I WROTE a year ago that the people of Malaysia will not be pawns in a dangerous political gamesmanship that is leading this country to the precipice of racial and religious conflict.
If our political leaders have neither the will nor the courage to do what is right for this nation, then we the people will show them. We want to build bridges, live together, understand and respect each other. Too many among us have kept quiet for too long while our democracy was being trampled upon. It is time now to stand up and be counted.
The year 2014 was indeed a very difficult and challenging one for Malaysia. The use and abuse of race and religion for political gain continued unabated and the ensuing gloom and doom about our future was further dampened by the tragedies of MH370 and MH17 and now the worst floods in our history and the crash of Indonesia Air Asia flight QZ8501.
But amid this pain and misfortune, a new sense of hope has been ignited by the G25 letter urging the Prime Minister to take action to bring clarity and vision to end the unresolved disputes on the position and application of Islamic laws in this country.
That 25 prominent Malay establishment figures chose to speak out and express in public their deep concern on the direction this country is taking with regard to Islam within our constitutional democratic framework reflects how much is at stake for so many Malaysians. They will keep quiet no more.
The issues raised in the G25 open letter have been festering for decades but have grown increasingly contentious as belligerent supremacist groups and individuals brazenly utter racist and bigoted statements, and as some religious authorities continue to violate the rule of law in their enforcement actions.
And yet the political leadership has shown neither the political will nor courage to respond to these statements and actions that consistently undermine this government’s now hollowed-out 1Malaysia policy and its claim of being a champion of moderation.
Not only that, a government that 20 years ago was strongly opposed to the PAS effort to introduce the Hudud law in Kelantan is today in cahoots with its nemesis to implement a law that is unconstitutional and that generates much fear of injustice and abuses, as has happened in countries where these draconian laws are in place.
Scores of groups and individuals have rallied in support of the G25 call for the Prime Minister to show his leadership and vision and engender a rational and informed dialogue on the position and application of Islamic laws in the country.
It is as if the floodgates have opened and more and more moderate voices have found the courage to speak out and break the hegemony of the supremacist groups who purport to speak for the whole Malay Muslim community.
Many Malaysians of all faiths and races are now determined to keep the momentum going, and ensure that the effort of the G25 shall not be in vain.
It is now incumbent upon the political leadership of this country, on both sides of the divide, to take serious steps to rally the nation in a search for equitable and just solutions to the many intractable problems and miscarriage of justice committed in the name of Islam.
To those who claim ignorance of any evidence of abuses, injustice and violations of fundamental liberties in the implementation of Islamic laws in Malaysia, they should start by just Googling “khalwat raids Malaysia”, “body snatching Malaysia”, “transgender Malaysia” – as a start.
And do read the Court of Appeal judgments on the Borders case and the transgender case, and the High Court, the Court of Appeal and Federal Court judgments on the Sisters in Islam book banning case. Do we believe in the Constitution and the rule of law or don’t we?
These cases reflect some of the issues of concerns raised in the G25 letter, not least the areas of conflict and overlap between civil and syariah laws, the lack of awareness, deliberate or otherwise, on the legal limits of the powers of the religious authorities and administration of Islamic laws, and the abysmal lack of knowledge on the rich diversity of interpretive texts, juristic opinions and legal concepts in the Islamic tradition that enable reform to take place and equality and justice to be upheld.
It is a gauge of how politicised religion has become in this country that those Muslims who deeply care for their religion, and are gravely concerned about how it is used, abused and distorted to serve short-term political gains, are labelled as anti-God, anti-Syariah, anti-Islam, anti-Malay, anti-monarchy.
If the political leadership still fails to awaken to the gravity of the situation and the sense of drift and foreboding enveloping the nation, then it is the rakyat who must take the lead and show how determined we are to keep this nation together.
And we can start the national dialogue with all of us re-committing ourselves to upholding the principles enshrined in our Federal Constitution, which has served us well over the past 57 years.
It upholds our fundamental liberties, rule of law, separation of powers and recognises the special position of the Malays and the legitimate interests of other communities.
We need to re-pledge our commitment to the Rukunegara, a national ideology drawn up to rebuild a sense of national unity and purpose – of a government and its citizens committed to building a democratic, just and progressive society with a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions.
And we should take pride in our long history of living and working together, of embracing and celebrating our diversity, which we have always seen as a source of strength to grow and prosper this nation.
These constitute the bedrock of fundamentals that has kept this nation together. These are the common grounds on which we stand as we search for solutions to the problems we face.
We have much to celebrate and to share. We must get real and serious and examine whether the disgruntlements and disenchantments of the different communities and groups are real and supported by facts and figures or whether they are manufactured to serve selfish political, economic and personal interests at the expense of the best interest of the nation.
Let’s focus our resources to find solutions to real documented problems instead of wasting time and energy fanning the flames of racial and religious suspicion and hatred.
How best can we use our Constitutional principles and the vision of Rukunegara to deal with the contentious issues that have beset this country for too long?
There are many Malaysians with the expertise, passion and commitment to devote their time to help this divided nation heal by focusing on finding solutions to the real problems, rather than clinging to ideologies that have led other divided nations to conflict, violence and economic backwardness.
That has not been the history of Malaysia or the future of Malaysia that we want. Let us not undo what our forefathers have built.