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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

'Allah' row: Dealing with false insecurities - Malayskiakini

News of the series of attacks against churches sent shockwaves not only across Malaysia but beyond its shores. Although tensions have existed between different religious groups, few imagined it would descend into the kind of violence experienced recently.

Within days, there were arson attacks on at least eight churches in various locations throughout the country (in Klang Valley, Perak, Melaka, Sarawak and Seremban), in which the Metro Tabernacle church had its ground floor (its administrative office) entirely destroyed.

Although police investigations are ongoing, speculation is the attacks are linked to a controversial court ruling on Dec 31, 2009, effectively allowing the Catholic newsletter Herald to use 'Allah' in reference to God in its Malay edition.

'Allah' has been used for God amongst the Malay-speaking East Malaysian Christians for centuries, but problems only arose in 2007 when the Home Ministry threatened not to renew Herald's publishing licence.

Some have insinuated that it was only after the newsletter began carrying critical pieces against the government that the clampdown began.

NONEThe court ruling has stirred uneasiness amongst certain sections of the Muslim community, and this has been aggravated by regular racist and inflammatory articles in a mainstream newspaper Utusan Malaysia.

These groups say it loud and clear that 'Allah is for Muslims only'.

It is therefore, important to identify the various fears and insecurities involved in this highly emotional issue.

Perhaps it should be stated upfront that the primary reason for which some Muslims in Malaysia demand exclusive rights to 'Allah' is they fear that others, mainly Christians, will propagate other religions to them.

The oft-quoted claim is that non-Muslims are wont to use the term to "misguide, mislead and confuse", and thereafter to convince Muslims to abjure Islam.

First, whilst it is true that one of the tenets of the Christian faith is to spread itself, the federal constitution makes it illegal for any non-Muslim to proselytise to Muslims.

Hence, should there be evidence for such incidents taking place, the constitution exists to protect Muslims' rights against such actions should they wish to prosecute.

However, the recent court ruling has nothing to do with proselytising or religious conversion. The issue, to be clear, involves the constitutional human right to one's language.

Article 11 of the federal constitution states that every person has the right to profess and practise his religion. The East Malaysian Christians have known no term other than the disputed 'Allah' in their worship of God.

To require them to adopt another term is in fact sacrilege. Using the term is a fundamental part of their very "practice of the religion" as promised to them.

Second, if indeed the reason for the Catholic Church insisting on the use of 'Allah' to refer to God is one of a natural human right, then it is necessary for them to state this unreservedly.

Statements have in fact been issued, declaring that their use of 'Allah' has absolutely no intention of misleading Muslims.

A community's right to practise its faith

Perhaps this is a message worth repeating, to assuage the obviously palpable fears. This is an important move in ensuring harmony amongst all religions.

Some have argued that the Muslim God is entirely different from the Christian God, and indeed religious scholars have debated this with vastly varying thoughts on the subject.

However, it must be reiterated that the present case is not so much a theological issue as it is one of defending a community's right to practise its faith, in its natural language of use.

Third, even if Christian publications in Malay using 'Allah' happen to be picked up and read randomly by a Muslim individual, this does not mean he or she will automatically convert into Christianity.

Followers of any religion surely ought to be more secure in their faith, such that exposure to other religious teachings would not so easily erode their beliefs.

We live in a global world, and one in which technology allows any Muslim to Google, say, "Allah used by Middle East Christians".

This then brings one to the question of dialogue and discussion. Religious communities in any multifaith environment will always have different opinions.

NONEThis holds true in Malaysia, as it does in other cosmopolitan countries. What is imperative, however, is for such potentially explosive issues to be resolved in a rational and calm manner.

Civilised exchanges, such as the kind the Malaysian government propagates internationally but never locally, ought to be encouraged and promoted by official bodies.

At this stage, however, my faith lies in the budding of informal groups.

Stories I have heard in the past week in teary outrage at the violence perpetrated at churches include this: Three ustads from a mosque visiting the neighbouring church to say that the Christian worshippers need not worry for their safety.

Other beautiful stories are being written, that reflect firm friendships between Muslims and Christians, many decades old.

Small discussion groups between those of all faiths are emerging within communities and civil society, and perhaps it is only through these real friendships that there can be any sign of hope for Malaysia.

Disputes will always remain, but it is the systematic and genuine manner of dealing with them that speaks of a society's maturity. Let not the minds of many be clouded by the actions of a few, nor by the occasional hypocrisy of political parties.

If love, grace, forgiveness and mercy truly do lie at the very core of all religions, then this is the best time for their followers to demonstrate it.

Tricia Yeoh is a Research Officer to the Selangor Menteri Besar. the author's views are her personal opinions and do not represent any institution she is affiliated with.

Jangan pindahkan kubur!

- Uthayakumar menyeru Kerajaan Kedah

KUALA LUMPUR, 12 Januari – Parti Hak Asasi Manusia Malaysia (HRP) telah meminta Kerajaan Kedah agar mengubah keputusannya untuk mengalihkan kubur Hindu berusia lebih 100 tahun yang bertapak di Kuala Ketil.

Demi menjalankan perancangan Kolej Universiti Insaniah (KUIN) Kerajaan Negeri mengambil keputusan untuk mengalihkan kubur Hindu di Kuala Ketil ke tempat lain. Menurut Uthayakumar yang juga merupakan Setiausaha Agung HRP, kubur tersebut yang menjadi sebahagian daripada sejarah orang India harus dikekalkan dan dipulihara. Tambah beliau, “saya meminta Menteri Besar Kedah Azizan Abdul Razak supaya kubur yang dianggarkan 0.8 hektar tersebut didaftarkan sebagai kubur Hindu yang tetap di bawah Jabatan Pendaftaran Kerajaan”. Pihak British telah menghadiahkan tapak tersebut kepada peladang India yang bekerja di tempat tersebut.


RSS demands Govt intervention on plight of Indians in Malaysia

New Delhi, Jan 11 : The RSS has demanded the Government’s immediate intervention to address the sufferings of the people of Indian origin living in Malaysia and opening of a special wing in the Ministry of External Affairs to register and follow up on Human Rights violations and religious freedom of Indians abroad.

‘The Government was enthusiastically organising Bharatiya Pravasi Diwas annually to canvass for increased investment from the powerful NRIs, but was failing the less-privileged overseas Indians,” the Sangh said in the latest edition of its mouthpiece Organiser.

It accused the Government of ”taking little or no interest” in addressing the problems of Indian community living abroad.

The RSS said for the last many years, group of Indian origin people from Malaysia had been petitioning the Indian Government about the serious racial discrimination going on in that country and a delegation of oppressed Indian community in Malaysia, led by Waytha Moorthy Ponnusamy, attended the Bharatiya Pravsai Diwas held here last week and narrated their sufferings to the participants in a memorandum.

The victims were third, fourth and fifth generation of Malaysians of Indian origin and were descendant of migrants from India taken as as labourers, there by the British.

The memorandum says the eight per cent strong Indian origin community in Malaysia was facing religious persecution and their basic human rights and rights as citizens of the land of their forefathers were being violated by the Malaysian regime.

For raising these issues and organising a massive protest, a number of Malaysian lawyers including Mr P Uday (Uthaya) Kumar and Mr M Manoharan were arrested and detained without trial under the draconian Internal Security Act for 514 days, and these two lawyers who were released recently attended the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas to plead their case before a large audience, drawn from all over the world, the RSS said.

Underlining that India, traditionally has cordial relations with Malaysia and has large area of mutual cooperation and trade relations with that country, the Sangh urged the Government to play a proactive role in redressing the situation.

It should convince them to be mindful of the UN Declaration of Human Rights which in itself goes a long way in helping the Indian community lead a life of dignity.

The Government can also open a special wing in the Ministry of External Affairs to register and follow up on Human Rights violations and religious freedom of Indians living abroad.

