Apostasy in Malaysia: The hidden view

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By Joshua Woo Published in National University of Australia – New Mandala website on November 10th, 2011 The two banners displayed at the Shah Alam Stadium during the Himpunan Sejuta Umat (Gathering of a million faithful) assembly on 22 October 2011 read “Say no to apostasy, don’t challenge the position of Islam” and “Together let’s […]

Freedom of faith for Malaysian Malays

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By: Norani Abu Bakar Published in: New Mandala – National University of Australia; re-posted Malaysia Today; Center for Policy Initiatives, etc. Date: 17th November 2011 Although Joshua Woo Sze Zeng’s “Apostasy in Malaysia: The Hidden View,” has showcased the scholarship of some renowned Muslim scholars and leaders, their perspective continues to be “hidden” to the […]

Malaysian Muslims Responses to Conversion

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November 2nd, 2011 by Norani Abu Bakar Published in Australian National University – New Mandala (New Perspective on mainland Southeast Asia) & re-posted at Malaysia Today In Malaysia, culture is often conflated with religion. The 82 percent of the Merdeka Centre’s Public Poll on Ethnic Relations: Experience, Perception & Expectations (2011) respondents who said that “they are happy […]

Malaysia – A Response to Bersih 2.0 Rally

How can a Ruling Party Champion a Street Protest Call for a Better Democracy

Some say that extreme pressure manifests the best in human character. Recent YouTube videos of the Bersih 2.0 rally testify to such character among Malaysians today.  Indeed, when Ibrahim Ali zealously predicted racial tensions during the street protests as a divisive scare tactic, his aggression prompted a new stage of racial unity in Malaysia. This does not mean that Malaysians of different ethnic backgrounds are deeply engaged with one another beyond mere tolerance, but it does suggest that the Malaysian government no longer need fear another May 13 incident. After 54 years of independence, Malaysians no longer buy the colonial propaganda, perpetuated in our and our forefathers’ minds, that Malaysians are incapable of being united. In fact, 10 years prior to independence, the Hartal Protest of 1947 showed that racial unity during a street rally is possible.

There are many valid reasons for the government to fear. But if the potential for the street rally as an instrument of positive change in Malaysia at large is addressed well, then such marching can turn into a beautiful testimony of Malaysia’s version of democracy. This is the benchmark that any ruling party should strive for – to be a champion of the people’s voice and to display to the world an exemplary model of a country that acknowledges itself to be, but is not fearful of being, at the cross-road of democracy. The Sixth Ministerial Meeting of the Community of Democracies in Vilnius, Lithuania on 1st July, 2011 affirms that Malaysia is not alone in this adventure.

We hope the way our country walks this adventure is a legacy we can leave behind to future generations of One Malaysia. We should also not be overly quick to adopt other countries’ models of democracy. In particular, Malaysia should be very careful not to idealize the liberal democracy of modern super-powers, too often a 21st-century version of colonialism, given its history of being ruled by others from 1511 to 1957. Malaysia is unique because of the richness of its people, and should develop its own version of modern democracy that will be relevant to its faith and cultural traditions.

What acknowledgements and actions should take place with regard to the Bersih 2.0 electoral reformation rally? First, the ruling party should have acknowledged its support for a ‘bersih’ election and expressed its commitment to improve election activities within its own party. At the same time, opposition parties need to express their commitment to the call they made on the street. It is superficial to say that the opposition parties are completely ‘bersih’ or immune from dirty politics. Humanity is human, and manipulation, which comes in different ways, is inevitable.

The ruling party’s conduct would have been more appealing if it had imitated Prophet Muhammad when he resolved the first tribal conflict in Mecca. 9th July could have been Malaysia’s legacy if all political party leaders carried a huge yellow fabric with Bersih 2.0 printed on it from one destination to the other to symbolize their commitment to integrity. This would have reflected the mature implementation of Islam Hadhari or Civilizational Islam that was introduced by Tun Ahmad Badawi. The rally could have concluded with bringing the banner collectively to Yang Di Pertuan Agung, who could have been invited to end the people’s rally with a prayer for our nation. Turning what was expected to be bad into something good could be momentous. Encouraging the citizens doing good and being competent in supporting them to achieve this in an orderly manner could make any ruling party, as well as the people, a champion of the rally.

Secondly, the government should also take into consideration that some police officers failed to follow procedures, for example, in treating the civilians brutally. Again, human is human. Even a nuclear power plant, designed with a sophisticated automatic emergency-shutdown safety system, can still occasionally malfunction. How can the brain drain problem be resolved if 1 million Malaysians abroad, whom the recently launched Talent Corp is trying to reach, watched some police officers kicking civilians – especially those who had already fell on the ground and were helplessly not moving, with  their bodies wrapped with Malaysian flags –? Perhaps, the today’s generation is complacent, compared to our forefathers fell down fighting against the colonials for our country’s independence. Today, sadly, we fight with each other. Where are the human values of our generation today? What kind of explanation can parents give to Malaysian youngsters who watch these scenes? Is this behavior acceptable in our community?

Third, the government should build a strategy for mitigating the impact of globalization on the discourse surrounding Malaysia’s street protests. Freedom of expression is basic to humanity, but freedom that weakens rather than advances the country must not predominate.   Unfortunately, crude language and abusive activity online, especially in blogs, YouTube, and Facebook show a degradation of ethics among Malaysians. Being critical is good, but it is essential for Malaysia’s future at large that such ideas are articulated objectively and in a mutually respectful manner. For example, a blogger’s opinion may be right, but the vulgarity of the narrative may shape non-Malaysians’ opinions about Malaysians who, in a regression of integrity, hide themselves behind computer screens. Such a person is exposed by the Malay proverb, “macam ketam mengajar berjalan tegak,” which describes a crab, which cannot walk straight, teaching others to walk straight. With such language, how can we be sure that the non-ruling parties would govern Malaysia with integrity, competency and accountability if they can’t watch their language when they are not yet in power?

