Saturday, September 26, 2009

When monarchies should remain politically neutral...

The Royal Institution in Malaysia not only functions as a symbol of sovereignty of the Malay Rulers but is also a system to maintain check and balance within the national political fold. Malaysians expect their monarchs to remain above politics but what happens when they appear otherwise?

Constitutional monarchy is a form of government in which a monarch acts as head of state whose powers are defined by the parameters of a written or unwritten constitution. In Malaysia, nine hereditary Sultans preside over their respective states who, in general understanding, should maintain their neutrality in politics.

However, on September 25 the Sultan of Pahang, Sultan Ahmad Shah called on his subjects to continue supporting the Barisan Nasional. His Majesty's reason? The Sultan believes that by supporting the ruling coalition, it would ensure short and long term development for the state which in turn, would benefit the people of Pahang [source].

Last year, the Perlis state monarch made his political preferences known by going against the recommendation of Barisan Nasional for Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim to be in line for the Chief Minister post. Raja Perlis Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalullail decided to appoint Bintong assemblyman Datuk Dr Md Isa Sabu as Chief Minister instead and His Majesty's actions drew huge protests from the Barisan Nasional camp.

Shahidan, obviously disappointed with the Raja's decision, was quoted saying,"This is Barisan Nasional's pride. If there is no respect for Barisan Nasional and Umno, who else will respect them? Barisan Nasional has won the election therefore the appointment by the coalition party should not be questioned...This is a clear indication that the party, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (then Prime Minister) and even the people's decision have been disregarded." [source]

His public disapproval of the Perlis monarch's intervention in the political process, of course, did not receive as much flak as what the Pakatan Rakyat had to endure during the Perak Constitutional crisis in May 2009. Both Pakatan Rakyat leaders and supporters were heavily criticized by Barisan Nasional for being "disrespectful" towards the Sultan of Perak for disapproving certain actions taken or rather not taken by the Sultan during the course of the crisis. And yet, the people who cried foul the loudest did just the same for the Raja of Perlis less than a year ago. Speak of hypocrisy!

If disagreeing with a Sultan's actions or comments is deemed treachery then the same judgement can be passed on the 74% of Perak voters of a Merdeka Centre poll who felt the Sultan could have helped to pave way for fresh state elections rather than endorsing the Barisan Nasional smash and grab of state administrative powers.

UMNO youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and his supporters have even dared to suggest banishment for people who "defy" the monarchy!

The whole issue of disrespecting the royalty has been politicized ever since the Perak crisis and it has been the main attack for the Barisan Nasional on the Pakatan Rakyat among the Malay community who traditionally hold their monarchs in high regard. But surely, this time I believe the Sultan of Pahang's comments will be duly accepted by the Barisan Nasional fold.

Perhaps, political neutrality is best portrayed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand who, in 2006, refused to intervene in the nation's political crisis between the Thaksin Shinawatra government and the Opposition. The King said the courts should resolve the matter and told senior judges to assume their responsibilities or resign. His Majesty also said the constitution does not permit him to appoint a new government, and to do so would be undemocratic - thus displaying a certain amount of political impartiality in this case [source].

The dignity of the Malay Rulers is valued by their political neutrality as Malaysians hope to rely on their state monarchs as a form of check and balance against governance powers bestowed on commoners through elections. But it remains interesting to see how the people of Pahang would react to their Sultan's call for support for a particular political party - or will they "defy" their ruler and vote their way to "treachery"?

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Move towards religious acceptance, not tolerance

The recent controversy surrounding the cow head protest of Section 23, Shah Alam has sparked a furore of public dissatisfaction. The Selangor state government has done all it can to satisfy both the protesters and Hindu residents but to no avail. But just when the dust begins to settle, is it possible that 'Muslim sensitivity' has been hijacked as an excuse for downright racism?

On August 28, a protest was held in front of the Selangor state secretariat against the relocation of the Sri Maha Mariaman Temple into their residential area of Section 23, Shah Alam. The protest became a subject of criticism when the group displayed a bloodied cow head to mock the state government without knowing or rather being ignorant to the fact that cows are considered sacred in the Hindu religion. [Read more on the incident]

The Selangor state government recently held a dialogue between the residents of Section 23 to cohesively draft a solution to the ongoing problem. The forum, of course, turned rowdy when residents began to physically confront each other. Some residents even threw racial insults towards government leaders who were present at the meet and rejected alternative proposals brought forward by the Shah Alam City Hall.

The residents argued that the relocation of the temple directly affects Muslim sensitivities. But when asked what these "sensitivities" were, the objectors failed to provide any clear answers. Some cited "traffic congestion" as one of the reason why the relocation of the Sri Maha Mariaman Temple was rejected. "Traffic congestion" has nothing to do with religious sensitivity of any kind.

Interviews made by The Malaysian Insider recently revealed that several residents of Section felt their religion had been 'sidetracked' and 'betrayed' by their Muslim leaders. How so? Because the new site for the Hindu temple is just 150 meters from a surau and in a Muslim-majority housing area. The Sri Maha Mariaman Temple had to be relocated from its original site because it was also too close to another surau.

A resident was even quoted saying she was against the relocation of the temple because it was too near to a playground and children will not go there to play if the temple is built. Why? Are Hindus pedophiles?

On September 4, Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia (YDIM), an Islamic missionary organization did no one any favour to help calm the issue when they argued that the high number of Hindu temples in country was the cause of the problem. According to its president Datuk Mohd. Nakhaie Ahmad, there are too many Hindu temples in the country and that has made the Malay community uneasy.