”This is the least the Government can do as it hosts such self-serving jamborees year after year in the name of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas,” it said.


Sekolah Tamil Kuala Muda Home mungkin ditutup kerana masalah pengangkutan pelajar

SUNGAI PETANI, 8 Januari, - Disebabkan oleh masalah pengangkutan bas yang dihadapi pelajar Sekolah Tamil Kuala Muda Home menghadapi risiko ditutup. Sekolah yang terdiri daripada 11 guru mempunyai lima orang pelajar sahaja. Selain 5 buah keluarga yang masih tinggal di ladang, keluarga lain yang berpindah keluar menglami kesukaran untuk menghantar anak-anak mereka ke sekolah kerana masalah pengangkutan.

Malah mereka menghantar anak-anak mereka ke sekolah terdekat iaitu Sekolah Tamil Maha Jothi di mana jumlah pelajar telah melebihi dan menghadapi masalah kekurangan kerusi. Sebuah van lama berfungsi sebagai bas sekolah membawa seramai 30 pelajar macam disumbat dalam tin sardin. Van ini telah kemalangan pada awal tahun lepas dan telah meragut nyawa beberapa pelajar. Para ibu bapa pula bertekad akan menghantar anak-anak mereka ke sekolah ini sekiranya perkhidmatan bas sekolah disediakan. Dalam mengatasi risiko penutupan sekolah para guru sekolah ini sedang mendaftar anak-anak mereka dan anak saudara dan memberi perkhidmatan pengangutan sendiri secara sukarela. Sekolah Tamil Kuala Muda Home yang mencatat peningkatan dari 16% kepada 45% berharap agar dapat meningkatkan peratus pencapaian pelajar dalam peperiksaan UPSR pada tahun ini. Sekiranya masalah pengangkutan ini dapat diatasi, maka ia akan membuka ruang supaya lebih ramai lagi pelajar akan didaftarkan di sekolah ini malah lebih ramai lagi guru dapat diberi peluang untuk berkhidmat.


Bombs tarnish Malaysia's terror record

Asia Times Online, Jan 12 2010

By Ioannis Gatsiounis

KUALA LUMPUR - With much of the Islamic world beset by violence, majority Muslim Malaysia had prided itself on its comparatively clean record of no major episodes of terrorism on its home soil.

That badge of distinction was tarnished early on Friday when three Kuala Lumpur-based Christian churches were firebombed in apparent response to a New Year's Eve court ruling that allowed a

ocal Catholic newspaper to use the word "Allah" to refer to the Christian god.

"Allah", an Arabic word meaning "one god", predates Islam and is used by Christians in a number of other Muslim countries without controversy.

Five more Christian churches were attacked over the weekend into Monday, leaving the ruling United Malays Nasional Organization (UMNO) to fend off accusations that it should bear some responsibility for the attacks after years of being accused of stoking racial and religious hatred for political mileage among the country's majority Malays. The predominantly Muslim ethnic group makes up 60% of the population and has in recent years lurched towards more religious conservatism.

Prime Minister Najib Razak sharply denied that the race-based party instigated the unprecedented outbreak of anonymous violence. "Do not point the fingers at UMNO or anyone else. We have always been very responsible," he said at a press conference.

Najib launched the concept of "One Malaysia" shortly after taking office last year so that, as he has put it, "Malaysia will be the sum total of all [its] races" governed by "mutual respect and not just tolerance". But a number of his administration's actions and statements have run counter to the catchy slogan's spirit of unity.

Around the time that Najib introduced "One Malaysia", he appointed his cousin, Hishammuddin Hussein, as home affairs minister. It was a curious choice, considering Hishammuddin's history of inciting racial tensions, including most notably when as education minister he waved a traditional Malay dagger at an UMNO annual assembly in a threatening gesture towards the country's two main minorities, the ethnic Chinese and Indians.

Since his appointment, he has opposed human-rights rallies but has defended Malays who last year paraded a severed cow's head, a direct affront to Hindu beliefs that view cows as sacred, in protest against the construction of a new Hindu temple.

No major UMNO leader called for restraint in the days leading up to the planned protests against the "Allah" court ruling, while the cousins - who have typically opposed freedom of expression on the putative grounds that it would threaten national stability - went as far as to defend the planned protest.

No one has yet been arrested in connection with the church attacks, and the government has pointed at unidentified hooligans without producing evidence to back those claims. Hishammuddin, who is also an UMNO vice president, said the attacks were aimed at creating chaos and inciting hatred towards the government, insinuating that the attacks were a conspiracy against UMNO.

Racial double standards
Yet it can be said that the government's race-based politics have fed notions of superiority and given tacit license to the upsurge of intolerance now plaguing sections of the Malay community.

"The irresponsible conduct of fanning the emotions by UMNO leaders has brought about this dangerous situation," said a Malay opposition politician, Zaid Ibrahim, in a press statement on Friday. "What we see today confirms that this country is being governed not by engagement, consultation, sophistication or persuasion, but by brute and mob force."

The last major instance of racially motivated violence occurred in 1969, when clashes between Malays and Chinese left up to 2,000 people dead over a two-and-a-half month span. Yet recent history has arguably emboldened UMNO, which has dominated domestic politics since the country achieved independence.

Blessed with a docile citizenry, the party has conducted its communal brinkmanship without fear of major consequence or reprisal. Now it finds itself in the unenviable position of having to rein in a situation that eerily hints at the tipping point that many moderate Malaysians have long feared: a brazen spate of race-based violence that begets more of the same.

At a minimum, the face-saving myth of racial harmony that Malaysian politicians have claimed to international audiences is now in tatters. That sanitized notion came by way of sloganeering, a tightly controlled media, and billions spent on eye-catching infrastructure projects intended to make Malaysia appear both modern and progressive.

With that myth now laid bare, some expect tourist numbers to drop. The violence may also force Malaysians to look more squarely at the social rot in their midst and take a more proactive approach to repairing damaged race relations. There are some hopeful signs.

Some 130 Muslim non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have reportedly volunteered to help ensure the safety of Christian churches around the country. The Muslim chief executive of one local bank has donated 100,000 ringgit (US$$30,000) on behalf of his institution for church reconstruction. And the government plans to hold an inter-faith dialogue, after having shot down the idea in the past.

Even so, beyond the media's glare, there are indications that Malaysians are retreating into the pattern of ignoring, rather than talking through, unsettled issues that cut across ethnic lines. That tendency had helped maintain a tenuous peace, but deeply ingrained racial resentments appear to have played a hand in the recent spate of attacks.

Three years ago, this correspondent queried Najib in his capacity as deputy prime minister about the deep-seated stereotypes and antagonisms Malaysia 's three main ethnic groups - the Malays, Indians and Chinese - shared for each other. Najib said that was fine, so long as each group kept their resentments within the four proverbial walls of their respective community.

His reply was indicative of UMNO's tendency to treat the symptoms rather than the root of the problem. It was inevitable that one day one of those walls would come crashing down; that day of reckoning apparently arrived on Friday with the attacks on a number of Christian churches. UMNO and Najib will now have to look past their "four walls" for real solutions.

Ioannis Gatsiounis, a New York native, is a Malaysia-based freelance journalist and author whose recently released debut of fiction, Velvet and Cinder Blocks, details a planned attack on a Christian landmark in Malaysia. His blog is

A Cold Look At The State Of Malaysia Today

By Farish A. Noor

At a time when tempers are rising and we are being treated to a rather crude and vulgar display of verbal pyrotechnics and hammy acting on the part of pundits and politicians alike, it would pay to take some objective distance from the current sad state of Malaysian politics in order to stare at ourselves in the face and ask the important question: Why are we in the present state we find ourselves in today, and how did we get here?

