28 August last year, more than 50 people, shortly after their Friday prayers, marched from the Selangor state mosque in Shah Alam to the Selangor State Secretariat to protest the relocation of a 150-year old Hindu temple to their neighbourhood.

Amidst strong chants of “Allahuakbar!” they dragged and paraded the severed and bloodied head of a cow. One of their leaders shouted “I guarantee bloodshed and racial tension (if the temple relocation takes place)”.

Some of them made fiery speeches, spat on the severed cow’s head, kicked it, stomped on it, dumped it in front of the gates of the State Secretariat and proudly posed for photos, as police stood stoically, silently and submissively by.

Malaysian Hindus (who consider the cow a sacred animal) protested vehemently and called it a “sacrilegious act”. Other non-Muslims described it as “sickening” and “scandalous”. Many Muslims in the country considered it “shameless” and “so un-Islamic”.

A Muslim wrote: “These hooligans don’t represent all of us”. Another added: “As a Muslim, I am ashamed at the behaviour of these hoodlums especially during the holy month of Ramadhan. I really wonder who the head honchos are behind this unscrupulous act.”

The world watched in shock at how such a provocative act, or as some would later call it “barbaric behaviour” could have taken place in Malaysia – a country which its government boasts of as being a supposed showcase of a multi-racial-religious society today!

Hishammuddin’s Hypocrisy

In spite of a nationwide outcry and the lodging of 98 police reports against the cow-head protestors, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein who often hypes about racial and religious harmony decided to hijack the role of the police, Attorney-General (AG) and even the judiciary.

He went out of the way to meet in his office with the protestors – the very people who had committed what was clearly a seditious and sacrilegious act. He even daftly declared them innocent, defended their actions and deemed legal action against them as unnecessary.

According to him, the protestors were the ones who were “victimised”. They had no intention to stir racial emotion! It was not the first time an animal head had been used in a protest! The police allowed them to proceed because the numbers of protestors were small. Hishammuddin humoured the whole nation!

So desperate was he to justify the heinous act that he would even declare: “In this day and age, protests should be accepted in this world, as people want their voices to be heard. If we don’t give them room to voice their opinions, they have no choice but to protest.”

Hishammuddin’s hypocrisy could not hold when, about a week after the cow-head protest, police arrested 16 Hindraf leaders who were in the midst of holding a peaceful candlelight vigil to voice their strong protest against the sacrilegious act in Shah Alam.

(According to Lim Kit Siang, Hishammuddin’s “obsession to defend the Umno role in the cow-head demonstration” was “to further the Umno/BN agenda to weaken and topple the Pakatan Rakyat Selangor State Government”.)

In comparison, the PM very dramatically said he was deeply disturbed by the despicable act, demanded that the issue be nipped in the bud and directed the IGP to act swiftly and sternly. It is 11 months since the incident and the Shah Alam Sessions Court delivered its judgment on the matter on 28 July 2010.

Pathetic Patail

The Court fined 12 cow-head protestors RM1,000 each after they pleaded guilty to an alternative charge of taking part in an illegal assembly. Two of the protestors were fined RM3,000 for sedition while one of the two was also ordered to serve a week in jail.

The actions of the cow-head protestors as so accurately described by Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad, were “extreme and provocative”. Very naturally the public had expected stiff, stern and severe court sentences that would stop the country from sliding further down the slippery slope of religious extremism.

Sadly the sentences defied all logic. They were glaringly light, lenient and ludicrous. They made the AG’s Chambers, the judiciary and the government laughable. Once again the loud and oft-dramatic resolve by the powers-that-be to check extremism by Muslim groups have proven to be only lip service.

A fine of a paltry sum of RM1,000 to RM3,000, a preposterous jail sentence of only a week for one of the protestors – such pathetic punishment for outright religious bigotry can only come from a predictable judiciary ready to please and pander to the wishes of its political masters.    

“I hope in future the accused will all be more sensitive in their actions. It is also hoped that this sentence will serve as a deterrent to others in future,” the words of judge Hasbi Hasan rang hollow in the court as the guilty heaved a sigh of relief – devoid of any sense of remorse.

