Ladies and gentlemen,
Challenges from religious and racial intolerance, misunderstanding and baiting
Marcus Aurelius said that, "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth." Yet in recent memory we have been horrified by incidents involving cow's heads, pig's heads, desecration of places of worship by at best misguided youth and at worst, people with more insidious agendas, threats to burn holy books, seizures of Bibles and many other untoward incidents. This is greatly augmented and exacerbated through the barbs and hurtful words traded on social media, even among those who consider themselves friends. We joke that the mild mannered polite Malaysian turns into a monster once placed behind the wheel of a car. But there is nothing humorous about rampaging Malaysians on the internet or in the real world spouting hateful and seditious words.
With every incident, we get closer to the precipice. What is worse is when Articles of the Federal Constitution are selectively and disingenuously cited to justify actions, warranted or otherwise.
The "Standard Operating Procedure" is now the call for arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators. Given that nothing in the mass media or cyberspace is ever erased unless by deliberate action, postings of a year or a decade ago can resurface to cause harm and discontent where at the actual time no one cared to take notice. In fact, at that particular point in time, no one may even bat an eye. But years later when it comes up, everyone reacts. Assuming perpetrators can be identified, and this is a veritable challenge when it involves the anonymity of the Internet, this then creates a never ending cycle of retaliation and one-upmanship.
In this regard it must be emphasized that law enforcement agencies cannot alone resolve this matter. Use of force alone cannot solve the problem. If law enforcement agencies, including the Attorney General's
Chambers, are expected to go it alone, their integrity will eventually be questioned because they will be caught in the middle and can never satisfy all interested sides. Therefore, the appeal from law enforcement is that there must be individual responsibility and accountability of the service providers. This should also be supplemented by firm and rational responses from political, religious and community leaders.
In fact, if everybody demands "equality", then should there not also be equality in the groups to be charged? If one side is charged, then someone from the other side should also be charged? But if this approach is taken, would it not become an endless series of retaliation?
Respect for all religions
Article 3 of the Federal Constitution provides that Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation. Clause (4) of Article 3 further provides that nothing in Article 3 derogates from any other provision of the Federal Constitution. This Article must be respected.
Article 11 of the Federal Constitution provides that every person has the right to profess and practice his religion and to propagate it. However this is subject to State law and in respect of the Federal Territories, federal law, which may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.
Let us briefly review the implications of freedom of religion when it is not exercised responsibly.
Child custody cases
Inter-racial marriages have given rise to a new conflict between civil law and Syariah law in relation to the unilateral conversion as well as custody issues of minor children where only one spouse converts to Islam. The increasing number of cases has also raised allegations of racial discrimination by the courts and authorities. The anguish to the families cannot be overstated and that is a fact.
In this regard, the failure of the converting spouses to resolve the family arrangements prior to conversion and in fact, attempting to use the different jurisdictions of the civil and Syariah courts to their advantage, jeopardizes not only family harmony but potentially national harmony. Consequentially, the integrity of the Royal Malaysia Police and the Attorney General's Chambers is also called into question due to the issue of enforcement of conflicting court orders. As stated earlier, if the integrity of law enforcement agencies is compromised, it will be detrimental to their ability to garner the respect of the public which is fundamental to their ability to carry out their duties.
In 2009, amendments were proposed to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984 and the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993 to ensure that issues like child support and child custody would be determined by the court in which the marriage was registered. These amendments however remain pending.
Bible seizure cases
In the wake of the controversy of the seizure of Bahasa Malaysia/ Indonesia Bibles and other publications containing the term "Allah" in 2010, and various threats to burn those Bibles, the Government announced the "Ten Point Solution" on 2 April 2011.
The "Ten Point Solution" was intended to de-escalate concerns and tensions within the country. The "Ten Point Solution" took into account the polarity of views of the different religious groups, including Christians and Muslims.
"1. Bibles in all languages can be imported into the country, including Bahasa Malaysia/ Indonesia.
2. These Bibles can also be printed locally in Peninsula Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. This is a new development which should be welcome by the Christian groups.
3. Bibles in indigenous languages of Sabah and Sarawak such as Iban, Kadazan-Dusun and Lun Bawang can also be printed locally and imported.
4. For Sabah and Sarawak, in recognition of the large Christian community in these states, there are no conditions attached to the importation and local printing of the Bibles in all languages, including Bahasa Malaysia/ Indonesia and indigenous languages. There is no requirement for any stamp or serial number.
5. Taking into account the interest of the larger Muslim community, for Peninsula Malaysia,
Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia/ Indonesia, imported or printed, must have the words "Christian Publication" and the cross sign printed on the front covers.
6. In the spirit of 1Malaysia and recognizing that many people travel between Sabah and Sarawak and Peninsula Malaysia, there should be no prohibitions and restrictions for people who bring along their bibles and Christian materials on such travel.
7. A directive on the Bible has been issued by the Ketua Setiausaha (KSU) of the Home Ministry to ensure proper implementation of this cabinet decision. Failure to comply will be subject the officers to disciplinary action under the General Orders. A comprehensive briefing by top officials, including the Attorney General (AG), will be given to all relevant civil servants to ensure good understanding and proper implementation of the directive.
8. For the impounded Bibles in Kuching, Gideon, the importer can collect all the 30,000 Bibles free of charge. We undertake to ensure the parties involved are reimbursed. The same offer remains available for the importer of the 5,100 Bibles in Port Klang, which have already been collected by the Bible Society Malaysia (BSM) last week.
9. Beyond the Bible issue, the Government wishes to reiterate its commitment to work with the Christian groups and all the different religious groups in order to address inter religious issues and work towards the fulfillment of all religious aspirations in accordance with the constitution, taking into account the other relevant laws of the country. In order to bring urgency to this work, in my capacity as the Prime Minister, I will meet the representatives of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) soon to discuss the way forward.
10. The Christian Ministers in the cabinet will meet on a regular basis with representatives of the various Christian groups in order to discuss their issues and work with the relevant
Ministries and myself in order to resolve them.".[Emphasis added]
Despite the 2011 "Ten Point Solution", the issue remained simmering for various reasons and regained prominence when the Ministry of Home Affairs banned "The Herald - The Catholic Weekly". More controversy arose with the seizure of Bibles from the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) this year. However the Honourable Prime Minister made it clear on 21 October 2013 when he stressed that the Court of Appeal decision upholding the Ministry of Home Affairs ban on the issue of the word "Allah" did not affect the Christians of Sabah and Sarawak.