As of last week Malaysia has entered the inglorious list of countries where inter-religious tensions have risen to the point where places of worship have been attacked. Notwithstanding the identity of the attackers concerned, and what could have possibly motivated their actions, the cost of these developments are high and perhaps even permanent, as Malaysia is now being unfavourably compared to countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Indonesia where temples, mosques and churches have been put to the torch. An appalling start to a new year and a new decade if there ever was one, and one that bodes ill for Malaysia’s ambitions to be regarded as a nation-state with some pretense of civility and development.

Nonetheless other commentators have reminded us to look beyond the fiery discourse and to identify the real economic-structural issues that continue to bedevil the nation. Others have called on Malaysians to remain steadfast in adhering to our principles of belief and not to show fear in the face of violent sectarian bigotry and hate-mongering.

Beyond these moot points however remain also real structural and material concerns that ought to be brought to our attention, and which make themselves readily visible as soon as we turn off our emotional buttons and analyse these developments with some degree of cold objectivity.

For a start, we need to look at the state of this nation-in-the-making and seriously ask ourselves if the Malaysian project can even be sustained in the face of such pressures. Now any historian will tell you that nations are neither historically determined nor are their existential status guaranteed or necessitated by the vagaries of history. There is nothing that determines the existential status of a nation save the wilfull desire on the part of its members to deliberately put it together and to collectively sustain the notion of a shared identity. No essentialist premises are there to serve as solid ground, no primordial attachments that can be defended by recourse to itself. Nations are composite and accidental entities and can only be sustained by those who are its members.

Yet looking at the state of Malaysian politics and society today, we see that all the feeble attempts to cobble together a Malaysian nation - be it in the name of ‘1Malaysia’, ‘Malaysian Malaysia’ or what have you, are being dashed against the hard rocks of sectarian communitarian interests that are short-sighted and being articulated by those who do not even believe that there can or should be a Malaysian nation that is complex and diverse in the first place. And to cap it off, our febrile attempts at injecting some degree of pluralism and complexity into the Malaysian story is one that stops short of narrow essentialist claims of communal solidarity and difference instead, be it on the basis of race/ethnicity, culture, language or religion.

Thus is ought to come as no surprise to us if the debate over the use of the word Allah soon turned into a polemic, then a controversy and ultimately to violence. For a cursory look at the events of 2008-2009 have demonstrated that Malaysian society remains fragmented along the lines of sectarian exclusive claims that oddly enough mirror each other while in no way compliments the process of nation-building in the broadest, inclusive sense.

What point is there of talking about a Malaysian nation when almost all political parties in the country promote some form of educational segregation or another, be it along vernacular/linguistic-cultural lines or religious lines? And what point is there of talking about a nation when the parties in the country cannot even agree if there is to be one or two legal systems? Malaysia must be the only country in the world deluded enough to think that a complex nation can emerge out of five parallel educational streams and two legal systems. And to compound matters further after half a century of confused existence, this is still a country whose political parties remain bound to their respective ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious constituencies.

It is this utter lack (or even contempt) of/for consistency that has led us to witnessing the sordid spectacle of the past week or so; when communitarian leaders openly preach conspiracy theories and weave tales of plots in full public view. And when right-wing ethno-nationalist leaders condemn acts of violence and violent rhetoric when they themselves have been involved in violent acts, campaigns and gestures in the past. Forgive me for being picky here, but I would argue that politicians who have waved weapons in public, or led demonstrations calling for the ‘death of traitors’, have no credibility to stand in solidarity with victims of violent intimidation.

Putting aside the particularlities and differences between the parties and their respective egoistic leaders, let us remind ourselves of the fact that almost all of the parties in the country have, to some extent, championed one communitarian and/or sectarian cause or another, be it vernacular education for their community, religious education for their community, linguistic rights for their community, cultural rights for their community etc. How rare it is for us today to find a Malaysian politician who can think outside the narrow confines of his/her own respective ethnic/cultural/religious group, and adopt the notion of a common universal citizenship as the basis of their politics. And in the absence of Malaysian-minded politicians, how can we honestly expect to have anything that resembles a Malaysian politics?

It is this fundamental political culture of sectarian narrow politics that continues to blight almost everything and anything that comes under the rubric of the Malaysian national project today, and renders hollow all these vainglorious claims to a ‘1Malaysia’, ‘Malaysian Malaysia’ etc, while also accounting for the phenomenal expansion of a new public domain made up and dominated by NGOs of a different ilk altogether: namely the communitarian NGOs, mass movements and lobby groups that mirror the communitarian landscape of our politics and advance its communitarian agenda further.

Set against this backdrop of a country that is no longer singular but plural and not speaking to itself, one ought not to be surprised by the developments of recent days, weeks or months. The Malaysian project has been laboured on and talked about at length, but we seem to be further from it than ever before. The demographic factor that accounts for this is simply that while communal feeling and identity have been strengthened more than ever by our politicians and political parties, true Malaysians seem to be few and far between. Romantically-inclined individuals may find some cause for lament in all this, but sadly for a political historian like me, all I can say is that I have seen it all before, in all the broken, tattered, dysfunctional states I have had the misfortune to visit and study.

Another ‘Allah’ court battle looms

(left to right) Pastor Danil Raut,Pastor Simon Petraus,Pastor Alfred Tias from Sidang Injil Borneo(SIB) and Lawyer Annou Xavier before they enter court. - Picture by Choo choy May

By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 12 — The High Court here fixed March 15 for the mention of an application by a Melanau woman to challenge the Home Ministry’s decision in confiscating eight compact discs of Christian religious teachings containing the word “Allah”.

The date was fixed by deputy registrar Nik Mohd Fadli Nik Azlan, setting the stage for another court battle over the word “Allah”.

The country has been gripped by a raging debate over the word since the High Court ruled on December 31 that the Catholic weekly Herald’s Bahasa Malaysia edition had a constitutional right to use the word “Allah” in its Christian sense.

The ruling sparked protests from Muslim groups and has been linked to a series of firebombing and arson attacks against at least eight churches in the past few days.

In the latest case, the applicant has claimed that the compact discs which were confiscated was for her own personal use.

Pastor Danil Raut explaining their position. - Picture by Choo Choy May

The said publications were in audio visual form and had the words “Allah” printed on them. Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, 27, was granted leave on May 4 last year to initiate the judicial review proceedings against the ministry and the government, as respondents.

She wants an order of certiorari to quash the ministry’s decision to confiscate the CDs, an order of mandamus to direct the ministry to return the CDs to her and a declaration that she has the legitimate expectation to exercise her right to possess, use and import publications containing the word “Allah”.

On May 11 last year, the ministry seized the CDs under Section 9 (1) of the Printing Presses And Publications Act 1984 when Ireland, a clerk, disembarked at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in Sepang.

The CDs containing titles including “Cara Menggunakan Kunci Kerajaan Allah, Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah and Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah” were brought in from Indonesia.

Ireland, a Sarawakian native of the Christian faith, claimed that she used the word “Allah” in her prayers, worship and religious education. She claimed that she received a letter dated July 7 last year from the ministry outlining the reasons for the confiscation, including that it was a threat to security, that it used prohibited words and that it was a breach of Jakim guidelines.

Correcting the IGP

By Shanon Shah

ARSONISTS attacked eight churches
Musa Hassan (Pic by Ridzuan Aziz / Wiki
between 8 and 11 Jan 2010 all over Malaysia — something unheard of in the country's history. And yet, on 9 Jan, Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Musa Hassan advised churches to tighten security at their premises because there were not enough police officers to guard them.

On 11 Jan, 130 Muslim non-governmental organisations volunteered to work alongside voluntary corp Rela to prevent further attacks. Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia (PPIM) executive secretary Datuk Nadzim Johan said, "We wouldn't want our Christian brothers to be in danger. This is an offer of peace and goodwill."

