The All Women's Action Society (Awam) wishes to express its deep concern over several statements and remarks made during the course of the 2006 Umno general assembly.
As an organisation dedicated to bringing about a violence-free society, we are appalled by the number of speeches containing implied threats of violence and the use of the imagery of violence, such as talk of 'bathing in blood' and amok. We note that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, acknowledged that there were several speeches by delegates 'went overboard'.
With respect to the deputy prime minister, it would have been more effective if the party leadership spoke up more strongly against the use of violent and threatening language instead of merely distancing the party's stance from that of 'one or two delegates'. This is especially crucial in light of Umno Youth deputy head Khairy Jamaluddin's statement that the delegates were merely airing grassroots issues, in what seems to be an attempt to justify the belligerent speeches.
Awam is also disturbed by statements made by delegates against Sisters in Islam, the Article 11 Coalition, Komas and other civil society groups. We feel that there should always be room for rational and temperate discussions among Malaysians. We encourage the plurality of views and opinions. However, ill-thought accusations made without evidence for example the accusation that Sisters in Islam is 'attacking' Islam will only shut down the hard-earned space we have here in Malaysia for calm dialogues. In the context of a gathering replete with violent and threatening language, these accusations can only be seen as attempts to silence civil society groups.
For those of us dedicated to a just and progressive Malaysia, the prime minister's speech was one of the few promising highlights of the assembly. Awam applauds Abdullah Badawi's stance in encouraging the emancipation of women and the principle of gender equality. We heartily welcome his statement that the government is committed to reviewing and streamlining Syariah family law to ensure that justice prevails something for which the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) has long fought for. In this effort, JAG is led by Sisters in Islam.
Finally, Awam is heartened that the prime minister reminded Malaysians not to choose the most conservative and radical approach, and to instead develop the principles of justice, moderation, tolerance and mutual respect. In this way, national unity may truly become a reality.
The writer is executive director, All Women's Action Society (Awam).