Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Advantage BN

PM Najib has stolen the thunder from Pakatan with a timely Cabinet ruling on child conversion following the latest controversy involving Hindu mother Indira Ghandi. Several religious groups and NGOs were reportedly happy and so was I.
To soothe uneasiness over the controversial conversion of minors to Islam, the Cabinet decided on Wednesday that Muslim converts had to meet their marriage commitments and raise their children in the religion they were in at the time of their marriage.

It also directed the Attorney-General to look at which laws need to be amended in line with the decision to stop the conversion of minors without the consent of both parents. [More]
Indeed. Laws need to be amended so that the Cabinet’s decision carries weight.

"A directive has no legal effect in the court of law. It may be persuasive in court but again, it has no legal effect," said lawyer A. Sivanesan who’s acting on behalf of Indira Ghandi.

You could say the Cabinet decision was a compromise of sorts and there remain grey areas to address. There is still some wrangling, and a father gone AWOL. The point however is, it is a step forward.

This puts Pakatan in a quandary and as reports start coming in, DAP and PAS are again on opposite ends of the debate, with PKR trying to straddle the ideological divide. Whatever PKR may be saying about the coalition adopting a ‘middle-path’ and as commendable as the stance may be, it waits to be seen whether the middle-pathers will not succumb to the Islamists.

It is one thing for Syed Husin Ali to say that Pakatan needs only a ‘minimum’ to keep together (which presumably means the basic tenets required to stay together as a viable opposition coalition). That’s fine, but surely we who have voted in Pakatan have the right to expect more.

Sure, the coalition is not a monolithic homogeneous entity, and we understand the ride ahead will be bumpy. But the message of March 8 and the end of the political journey is not merely the establishing of Pakatan; it is the sustaining and nurture of higher ideals, i.e., the freedom to be Malaysians without the triangulation of race, religion and class, founded upon a common vision of justice, equality, integrity towards a progressive and prosperous nation. This means whatever stance Pakatan adopts had better move us all closer to this hope.

Anyway, as encouraging as BN’s decision is, I can’t help but feel a little bothered and more than a bit cynical. While JAKIM, PUM, the Perak Mufti, and other Islamist NGOs are making all the requisite noises, the Cabinet decision appears pretty much a done thing. You know, just get the AG to amend laws, etc. Just like that, with a press release and a stroke of the pen. QED. All these men and women strutting down those proverbial corridors of power can at a moment’s notice sit down and arrive miraculously at a consensus.

Imagine how long we have had to put up with mobs, mothers separated from children, bodies snatched from mortuaries, juvenile spin by one minister or another, threats of another May 13, tough talk by religious groups, etc. It goes to show that if the powers-that-be really wanted to resolve conflicts however sensitive these issues are, they could have. Yet they did not. Can you blame cynics when they conclude that all this feet-dragging was because BN’s interest wasn't served?

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