Yet, PPIM's 2 Jan press statement "strongly objected" the High Court decision to allow Catholic publication Herald to use the word "Allah". PPIM said it was worried the decision would "spark chaos in the country due to the sentiments of Muslims who were sensitive with issues that touched on their faith".

What is the picture that emerges after we put together the IGP's stand and the stand taken by these Muslim NGOs? Firstly, our official law enforcers have abdicated responsibility in a moment of crisis, the moment law enforcement is urgently required. Secondly, this state-created vacuum has been filled up by special interest groups. In other words, the very people steadfast against Christians in Malaysia exercising freedom of religion are promising to "protect" them.

It could well be that the Muslim NGOs have noble intentions and might guard churches effectively. But this doesn't change the fact that the state has inadvertently given the green light to vigilantes to take the law into their own hands, even if this is framed as a neighbourhood watch-like effort.

Seriously, how hard would it have been for Musa to have said, "The police force is committed to upholding the law and protecting those who are most vulnerable to attacks in these difficult times"?

In denial?

Perhaps there is just a sense of incredulity in the air — church burnings are alien to Malaysia, supposedly an oasis of diversity as per the government's oft-repeated 1Malaysia slogan. And after all, didn't the first prime minister of Malaya and then Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, say that we would be "forever a sovereign democratic and independent state founded upon the principle of liberty and justice"?

Tunku Abdul Rahman (Public domain)
But just because Tunku promised us a diverse and peaceful nation doesn't mean we might not go down the path of sectarianism and violence. After all, the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, also said to its Constituent Assembly on 11 Aug 1947: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state."

But in August 2009, a Muslim mob entered a village in Gojra, Punjab, and torched Christian houses there. The violence erupted because of unconfirmed rumours that Christians had desecrated the Quran. Eight Christians were killed. Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti himself visited Gojra after the violence, and accused the police of negligence even after the government had asked for Christian minorities to be protected. Then in September 2009, a Muslim mob set fire to a church in Sambrial, again due to unconfirmed reports of desecration of the Quran by Christians.

What happened in the space of 62 years in modern Pakistan's history? First of all, the country's constitution was abrogated after a military coup in 1958, during which General Ayub Khan assumed presidency. Pakistan returned briefly to democratic rule in the 1970s when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became president. But he was then deposed by General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq in yet another military coup in 1977.

Zia then introduced a wave of Islamisation measures, including legislation outlawing blasphemy subsequently used to target Christians and Ahmadiyah. Also introduced was the Zina Ordinance, which introduced lashing and stoning as punishments for adultery. At the same time, Zia was a US ally and fought a proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Much of the violence against Christians in Pakistan has since stemmed from both legal and extra-legal attitudes towards the crime of "blasphemy". For example, in May 1993, Christians Salamat Masih, 12, Manzoor Masih, 37, and Rehmat Masih, 42, were charged with writing derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad on a mosque wall in Gujranwala. The three were actually illiterate. In April 1994, after their court hearing, they were sprayed with bullets from individuals riding on two motorbikes. Manzoor died almost instantly.

In February 1995, Lahore High Court Judge Arif Iqbal Hussain Bhatti threw out the prosecution's case and acquitted Salamat and Rehmat. In October 1997, the same judge was shot to death in his office. To date, his killer and Manzoor's killers have not been brought to justice. Salamat and Rehmat have since gone into exile.

Only words

Demonstrators against the "Allah" ruling, at the National Mosque on 8 Jan

What the example of Pakistan demonstrates is this: proclamations of peace and respect for diversity become meaningless if the state abdicates its role to uphold peace and diversity. And the state can abdicate its responsibility in many ways. The executive might decide to disregard the constitution, or allow unelected institutions such as the police and army to abuse their powers, or refuse to protect and respect the judiciary's independence.

True, extremism and bigotry among certain sectors will always be a problem. But the nature of the public is that there will always be a diversity of views and beliefs. Take the Muslim NGOs who protested against the use of "Allah" by non-Muslims after Friday prayers on 8 Jan. The NGOs claimed to represent "Islam" in all its glory, and yet the demonstrations were not well-attended even by fellow Friday-prayer congregants.

We need to hold the right individuals and institutions accountable. At this juncture, we must ask the IGP what exactly he means when he says the police are unable to ensure the security of churches in Malaysia.

We must tell him that his explanation is unacceptable to peace-loving citizens in a "sovereign democratic and independent state founded upon the principle of liberty and justice". And we must make sure he understands that Malaysia should learn from the experiences of countries like Pakistan and not repeat their mistakes. This can easily be done — after all, he has given us his mobile phone number.

Regretful bigotry and intolerance

The past one year has seen and witnessed happenings that do not bring cheer to our hearts. If anything, it has been a year of disappointments and disillusions.

By P Ramakrishnan (President, Aliran)

Greed and corruption was made use of to topple a people’s government in Perak. In that process the legislative assembly was dragged in the mud and made a laughing stock without any compunction. Goons were deployed to evict a duly elected Speaker of the Assembly in order to foist a pretender as Speaker.

The much awaited Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission did not live up to the expectations of the Malaysian public. We thought that it would do a better job than its predecessor, the ACA. Giving a new label to an old institution that was famous for going after the small fish, cannot make it do wonders. As they say old habits die hard.

It is still seen as going after the opposition rather than the big timers. Teoh Beng Hock and the RM2,700 was a case that was given top priority over millions of ringgit involving Khir Toyol. There are other glaring examples of mind-boggling corruption that had unsurprisingly escaped the scrutiny of the MAAC.

Our judiciary is such a let-down that Malaysians are wondering whether the right people have been appointed to dispense justice without fear or favour. Some of the decisions were blatantly appalling and baffling even to the legal fraternity who understand the intricacies of the finer points of the law. Certain judges are apparently incapable of living up to their oath of office in delivering judgments so much so the whole judicial process is brought to public contempt.

The rule of law, it seems, is not only trampled upon by the executive, it is equally ignored by the judiciary at times when it mattered most.

But of all that has happened that has really disturbed me and caused me much anguish is the cow head’s incident. What happened is not merely the display of a cow head to oppose a legitimate right of a community but the declaration that a minority community cannot have a place of worship in an area where a majority of another faith resides. It is an issue that challenges the right of a community to profess and practice its faith as a matter of fundamental right as conferred by the Federal Constitution. No man has a right to deny another his place of worship.

It is a universal right that is proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which has been rectified by the Malaysian government. Article 18 states,

“Every person has the right of thought, conscience and religion....and in public or private to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

No man or community, whether in the majority or minority, has any right to oppose the construction of a place of worship. It simply doesn’t have that right.

Religion is personal, it is essential and it is an integral part of a person and a community. No man or group of people have any right to oppose it or deny their right to have a temple, church, mosque or a gudwara or a synagogue.

This is why it was so grossly unjust for some misguided bigots to drag a cow’s head to protest the relocation of a Hindu temple from Section 19 to Section 23 in Shah Alam. They threatened bloodshed if the construction of the temple went ahead in a 90% Malay-Muslim neighbourhood.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister did not go on TV to condemn this highly provocative and unbecoming behaviour of these 50 odd irresponsible protestors. This is what the PM should have done immediately to send the message that Malaysia will not tolerate irresponsible elements who threaten our unity and harmony.

What is wrong in having a place of worship in a Malay majority area? The majority of Malays who are accommodating, tolerant, and peace-loving Malaysians who have lived in harmony with the various other communities in this country do not subscribe to this position of intolerance as propagated by these unruly elements that are bent in wreaking our unity.

Don’t they know that the Holy Prophet had even invited the Christians to carry out their rituals within his mosque when the Christians wanted to go out into the desert to perform their mass.

When the Holy Prophet can invite them into his own place of worship, what is so objectionable in having a temple quite a distance from the residential area of the Muslims? According to Hisham al-Zoubeir, what the Holy Prophet did “was not mere tolerance; this was respect, if not acceptance. He met them with what he considered to be absolute truths, but not as a bigot.”

