A race to the bottom


Not so long ago in a country not so far away, a movement to return Islam to its roots took place. A strict form of shariah law was introduced that was supposed to usher in a reign of unsurpassed morality and spirituality that would be a shining example of the power of the religion to the rest of the world.

Only Islamic knowledge was deemed necessary, and that too that version of knowledge approved by the authorities. So all forms of entertainment including  music, television, sports and cinema were banned, women and non-Muslims became second class citizens with virtually no rights and conformity with the daily decrees by the authorities became the highest form of worship.

Of course this was the Taliban and the country Afghanistan. Given its endemic poverty, lack of a functioning government and decades of conflict, it could be argued that any system offering some form of discipline and a guaranteed place in heaven would seem attractive at first.

But if power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. The horrific abuse that followed is too well documented to be repeated here.

In the case of Afghanistan, at least its abysmal quality of life made any option worth considering. In the case of Malaysia, the current clamour towards hudud and a purer version of Islam all under a silent government is perplexing. It is as if all rational voices are on summer vacation leaving the Taliban in charge.

Malay-Muslim supremacists are conflating notions of race and religion to intimidate everybody else to the point that they should be grateful to be allowed to even stay in Malaysia. A crucial part of the agenda is to use Islam as the basis for flexing their collective muscle.

The death of a prominent anti-hudud activist is celebrated as divine retribution; civil court orders handing custody of a child to a non-Muslim parent are wilfully flouted in favour of the Muslim parent and the local religious police meant to only oversee Muslims brazenly raids non-Muslim premises and carts away scores of Bibles.

Malaysia becomes the only country in the world to ban non-Muslims from using the word Allah, revisionist versions of history claiming the Malays predating all other races in the peninsula proliferate, and the demonization of Christianity reaches ridiculous levels with claims that they are proselytising to Muslims under the guise of providing football coaching!

Simultaneously the space for expression of dissent with the Muslim community itself is rapidly diminishing. Shia Islam is proclaimed deviant and banned, so is the use of RIP or Rest in Peace. The Origin of Species is banned, Ultraman comics are banned and Noah is banned.

The language of education is reverting to Malay, where access to seminal scientific works is either severely restricted, or banned. Curricular revisions routinely emphasise the supremacy of Islam in theory and practice over any other kind of education, resulting in a religious yet increasingly unemployable workforce, which in turn breeds resentment against non-Muslims getting better employment opportunities.

Organisations such as Sisters in Islam fighting for gender equality and a more progressive face of Islam are routinely vilified. Pluralism and Liberalism are seen as the biggest sins, almost as if there were no competing schools of thought within Islam.

Questioning the clergy is an increasingly hazardous occupation, with the religious police gaining in resources and power all the time. The Poco Poco dance is banned but female genital mutilation or circumcision is allowed. Artworks are banned routinely but child marriage is allowed.

So the idea that Malaysia is voluntarily heading down the Afghanistan path is not as farfetched as it may look at first glance. The deafening silence of the government if not its tacit support for the extremists is the result of its hurt after the last election. It seems to have come to the conclusion that the only way to retain power is by consolidating the conservative Malay-Muslim vote within its ambit. By co-opting PAS into the fold by giving its hudud proposal consideration, the ruling party is enhancing its conservative Islamic credentials.

Read more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/kapil-sethi/article/a-race-to-the-bottom