On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Silly political charade

Students casting their votes electronically during campus election at UPM, Serdang. - Filepic

Students casting their votes electronically during campus election at UPM, Serdang. – Filepic

Some right-wingers have gone to ridiculous lengths to promote their narrow-minded views.

IT used to be fairly simple. As a student at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in the early 1980s, when student politics were often as emotional as politics outside the campus, we simply had to choose between the liberal and the religious candidates.

The liberal ones were the pro-Umno students, mostly from the west coast states of Selangor, Penang and Johor, while the religious candidates were those influenced by PAS and came mainly from the east coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu.

The liberal student leaders wore jeans and spoke English well and were primarily from the arts faculties, while the PAS-types, with their goatees and headwear, were mainly from the Islamic faculty.

Fast forward to 2014. Today, Malay­sians will never hear Umno leaders or, for that matter, any Malay politician declare themselves openly as liberals. Even if they are.

That’s simply because the right-­wingers, who call themselves nationalists, have repackaged and successfully convinced many Malaysians that liberals are equivalent to those who support LBGT – lesbians, bisexuals, gays and transgenders.

Throw in same sex marriage and abortion and that is enough to kill off liberalism. That’s how effective the anti-liberal agenda has been. It doesn’t matter if many liberal-minded Malaysians do not support such causes, because these right-wingers will simply flash the “guilty by association” trump card.

The real definition of liberalism has been hijacked by these people to equate it with “decadence” and “Western” values. But if you go back to the dictionary, you will understand that liberalism is about ­tolerance, democracy, generosity and broadmindedness in all spheres of life.

These right-wingers, who are self-declared champions of their races, conti­nue to seek opportunities to promote their narrow-minded views.

A few have gone to ridiculous lengths, the latest being an attempt to raise funds for a road bully, and suggesting that the video that went viral had been tampered with to put her in a bad light – implying some form of racial agenda.

Seriously, how low can this go? But, encouraged by generous coverage in some news portals, these “champions” will continue with their silly political charade and bask in their own glory.

That they can get away with seditious remarks has no doubt raised the question as to whether they have powerful backers.

But moderate Malaysia cannot allow such personalities to set the political tone, or agenda, in this country.

Another suddenly feared word is secularism. There seems to be some misguided notion that secularism means embracing Christianity. How this has come about has baffled me.

A secular state, as one commentator puts it, simply means that the state is neutral and no one would be able to use religion as a political tool.

The Islamic Renaissance Front, in a letter published in The Star on June 5, says there are different types of secularism in which Malaysia endorses the positive one in order to protect the variety of religions cohabiting on its territory.

“With that type of secular approach, the Government does not deny the inherent right of its citizens to profess any religion, and equally supports them and protects their other rights including the right to participate in public life and civil service irrespective of their religious denomination,” it says.

“This is an ideal construction, which was implemented in Malaysia with some asymmetries due to the special historical conditions.”

The reality is that many Malaysians are not terribly interested in reading up on philosophical terms, let alone read, and the result is that they accept the gibberish that has been pushed down their throats.

In a nutshell, secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons from religion. In other words, to free the government from religious rule and teachings. What’s so wrong with that?

Our past prime ministers Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Hussein Onn repeatedly declared Malaysia to be secular. There are enough historical documents and news­paper reports on this, so there’s no need to rekindle another debate.

Our founding fathers who went to London to seek our independence also stated clearly in documents that Malaysia would never be a theocratic state.

The European philosophers who preached secularism wanted the church out of the government. It was a movement to kick out the powerful church leaders and not to embrace them.

Except for PAS, where its politicians pass themselves off as theologians and it has a clear agenda to set up a theocratic state, there is no reason for anyone to be fearful of secularism.

Another term that seems to take on negative connotations is pluralism. Moderate Malaysians must wonder whether our leaders actually scrutinise the content of their speeches, especially when pluralism is denounced in the context of religion.

If you check the dictionary again, pluralism basically means “the affirmation and acceptance of diversity”.

Most of us are familiar with terms like masyarakat majmuk (plural society) and berbilang bangsa dan agama (multi racial and multi religion). We learn them from young but they are now in danger of disappearing from our school textbooks if we are not careful.

We must not let our guard down and our leaders must do more to stop bigots who promote mono-ethnicity and mono-religion from intruding into every level of our institutions.

Political scientist Farish Noor has correctly pointed out that pluralism must be upheld as it is perhaps one of the greatest assets for Malaysia to be blessed with.

“It is certainly not a problem and thus should never be pathologised as such. Religious diversity is not an illness that infects the body of the state or nation, nor should it be seen as a handicap.

“But what the state has to do in such a context is to play the role of honest broker and to create those vital common public domains where interaction, cooperation, respect and recognition can develop.

“For any state to appeal and cater to the demands of only one group, and in particular the majority, reeks of bias and uneven compromise, which in turn can only lead to further majoritarianism dominating the arena of national politics,” he wrote.

Malaysia, to many moderate Malaysians, has become increasingly religiously ­stifling. It is also worrying that consumer and professional groups are being sub-divided into ethnic components and are taking up issues that concern only their communities rather than all Malaysians.

Dr Farish has also warned that “any attack on the very idea of secularism is therefore an attack on the value of universal equality itself, and those who condemn secularism as being “un-Godly” or corrupt are really the ones who wish to destroy the secular basis of a free and equal society where every citizen is accorded the respect that she or he is due.

“When the attacks against ­secularism come from the representatives of the majority ethnic-religious community (such as the case with the rise of Hindutva supremacists in India, and Muslim communitarians here in Malaysia), what we face is nothing short of the rise of the tyranny of the majority.

“For all its weaknesses, secularism remains the only safeguard we have to keep our country on a democratic track. And for that reason, the democrats among us must be prepared to defend our secular democratic and plural public domain at all costs, come what may.”

Malaysia turns 57 years old at the end of the month. We were not given much hope when we attained independence, with some predicting that sectarian interests would tear this country apart.

We shouldn’t be allowed to come to a point where Malaysians get intimidated just because they declare themselves ­liberals, secularists or pluralists.