Friday, April 11, 2008

Is PAS rethinking the Islamic State?

MCA secretary-general Datuk Ong Ka Chuan thinks we’ve all been lulled by the promises of the Pakatan we’re ignoring PAS’ Islamist goal to our detriment: “…who can guarantee that PAS will not go ahead to make Malaysia an Islamic state in time to come when it becomes powerful enough to do so?" he asked. "If PAS' PR partners cannot convince it to give up the Islamic state goal, (what) they are (doing is) "Yang hu wei hua" (inviting troubles).

Coming from a BN man whose party did not and could not stop UMNO from declaring Malaysia a “negara Islam” this is laughable. What did the other BN component parties do when UMNO zealots hijacked the Constitution and threatened everyone who wouldn’t get it to get out? Other than token disapprovals, nada. Damage control was left to fed-up voters to take a collective stand to cut UMNO down to size and give its whiny partners the boot.

To Ka Chuan’s credit, he did make a stand by invoking historical documents such as the Reid Report (1957) and the Cobbold Commission (1963) to prove Malaysia’s secularity. But did his objection move UMNO to give up its own Islamist ambitions? Nope. So, he should be wagging his finger at us.

Having said all this, I welcome PAS’ vice-president Husam Musa’s recent statement that an Islamic state is not on the Pakatan agenda. “We accept the federal constitution as the main frame (in governing) and it is the basis where we move,” assuring partners, especially DAP, not to worry about PAS’ intention.

That’s good news. Happily it’s another step forward towards a more cohesive opposition coalition.

Farish Noor also wonders if PAS is not evolving and adapting to our multicultural realities, alluding to the party’s seminal left-leaning past. In broad strokes he argues that religious parties worldwide tends towards compromise to consolidate their political survival. “Likewise many Islamist parties and movements in the Arab world have also made the same sort of important and symbolic concessions to non-Muslims in their bid for power,” he writes.

If that is true, this is even better news.

But I’m not so sure. Concessions are nice, but it’s not enough. Although all this seems like so much progress and while I applaud a ‘moderate’ PAS (and indeed am somewhat relieved), I want a stronger and clearer commitment.

In May 1957 at the London Constitutional talks, the following was recorded by the then Colonial Office regarding Article 2A (providing for Islam as official religion):

One deviation from the recommendations of the Reid Commission is that Islam becomes the State Religion of Malaya. Since, however, the provisions safeguarding the rights of religious minorities remain, this alteration has more political significance than practical effect. The members of the [Alliance] delegation stressed that they had no intention of creating a Muslim theocracy and that Malaya would be a secular State.

Constitutional scholar Shad Saleem Faruqi also agrees that while Islam is the religion of the Federation, the primary intent was symbolic and ceremonial.

I would feel a lot happier if by saying PAS “accepts” the Federal Constitution, they mean its secularity, or its non-religious basis. I would like to hear Pakatan cohorts agreeing that the future they are forging is secular statehood not the diddling ambiguity of “Islam is the official religion but we respect all religions...”

Such a stand has been used to justify Islam as state ideology and the incipient Islamisation of state machinery and institutions. Enough with UMNO's mantra that “Malaysia is an Islamic State; it’s not a theocracy.” It’s disingenuous but I’m not biting, because Malaysia is neither, since the intent of the Constitution was obviously secular.

I cast my vote for Pakatan; I said good riddance to BN. I’d like to believe that the tectonic shifts of the 12th GE will also be groundbreaking in its handling of the Islamic question. Perhaps I hope too much?

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