What happens if in Europe the majority of Christians take a stand to disallow a place of worship of another community that professes a different faith, will we say that is a right of that community? If India adopts that undemocratic stand and refuses to allow the worship of another faith in the predominantly Hindu community, would we condone that?

It is a matter of great regret that our top leaders did not take an uncompromising stand and condemn the misled recalcitrants in our midst.

Calling the cow a stupid animal to criticize the state government displays gross ignorance and stupidity.

(Aliran President delivered the above message during Aliran’s annual general meeting on 29 November 2009. This is carried in the latest Aliran Monthly, Vol. 29 No. 10)

OC Phang surrenders passport

By Adib Zalkapli

Phang arrives at court with her husband Lim (right) and lawyer Ng (left). — Picture by Jack Ooi

KLANG, Jan 12 — Former Port Klang Authority (PKA) general manager Datin Paduka OC Phang, who was charged for her alleged role in the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal, was at the Klang Session Court this morning to surrender her passport.

She was accompanied by her husband, Datuk Lim Twee Yong, and lawyer Ng Aik Guan.

Today, she also made a request through her lawyer, to be supplied with documents related to her case.

She left the court building after 20 minutes.

The date for her trial will be fixed on Mar 26.

Last month, Phang along with PKFZ turnkey contractor Kuala Dimensi Sdn Bhd’s (KDSB) chief operating officer Stephen Abok and architect Bernard Tan Seng Swee of BTA Architect were charged with criminal breaches of trust and cheating amounting to about RM380mil.

Also charged was former KDSB project director Law Jenn Dong, for allegedly making 24 fraudulent claims totalling RM116.85 million.

So far, it is unclear if prominent Barisan Nasional (BN) politicians such as former transport minister Tan Sri Chan Kong Choy or BN Backbenchers chairman Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing, who controls KDSB, will face any action.

The PKFZ controversy arose after the cost to develop the massive 400-hectare integrated cargo distribution hub spiralled from RM2 billion to RM4.6 billion.

Late last year, the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had recommended that, among others, both Phang and Chan be investigated for criminal breach of trust.

Risking fragile compromise in Allah's name

In the late 1980s, when I was in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, a friend suggested that I drive out into the desert near Jubail to see the oldest extant Christian church in the world.

By Gwynne Dyer (NZ Herald)

And there it was, surrounded by a chain-link fence to keep casual visitors and foreign archaeologists out. Experts who saw the site before it was closed said that the church was built by Nestorian Christians, and was probably used from the 4th to the 9th century.

Its existence embarrassed the Saudi Government, which prefers to believe that Arabia went straight from paganism to Islam. But it confirmed the assumption of most historians that Christianity was flourishing in the Arabian Peninsula in the centuries before the rise of Islam.

So what did these Arabic-speaking Christians call God? Allah, of course.

I mention this because recently the Malaysian High Court struck down a three-year-old ban on non-Muslims using the word Allah when they speak of God in the Malay language. The decision was followed by firebomb attacks on three Christian churches in Kuala Lumpur, and protesters at mosques in Kuala Lumpur carried placards reading "Allah is only for us".

Prime Minister Najib Razak condemned the attacks on the churches, but he supports the ban on Christians using the word "Allah" in Malay and is appealing against the High Court decision.

"We ... have the right to use the word 'Allah'," said the Rev Lawrence Andrew, the editor of the newspaper of the Catholic Church in Malaysia, the Herald, whose use of the word in its Malay-language edition triggered the crisis. Parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang simply observed that "the term 'Allah' was used to refer to God by Arabic-speaking Christians before Arabic-speaking Muslims existed".

Of course it was. Arabic-speaking Christians predate the rise of Islam by three hundred years, and what else were they going to call God? The word "Allah" is a contraction of the Arabic definite article al- and the noun 'ilah, which means god. In parts of ancient Arabia it once referred to the creator-god (who was not the only god), but for a very long time it has meant the One God.

This Arabic word was imported into the Malay language by converts to Islam, which arrived in the region several centuries before Christianity. All ethnic Malays are considered to be Muslim under Malaysian law, but there are numerous Malay-speakers, especially in northern Borneo, who are Christian and not ethnically Malay. They also use the word Allah for God.

What's the harm in that? Why are Malaysia's Muslims so paranoid? The real paranoia, alas, is ethnic.

Malaysia is an ethnic time-bomb that has turned itself into a peaceful and prosperous country by a huge effort of will. The original population was mostly Malay, but under British rule huge numbers of Indian and Chinese immigrants were imported to work the mines and plantations.

By independence, Malays were only 60 per cent of the population, and much poorer than the more recent arrivals. They resented the past, the present, and the probable future.

After several bouts of savage anti-Chinese and anti-Indian rioting, the country arrived at its current, successful compromise. The Malays dominate politics, but the Chinese and the Indians thrive in trade and commerce - and most people understand they are ultimately in the same boat, which is called Malaysia.

The state spends a lot of money to raise the living standards of the Malays, and gives them preference for university places and government jobs. They haven't done badly out of this deal, but nevertheless they feel perpetually insecure.

Since they are all Muslims, while few other Malaysians are, they also feel their religion is under threat. Some respond by being aggressively intolerant of minorities.

Not all Malays behave this way. Major Muslim organisations, including the Islamic political party, PAS, have agreed the other "Abrahamic religions" - Christians and Jews - may call their God Allah in Malay.

But it's getting ugly, and it's high time for the Malaysian Government to stop playing along with the extremists.

It should take a lesson from the early Muslims of Arabia. Both the archaeological and the textual evidence suggest that most Arabs in northern Arabia and along the Gulf coast had been Christian for several centuries when Islam first appeared in the 7th century. They were swiftly conquered by Muslim armies, but they were not forcibly converted.

As in all early Islamic empires, Christians had to pay higher taxes, but they were allowed to keep their property and practice their religion. It is highly improbable they were forced to change the word they used for God.

They did gradually convert to Islam, but the last Christian churches in the region probably survived into the early 9th century.

The Christians, Hindus, animists and others who make up 40 per cent of Malaysia's people pay higher taxes, in the sense that they subsidise the poorer Malay/Muslim majority. Few of them will ever convert to Islam, but they are not its enemy either.

Malaysia has achieved a fragile but workable compromise that gives its people a good life. It should not endanger it so frivolously.

* If you need a reference on Christians in 4th-7th century Arabia, the best is a scholarly article by John A. Langfeld, Recently Discovered Early Christian Monuments in Northeastern Arabia, published in Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy, 1994: 5: pp. 32-60. It is available online (Wiley InterScience), but you have to pay to view it.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.Malaysia's ethnic and religious divisions.

Still hopeful for Umno, Malaysia

By Cheong Suk-Wai

KUALA LUMPUR, JAN 12 — Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has for many years been a voice of reason in Umno, and Malaysia too, and he has always been ready to point out what is not right with the country. He believes that for Malaysia to reform itself, the leaders must show the way.

One of Tengku Razaleigh’s most vivid memories from boyhood is that of following the funeral procession of his father’s Hainanese cook through the streets of Kota Baru, Kelantan.

The cook had died from an infected wound sustained after his employer’s pet tiger swatted his hand while he was retrieving meat from the man-eater’s cage.

Tengku Razaleigh (picture), 72, the scion of Kelantan’s first post-independence chief minister, told this story in his blog recently to stress how well Malaysians of all races used to get along with one another.

The still youthful Kelantanese prince, who is married with no children, was one of Malaysia’s ablest finance ministers. He almost became its premier too, but lost the post to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad by a whisker in a bitterly contested race for Umno’s presidency in 1987. The old Umno was deregistered after that and Tengku Razaleigh — affectionately known as Ku Li - led Semangat 46 (The Spirit of ‘46) from October 1989 to October 1996, when he rejoined Umno.

