Thursday, January 15, 2015

A clarion call to all Malaysians: Thou shalt not fear ‘sensitive issues’

Last updated on 15 Jan 09:16 AM
A clarion call to all Malaysians: Thou shalt not fear ‘sensitive issues’

OUTSPOKENIn light of the massacre in Paris, where 17 people died, Malaysians need to reflect on the ways we can engage better, with others in our diverse society. From the outset, Malaysians need to understand, that when some Muslims condemn the killings, they are not criticising Islam. The cartoons were contentious, but that does not give any of us the moral right to kill, or to condone the murders.

Those who condemn the slaughter, do not claim to agree with Charlie Hebdo and their satirical cartoons. The magazine should have the right to express its opinions, just as others should have the right to express theirs; but a line should be drawn at using violence as a form of expression, or a means of reply. The terrorists and their craving for bloodshed, are condemned because they used Islam and insulted the name of the prophet. 

Charlie Hebdo cartoonists criticised all religions, including Christianity, but outraged Christians do not attack with guns. The British satire, called “Spitting Image” criticised royalty, the Pope, politicians, presidents and prime ministers, but none of them, including the Queen, suggested that the producers should be hanged for treason. The Monty Python film, “The Life of Bryan” shocked many Christians, but people did not kill, in response. Many stand-up comedians and comedy shows, mock all religions, religious leaders and heads of state, but only extremists have wanted to kill, in retaliation for disagreeing with the contents of a film. 

Perhaps, the time has come for all Malaysians to enter into an intelligent debate, using rational arguments, to openly discuss the issues, which for decades have been conveniently termed “sensitive issues”. 

Our refusal to confront “sensitive issues” has allowed sentiments and hurt, to fester beneath the surface. We make incorrect assumptions and allow our emotions to consume us, whereas we should be swopping ideas, challenging controversial issues and talking, with the other side, to get to know how they feel and think. 

When we do not communicate our true feelings, we worry, fret and fear. How are we going to solve the country’s many problems if we refuse to engage properly with others? For too many years, we have been duped, by evil politicians, and led to believe that some topics cannot be discussed.

This article is not about bashing Islam. It is not about taking sides, liberals against extremists, ordinary against the elite, rural against urban folk, the privileged against the less fortunate. This article will not make excuses for and on behalf of, any particular community. Neither is this article about embarrassing anyone or any group of people.

For decades, seasoned politicians banned us from openly discussing “sensitive issues”. Extremist organisations use “sensitive issues”, to justify the use of violence, against parts of the community. Government leaders use “sensitive issues” to bar any discussion on important matters. 

When Datuk Ibrahim Ali issued his threat to burn bibles, and disturb the fragile co-existence of Malaysians, he was not prosecuted. Instead, Minister in the Prime minister’s Department, Nancy Shukri, defended his actions.  

The ban on the word Allah was seen as a politically motivated move, even by Muslims in the Middle East where Allah was used by Christians there, long before the birth of Islam.  Naturally, the Christians in East Malaysia are worried that there might be a spillover effect from the peninsula. Instead, extremist Muslim NGOs threaten violence, to “protect” Islam.

When Taman Medan assemblywoman, Haniza Talha requested further details about the funding for Permata, the police used the Sedition Act, 1948, to call her in for questioning. Permata is an early childhood education programme, the patron of which, is the self-styled First Lady of Malaysia (FLOM), Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor. The request for transparency appears to be a particularly sensitive issue for the government. Perhaps, they wish to hide something.

Despite strict rules on polygamy, husbands find loopholes, or go across the border to marry. Many Muslim women want the laws to be tightened, for child brides, but Muslim men grumbled that their rights were affected.

Hudud in Kelantan sparked a public outcry but non-Malays were told “not to comment because it is “sensitive”, not your religion and these laws will not affect you”. Tell that to the non-Malays whose relatives’ bodies were snatched by the syariah courts, as they were about to be cremated. The mourners were then told that their dead relative had “converted to Islam”.

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad criticised the royal families of Malaysia and clipped their wings, in 1993, after a spate of injustices and crimes committed by the VVIPs. Today, ordinary Malaysians are trapped by the Sedition Act, ostensibly for criticising the royals. When others come to the support of the persecuted, Malay extremists claim that they are trying to make Malaysia a republic.

Politicians, decision makers, and Muslim and Malay extremists, attempt to prevent the discussion of sensitive issues because they do not want transparency. They hide their shortcomings and mistakes, behind the cloak of “sensitive issues”. They are afraid of criticism and scrutiny. Discouraging people from discussing “sensitive issues” is just another ruse to hold onto power.

Mariam Mokhtar is "a Malaysian who dares to speak the truth.” 
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