Let’s not allow an outsider to divide us further

Jacob George

I fully support Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s statement on April 23 that Malaysians should reject any form of religious extremism as this could jeopardise the peace and harmony in the country.

It is also good to hear Zahid, who is also home minister, encouraging Malaysians to celebrate the diversity of religions and cultures in Malaysia, which has been the symbol of strength and unity of the country all this while.

We all know that no sane Malaysian will disagree with the need to set aside the differences among us, which today has left the country polarised and in a state of extreme disintegration. Religion and race have been weaponised at each and every turn, when legitimate questions and concerns are raised by civil society or affected communities.

When affected communities voice their grievances, they are shouted down and threatened by fanatics, and sometimes by racist politicians and NGOs for the sake of political expediency.

Which is why I am glad to hear Zahid stating that there is no place in Malaysia for any kind of extremism, whether Islamic, Buddhist or Christian.

I am encouraged by his statement, after being extremely shocked at his April 18 keynote speech, of all places at the Human Ecology International Conference 2017, where he spoke of the social contract and said, “social disorder but worse than that, our streets will be littered with blood and dead bodies” if our social contract is broken.

That address, and its timing, was a colossal mistake by his minders and speech writers, which portrayed the deputy prime minister in bad light to an international audience, after winning positive reviews post his US and UN stint with stakeholders.

More so, in the aftermath of a very strong rebuke from peace loving and law abiding Malaysians over the questionable permanent residence status accorded to a foreigner who is wanted by his country of birth on money laundering and other serious charges, and who is banned from several other countries.

This individual’s speeches have often touched on Christianity and Hinduism, and, rightly, he has been criticised for stoking hatred among those of different communities.

Now in Malaysia, he is creating a diplomatic row with New Delhi, as he fires away salvo after salvo against that government with whom we have a friendly diplomatic relationship.

His presence and statements here have also created a serious standoff between Malaysians of all races and religious persuasions.

Sabah and Sarawak have already gone on record as saying he is not welcome there.

However, we have extremists and racist groups and political parties clamouring for him to be given protection.

One has even given him a “warrior’s award.”

This is a warrior who is running away from warrants of arrest from his native country on criminal charges, refusing to meet his accusers on home soil in full gaze of the international community.

That is not all, we now have a former respected religious leader who has written a poem that incites hate.

A poem which was posted on Friday allegedly criticising the religious practices of Hindus and appearing to defend an unnamed preacher from an “evil government”.

You need not be a rocket scientist to know who is the target. Even a nonpartisan reader knows the poem ridicules Hinduism.

However, after huge pressure from people, the religious leader does a u-turn and goes on record stating that it was meant for India.

I am told that this mischievous act has caught the eye of New Delhi politicians and NGOs.

I fear this may affect trade and bilateral ties, which include several MOUs initiated recently by Prime Minister Najib Razak during his visit to India.

The poem has since been taken down.

It is very hurting and saddening that an outsider’s presence, and his inappropriate defence by certain Malaysians, has exposed the fact that we are a truly polarised nation divided by race and religion.

When weaponised in a multi-racial and multi-religious nation like ours, it can become ugly. When the British, in 1957, gave us independence there was an undertaking by our founding fathers about race and religious rights but this has been challenged now and again by certain groups.

We should offer opinions but let it be legitimate, fair, reasonable, beyond repute, and not incite hatred. Let it be free of the politics of race and religion, two elements that can create chaos in our multi-racial and multi-religious context when used or abused to bully, intimidate, and threaten.

As our deputy prime minister stated, the diversity of religions and cultures in Malaysia has been the symbol of our strength and unity.

My appeal is this: Let us not allow an outsider, and others supporting a non-defensible and untenable cause, divide us further.

Jacob George is President, Consumers Association of Subang & Shah Alam, Selangor (CASSA).