Over sweet tea and chocolate chip cookies last Thursday, he told me why Malaysia as it is currently constituted has no future and why it has to change.

Why did the political system work when you were a minister, but not now?

Because there’s so much accent on materialism now that people have lost their moral fibre.

When did Malaysia give way to materialism?

It started with so-called influence peddlers who became commission agents through their connections with party bosses. They acquired bad habits and the people around or below them copied their habits and that soon became part of the culture. Even people in government departments, such as peons, expect something, which is not good.

Why is it that Umno always seems to play the race card when in a tight spot?

Not only the race card, but also the religion card — anything. It’s about putting fear into the minds of the people. And fear that they may lose their positions.

Why do you insist that Umno’s very structure has to change to make Malaysia better?

Because... it’s becoming less democratic. When Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Abdul Razak were the leaders of the country, we sensed that anybody could hope to rise to the top — not that everybody wanted to... There were contests, yes, but they were among friends — but, of course, in politics, there’s no such thing as contests among friends! You have to be ambitious.

The one point I want to stress is that there was comradeship. If you went anywhere and met a fellow party member, you felt he was like your brother.

So what’s changed?

(Those contesting party polls these days) are going in because they want power and because of power, they want money. Their cronies band around them so in return they will be well off. But that’s not politics... If you wallop the country’s resources, that’s not the way to build leadership.

What brought about such a mindset?

I think the patronage system is at fault. You go to villages and encourage people there to work hard and be self-reliant. But you start giving them subsidies. And so the minute subsidies are withdrawn, they find it difficult to make ends meet and, naturally, get angry. I think we have to teach our people slowly so that we all buck up.

The No 1 problem anywhere in the world is poverty. In countries like mine, education, proper nourishment and health care are still wanting. The main means of overcoming poverty is education and ensuring that people earn enough so they don’t expect handouts.

Where would you begin?

The leaders must be disciplined. If they cannot discipline themselves, they cannot discipline the people... I’m not being critical here when I say that Singapore leaders are seen to be very clean people who are leading the way by being hard-working, competent and efficient. Those under them have to emulate otherwise they cannot keep in step with the standards set by their leaders.

If other countries can become developed, why can’t Malaysia? And we are rich compared to Singapore. What has Singapore got?

Our central bank lost RM32 billion (S$13 billion) in six months dabbling in foreign exchange. Where in the world have you heard of a central bank losing over RM30 billion and not going bust? But Malaysia’s so rich, it can support such losses.

What will happen when its oil runs out?

We have not restructured our economy... If we want to provide for the future, we have to choose industries so as to find niches in the market. That’s going to take up to 15 years. Will the resources now supporting us last until then? If we don’t think quickly, a lot of our young will be unemployed.

I think we have depleted a lot of our oil resources which should have been kept underground for the future. Do we need to exploit all that oil?

What of Premier Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s moves to free the economy of affirmative action requirements?

The New Economic Policy (NEP) ended in 1990, but overzealous civil servants and politicians continued to impose it. Tun Dr Mahathir had thrown the NEP out when he introduced the National Development Policy (NDP) of 1990 and he sometimes implemented the NEP as if it were part of the NDP. But don’t forget that Dr Mahathir was never involved in the formulation of the NEP.

And you were?

Yes, but not directly. It was for a noble cause.

What was so noble about it?

Well, the NEP was to bring everybody together. But people took advantage of it, exploited it and abused it for their own personal, or sectional, gains.

And yet you’re hopeful about Malaysia?

I believe in people. They have faith in themselves, are generally good and can be taught... We as children learnt very quickly, didn’t we?

But as adults?

Quicker still! But the leaders must show the way. I’m not so sure they will. But we’ve got to keep trying.

We hope to push for reforms — not just for Umno — to fight corruption, provide security and make sure that education is reformed so that Malaysians will be more competitive globally.

But they’re losing out already!

Yes, but they don’t feel it yet. They’re always in a state of denial.

Looking ahead to future Umno polls, what are your plans?

It’s too early to talk about that.

If you’re called upon to lead again, would you heed it?

If I could be of use to the party and country, I’m available.

Would you try for the top party post again?

Well, I don’t know about trying again — it’s another three years down the road. But even at this juncture, I’m prepared to offer my services — to serve in, say, an advisory role. But not necessarily for a post in the party.

Why are you still in Umno?

Because I have hope! I believe in what Umno stood for — fair play, justice, equality — not what the present Umno is doing.

But the Umno you believe in is long gone?

Well, the other parties don’t offer much choice either. They’re in disarray and don’t exercise leadership.

Do you regret founding Semangat 46?

Semangat 46 was not founded by me. That’s the propaganda of Umno Baru. It was founded by Tunku. He wanted a new party formed since he, Tun Musa Hitam and I were not allowed to join Umno Baru. Tunku said: “Let’s form a party because otherwise our supporters would go to Parti Islam SeMalaysia.”

I was asked to lead Semangat 46 to bring all these people under one wing. They said: “If Dr Mahathir is prepared to talk to you after a while, you bring everybody together again and become one.” So when we were able to talk, an agreement was reached, we disbanded Semangat 46. It was there not to fight anybody, but to provide a home (for us and our supporters).

Someone once said that it’s better to be the man whom everyone wants as premier than a premier whom nobody wants. What say you?

The position doesn’t matter. What matters is what happens to the people. China had Deng Xiaoping. He was not Communist Party chairman. He was not prime minister. He was not president. But he was able to effect change. And I’d like to do that, if it’s possible. — The Straits Times

Hypocrisy and religion

JAN 12 — Sometimes I can’t help but wonder why the people within the government insist on being there when they themselves don’t understand laws. And the saddest case of all is when the person in power is himself a trained lawyer.

When Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein decided to put forth a statement saying that the government will allow protests against the “Allah” ruling, did he even bother to recollect his law lessons?

I’m confused.

Why is this non-issue, which is still being decided in court, more worthy of protests in comparison to the ones demanding a cleaner government or more transparent elections?

Why is this issue, addressing the use of a single word, more deserving of attention than the plight of Hindus within this nation?

How does the home ministry, or even the prime minister, decide what matter has a right to be protested? Since the court’s ruling, we have seen eight churches attacked.

Religion and politics shouldn’t mix. We all know this, which is why I get some PAS members telling me that Islam is a way of life and they can’t separate it from their decision making.

Similarly, when someone politicises religion, we of course see the majority who voted for them expecting their moral values, religious beliefs and practices be given priority. This is what led to the Shah Alam Beer Raid, Beyonce calling off her concert, and Inul only being able to do her tarian gerudi in the Indonesian Embassy.

But what about the minorities?

This is what led to Hindraf garnering strength and eventually leading the Makkal Sakthi movement, leading to Barisan Nasional’s significant setback in Election 2008.

What I am seeing now is a government trying to regain the popular vote by any means necessary. In this case, they try to do so by getting the Muslims riled up by the use of the word “Allah”.

So, instead of Datuk Seri Najib Razak or Hishamuddin coming out and saying that irritating Muslim proverb of “Sabar separuh daripada iman”, what we heard from our prime minister was: “The government can’t stop the people from protesting...” And the Home Minister stating: “It’s okay to hold protests for this issue as long as it doesn’t get out of hand”

Of course, he later backtracked and said it was the police’s call and denied he ever said that.

At this juncture, I’m starting to believe that the post of Home Minister curses it’s occupant to somehow lose their IQ and doom those unworthy into a political future of futility. Quite like the “Defence Against Dark Arts” posting in Harry Potter. Personally speaking, I don’t care about Christians using the word “Allah”. In Selangor, they’ve been using it for ages since the state national anthem was sung in schools. It does not erode my belief that there is one true God.

