Monday, January 27, 2014

Where are Najib’s priorities?

By Jason Majpie & Queville To

If ever there was a situation where Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak would be caught between a rock and a hard place, this is it – the Allah controversy.
Najib is damned whatever he decides. But it’s all about who’ll be doing the damning.
On one side are his Umno-leaning religious right-wing supporters who are attempting to pit Muslims against Christians to win over the Muslim conservative vote, and on the other is the vast majority of libertarians.

But the prime minister had sufficient warning of the trouble brewing and had he listened to his instincts he could have made plans to avoid the mess he’s in today.
Back in 2009, an Umno-linked group dragged the head of a cow to the Selangor state government’s headquarters to protest the siting of a Hindu temple in a Muslim majority. The cow is considered sacred by Hindus.
In 2010, several churches were attacked and some mosques vandalised in apparent retaliation.
Over the past three weeks, Najib has had his back to the wall and is facing a barrage of calls to state his stand on his cabinet’s 10-point solution on the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims in Malaysia, especially those in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak.
He’s made no direct response and instead announced the formation of committee to look into the issue and report back.
As a result, religious tensions have increased while Christians in the two states have been left in limbo over the legal implications of continuing to use the Arabic word in their worship.
Religious authorities and the royalty in the peninsula have weighed on the side of the extremists and decreed that the word is reserved strictly for Muslims and others should not use it.
Borneo Christians flag their rights
Following this, the Sultan of Kedah, who is the also the King, decreed that several words including Allah were exclusive to Muslims. He cited the 1986 edict by the National Fatwa Council.
But legal experts here note that the council and its rulings are not enforceable while decrees by the Sultans can be challenged in court.
They also pointed out that the federal court will convene on March 5 to hear the submission of 26 questions on the Federal Constitution, administrative law as well as the power of the court to allow the Home Minister to ban the use of a theological word.
Against this backdrop Christians in Sabah and Sarawak are adamant that they have a constitutional right to practice their religion.
Their argument is that they have been using the terms and have been praying the same way for generations even before the formation of Malaysia.
Barisan Nasional component party leaders in both states are in agreement with their constituents and have also spoken out against the ban which they interpret as the unconstitutional dictates of peninsula-based leaders.
Last October during a PBB assembly, Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud openly declared to Najib that Christians in the state would continue with their worship and that the ‘status quo’ stays.
He was alluding to the terms of the 1963 Malaysia Agreement in which there very first point was religious freedom.
And his senior minister James Masing called for a detailed study of the Malaysia Agreement saying “it is the order of the day” as the situation was getting ominous for the Christians in the country.
He said the Malaysia Agreement was between partners – then independent Sarawak and Sabah – and a revisit should ensure that “we – the signatories state – do not deviate from what had been agreed on”.
In the peninsular Malaysia, DAP’s Teresa Kok agrees and wants Najib to calm fears that the religious rights of minorities in the country is in the process of being subverted for political purposes.
The DAP national vice chairperson said the silence by Najib’s federal government was deafening given the ramifications of kowtowing to the people who are conducting an assault on religious rights in the country.
“Silence is not an option and the Prime Minister must show political leadership and courage to resolve the issue.
“The 10 point solution was decided by the Cabinet and there is no reason for the Prime Minister to remain silent when it was blatantly violated by Jais (State Islamic Religious Department),” she said.
Silent Najib
But while Najib has kept quiet, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri, was quoted as saying that the government had always observed the 10-point solution on the use of the word “Allah” by Christians in Sabah and Sarawak.
This has led to questions being raised over whether Najib was practicing political brinkmanship with regard to the constitution.
“Yet…he (Najib) was so quick to react against the Kangkong ridicule against him.
“Malaysians must now wonder where his priorities are ,” Kok said, referring to Najib’s attempt to explain the principle of supply and demand and the rising prices of goods and services in the country.
“His continued silence and inaction will allow interfaith relations to be further strained.
“It will also strengthen the perception that he is a weak leader who is incapable of being a Prime Minister for all Malaysians,” she said.
Under the 10-point solution announced by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Idris Jala back in April 2011, bibles in any languages could be imported into the country as well as printed locally in the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak.
Following the clear violation of this federal cabinet decision on Jan 2 by Jais which raided the Bible Society of Malaysia, Shukri, who is from Sarawak, said that it was a matter for the state government to resolve as religion came under the jurisdiction of the state.
She also said that Sabahan and Sarawakian Christians in Selangor were free to practise their faith and “if they are praying within their own premises, then nobody can stop them, as long as they do not try to convert other people”.
Her calm comments on the imbroglio which is threatening to spin out of control raises questions about the unity or lack of it in Najib’s cabinet.
“The immediate questions which came to my mind upon reading her comment were firstly, if she has become the cabinet spokesperson on the 10-point solution, and secondly, has the Cabinet decided that the 10-point solution could be violated by any state religious authority?” said Kok.
She noted that Health Minister Dr S Subramaniam was quoted as saying that the cabinet had discussed the issue on Jan 8 and it was decided that only Najib would speak on the matter following conflicting and contradictory statements by his ministers.
But Najib appears to place little importance on the issue preferring to fence with his ‘kangkung’ critics.

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