Unilateral conversion is an attempt at cultural hegemony

S Thayaparan

Modified 10 Dec 2016, 4:00 pm

“In all the ills that befall us, we are more concerned by the intention than the result. A tile that falls off a roof may injure us more seriously, but it will not wound us so deeply as a stone thrown deliberately by a malevolent hand. The blow may miss, but the intention always strikes home.”

- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, ‘Reveries of the Solitary Walker’

In my piece on how unilateral conversion should be a crime, I made two points that I believe clearly illustrates the maliciousness of the state in enforcing a religion upon its citizenry. Furthermore but no less despicable, the state is endorsing the action of a parent in unilaterally converting a child to a religion in which in Malaysia at least there is no way out.

Those two points were:

1) “What unilateral conversion does, and we should be clear that this involves Islam as the Islamic (sic) minister is wont to remind everyone, is rob the child of the right of his or her religious freedom. This has far-reaching consequences in Malaysia because race and religion have legal obligations along with the so-called special privileges that places a Muslim in the harsh glare of federal and state Islamic authorities.

2) “If an adult wishes to place his or herself under such obligations, then it is their right to do so, but a parent unilaterally deciding to convert a child without the consent of their partner is not only morally reprehensible but should also come with legal consequences, preferably jail time with a couple of stokes of the rotan.”

With the recent decision by Perlis to “harmonise” the Malay language version of the enactment with the English version, it is time to call out that spade and say that all these types of laws are an attempt at “cultural cleansing”.

I write “attempt” because in cases like these, more often than not the child when reaching adulthood chooses to conform to his or her “original” religion and lives a life as a non-Muslim until his or her passing when the state comes a calling and demands that that the burial be an Islamic affair. I suppose the moral of this tale is that even in death, the state attempts to define who you are.

While Perlis Menteri Besar Azlan Man has claimed that the controversy was spun out of context, the real question is why his administration has chosen this particular moment to "harmonise" this mendacious piece of legislation when the federal government is taking steps to (or it claims to be) correct this unjust situation. I would argue that if the Perlis MB and his coterie were really interested in protecting the rights of all Malaysians, and especially the child in these situations, there are state-level legislative means to do so. However, we know this is not really the case.

Just a couple of days ago, a friend of mine told me that the son of an Indian Muslim convert attempted to use his religion - Islam - as a ‘get out of jail’ card when he was arrested for a minor offence. Right religion, wrong skin colour, my friend quipped.

In my last column, I quoted the well-regarded and well-known Orang Asli advocate Colin Nicholas who rightly pointed out the state’s agenda in erasing the culture and identity of Orang Asli children by segregating them from their parents and inculcating them with the culture of the state or should that be the culture endorsed by the state?

The same principle applies to these unilateral conversion cases but here the state outsources its tyranny to actors, maliciously acting in their own self-interests but more importantly acting maliciously against their former spouse. In both types of state-sanctioned interference, the ideas of culture and identity are usurped by the state in an attempt to forcibly (and I would argue “violently”) impose homogeneity.

Of course, the most important right here is the child’s right. While I am of the view that parents should never impose their religious beliefs on their children, the reality is that ultimately non-Muslim children are free to discover their own path, because the state - so far - imposes no obligations and responsibilities on their beliefs.

The same cannot be said of Muslim children or those children who have been maliciously converted by a parent with the sanctioning of the state...

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