What possessed the protesters?
4 Sep 09 : 8.00AM
By Jacqueline Ann Surin
WHAT possessed them? That's the question I'd like to ask the protesters who desecrated a cow head on 28 Aug 2009 after Friday prayers to object the building of a Hindu temple in Section 23, Shah Alam.
We know that it's not Islam that teaches intolerance of and disrespect toward other religious beliefs, nor is it Islam that preaches violence or force if Muslims don't get their way. We also know that it is really not Malaysian or Malay custom at all to be so obnoxious, threatening and crude. For all my life as a Malaysian, I have known Malay customs to be gentle, sophisticated and inclusive. This is most likely because the "Malay" race was actually historically constructed; its customs weaved from a convergence of different continents and cultures.
So, if neither Islam nor Malay custom drove the 50 protesters to publicly despoil a sacred Hindu creature and to threaten bloodshed because of a Hindu temple, what was it?
Possessed by superiority
My hunch is that these protesters were emboldened by a culture of Malay Muslim superiority that has been carefully cultivated and strategically stoked by the Umno-led government, Malay Muslim politicians from Umno, PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), and by the judiciary both civil and syariah.
We only need to consider the following events where non-Muslim, non-Malay Malaysian rights are deferred, even trampled on, by a system that upholds Malay-Muslim rights and sensitivities as ultimate and unquestionable.
- Despite several police reports that have been lodged by Catholics against Al Islam for an undercover report that desecrated the holy communion, no action has reportedly been taken against either the publisher or the editorial team.
- Despite the incendiary reports and headlines in Utusan Malaysia that promote ketuanan Melayu at the expense of the constitutional rights of other citizens, no action has been taken against the Malay-language daily by the Home Ministry. Consider how other media have received warnings and threats, and have even been suspended or shut down before for much vaguer offences.
- Additionally, let's not forget that in 2006, it was the Barisan Nasional (BN) government, under the leadership of then Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who banned any discussion of Article 11 and the proposed Interfaith Commission. Abdullah also threatened to use the Sedition Act if Malaysians attempted to discuss their constitutional rights in the light of issues arising from a clash between civil and syariah laws because some Muslim groups charged that these initiatives were attempts to undermine Islam.
- According to Selangor PAS, beer must not be sold in Muslim-majority areas regardless of non-Muslims, who may want to consume alcohol and are not prohibited from doing so.
- Because this is the holy month of Ramadan, PAS Youth wants the Michael Learns to Rock concert banned. They have described it as a huge insult to Islam especially since Muslims, presumably, should not be having any fun during the fasting month. The Umno-led BN government, surprise, surprise, has also chided the concert organisers for being disrespectful towards Muslims and Ramadan. But since when was Ramadan meant to be a kill-joy for Muslims and non-Muslims? I don't recall Catholics in Malaysia insisting that non-Catholics should also fast and sacrifice during Lent. Or Hindus suggesting that everyone else should also be a vegetarian on a Hindu holy day. Mind you, this attempt to ban a band because of preferences, defined by some Muslims for all others, is no different from when the animated movie Babe, which starred a pig as the lead character, was banned several years ago.
- Consider also how "Allah" cannot be used by non-Muslims in their worship in Malaysia, out of deference for perceived Muslim insecurity and the notion that the word "Allah" only belongs to Muslims. Let's remember that it is the government of Malaysia that is upholding the ban on the use of "Allah" even though historically and culturally, the word cannot be copyrighted by Muslims, and was used even before Islam.
- Notice also how the proscription of pork in students' school lunch boxes and increasing regulation for pet dog ownership presupposes that Muslim sensitivities are all-important regardless of the way of life of other Malaysians.
- And it's not just food and pets, its dress codes, too. Remember how in 2005, several ministers defended the dress code imposed by the International Islamic University on non-Muslim female students? No matter that even among Muslim scholars, there is no consensus about the requirement for Muslim women to wear the tudung.
- In the conversion cases involving, among others, Shamala Sathiyaseelan, M Moorthy, R Subashini and more recently, M Indira Gandhi and Mohan Singh, one outcome keeps recurring: not even the civil courts will uphold the rights of non-Muslims.
I'll also wager that the Shah Alam protestors were bold enough to do what they did so publicly, showing no fear of being caught or penalised by the police, because they knew that they would not be arrested. After all, in the past, police have demonstrated an uncanny ability to restrain themselves from taking action whenever a Muslim mob attacked a Malaysian forum that tried to address the issues of political Islam and how they affect our nation.
We shouldn't be surprised at all that the Selangor police stood by and did nothing on 28 Aug while the protesters promised bloodshed and clearly threatened the peace. After all, the police also took minimal action against the mob that disrupted the peaceful Article 11 forum in Penang in 2006, and against another mob, led by PKR's Zulkifli Noordin, that disrupted the August 2008 Bar Council forum on conversion in Malaysia.
And what has the current administration led by Datuk Seri Najib Razak demonstrated to reinforce this culture of inaction in the face of threats and attacks against civil liberties and the legitimate rights of non-Malay and non-Muslim Malaysians? It excuses these threats of violence. Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein not only found time to meet the cow-head protesters at his office, he also found ways to justify their actions by making them out to be the ones who were "victimised".
We all know that if any group protested against the building of a mosque by using a severed and bloodied pig head, the group would not have stood a chance with the authorities. And they definitely would not have been so easily welcomed, and then defended, by the home minister in his office. And that's why, even when protests that are designed to insult Islam happens, the perpetrators of such hate antics do so without revealing themselves.
So, what possessed the residents of Section 23, Shah Alam to do what they did so boldly and publicly? I'll be happy to wager that it's because they believed they would get away with it. Even if they eventually don't because of public outrage, including among Muslims, and the embarrassing international headlines, these protesters probably started off by believing that their method of protest would not result in any repercussions on them. Indeed, Hishammuddin's defence of them may just be an indicator of how, even if they are taken to task for instigating violence, they will be let off lightly.
And so, do you blame the protesters for thinking they would get away with threats of violence? I don't. The evidence, after all, that they would likely escape action because they belong to a Malay Muslim majority, is just too overwhelming. Denying that a particular political culture has been put in place in order to favour such bigoted, violent and intolerant behaviour would be to deny that the 28 Aug demonstration ever occurred.
Jacqueline Ann Surin had to shout to be heard over a Merdeka dinner at a friend's home in Section 6, PJ because the terawih prayers from the nearby mosque was being blared for more than an hour before she left. She wonders if for some Muslims, piety is best demonstrated by being a nuisance to one's neighbours.