Malaysiakini : “My people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the
dictates of truth and the teachings of science. Superstition must go.
Let them worship as they will; every man can follow his own conscience,
provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him against the
liberty of his fellow men.” – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
COMMENT | The same day Malaysiakini runs a piece about DAP’s Lim Kit Siang saying in Sydney that he has no doubt that Malaysia is a secular country, the fabulous Siti Kasim asked our Education Minister Maszlee Malik why there is a ‘ wife-beating’ question in an Islamic Studies exam paper, followed the next day with a rationalisation of ‘ death to apostates’ in a revision book.
Meanwhile, the affable Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu is determined to counter the bad rap
of Islam but offers no other narratives that would give the religion in
this country a better image, and PKR’s Wan Ji Wan Hussin – labelled a deviant by the former Umno regime – is attempting a discourse
within his religion, which as far as I am concerned is a good thing,
even it would probably not gain much traction with the mainstream Malay
And of course, a woman in Terengganu faces whipping for supporting
herself through prostitution because her husband has not paid alimony.
Is Malaysia a secular country? The old maverick who is now prime
minster (again) certainly didn’t think so. He referred to Malaysia as a
fundamental Islamic state, and reminded people back in the day that it
was not a ‘moderate’ Muslim country. Perhaps his thinking has changed in this “new” Malaysia, but I do
wonder if any of the Malay political operatives from Pakatan Harapan
would endorse Lim's message that “constitutionally” we are a secular
Besides the Malay political operatives from DAP, Lim’s message would
carry more weight – and would be true in some sense – if a majority of
Malay political operatives from Harapan endorsed the elder
statesperson's message. I will wager that there will be no such endorsement from the
mainstream political class, and I will also wager that this statement
will sooner or later be used as a weapon by the Islamists in this
The mainstream Malay political class in Harapan will make some sort
of weasely statement confirming that Malaysia is a moderate Islamic
state which respects the rights of all peoples, and the base will just
forget about this incident, with more news of the plagues on house Najib
offered as bread for the circus.
‘As close as we can get’
What would these statements sound like? Well, they would sound like
the feeble statements made by DAP’s Syahredzan Johan when he said this –
“And as for the recent caning of the two women (in Terengganu), we have
come as close as we can get to a government saying the laws (that led
to the prosecution and caning) are wrong.” Really?
That is your pitch to young people that Malaysia is a secular
state, that the Harapan government came as close it could, that caning
two women for sexual acts that the religion of the federation deems
immoral is wrong? This is the best you can offer young Malaysians as to
how the political apparatus of the DAP defines a secular state?
So if two young gay Malays come home and are caught (most probably in
the privacy of their home) by the religious police for engaging in
sexual acts deemed immoral and are punished for it, what they can be
assured of in this so called secular country is that Harapan will come
close to deeming such actions by the religious apparatus wrong? Which is more dangerous, "not spooking the Malays" or "coming as
close as we can to get the government to say those laws are wrong"? (The
latter, by the way, is my new favourite phrase.)
When we talk of Malaysia being a secular state, we are talking to an
urban audience, which laps this kind of horse manure up. We are
certainly not talking to the so-called rural heartland, not to the Malay
vote base of Bersatu, Amanah and PKR. And we are certainly not talking
to the those who voted for Umno and PAS.
That’s the divide, right? Secular is what divides non-Muslims (and
those Muslims who are demonised for thinking the same way as the ‘nons’)
and the theocratic political mainstream Malay power structures.
When Syahredzan (photo) talks about the blurring of lines
between politics and religion and that the government is concerned about
this, everyone assumes he is talking about the machinations of Umno and
PAS. But really what people should be worried about is the
syariah-compliant guidelines being cooked up by the Harapan regime. Of
course, all this is supposedly done to protect the rights of Muslim
women, and not as a means of societal control.
Or how about when Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department
Fuziah Salleh, talks about how the Harapan government is committed to
uplifting the Syariah Court system – "In relation to the Syariah Courts
(Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 and other relevant laws, we are looking
at them in more detail and … we are committed, ready to amend the act
in empowering the Syariah Court as a whole," – which I referenced in my piece of how some of my Malay friends think public caning is a good idea.
What is the most dangerous aspect of all these manoeuvres? Many
Harapan supporters will make any excuse, when Harapan Malay and
non-Malay political operatives engage in the Islamisation process in
this country. They minimise when they should be dissenting. You know why? Because
although they have no problem attacking PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim when he
cautions against not spooking the Malays, these people do not want to
spook the Malays either, lest their non-Malay political operatives get
kicked out of office. They allow Harapan to get away with things that
they never would allow the Umno state to get away with.
Secularism isn’t about theory
Everybody writes about how the Federal Constitution is supreme, but
is it in practice? You could mount an argument about why the public
caning of those two women went against the constitution, but what does
this mean in practice? Absolutely nothing. And secularism is not about theory. It is about practice. Sure, there
are variations of secularism, but where it counts, it means that the
religion of the federation – which is ridiculous if you make the claim
that yours is secular country – does not in practice trump the
Have the mainstream Malay power structures in Harapan come out with a
statement recognising the supremacy of the civil courts over the
syariah courts? No, they have not. A couple of months ago, when I asked what was Harapan’s Islamic
agenda, I referenced the flash points that we should pay attention to –
“These days, it would seem when it comes to these types of provocations,
the ruling establishment is silent. Since Harapan took over, we have
had provocateurs at Kampung Manjoi, a prime minister hopeful telling us
not to spook the Malays, a mufti telling a deputy chief minister of a
state to leave the country if he loses a rigged debate, and of course, a
Malay politician threatened with death because of the fake news that
she wants to destroy an Islamic institution.
We are supposed to believe that this is a normal situation? We are
supposed to not draw attention to this because the hard work of ‘saving
Malaysia’ means we have to put up with this horse manure?
So please don’t tell me that there is a blurring of lines and that
the Harapan government is monitoring it. I would argue that in many
instances, it is the Harapan government which is doing the blurring.
I would also argue that they do this because the non-Malays who used
to be that line in the sand when it comes to the Islamic state are now
worried that dissent would mean going against the groupthink, and upset
the balance of power that this ‘new Malaysia’ desperately needs.
Actually what this new Malaysia needs are Islamic counter-narratives
that would ensure that the secular road is not closed to us. But of
course, the political operatives in Harapan do not want to gamble on
other Islamic narratives.
Their supporters are too blind to notice that it is not Umno/PAS that
is defining the narrative, but rather the Harapan establishment ceding
ground because the base allows it. The strange thing is. I do not blame the majority for wanting their
Islamic lifestyle (or should that be Arabic lifestyle?). But why am I am
resisting? Why am I fighting this?
Because I remember a time when it was not like this. I remember a
time when religion did not divide us, and my Malay friends were not so
afraid – not afraid of their religion and certainly not afraid that
their religion would be conquered by the non-Muslims. You could say that I am not fighting for some sort of utopia, but for
a past where one could make a credible argument that we were a secular
What did LP Hartely say? “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” They certainly did.