Friday, April 29, 2005

View from the sidelines

How did I miss this? A public forum discussing enforcement of public morality organised by the Liberal Forum Malaysia - an offshoot of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) elicited strong views from both sides of the divide. In multireligious, multiracial Malaysia, a commitment to dialogue over sensitive issues like religion should be applauded although it is often steamrolled by authorities who tell us they know better, or that any public discussion can only result in offense.

Islamic party PAS’ Dewan Muslimat information chief calls enforcement of public policing of morality their last bastion. Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud said, "There is only a small part of Islamic jurisprudence left for us. This is our last bastion to protect public morality."

On the other hand Sisters-In-Islam (SIS) executive director Zainah Anwar said that private behaviour should not be policed and punished by Islamic authorities but left to the religious conscience of the individual. "In a country where Islam is used as a source of law and public policy, those in religious authority can no longer claim monopoly over the interpretation and meaning of Islam," she added.

One Chinese Malaysian participant asked for her right as a Malaysian to comment on Islamic issues as they inevitably affect everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim."There are certain sectors who want to separate us (Malaysians) using religion as an excuse. I am a tax-paying citizen. Don’t deny me the right to know you. All laws should be fair and just and applicable to all - as Malaysian," said Felicia Ling.

Americans arrested
Meanwhile as this was going on, few noticed a one-column news report regarding the arrest of two Americans allegedly on charges of 'promoting Christianity.' Ricky Ruperd, in his 30s, and Zachry Harris, in his 20s, were caught distributing religious tracts to Muslims in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s new administrative capital. Apparently the two men did not have proper travel documents. In a country where 60% are Muslims, and in a nation that was recently and controversially declared
"Islamic" by former PM Dr Mahathir, what were these two thinking? Do we have the whole story anyway?

Books banned
Also on Wednesday, Malaysia’s Internal Security Ministry announced the ban of 11 English language publications saying they were detrimental to public order. Among the titles were A History of God by Karen Amstrong; The Cross and the Crescent by Dr Phil Parshall; Messiah: War in the Middle East & Road to Armageddon by Grant R. Jeffrey; The Word of Islam by John Alden Williams; Women and Islam by Fatima Mernissi; and Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet by Karen Amstrong.

Oddly, Armstrong’s History of God had been available since early 1990s but there was no public outcry then. Dr Parshall’s book which compares Islam with Christianity has been endorsed by evangelist Luis Palau. Coming so soon after the Malay Bible brouhaha, what's coming up next?


discordant_dude said...

Plus the fact that certain tracts such as "Is the Bible God's Word?" by Ahmed Deedat and Quran translated to English, Mandarin, Tamil (wut else?) are freely (n literally free) distributed rubs salt to the wound. I have no problem with this literature, no matter how slanderous they are, but please, allow us the same freedom then.

David BC Tan said...

it's not a level playing field is it? being allowed this kind of freedom is precisely the problem for some people.