The harmony and well-being of a people is based on there being mutual respect. In a world that has become deeply intertwined and interdependent, our cultural and religious diversity often become more visible. For this very reason, we can ill afford to have religious fascists and zealots trampling on the human rights of others and, in the process, destroying the ethos of what makes a multicultural society tenable.
We cannot have a regime that speaks about multiracialism, multiculturalism, and religious tolerance but then tacitly permits its religious bigots and fascists to reign supreme in order to impose a fundamentalist orthodoxy. There is no doubt in my mind that this is an issue for all moderate and fair-minded Malaysians to take to heart and to be firm with their politicians about.
While the whole process of Arabization of Malay and Malaysian culture may be cause for celebration for some and a matter of deep consternation yet for others, I’m less here concerned about this trend – albeit that I personally find it regrettable, since it shows precisely how insecure so many of my fellow Malaysians seem to be about the richness of Malay culture that they feel compelled to latch on to Arab-based cultural trappings. But, as the saying goes: to each his own.
And here is precisely where the Umno regime has failed and failed miserably, time and again.
Of course we’re entitled to find meaning and comfort in whatever source and cultural tradition that may speak to us. But where the self-professed and unelected religious Gestapo starts to assume a larger-than-life presence and indulges in practices that undermine the dignity and humanity of others – whatever their religious persuasion - in the name of religion, then we have the makings of a very problematic situation.
The religious Gestapo appears to have acquired extra-constitutional powers and the Umno regime appears complicit in allowing the situation to fester - so long as these religious zealots don’t infringe on their political supremacy. That is why, the religious fascists do not intervene to admonish the scandalous acts of corruption, money politics, and other misdeeds of the regime, but, like typically bullies, they sure flex their muscles and impose their morality by going after the Kartikas of the world. And the Umno operatives, which includes the mainstream media, seem wholly content with pandering to these zealots by doing such absurd things as referring to suicide bombers who butcher innocent women and children as ‘berani mati’; not an insignificant symbolic complicity with the religious zealots.
In other words, for all practical purposes Umno has made a devilish deal: repeatedly bargained away our constitutional rights and protections to the religious fringe for its own political agenda. In return, the religious Gestapo finds itself empowered and emboldened to coerce the common person on the street while leaving untouched the greater immorality, corruption, and misdeeds of the big fishes.
To be sure, our religious Gestapo is not blowing up ancient statues of Buddha or throwing acid at little girls going to school. But make no mistake that the coercion and intimidation that they indulge in – be it in invading people’s privacy or converting vulnerable children and tearing families apart in the name of religion is a threat to our collective well-being and harmony. And when Umno politicians gloss over these issues or condone actions of mobs that blatantly intimidate those of another faith by desecrating their religious symbols we have an ominously precarious situation indeed.
This situation must be addressed in a civilised manner and openly if we are to preserve what remains of our multicultural, multi-religious society. Our freedom to worship as we choose is one of the most basic rights imaginable.
Irrespective of our religion, we cannot continue to allow the religious Gestapo to ruin and destroy this basic value of our society.