Malaysiakini Letter

PAS need not worry about Hindraf

Steve Oh  |  Published:  |  Modified:

I read with curiosity PAS’ stand on Hindraf and its skewed understanding of Islam’s role within the constitution. It says, among other things, "We must secure national unity beyond the interests of narrow racial politics." Should this not also include religious politics? Should it not be that politics, which is really a secular activity, be free of racial and religious bias altogether?

What is defined as racial politics? Does it mean that race-based political parties such as Umno, MCA, MIC and ethnic organisations are not "upholding the basic principles of our constitution?” What role then do ethnic organisations play if they have a role at all according to PAS? When is it valid for an ethnic group to fight for its rights? Is it racial politics if the Orang Asli fight for their native forests? Does a Chinese group protecting its mother tongue constitute racial politics? Are a group of Malays fighting for its religion racist?

Surely there must be a situation where it is legitimate for people of the same race, who are common victims of discrimination, to fight for a common cause or for their rights without having to justify their stand or be unfairly accused as racist. We must be careful not to confuse racial discrimination with racial identification. Affinity groups often have a common denominator and race is the obvious one.

Some are wary of Hindraf's race-based demands and question if they should be more inclusive. That would be an idealism, one more appropriate in a situation where Indians have the resources to do that. It seems like a tough task. Since Malaysian affairs are often conducted along racial lines, it is natural for every ethnic and religious group to look after its own interests. There is a place for it.

It is not ideal but Malaysian politics is far from perfect. Looking after the interests of your own house first is being pragmatic. It only becomes unconstitutional and immoral when you deny others the same rights. This is why we criticise Umno for its double standards.

I don't know what Hindraf's ultimate goals are. Many people support its moves to redress the Indian poverty trap but not necessarily its broader religious aims, which has put the government on notice in a peculiar and oblique but clever way. No matter what the critics say, Indians have a right to plead their case without unfair accusations of being racist. What Hindraf will do beyond that is uncertain. It is left to be seen if its leaders are not unceremoniously and unfairly locked away. This will only harden the resolve of the Indians and their friends.

If PAS is genuinely concerned for national unity then it should drop its demands for an Islamic state and abide by the spirit of the constitution which it advocates. This spirit is definitely not Islam as PAS asserts. Its clamour for an Islamic state is the reason why many Malaysians are wary of PAS and what it will do if it gets into power. PAS needs to clearly spell out its manifesto, the rights of non-Muslims under a PAS government and how significantly different they are from Umno.

The spirit of the constitution is an equitable, secular state with Islam as the official religion. This is its historical position which is a world of difference from PAS’ claim that "Islam is the pillar and the spiritual force in our Federal Constitution." Such an interpretation itself would be guilty of insensitivity that "hurt other people's feelings" as the writer warns against.

In the context that framed the original constitution, Islam being declared the official religion has a vastly different meaning from an Islam that pervades every space of civil society. The latter Islamisation process should not be confused with the original intent Islam’s role in a secular state. If we remain true to history, it was meant to be more ceremonial in nature, not unlike the role of Christianity in England.

If PAS wants to be taken seriously as a just and inclusive party, it should come clean and drop its Islamic state ambition. It is the stumbling block to both opposition unity and national unity. Malaysia, Islamic state or not, is already functioning as if it is one. Perhaps someday Muslims may realise that true religion is not about form but substance, as former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has publicly said. Being fair is more important than being supreme.

Islamic state or not, the country’s shortcomings are all too glaring and an embarrassment to Islam which does not condone corruption, injustice, lying, slander and all manner of immoral conduct. Yet we know those in power who preach religion would do the opposite of what Islam teaches. Today the country is morally wrecked by corruption rendering worthless the credibility of a government that has declared war on corruption.

In a constitution so clearly defined and successfully implemented during the nation’s first decade of inception, it would be wrong for subsequent Islamic agenda to alter the true meaning of the role of Islam in a secular state. It is one thing to revise a constitution and another to wrongly state its original intent. It seems to me that the problem stems from the fear of confusing secular for irreligious which I know to be untrue in secular states. In secular states, religion is often practised truer to its teachings than the “form over substance” variety found in so-called religious states.

We know for a fact that it is only in the West where democracy thrives that the religious are able to practise their beliefs without hindrance. It is there that bigots are not allowed to cause trouble and where the different strains of a religion (including Islam) can co-exist. The fact that more Muslims emigrate to Western countries (not only for economic purposes) speaks for the failure of the “form over substance” religious states.

We are told that Islam preaches justice and yet we know that most of the failed states are Islamic states. Even Malaysia has tried to distance itself from other Islamic states with its version of Islam Hadhari. Incidentally, the recent arrests of Bersih, Hindraf and Bar Council leaders provides proof of Abdullah's Islam Hadhari sanctions and the police state Mahathir described.

PAS’ insistence on an Islamic state has become its political Achilles' heel. Umno is laughing all the way to the ballot box on the backs of a secular state, one which functions like a de facto Islamic state. Perhaps PAS should worry less about Hindraf and more about making the country's politics free of race and religion if it wants to play a broader role in Malaysian politics.

It is not to say that religion has no role to play but religion and state don't always guarantee good governance. In the long run, it is the people's commitment to higher common values that would be more pragmatic and workable.

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