My father made an interesting remark about the recent Bersih 2.0 rally. He said that “giving them the space for expression is like letting their matured boils burst open.” I hope that after bursting, healing comes quickly. Perhaps, it was good that it burst?

Malaysia – An Option to Bersih 2.0 Street Protest on 9/7

Written By: Norani Abu Bakar   Published in Yayasan 1Malaysia 1stJuly, 2011

A peaceful day of fasting and praying to urge for electoral reformation.   Our voice to the leaders, “the rakyat has changed, please change.”

 Lessons Learned from the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring showed that not every uprising from the street leads to an effective change in the constitution. And even if a peaceful protest does catalyst transformation, there is a huge price to pay. The question is, “How can the voices of the people enforce change without jeopardizing the stability of Malaysia as it progressively moves away from an autocratic democracy?”

The upcoming illegal assembly for electoral reform, Bersih 2.0, is scheduled for July 9th2011, and it begins – like every call for reformation – with good intentions. But so had the protest at Tahrir Square, before it was ambushed by thugs. Let’s not be naïve. Those who oppose the Bersih electoral reformation have weeks to plot against the success of this rally. Unexpected incidents during the supposedly peaceful marching can spark instability in the streets, which can do potentially irreversible damage to public order and security.

What is the current landscape of the racial issue in Malaysia? The launching of One Malaysia indicates that bigotry is still predominant in this country. The racist protagonists are subtly fueling the race and religion sentiment into the landscape of the 9/7 rally. Ibrahim Ali’s press statement that Malaysians of Chinese descendant should stay indoors and “stock up food at home as anything can happen that day,” which he later clarified as a way to say, “stay away from the Malay versus Malay” street protest, was obviously an indirect attempt to intimidate them. Reading in between the lines, Ibrahim Ali is provoking the Malaysians Chinese to participate in the street demonstration to prove that pressing for the free and fair election is also their concern. His repeated statement on the infamous anti-opposition riots of May 13, 1969 further speaks his mind. The seed for the ploy has been sown and it is nurtured daily through the nationwide media coverage.

Rationalizing Our Action

The worst case scenario would be if one human being on the street made a mistake that sparks a chain reaction, like “the shot heard round the world” that precipitated the American Revolutionary War and the First World War. Both wars began by one shot and there was no turning back to the initial stage of the conflict. Can the rally be controlled from bursting into a parochial tension due to the potential human error or worst, if saboteurs ambush? Can the potential risks be minimized so that the objective of the rally is achievable? If things get out of control, a temporary government will be in place. We saw this happen recently with Arab Spring. Does Bersih 2.0 have higher chance of pushing forward their eight demands and passing an amendment with the Election Commission (EC) at this stage of governance? If the rally turns into chaos, one of the things that will also happen is that Bersih 2.0 competency will be questioned.

Whose Voice is the Right Voice?

There have been many opposing voices from the public on this rally which rhetoric expresses the desire to see transformation done peacefully. Shouldn’t these voices be heard?  After all, isn’t this whole rally about a better Malaysia? How would this rally impact Malaysia’s long term image globally, especially by the foreign investors and tourists? How will this translate to the Foreign Direct Investment and the current crisis of brain drain? Domestically, the biggest price is, “hurt.” It hurts our identity as Malaysians. It hurts our emotion to see our countrymen being dehumanized. It hurts the conscience of every police officer who is on duty to crack down the demonstration. It hurts our economy and social structure. And for people of faith, it hurts our own faith conviction towards God’s desire for us to live in peace. And hurt does not heal fast.

The news reported that 100,000 PAS members, mainly Malaysians of Malay descendent, have pledged to support the rally. Of course, their commitment with Bersih 2.0  is much appreciated. Many others have given the same pledge. And we thank the previous leaders who contributed tremendously in transforming the mainstream Malaysian population from the people who only finished primary school and knew how to say “yes” into a pool of citizens with critical thinking. It is time for us to prove to the government leaders that the rakyat has grown mature and can be united to call the political leaders to be mature and responsible by having a ‘Bersih’ election.

What is Our Option?

The last question boils down to “what is the peaceful option?” for reformation other than street demonstration.

Instead of illegal street demonstration, I urge my fellow countrymen to come for nationwide fasting and praying on Saturday, 9th July, 2011. Let us give support to Bersih 2.0 which advocates on behalf of the public. Malaysians of any faith tradition or of no-faith tradition can mourn together to the fact that our country needs urgent change. I ask the 1 million Malaysians who are abroad to join this effort. Let us ask what we can do to our country instead of simply abandoning our country while it needs us. Malaysians are known as internet­-savvy people; use this skill to post opposing but kind voices on-line. Encourage our family members to write letters and postcards to the political leaders, telling them that “the rakyat has changed, please change.” As long as the Election Commission does not invite Bersih 2.0 to negotiate reformation in election, we shall continue fasting on every Saturday.

It is never too late to call off the rally. Let us together create a new narrative for Malaysia in this 21st century. Let’s make the future generation of Malaysia remember that on this day, we come united in peace and we approach our leaders in love. Both love and peace prevail.

Note: In Malaysia national language, ‘rakyat’ means citizens and ‘bersih’ means clean.