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Respect concept of individual autonomy

The Federal Territory Islamic Religious Affairs Department's 'snoop squad' (ordered to be disbanded by the Cabinet but order ignored) sounds very communist in their methodology, but are much more dangerous.

In Communist China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s-70s, friends were encouraged to spy on friends and expose these friends' 'anti-revolution' deeds and thoughts. These people would then be shamed and humiliated in public - even tortured - leaving many of them committing suicide as a result. In fact, this even happened among family members with many children snooping on their parents and relatives, all in the name of Chairman Mao or the Revolution.

The strict control of people's thoughts and actions down to the personal/privacy level is totalitarian. The English common law - imperfect though it might be - has a fundamental virtue of not penalising people's thoughts, words and deeds, unless they are libelous or amount to provocation, i.e. when someone else is hurt.

Under the kind of radical, theocratic brand of 'Islamic' law championed by some clerics in this country, people can be punished regardless of whether anybody else is harmed, solely because they have failed to think and act just like the clerics.

The snoop squad mentality therefore highlights another dangerous tendency in taking a legalistic approach to religion. Their method is totalitarian (borrowed from the Communists) but their justification is much higher - not only for the good of the society, but for God.

It is already difficult to oppose political action carried out in the name of 'the society' or 'the nation'; imprisonment is the natural consequence. But to oppose those carried out in the name of a divine directive, you could be justifiably killed.

The cabinet's order to disband this snoop squad - if adhered by - is only taking care of the symptoms. Though sensitive and politically risky, the authorities should really try to change the people's mindset on the ground.

People - whoever they are - must be taught that no matter in whose name they claim to speak for (including Allah's), that does not give them the license to force others to think and act like them.

They need to understand and respect the concept of individual autonomy, and therefore individual responsibility and accountability to God.

This is not just a political problem, but a social and cultural one. Sweeping it under the carpet for now just won't do.

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