One major difference between us is that Muslims believe Muhammad to be the final Messenger. Christians can do much worse than to use “Allah” to refer to their God, considering that I have read in “Dante’s Inferno” (which is on sale in the Classics section of MPH Bookstores).

One thing we have in common with all religions is the harshest and total disgust for hypocrisy, which is what the leaders of this nation have now proven themselves to be guilty of.

And I honestly think that Allah s.w.t or even Allah the Father would forgive us and our family’s trespasses on the issue of the usage of a single word used to name Him in publications in the Malaysian language. However, I would think hypocrisy is harder to forgive, particularly when their statements are recorded in every single media outlet.

What I’m saying is that we, as Muslims, are told to live in peace, to avoid violence and to firstly seek a diplomatic solution before declaring the need for violent upheaval. By firebombing churches and even by holding these protests, can we actually say that this is part of a struggle to “protect our religion”?

Seriously, to those who have done this, do you think Allah s.w.t, or even His Messenger our Prophet, would consent to your actions, which are no more civilised than that of sheer hooliganism?

Yes, the Christian God and the Muslim God are different. However, their teachings of positivity in both are the same. People should be told to understand this instead of being told of how different we are and that we should take to the streets to defend Islam.

People, let me tell you what an imam told me that still rings true. Islam defends itself, and is guaranteed protection from He Himself.

"Allah" issue: Who started it?

By Jacqueline Ann Surin

LEST we forget, the source of the Allah controversy that resulted in churches, and a Catholic school, being torched and threatened did not begin on the streets. It did not begin with narrow-minded and ignorant Muslim pressure groups threatening to spill blood to assert their sole right to use "Allah".

Lest we forget, it began with the 1986 government ban on the use by non-Muslims of the word "Allah", and three others — "solat", "Kaabah" and "Baitullah". That's the Barisan Nasional (BN) government we are talking about, the one that Umno leads.

Hence, lest we forget, the issue of non-Muslims using the word "Allah" would not be an issue at all in Malaysia if the Umno-led government had, to begin with, respected the legitimate rights of other faith communities. The "Allah" issue would not have spiraled into, to quote a friend, suburban terrorism — and it is terrorism when violence and intimidation are used towards achieving one's goals — if the Home Ministry had not acted to deny the rights of non-Muslim citizens in the first place.

Today, in the aftermath of churches being torched and threatened, we hear Umno leaders, most notably Prime Minister and party president Datuk Seri Najib Razak denying that Umno is responsible for the situation we find ourselves in. We hear BN leaders condemning the violence committed against churches throughout the country. But as a lawyer friend commented on Twitter on 8 Jan 2010: "If you inflame passions, you cannot condemn violence."

Doing what's right

We know historically and culturally that firstly, "Allah" predates Islam; and secondly that it is used by non-Muslims in other Muslim countries with no restriction. So, the government is responsible for this narrow-minded and bigoted interpretation of who can use "Allah" in Malaysia. And by continuing to defend its position through a court appeal, the government is the one responsible for perpetuating the notion that Muslim rights will always supersede non-Muslim rights no matter if it is illogical, irrational or unconstitutional.

Are we surprised then that some groups will resort to acts of terrorism in Malaysia in order to assert their superiority at all costs? With the kind of government we have today — one that consistently does little to delegitimise violence in the name of Malay and Muslim superiority — I'm not at all surprised that there are those who think they can get away with using fear and intimidation to strip others of their rights. After all, the government is already doing it.

And even in this particular issue, Najib and his Umno ministers continue to resist doing the right thing instead of kow-towing to and fanning the flames of ignorance and fear among the bigots in our midst.

Demonstrators at the National Mosque on 8 Jan, protesting against the "Allah" ruling

No more dialogue

In an attempt at damage control, the government and a couple of politicians including Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin have now called for an interfaith dialogue to resolve the issue.

But really, the time for dialogue is over. Meaningful dialogue can only happen when all parties to the dialogue are treated as equals. In the current scenario, I'll wager that any "dialogue" will involve non-Muslims acceding to the perceived "sensitivities" and assumed rights of Muslims to own copyright to the word "Allah".

And mind you, the use of the word "Allah" is not a "sensitive" issue, as top Umno leaders and the Umno-backed Utusan Malaysia are fond of restating repeatedly. It's a copyright issue. And there is nothing at all that gives Muslims in Malaysia, or elsewhere, the copyright to use the word to refer to God and deny others the right to do so.

Indeed, there have been Muslims who demand that Christians should use the word "Tuhan" instead of "Allah" so that Muslims won't be confused. But if Christians and Sikhs have not been confused thus far from the use of "Allah" in their worship, what makes Malaysian Muslims so special that the government should continue to perpetuate their ignorance about a word that pre-dates Islam?

Additionally, since copyright for the word does not belong to Muslims, what right do Muslim groups and politicians have to demand that non-Muslims can only use "Tuhan" and not "Allah"?

Instead of an interfaith dialogue where non-Muslims are likely to be asked to compromise on their rights to protect the false sensitivities of some Muslims, here's what I would like to see happen. If Najib's administration is really sincere about 1Malaysia, I would like to see the government host public forums and seminars for Muslims who may be confused about the word "Allah".

Really, what's stopping the Umno-led government from wanting to educate the ummah? Islam, after all, brought enlightenment to those who lived during zaman jahiliyah — the age of ignorance. If Umno is such a champion of Malay Muslims, why is it perpetuating this age of ignorance instead of educating Muslims while simultaneously respecting the rights of non-Muslims? Why is it enforcing the ban and appealing the High Court decision that nullified the ban when it is even stated in the Quran that "Allah" doesn't just belong to Muslims?

Perchance the home minister, who was from Umno in 1986 when the ban was gazetted, and continues to be from Umno, is ignorant about historical fact and constitutional rights? Or perhaps Umno would rather Muslims remained ignorant? Or perhaps, Umno just doesn't care about the legitimate rights of non-Muslims no matter the rhetoric about 1Malaysia?

BN-sponsored fascism

The West often likes to describe Malaysia as a "moderate Muslim state". We are far from it. We have become a fascist state under BN rule. How so? Well, a state that actively and aggressively promotes racial and religious superiority is no different from the Nazi state that asserted that the Aryans were superior to the Jews. And the systematic use of violence, fear and draconian laws to diminish and suppress the legitimate rights of minority groups can only be described as fascist.

The BN will, of course, deny responsibility for the way the "Allah" issue is playing out. The government will provide financial aid to churches to prove to Christians that it does not condone these acts of violence. It will now be open to interfaith forums, where before it banned any such attempts by groups such as Article 11.

Too little too late, I'm afraid. Make no mistake: the BN government started this. And by denying culpability now and stubbornly refusing to do what is right despite the historical, cultural and religious evidence, the BN is responsible for the rising fascism in our midst.

Is this the kind of Malaysia we want to live in?

Is this the kind of government we want?

Umno Juara Salah Guna Wang Rakyat

Dari Harakah Daily

Oleh Abdul Aziz Mustafa

Naib Presiden PAS, Datuk Mahfuz Omar berkata, pemimpin Umno perlu menjelaskan kepada rakyat bahawa semua projek dan program yang dilaksanakan dalam siri kempen Umno Juara Rakyat adalah menggunakan wang, kepakaran dan jentera Umno sendiri.

“Barulah boleh Umno dabik dada kata dia juara rakyat. Kalau tidak, dia hanya jadi juara menyalahgunakan wang rakyat untuk kepentingan politik Umno yang kian pudar dan mulai pupus,” ujarnya.

Mengulas program Umno Juara Rakyat, beliau berkata kemungkinan pemimpin Umno menyedari parti itu dilihat terlalu jijik oleh rakyat sehingga menolak Barisan Nasional (BN) dalam Pilihan Raya Umum (PRU) ke-12 lalu.

