On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Cool heads must prevail

Over the last two weeks, I have consistently urged
Malaysians debating on Islamic laws to look at the issues from the perspectives
of all religions and not just theirs alone.

This is essential because no one community should be given
the perception that they have lost or gain.

The rights of all races, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, must
be considered and the end result of any decision taken is that it must satisfy
all races, within the boundaries of their religious requirements and rights.

Some Umno leaders have constantly spoken up on numerous
religious issues bravely although their constituents are predominantly Muslims.
They risked the wrath of their supporters, who may not share their
open-mindedness, but they spoke up.

Realising the moderation of such Umno leaders, leaders from
the MCA, MIC and Gerakan have worked hard to make sure that their PAS
challengers do not come to power.

Umno has also reciprocated by delivering the crucial Malay
votes, especially from the police and army, in closely fought areas between the
Chinese-based parties and the DAP.

Such cooperation and the politics of musyawarah
(consensus-building) practised by the Barisan Nasional have been a hallmark of
racial cooperation in Malaysia.

Unfortunately, the temperature has gone up over the past
weeks as Malaysians debate on issues relating to conversion, the position of
Muslim women, the syariah-civil courts and even a moral squad comprising

But enough has been said. It is best that the matter be left
to the wisdom of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to handle.

Leaks to the media of what transpired in Cabinet meetings
should not be taken lightly as ministers must be allowed to discuss highly
sensitive issues without any pressure.

It must be noted that the minutes of Cabinet meetings are
protected under the Official Secrets Act.

Delicate issues, using the proper tone, language and
respect, raised at Cabinet meetings may come out differently in the media.

Presented in a different context by the media, some issues can
generate controversy and even retaliation. A memorandum signed by nine
non-Muslim ministers calling for a review of laws that affect the rights of
non-Muslims is one unfortunate example.

Some ministers have expressed their unhappiness at the
unprecedented move, saying it was being disrespectful to the Prime Minister.
That it has now been withdrawn would hopefully put the matter to rest.

We need to take the cue from Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad
Badawi, who said: "We should not be emotional and raise things that create
sensitivity of the multi-racial society. It is a matter of how we act and

Politicians, especially from the Barisan component parties,
must learn to exercise self-control when making statements on sensitive issues.

Irrespective of their parties, they must remember that they
need to go back to their voters of all races at the end of their five-year
electoral term.

Politicians must also realise that Malaysians now have
access to most newspapers, whether Bahasa Malaysia,
Chinese or Tamil, because translations are easily available.

In short, they can no longer treat issues differently,
according to their racial audience, just to be politically correct.

More importantly, the statements made by Abdullah should be
taken in the right spirit. I am confident he understands the sentiments of all

At a Hari Raya Haji gathering in Penang
on Jan 11, he gave an assurance that legal ambiguities over religious
conversion would be rectified to prevent confusion in future.

He cautioned that current laws were not clear but warned
that the issue should be handled with care.

Newspapers should not attempt to fan up the issue in the
form of provocative reactions from individuals or groups as it would not help
cool things down. That should be applicable to all newspapers, irrespective of
their medium.

The issue should not be treated as a religious or racial
issue but a social issue with social problems that have emerged out of
religious laws.