Nakhaie also said that despite 60% of the population in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur being Muslim, there are only 13 mosques in the area as to 72 Hindu temples.
Former Selangor Chief Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo suggested recently that his idea of having a religious enclave - where Hindu temples would be segregated into one area - would solve the problem and foster greater religious tolerance. I would ask Khir Toyo, would he do the same to the mosques in a non-Muslim majority area? History has shown us what segregation can do to nationhood; be it religious or ethnic.

In my opinion, why should the Hindus relocate their temple in the first place? They have done nothing wrong but to be in close proximity to another house of worship. Why should the Hindus of Section 23 compromise on their rights to freedom of worship just to satisfy and fulfill the demands of another group of people. The protesters may not realize that when they preach of religious tolerance, they are effectively looking at themselves in the mirror.

It is clear that Muslim sensitivities have been exploited to justify a ludicrous cause and an excuse for blatant racism against other Malaysians of a different faith. The objectors of the temple relocation are clueless as to how the relocated temple would infringe Islam and Muslims.

We, non-Muslim Malaysians kindly asks these people to consider the fact that there are also instances where mosques and suraus are built in a non-Muslim majority area and yet, the residents have no qualms about it. We ask our fellow brethren to understand this side of the coin. In a multi-religious country like ours, it is all about give-and-takes and not demand-and-whine when things don't go our way.

Perhaps, it is time that Malaysians move towards religious acceptance rather than religious tolerance. What is so obnoxious about another religion other than our own that we need to put up with?

We have to accept other religions as they are and not belittling others to suit our own interpretation of what faith and religion should be. Accepting another religion which is not our own does not mean we betray our beliefs nor are we new converts to the former.

Be it waking up to the daily Azan call or enduring the traffic jams during the annual Thaipussam walks in Batu Caves, we should all embrace our differences and celebrate our diversity. Saying one building is too close to another or segregating temples into a enclaves are not the solution to the problem. Are we not hypocrites when we teach our children that Malaysia is founded in the spirit of brotherhood and mutual respect?






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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

1Malaysia is still 1Dream too far away

On August 28, a group of residents from Section 23, Shah Alam and several others from Malay NGOs protested against the relocation of a Hindu temple to their area by carrying a severed bloodied cow head to the State Secretariat building. And as we all know, the cow is considered sacred in the Hindu religion and the protesters have certainly crossed the line.

Malaysiakini reported that about 50 residential committee members were involved in Friday's protest after the Muslim Friday prayers. The protesters brought banners criticizing the Selangor State government, Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, State Welfare Exco Rodziah Ismail, State Health Exco Dr A Xavier Jayakumar and Shah Alam PAS MP Khalid Samad [source].

Section 23 Resident's Association chairman, Mahyuddin Manaf said that the group is against the relocation of the Sri Maha Mariaman Temple 300 meters to their area because 80% of residents there are Muslims.

It was understood that the Sri Maha Mariaman Temple had to be relocated 300 meters from its original site because it was too close to a surau. But that apparently was not enough for the protesters who claim that Hindus in Section 23 are only the minority and the relocation of their temple is unjustified.

The Sri Maha Mariaman Temple was first built for Hindu residents of Section 19, 20 and 23 Shah Alam - not just Section 23 alone.

However, Mahyuddin Manaf denied that he had knowledge of any prior intentions by the protesters to carry the cow head to the State Secretariat and also expressed his 'shock' over the incident. He went on the say that perhaps, the cow head was not intended to insult Hindus as the animal represents stupidity in the Malay culture.

Even if they truly meant to mock the state government, Mahyuddin Manaf and his people are clearly ignorant enough to not know that the cow is a sacred animal in the Hindu religion. What do the protesters intend to achieve by carrying a bloodied cow head around?

The Friday protest is an exposé of the ugly side of society where religious bigotry and the lack of mutual respect for other communities seem lacking. Banners were also seen labelling Rodziah Ismail and Khalid Samad as "traitors of the Malay race". Such bigots have shown they cannot differentiate race and religion.

What further disturbs me is the very reason the protesters used to justify their demonstration. They believe that the Hindu Temple should not be relocated to their area because the Hindu residents of Section 23 only make up a small minority.

But just what do they mean by that? Are minorities not entitled to the same rights as of those in the majority? I would like to remind the protesters of Article 11(3b) of the Federal Constitution which states that "Every religious group has the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes."

Even if there are only 10 Hindus in Section 23, they too have equal rights to have their own place of worship as the Muslims do. Nothing is questioned when mosques and suraus are built in non-Muslim majority areas. So how is this case any different?

It is already enough for non-Muslims to follow building guidelines set by the National Fatwa Council for Islamic Affairs, which I believe are both narrow minded and unconstitutional, to dictate how to build places of worship. You may refer to my post on the issue of religious freedom in Malaysia [click here].

It is imperative that citizens of this country learn to have mutual respect and acceptance of different religions other than their own. Khalid Samad and Rodziah Ismail have performed well in their duties as politicians for all Malaysian despite being Muslim themselves. I commend them for that. It is people like Mahyuddin Manaf and his band of protesters that paint a bad image for other Muslims in the country.

The protesters from Section 23 of this dogmatist cause warned Khalid Samad and Rodziah Ismail "not to play with fire". But in fact, the very people who are playing with fire are those who stoke racial and religious hostility among Malaysians.

Home minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein has issued a warning to those who create racial tension. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has demanded action to be taken on the protesters. The police have also said that the August 28 protest will be investigated under the Sedition Act. But talk is cheap. We will need to wait and see if the authorities would really walk their talk in the spirit of 1Malaysia.




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