Monday, January 14, 2008

Not so happy New Year 2008

New Year 2008 has come and gone. I have slacked in updating this blog, and not having a New Year post seems unacceptable to me (although it's 14 days too late!). So here is my first post for the year 2008, and I hope it's one which will make the reader think hard.

2007 has been one disaster after another for the Umno led government, and 2008 couldn't have started in a worse manner than the explosive video of Chua Soi Lek, ex-MCA Johor chief as well as ex-Health Minister. Despite preaching safe sex (including being faithful) to prevent the spread of HIV, he was seen in the video having a jolly good time with a 30-something "personal friend", and was like an energizer bunny (according to my friend lah!). I guess he had no choice but to step down (after refusing to do so initially) to save not only MCA, but Umno, further embarassment. Now the talk of the town is that he has been done in by no other than the MCA president. Reason? Chua has become a real political threat to him.

Anyway, my main reason for putting up this post is something else...something which affects me more directly. Last Friday Malaysiakini reported that Christian children books with illustrations of Biblical prophets have been seized by the Internal Security Ministry officers from 3 MPH bookstores in Ipoh, JB, and Senawang. The reason given was that the illustrations of Biblical prophets in the books are said to offend the sensitivities of Muslims. This totally unwarranted and insensitive (yes...have it ever occured to them that sensitivities go both ways?) action came hot on the heels of another controversial religious issue - that of withholding the printing permit for the Catholic publication "The Herald". In case you are not aware, the Umno government has decreed that the use of "Allah" in the Bahasa Malaysia articles of the publication is banned (same goes for any other printed materials in BM). Nevermind the fact that East Malaysian Bumiputera Christians have used the word since before Malaysia or Malaya even existed, as well as the fact that the Iban language Bible uses the word as well (after a similar ruckus was raised some years back).

The controversy over the Catholic publication was considered closed when the Internal Security Ministry issued the permit with no conditions attached. However, the joy was shortlived when the PM apparently ordered the Minister in the PM's department in charge of Muslims affairs to issue a press statement upholding the restriction on the use of "Allah" for Christian literature. Looks like the Catholic church has no option but to proceed with bringing the government to court over this issue. At the same time, the Sidang Injil Borneo is also bringing to court the matter of their Bahasa Indonesia children sunday school materials being confiscated by Customs officers.

Christians are but the latest religious group in this country to be facing an onslaught by the Umno government in increasingly restricting Malaysian's freedom of worship as enshrined in Article 11 of the Federal Constitution. Anwar has termed the phemonenon as Islamic-puritanism. The Hindus have been facing the problem of erratic demolition of their temples since years ago, as well as recent cases of conversions (Moorthy, Subashini, Revathi, etc.) which caused plenty of anxieties, as well as questions about the impartiality of our court judges. In Sabah, ex-Chief Minister Chong Kah Kiat is fighting a battle against the state government for putting obstacles at every step of the way in his effort to build the tallest Mazu (a chinese deity) statue. Despite meeting the PM himself to resolve the one-half-year issue, nothing positive has come out of it and now he's bringing the state government to court. What is most controversial about the Mazu statue issue is that the state Islamic council allegedly issued a fatwa saying that such statues are against Islam and thus must not be built. And now we have the controversies affecting the Christians in this country.

The Christians in Malaysia have never been seen as a politically important group, namely because more often than not the churches have chosen to remain quiet regarding injustices perpetrated by the government. However, I see that is changing in recent times. Perhaps younger Christians are not content to just sit at the sidelines while seeing the world go by. The Internet has also opened up channels for them to voice their opinion, as well as question the position taken (or not taken) by the churches. Increasingly as well Christians cannot afford to continue being silent while their rights to worship is slowly being eroded. Christians have great difficulty getting approvals from local councils regarding building and renovating churches since long ago. They've gritted their teeth and depended on prayers. Now we see further more direct infringement on Christian rights, and maybe this time not only must Christians pray in faith, but also put their faith into action. And no better opportunity is there for Christians than now with the 12th general election coming very soon. Christian Malaysians really have to think and reflect hard, as well as pray for guidance, on what to do in the days leading to the election, as well as on the day of election itself.

OHMSI, run by K J John, has recently organized a forum discussing whether Jesus was political in his short earthly ministry. They're organizing another one with the title "The Christian and the General Election: Core Issues" on Jan 26. This is the opportunity for Christians who still think politics should be left out of the realm of their faith to have their assumptions challenged. We simply cannot afford to continue sitting idly while seeing our rights and freedom to worship being eroded by the day. We must never allow the situation to become too late. The warning and danger signs are there for all to see. Just as we need to always be on alert and prepare for the second coming, the same alertness and preparation must be present in facing this onslaught against out faith. Do not allow myopic, narrow-minded extremists hiding behind the veil of Islam Hadhari to destroy the social fabric of our country.

My wish and hope for 2008 is that a paradigm shift will occur in the political mindset and landscape of Malaysia. Do I have high hopes? Not really if I look at past elections as a gauge. But it is not impossible. The closest was in 1999 when the Malay votes swung, but the Chinese decided to play safe. This time round there are indications that a swing will occur for the 3 major ethnic groups. We can only hope and pray that the swing does occur, and that it will be big enough to set a new course for Malaysia - a course which will see Malaysia fulfill its full potential.

Happy New Year 2008.

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