Monday, April 22

No religious extremism please!

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THE biggest news around in the last little while must have been the fire-bombings of a few churches in West Malaysia and the smashing of windows at another in Sarawak. I would never have dreamt, even in my wildest nightmares, that such a thing could happen in peaceful Malaysia.

I am neither a Muslim nor a Christian; I am not even a member of any organised religion. But we are all Sarawakians and we have all been brought up in our multi-religious way of life. We know the rules of the game.

We know we are free to worship any faith of our choice, but we must not interfere with other people’s practice of religion. The freedom of religion is enshrined in our country’s Federal Constitution and it is one of the most revered basic human rights recognised by the United Nations.

Freedom of religion also requires that we must allow other people to practise their own faiths in any way they want unless it is a form of deviationist teaching that brings harm to its followers. We do read news about these deviationists from time to time.

We know that religion is a very sensitive matter and religious conflicts can lead to massive bloodshed over a long period of time, causing great social turbulence and untold human hardship. History and the current world stage are packed with human tragedies returned in blood all because of religious strife.

In those long years of Merdeka, we never had a religious incident in which violent acts were committed over religious quarrels. Now we have broken the good record — a few loose religious nuts have taken to petrol bombing some local churches. Such a blemish has brought national shame on all Malaysians and the wound to our national soul will take a long time to heal.

At stake, is the bedrock of our multi-religious harmony: our tolerance for other people’s religion and our daily social contract to pledge never to use violence against our fellow Malaysians over religious matters.

But Malaysians are a stoic people and in the wake of the fire-bombings, there was no panic, no stock-piling of food, and not much fear around generally.

People are worried and they follow the news closely and friends exchange information whenever they meet. But they do not seem to be too worried. It is also almost as if a fire-bomb or two is only to be expected in the matter of time in Malaysia.

The police have not made any arrest and the pressure is on them to deliver the goods. It will be wonderful if the police can catch a couple of these fire-bombers and then we can see what kind of shady characters were involved in this cowardly and clandestine business.

The damage that they have done to the churches is minimal. These arsonists do not look like they are very professional in setting fires — on the scale of world terrorism they are probably somewhere near the primary school level. At least we can take comfort from the fact that the types of professional suicide and roadside-bombers in Afghanistan and Iraq have not yet visited our fair land yet. Let us pray they never do.

But we are Malaysians and bombs are never our way of settling disputes. Malaysians of all faiths and ethnicities must in one voice tell this small handful of anonymous, faceless and odourless bombers that their kind is not wanted in our midst. They are not worthy to be Malaysians.

Can you imagine the kind of shady characters who will go so low as to desecrate the holy ground upon which other people worship their God. It takes a kind of sick mentality for anybody to want to defile what is considered sacred by one group of worshippers. This kind of action is an insult to all religions, and their faithful, and should be condemned in one voice by the people of all faiths.

No matter how we disagree about religious matters, we should always deal with one another courteously, politely, and with due respect. There should never be any suggestion of violence, or hint of violence, as this is the surest road to national perdition and blind hatred.

Every day we see how this new blind hatred is tearing an innocent world apart.

In Australia, a group of Caucasian men just did not like how an Indian graduate student looked. They bundled him off and burned him to death. This was the second time a very educated Indian student had been killed for no rhyme or reason. The number of Indian students going to study in Australia is now rapidly dropping, and the true losers are the Australians themselves.

When you read a story like this, you wonder what evil can lurk in the hearts of men. You have to ask what kind of species are we, that we can forsake 50,000 years of civilisation and turn into wild beasts at the snap of the finger.

Another well-documented story is that of the Jordanian double agent who killed seven CIA operatives in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan recently. He pre-recorded his suicide message and he was obviously very proud of his martyrdom.

It must be a sick world indeed that there are so many suicide bombers who are ready to die for their cause, very often at the expense of innocent lives. They are convinced that they would go to heaven straight away upon their death, because they have died for their God.

But how can they be so sure of their reward? Did they get direct emails from their God promising them Heaven if they killed for their God?

In all religions, there is a universal value in cherishing life above death, always. The taking of any life, even the most insignificant and ordinary life, is a taboo among all cultures because life is the most precious gift from God to men. Take away that guarantee and we become wild beasts!

We know that in the modern world, religion is one of the most powerful flashpoints for conflict. All of us Sarawakians have to exercise the greatest restraint and common sense in all that we say or do about our religions. We have to remind ourselves constantly that we do not have a monopoly on any religious truth and that we are all fallible creatures of God.

We must approach our religious feeling with great humanity because religious sentiments are indeed a great gift from God to men that enrich our lives and give us a purpose to our existence.

If nothing else, we have to take a lesson from monotheism and admit that before the end of the world, God’s drama for mankind has not been fully played out yet. Nobody has the last word on God’s plan for mankind.

So far, despite the fire-bombings, Malaysians have generally remained calm. The reign of terror that you associate with serious carnage and arson did not materialise. This does show that Malaysians are very down to earth people who are not easily rattled by speculation of social unrest caused by a few very bad apples.

Our very diverse population has long learned to live side by side peacefully and we have accumulated a great deal of social capital over a long period of years through social interaction. We know that however politicians quarrel among themselves, we, the rest of Malaysia, will have to live as one big happy family.

If anything positive has come out of these fire-bombing incidents, it is that our social fabric and our multi-racial harmony has hardly been dented. But we must maintain a high level of vigilance to ensure that troublemakers will never succeed in dividing Malaysians along racial or religious lines.

This is the time for all Malaysians of goodwill to step forward and reiterate our commitment to the 1Malaysia concept as we discard all that is negative and divisive among us.

Though our national unity has taken a slight beating, no major damage has been done. We have to show to the enemy of the Malaysian people that it is not so easy to cause havoc and social disruption in good old Malaysia.

l Hermit Hornbill will be taking a hiatus.