Monday, September 11, 2006

We're all Lina Joy

Kota Bharu MP Zaid Ibrahim’s address at a human Malaysian Human Rights Day 2006 organised by Suhakam in KL challenged Muslim paranoia:
"Somebody in Parliament said that if we don’t have rules (regarding apostasy), they would all become apostates. That’s stupidity! Do we not give our religion more respect and recognition?

"Do we not shame ourselves by making such statements that we have no confidence in the intrinsic worth of our religion?” he said, pointing out that Islam has been around for centuries."
Now aren’t these words a welcome change? The UMNO MP who is also a lawyer told Muslims that all Lina wanted was her IC changed, that there was no need to say that Islam was under attack:
"What’s the problem? She’s not Muslim anymore. God will punish her surely. Do we play god’s role now? How do you know god won’t forgive her?"
On the other hand I found Carpenter’s advice to Lina (see letter previously posted below) rather off-putting. In particular, characterizing the Lina Joy issue as a battle between the cause of right and the forces of might isn’t helpful at all. Even if the present circumstances appear to be a contest between right and might, is there any merit in capitulating to might, and to simply cut and run?

I thought the letter’s wishes of "Godspeed" sounded false (I hope I am wrong), as if the writer was hastily waving Lina off. You know, there's this threat of violence and we simply can't have it. Hmm. So much better for you (and us all) if you would just uproot and move abroad. Sure brings to mind Thoreau’s words, taken from another context but just as equally and frighteningly relevant dilemma:

“There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know not what to do, and do nothing; who even postpone the question of freedom to the question of free-trade, and quietly read the prices-current along with the latest advices from Mexico, after dinner, and, it may be, fall asleep over them both. What is the price-current of an honest man and patriot to-day? They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and Godspeed, to the right, as it goes by them. There are nine hundred and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man; but it is easier to deal with the real possessor of a thing than with the temporary guardian of it.”

Striking, the feeble countenance of a patron of virtue.

I just saw that wonderful movie adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird again. It’s the story of an upright small-town lawyer tasked with defending a black man in the racially segregated 1930s, and that wasn’t the done thing then. As Atticus Finch explained to her daughter Scout, standing by the wrongly accused Tom Robinson mattered for a number of reasons, but primarily because "…if I didn't, I couldn't hold my head up in town. I couldn't even tell you or Jem (Scout’s brother) not to do something again."

I think what we need to stress and insist is this: if something is worth living for, it is also worth giving your life for. In the current constitutional impasse, this is something only Lina can answer, but it is also a principle that all people of goodwill must surely agree with.

The recent forced conversion of two TV newsman provides a lesson in contrast. Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and his cameraman Olaf Whig were released on Aug 27 shortly after they worked out a deal with their captors that entailed a forced public conversion to Islam and an anti-US diatribe (videos here). To date, we hear no repudiation from Mullahs and moderates about gross violation of the journos’ rights.

Lots of people thought that was a clever move for it looked as if their Jihadi captors had been outsmarted. I don’t think so. While I sympathise with their harrowing experience (who knows how I would react if I were in their shoes?) it merely confirmed the Islamic terrorists propaganda that the West could never win this war because the West no longer possesses anything worth dying for. If one’s cause or faith does not offer enough meaning worth fighting and dying for, then the war is already lost. (Mark Steyn's brilliant essay underscores the current defeatist mood).

What does it say about our government when we glibly admit its impotence in the face of the ‘force of might’? Even the UK offered Salman Rushdie protection when he went into hiding from the Ayatollah's fatwa, but alas, no such thing is forthcoming from our own government, it appears. I am loath to acknowledge the distinct possibility that the government will yield to thuggery and intimidation. And even if it is less costly and easier to quit, I believe it is better to stand and resist – if only to send a message that we want to be counted. Yet that which is valuable always comes with a cost. It is the same old difficult choice between the easy thing to do and the right thing to do.

In the meantime, I believe people of faith should pray. Prayer, too, is costly. I also believe we should give our prayer legs, and do all we can that is within our means in the defense of Lina’s constitutional right to choose her own religion. And because Lina has embraced the Christian faith, this is all the more reason for the Malaysian Church to stand with her and say, we are ALL Lina Joy. Nevertheless, as Christians the means we adopt ought not to mirror the antagonism and arrogance common in public protest. My own view is similar to the Gandhian approach of non-violent protest, also shared by Martin Luther King. We do what we can, and as in all things, leave all in God's good hand come what may.

BTW, Lina’s quandary raised an interesting thought. Her opponents say her apostasy questions the issue of race as a Malay is constitutionally defined as a Muslim (Article 160:2). Present laws conspire to separate Malaysians into racial categories of Malay, Indian, Chinese, and the ambiguous “lain-lain” (others). If it is true that she has renounced Islam, technically she would not be Malay. If she cannot be allowed to be Malay, then by transcending her racial identity she is perhaps more Malaysian than us all.

4 comments:

Nizam Bashir said...

Dear David,

Just a note in relation to this paragraph:

"BTW, Lina’s quandary raised an interesting thought. Her opponents say her apostasy questions the issue of race as a Malay is constitutionally defined as a Muslim (Article 160:2). Present laws conspire to separate Malaysians into racial categories of Malay, Indian, Chinese, and the ambiguous “lain-lain” (others). If it is true that she has renounced Islam, technically she would not be Malay. If she cannot be allowed to be Malay, then by transcending her racial identity she is perhaps more Malaysian than us all."

Actually, Article 160(2) does not define Malay racially but anthropologically and wherein the common characteristics specified thereto being professing the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay customs AND:
(a) born in Malaysia prior to 31.8.1957 or born of parents one of whom was born in Malaysia; OR
(b) is the child of parents who fit the matters specified in (a).

Since Lina is less than 49 years old, she arguably comes under paragraph (b). As her parents conform to the matters specified above, Lina Joy therefore is Malay.

In that sense, Lina is far from "technically not Malay".

However, to be fair, some counter-arguments have been forwarded that this does not hold water as the definition is said to be only applicable in relation to the special rights or land which are granted to Malays.

Still, there are other Articles coming into play and the intellectual debate in this respect continues to rage on.

David BC Tan said...

Thanks for the clarification. I suppose what bothers me is how race and religion became inseparable. We can't choose our ethnicity, but we certainly ought to be able to choose what to believe. While as you say the debate rages on, it does not and cannot alter the fact that freedom of belief is denied Malays. Why should it be so?

Nizam Bashir said...

Dear David,

Sorry, just noticed your response today. Might I first ask whether you wish to be addressed from a religious perspective or a legal perspective?

David BC Tan said...

It would be interesting to read both the religious and legal perspectives. Thanks for asking.