Read, study, understand, then comment

Issues of race and religion have become the cornerstone of Malaysian society. The good, bad and ugly are a constant assault on our senses.

Without fail, some politician, academic or social media “empty vessel” shoots his or her mouth off. Upsetting and ignorant racial or religious slurs abound.

We have yet to drag ourselves out of such parochial behaviour.

Malaysians managed to reject a corrupt, selfish and manipulative government in 2018. But now we have become more preoccupied with racial and religious polemics. What we are seeing today is unprecedented and frightening.

Selfless and compassionate individuals do exist though.

Recently, 69 adorable pre-school children from Pusat Asuhan Tunas Islam (Pasti) made their rounds, distributing cakes to their Chinese neighbours. With Chinese New Year just around the corner, this was a lovable gesture.

It shows some Malaysians are trying their best to dig themselves out of the destructive racist rutt that has formed in our country. Credit goes to the centre’s manager, Farriz Abd Rahman. I salute you.

The reality though is that our society has become overly jittery. Our penchant for racism and bigotry has multiplied by leaps and bounds. Social media has become the platform of choice for a growing number of wilful and ignorant troublemakers.

With access to this medium, these mavericks enjoy their infamy, without an ounce of responsibility. If we have to be racist and bigoted, I suggest we confine it to the politicians. At least the situation can be contained, through the ballot box.

Recently, PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang equated the civil society organisation G25 with the terrorist group, Al-Maunah. His long diatribe against G25 was nothing more than a rambling, disjointed and bitter attack on G25.

Readers should feel sorry for a man of such stature. In publicising his tirade against G25, he embarrassed himself immensely. His piece was a nauseating and angry rebuttal of the group’s recent launch of their report, “A Study on the Administration of Islam in Malaysia” (SAIM).

It is now obvious that Hadi did not read the said report, which is solely about how Islam is administered in Malaysia. The SAIM report is neither a treatise on theology, nor a document that extolls the virtues of any race.

Yet, he rambled on about “westernisation”, the Bible and Jesus. He spewed attacks on the Reid Commission, the Federal Constitution and the “whites” who were signatories to it.

Hadi’s comparison of G25 with a terrorist group could ironically backfire both on him and his political party, PAS. His insinuations are offensive under Section 499 of the Penal Code.

But his piece highlighted a recurrent theme in our society. Many like Hadi feel that topics of Islam and the Malays should only be addressed by “good” Muslims and Malays. Apparently, only they have the moral right to speak about problems and solutions affecting the community.

Many who are not Malay or Muslim are afraid to “encroach into foreign territory”. They fear that if they do, they would be dismissed as ignorant, shallow and forbidden by God. Hadi obviously thinks members of G25 are not “good” Muslims, let alone Muslim or Malaysian.

Retired navy officer S. Thayaparan criticised Hadi and PAS in his column in news portal Malaysiakini, focusing on the attacks against G25 over its views on the legality of the punishment for apostasy. He correctly said that G25 was not encouraging people to leave Islam.

But his subsequent comment was an erroneous generalisation, bordering on a sinister attempt to divide and rule. He wrote: “Progressive Muslim intellectuals always say that non-Muslims should not comment on such issues but this again divides us as a country and makes it difficult to engage because our rights as citizens, regardless of race or religion, is being trampled on and we cannot say anything less we invite the fury of demagogues like Hadi Awang and sanctions from the state”.

First, he has no inkling of what a progressive Muslim intellectual is. Second, if he reads more extensively, he would realise that any group of progressive intellectuals would welcome all constructive ideas. Such ideas are accepted, irrespective of their ethnic, religious or linguistic origins. Such an insinuation is no more acceptable than Hadi’s threats and accusations.

Thayaparan should comment only after he familiarises himself with key concepts and trends within the milieu of Malaysian identity politics. This is not because he is neither Malay nor Muslim. Rather, it is a fundamental requirement for sound intellectual discourse and analysis.

Careless statements made by the likes of Hadi and Thayaparan are counterproductive to the reform agenda in Malaysia.

Islamophobia is growing due to an unprecedented wave of right-wing ideologues in leadership, who influence the masses. People like Hadi and Thayaparan should reflect seriously on the simmering cauldron of identity politics that is engulfing us. They should spend more time educating themselves about inclusiveness, rather than divisiveness.

Otherwise, it would be difficult to justify that Islamophobia is wrong.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.