For taking part in such a diabolical act of desecration which could have triggered off serious racial and religious disturbances, four of the protestors who had maintained their innocence and were supposed to go through separate trials, were discharged – after AG Gani Patail decided not to press further charges!

The gravity of the offence warranted a stringent and not a farcical deterrent sentence. The implications of the offence to worsening race and religious relations were very grave. But the AG was not at all serious in sending out a clear message that such offences will not be tolerated. Neither was the Court!

It did not seem to matter to the AG that the public could see through the “big show” of toughness put up by his Chambers and the Court. Such a charade reduced the PM’s initial proclamations of swift and severe action to mere pious pronouncements and pretentious promises meant to placate public anger.

Further, one is prompted to ask would the Court sentences be the same if a group of Hindus were to spit and stomp on the Holy Quran and left it outside the gates of the Selangor State Secretariat? Would they be discharged due to their insistence of being innocent? 

Ramon Navaratnam, chairman of the Centre for Public Policy Studies puts this succinctly: “I would say this warrants the maximum sentence, if not, much higher than that…Frankly, the public would be asking would the sentence commensurate with the crime if it was other ethnic groups involved.”

P. Uthayakumar, Human Rights party secretary-general was more blunt: “I urge the attorney-general to appeal against the Sessions Court’s sentence and further prosecute them (the four perpetrators) under Section 298(A) as I believe this clause would have been used if it were the Muslims who were offended instead.”

(Commenting on the ongoing hearing of three Muslim youth charged for fire-bombing a church, lawyer Annou Xavier wrote in an e-mail that little is to be expected of the outcome of the trail as the (ill-prepared and inexperienced) prosecution team has demonstrated little regard to the seriousness of the case). )

Breeding bigotry

The cow-head protest should come as no surprise. It is the logical consequence and culmination of years of the authorities closing an eye and sometimes both, to the provocative and extreme acts of Muslim groups, whilst putting up a facade of a thorough investigation and taking fair and firm action.

Five months later, in the aftermath of a landmark ruling by the Kuala Lumpur High Court which ordered the lifting of the Home Minister’s ban on the Catholic church publishing the word “Allah” in its weekly paper, Herald, arson attacks, vandalism and other incidents took place in 11 churches and a Sikh temple.

What gives extremist Muslim groups the audacity to insult other faiths, incite religious hatred, and be so intolerant and insensitive to non-Muslims? Perhaps it has to do with them being very confident that they can display their insolence with impunity. They are well-provided and protected and their fines may even be paid – by Umno.

Umno is in a desperate state. In spite of its many claims of having changed, it continues with its political culture of divide and rule and of a siege mentality by politicising religion and creating unfounded insecurities amongst Muslims and a distrust of other religions.

Very ironically and tragically it appears that Umno can only unite the Malays and Muslims by dividing the country! The party that harps on supremacy and superiority whether it is with regard to race or religion, at the same time claims that Muslims can be very easily confused, convinced and converted!

Umno thrives on bigotry. It survives on religious extremism, fanaticism and fanning fears and fantasising enemies! Its members and all Muslims in the country are made to believe that they must stamp their superiority over the rest, and this is made all the more easier by Executive Supremacy!

According to Umno’s brand of Islam, the Malay/Muslim majority in this country must dominate, dictate, decide and even define what the minority (non-Muslims) can and cannot do; discuss, deliberate and debate on in public; and display in print.

The saddest outcome of the cow-head protest is that we have accepted the distinction between “Muslim and non-Muslim dominated areas”. Yet, there was a time when Bolehland’s citisens of diverse races and religions so successfully and confidently co-existed and lived together side by side in mutual respect and admiration!

After being PM for 15 months, Najib has failed to fight the fires of religious fanaticism, aggressively fanned by his own party. He takes flight and hides behind his 1Malaysia slogan – a faltering façade and flop which makes him look so utterly foolish! 1 Malaysia has become one big joke!

The inadequate sentences of the cow-head protestors make it very clear that burgeoning bigotry will continue to rear its ugly head in Bolehland as long as the Umnoputras rule Putrajaya. May Allah (oops, did I convert anyone) help us!