“Yang menghairankan saya kenapa mesti Umno Juara Rakyat. Bukankah Umno bersama BN memerintah Malaysia. Tidakkah Umno sedar yang ditolak oleh rakyat ialah kerajaan BN,” ujarnya.

Nampaknya, kata beliau, pemimpin Umno hanya mahu rakyat melihat Umno saja yang juara rakyat dan bukannya BN.

“Atau pemimpin Umno memang sedar faktor penolakan rakyat terhadap BN adalah kerana Umno yang sudah dilihat terlalu jijik oleh rakyat.

“Mungkin inilah jawapannya sehingga Umno terpaksa bertungkus lumus untuk menampakkan yang Umnolah juara rakyat,” katanya.

Baginya, program yang dilancarkan oleh Presiden Umno yang juga Perdana Menteri, Datuk Seri Najib Razak di Hulu Selangor itu merupakan usaha Umno yang terdesak untuk mengembalikan keyakinan dan sokongan rakyat kepada parti itu.

Ini, katanya seperti yang dinyatakan oleh Najib bahawa Umno sudah insaf atas segala kesilapan masa lalu selepas keputusan PRU ke-12.

“Saya tak kisah kalau Umno nak ajak rakyat kata dia juara rakyat itu hak dia sebagai parti politik. Memang semua parti politik berusaha untuk mendapat sokongan dan dokongan rakyat.

“Persoalannya ialah kalau Umno nak mengaku yang dia juara rakyat, adakah program dan projek yang dia buat dalam kempen Umno Juara Rakyat menggunakan wang, tenaga, kepakaran dan lainnya dari Umno sendiri,” ujar Mahfuz lagi.

Sehubungan itu, beliau yang juga Ahli Parlimen Pokok Sena mempersoalkan pengumuman Najib yang memperuntukkan RM15.6 juta untuk membaiki bumbung pangsapuri di Bandar Bukit Sentosa, Hulu Selangor.

“Adakah ini duit dari tabung Umno atau duit negara yang merupakan duit rakyat. Kenapakah projek ini diletakkan seliaannya di bawah ICU Jabatan Perdana Menteri. Adakah gaji pegawai-pegawai ICU untuk projek ini dibayar oleh Umno?” tanya beliau.

Begitu juga, katanya dengan program dan projek-projek lain, adakah tidak membabitkan wang negara dan jentera kerajaan.

KDN tolak dakwaan gagal bertindak

Utusan Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR 11 Jan. – Kementerian Dalam Negeri (KDN) menolak dakwaan yang mengatakan ia gagal bertindak dengan baik dalam menangani beberapa isu terutama insiden serangan ke atas gereja sehingga ia meningkat kepada lapan buah sejak kes pertama direkodkan Jumaat lalu.

Menterinya, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein menegaskan, sekiranya pihak berkuasa terutama polis gagal menjalankan tanggungjawab mereka, pasti lebih banyak insiden buruk dicatatkan sejak beberapa hari lalu.

“Saya rasa keadaan kita terkawal, jangan ingat ia (keselamatan) datang melayang dan bergolek begitu saja.

“Ia (usaha menjaga keselamatan) memerlukan satu tindakan tegas, pencegahan dan kerjasama,” katanya pada sidang akhbar sebelum melakukan lawatan ke beberapa kawasan panas jenayah di sekitar Hentian Puduraya di sini hari ini.

Hadir sama, Timbalan Ketua Polis Negara, Tan Sri Ismail Omar dan Ketua Pengarah Ikatan Relawan Rakyat Malaysia (Rela), Datuk Zaidon Asmuni.

Hishammuddin mengulas insiden serangan ke atas lapan gereja dengan yang terbaru dilaporkan di Gereja Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) Seremban di Lakeview Square, Seremban 2 awal pagi ini.

Jelas beliau, insiden terbaru itu boleh disifat sebagai melegakan kerana ia tidak serius seperti kejadian empat gereja yang dibakar di sekitar Lembah Klang sejak Jumaat lalu.

Kejayaan KDN membendung kejadian itu daripada merebak pada skala lebih besar, jelasnya, dibantu oleh tiga perkara iaitu pendirian kerajaan; komitmen pihak berkuasa dan kematangan masyarakat Malaysia melihat insiden itu sebagai sesuatu yang serius.

‘‘Saya gembira kerana pada hari Jumaat kita sudah lalui dengan umat Islam kita, sementara semalam (Ahad) pula, masyarakat Kristian di seluruh negara berupaya melakukan acara keagamaan (Sunday services) dengan selamat,’’ katanya.

Dalam pada itu beliau mengesahkan, polis sedang menyiasat identiti individu yang bertanggungjawab melemparkan bom petrol di tiga buah gereja di sekitar Lembah Klang pada awal pagi Jumaat lalu.

Namun, beliau enggan mendedahkan perincian mengenai individu itu.

Tambahnya, KDN pada pagi ini juga telah memberikan penerangan kepada beberapa duta asing di sini mengenai situasi terbaru berhubung isu tersebut bagi menghalang pihak yang tidak bertanggungjawab daripada menyebarkan berita-berita palsu.

Sementara itu, Ismail menegaskan, polis tidak teragak-agak untuk mengenakan tindakan ke atas mana-mana individu yang menyertai sebarang perhimpunan haram yang tersebar melalui khidmat pesanan ringkas (SMS).

India builds own version of Eiffel

New Delhi, India (CNN)) -- India's British past stands imposing in some of its most splendid buildings. But the country is erecting a tribute to its French connection to attract tourists.

A former French colony tucked along India's southeastern coast is building its own Eiffel Tower, a small version of the massive Paris monument.

The former colony of Pondicherry, also called Puducherry, has already completed half of the four-phased construction of the Yanam Tower, named after one of the four coastal enclaves of the federally-controlled territory.

Construction is expected to be completed by the end of November, Pondicherry's revenue minister Malladi Krishna Rao said.

The three-legged, 333-foot monument will be a concrete structure for the first 90 feet, and the rest will be metal, he said.

Being built on sprawling 20 acres, the Yanam Tower will have a restaurant overlooking the sea.

More than half the cost of the $10 million project is being shouldered by a large private Indian company. The rest is being pooled by the federal and local administrations, according to Rao.

"There's a lot of French culture in Puducherry. We also have French pensioners," he said.

Tree-lined boulevards, quaint colonnaded buildings, tall statues and a tiny Tamil French community define Pondicherry. Unlike the rest of India's uneasy accounts of its British history, Pondicherry displays its French past nostalgically.

"It's a trip down France as one crosses symmetrically-designed streets in Puducherry," says the official Web site of its tourism department. It also praises French governors for their administration and has listed the statue of one of them -- Marquis Joseph Francois Dupleix -- as a heritage site for tourists.

India gained independence from the British in 1947. But the French stayed longer, at least until 1954 when their possessions in Pondicherry were de facto transferred to the new government in New Delhi after 280 years of rule. Officially, though, Pondicherry didn't become part of India until 1963 when the French parliament ratified its treaty with India.

More than 55,000 foreign tourists visited Pondicherry in 2007, according to the latest statistics from the tourism department. Authorities hope their own mini Eiffel Tower will attract more.

"It will give boost to tourism," said Rao.

HINDRAF to call off the candle vigil on 13/01/10


HINDRAF initiated the candle light vigil to send a strong message to the UMNO led government for their lackadaisical attitude in handling the issue related to fellow Malaysian Christians in respect of their religious practice.

HINDRAF having received the feedback from Christian leaders and their devotees have decided to call off the candle vigil that was planned for on January 13, 2010 at the entrance of the Assumption Church in Petaling Jaya.

Having consideration for the sentiments of the Malaysian Christians and their leaders in such bleak time and in due respect of their wishes, HINDRAF is cancelling the candle light vigil.

Thank you.

P. Waytha Moorthy

HINDRAF – Chairman