Toxic religiosity more damaging than ineffective public policy - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Wednesday, April 01, 2020
Malaysiakini : “In order to be a part of the totalitarian mindset, it is not
necessary to wear a uniform or carry a club or a whip. It is only
necessary to wish for your own subjection, and to delight in the
subjection of others.”-Christopher Hitchens
COMMENT | Before I begin, to people who thought that Sheena Gurbakhash’s article, “Why we should be bothered by gendered language during the lockdown” was mock-worthy, we now have this “advice” from the Women and Family Ministry, which seems like proto-Handmaid’s tale dogma.
seeds of tyranny are always watered in times of turbulence, as they
say. Rational women have always known they would bear the brunt of the
attacks by the religious state and they would not be able to rely on
other women to support their cause. Sermon over. I have often argued that the one idea that would most damage this country’s efforts in combating the Covid-19 virus is toxic religiosity.
Not only this country, but also any country that has a religious
component that is incestuously entwined with the political apparatus.
America, for instance, the megachurch impresario Pastor Rodney
Howard-Browne was recently arrested for defying a “stay at home“ order
issued by the authorities of Hillsborough County (Florida). The pastor
had bused in parishioners and held a prayer vigil which sounded more
like a political rally.
Howard-Browne, who prayed over the
President of the US, Donald Trump, has argued, among other things, that
the coronavirus was a hoax, that it was released by China to cripple the
US, that globalists were subverting the US economy and that Russia,
China and Iran were planning to launch an attack against the US.
all these are mainstream narratives for a certain segment of the US
population are enabled by a Trumpian political class and online
agitators. Normally, the antics of these buffoons would not be
newsworthy but in the era of the coronavirus, the reality is that small
groups of people can have a huge impact on the rest of society.
it is easy to dismiss their ideas, it is harder to ignore the impact of
their defiance of public health orders and the impact this has on
communities who may not share their views and, of course, the health
Now, some say that let these idiots kill
themselves if they want to, but the problem is that these “idiots” will
take the rest of us down with them. The reality is that a small number
of uninformed, ignorant people acting on their faith could destroy the
majority of us. They say ignorance kills but when it comes to ignorance
enabled by religious fervour, it is worse.
In India, we have been
witness to the state security apparatus breaking up religious gatherings
and hitting adherents who refuse to comply with their restricted
movement orders. India is struggling with this issue and the reality is
that although class does play a part in this, the news media has been
shocked by the encouraging of personalities who are claiming that this
virus should not affect religious “obligations”.
there are troubling signs that the political apparatus has not been able
to get a handle on the religious tributaries that flow from the vast
religious bureaucracy. Ismail Sabri Yaakob said last Saturday that there
were still several mosques that were defying the movement control order
“I’ve been made to understand that there are still five mosques continuing to have their Solat Jumaat (Friday prayers) despite the orders not to open and to pray at home. “Yesterday, in one of the districts a mosque had their Solat Jumaat and as a result, 116 people who attended the prayers have been arrested by the police,” Ismail said. Not
only that, but hundreds of “foreign” workers were arrested around the
same time for preparing to hold prayers in large groups despite an order
from the federal authorities to restrict movements and gatherings.
about this for a minute. Not only has the state security apparatus and
its various affiliates have to deal with citizens who flaunt the law for
various reasons – some unintentional – they have to also be cognisant
of the fact that there are people out there who are intentionally
defying the law on religious grounds.
Part of the problem is that
the religious bureaucracy has, for decades, been enforcing diktats that
made it mandatory for communal prayer. Now, what state and religious
personalities are attempting to do is encourage adherents to pray at
home, in solitude. This is anathema to some religious people.
to this we have a migrant population – let us not be politically correct
– who never had much use for the state security apparatus for various
reasons and who congregate and pray in groups as is their cultural and
religious custom. This is not going to change merely because the state
decides that its laws supersede any religious obligations they believe
they have. That’s the trouble with indoctrination, right?
a former political operative from Umno recently told me, “One of the
problems that the government has is that it really has no idea how big
the 'religious industry' is here in Malaysia. Take religious schools,
while there has been some tightening of rules for such establishments,
nobody wants to be viewed as going against religious education. So, in
all honesty, nobody really knows what going on until something bad
Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Pakatan Harpan's former religious czar, who found Zakir Naik inspiring,
also is part of the problem. He enabled the religious bureaucracy and
made the false equivalence argument in presenting liberals and religious
extremists as one and the same. Liberals are staying at home or are
busy trying to feed disenfranchised people while the religious
extremists are defying the laws of the land and putting the whole of
Malaysia in danger. Are they both the same, Mr Mujahid?
In an interview recently, the Singapore foreign minister said something extremely interesting
about this pandemic. He said, “In fact, this is an acid test of every
single country's quality of healthcare, standard of governance and
social capital. If any one of this tripod is weak, it will be exposed,
and exposed quite unmercifully by this epidemic.” What this has
exposed in this country is that toxic religiosity has always been the
genie in the bottle carelessly handled by the vast religious