Sunday, January 10, 2010

Deep wound that will take long time to heal

Jan 9, 2010

Sense of restraint, tolerance and civility has failed spectacularly

KUALA LUMPUR: When Malaysians woke up yesterday to the news that a church had been fire-bombed as they slept, they found themselves in a country they had not seen before.

This is not their Malaysia, and their confusion was poured out on websites which buzzed all day with disbelief - from Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The most common refrain: 'What has happened to my Malaysia?'

No one can remember a church ever being attacked in Malaysia. Yesterday, it was not one church but three, while a fourth church reported receiving threats.

The Metro Tabernacle Church's ground floor was gutted in a fire-bomb attack, and the Life Chapel's porch suffered minor damage from a Molotov cocktail.

Homemade explosives were also thrown into the compound of the Assumption Catholic Church but did not go off. The St Francis Xavier Catholic church reported threats of an attack.

Police have yet to find those responsible, and it is not clear who is behind such violence. But the attacks are devastating as they come at a time when mutual suspicion is high.

Emotions have been running high since the High Court allowed Christians to use 'Allah' to refer to the Christian God in their publications.

The church had argued that 'Allah' was an Arabic word that predated Islam, but many Muslims saw it as being exclusive to the Muslim God.

Muslim anger grew, with Malay newspapers running page after page attacking the court decision. Demonstrations were held by Muslim groups after Friday prayers at several mosques yesterday.

No matter who is responsible, the attacks have driven a wedge into Malaysian society that will take a long time to heal. It crossed a line that some Malaysians had flirted with but never breached.

Malaysians were shocked last August when a group of Muslims stomped on a cow's head to protest against the building of a Hindu temple in their neighbourhood.

But an arson attack on a place of worship takes belligerence much further. Despite their disagreements, Malaysians have always held a tacit respect for places of worship, realising that they are places of peace.

That a place of worship is desecrated speaks ill of any society, more so Malaysian society which has lived together for three decades with only occasional verbal squabbles to mar communal ties.

A country that is built on the rule of law is deeply wounded when its sense of restraint, tolerance and civility fails as spectacularly as it did yesterday.

Many Malaysian Muslims have condemned the attacks. The Muslim Professionals Forum called it a 'cowardly and utterly senseless act of a group of misguided, chauvinistic bigots'.

'This act of arson, committed presumably in the name of Islam, desecrates the very religion it purports to protect. The Holy Quran unequivocally prohibits destroying the houses of worship of all religions,' it said in a statement.

Prominent personalities like Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, daughter of former premier Mahathir Mohamad, and Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin rushed to the site of the burnt church. Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim visited the affected churches as well.

But it was distressing that the Muslim groups' protests against the court ruling went ahead yesterday, hours after the attacks on the churches. The protests were relatively small and ended quickly, but they sent a wrong message.

Umno must also speak up louder than it has so far, because it must surely be aware that its reaction pales in comparison to that of its rival Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

Since the 'Allah' controversy begun, the opposition PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat have urged restraint - a stance reflecting confidence in their ability to hold the middle ground in Malaysia.

Umno must also be aware that its leaders are being blamed for fanning the flames. Former Cabinet minister Zaid Ibrahim, now in the opposition, said Umno has to take full responsibility for its handling of the use of the word 'Allah'.

'The irresponsible conduct of fanning the emotions by Umno leaders has brought about this dangerous situation,' he said in a statement.

Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday strongly denied that Umno had been irresponsible. 'Don't point the fingers at Umno or anyone else. We have always been very responsible. Don't say this attack is motivated by Umno,' he said.

Even so, the credibility of his 1Malaysia slogan - a unifying theme aimed at healing the rifts in a country divided by race and religion - is under strain.

[PM Najib should take a page from Obama who said that ultimately, the buck stops with the President in the case of the attempted sabotage of the Christmas day flight. Similarly, the racial and religious tensions in Malaysia grew under the political leadership of UMNO, with either active exploitation by UMNO, or tacit approval by UMNO, or complicit neglect by UMNO.  UMNO has ruled for over 50 years. The Malaysia today is shaped and formed by UMNO policies (except perhaps for Kelantan which has voted for PAS rule for over 10 years). That the Muslim community feels so insecure as to need to strike out against places of worship speaks to the siege mentality and belligerent atmosphere fostered and promoted by UMNO.

If you come aboard a ship and you find the facilities in poor repair, the crew not talking to each other or even actively sabotaging each other and a general air of hostility that makes it an unpleasant place to work or sail, who do you hold responsible for state of the ship?

Don't blame UMNO? If not UMNO, then who?

But perhaps this crisis is an opportunity. Perhaps as this editorial suggests, this act of terrorism and hooliganism will shock Malaysians out of the complacency or status quo and lead them to some soul-searching as to what their nation and society stands for. And what religion truly means to them.

But for as long as the radicals/idiots find support in some corner by politicians, they will feel vindicated for their views and their actions, and their actions will drive a wedge into Malaysian society.]

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