Sunday, July 14, 2013

Time the Christian politicians protected their flock

Datuk Seri Idris Jala. Tan Sri Joseph Kurup. Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili. Datuk Joseph Salang Gandum. Datuk Joseph Belaun. Datuk Seri Douglas Unggah. Datuk Dr Ewon Ebin. Datuk Richard Riot. Datuk Mary Yap…

These names have several things in common: they are either ministers or deputy ministers in the Najib administration, represent constituencies in Sabah or Sarawak and are Christians.

Yes, they are Catholics, Protestants, Evangelical, and are members of Sidang Injil Borneo but do not expect any of them to lead the charge and defend the position of their faith in public.

Indeed, there is a better chance of there being four seasons in Malaysia than any Christian representative resigning from government on a matter of principle, say, because the administration going back on its word on the use of the word Allah by East Malaysians. Or even taking the fight to right-wing groups who in the past few years have threatened Christians.

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They are ensconced in nice and comfortable positions of power and prefer others to do the heavy lifting.

So it is left to the various church leaders and even some non-Christian elected representatives to protect the constitutional right of freedom of worship and ensure fairness in public policies.

Think about it. When the controversy arose over the hurried Bill that allowed the conversion of children to Islam based on the consent of one parent, did you hear loud protests from Idris and gang? Or was it the Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz who reminded his own colleagues that it was unconscionable to force through legislation which was unfair and once rejected by the Cabinet in 2009?

To be fair, even MCA’s president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek went public with his displeasure over the proposed law, noting that the BN component party would not support its passage through Parliament.

The Bill has since been withdrawn, thanks to the principled positions taken by the likes of Nazri, Pakatan Rakyat and religious groups.

Now let’s move on to the more vexatious issue of the use of the word “Allah’’ by Christians. And this is where the silence of the Christian elected representatives is deafening, taking into the account this simple fact: 60 per cent of Malaysian Christians only speak Bahasa Malaysia and have done so since 1731.

The word Allah is used mainly by Christians in Sabah and Sarawak. In short, mainly constituents who voted for Messrs Kurup, Unggah and Riot into power use it.

East Malaysian Christians were allowed to use the word Allah for centuries until the then Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar prohibited its use, leading the Catholic Church to commence legal proceedings against the government.

In 2011, the High Court allowed the Catholic Church to use the word Allah. The government’s appeal against the decision will be before the courts soon.

But in the run-up to the Sarawak state elections in 2011, the Najib government made conciliatory moves, releasing the infamous 10-point resolution to issues faced by the Christian community.

Among other things, the 10-point solution allowed the importation of Malay-language Bibles or Al-Kitab. The 10-point solution was seen as a short-term solution as it did not address a couple of important issues: the prohibition of the use of the word Allah in Christian publications and the continued classification of the Malay-language bible as prejudicial to national security.
Mind you, Idris Jala was a key player in the 10-point solution initiative but he melted into the background when the then Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein suggested that the government plan was only a work in progress.

Since then, it has been clear that Prime Minister Najib Razak and his colleagues have decided that the word Allah cannot be used by non-Muslims. He said so in an interview with Al-Jazeera a few days before GE13.

And what did the likes of the Christian politicians do when they watched the interview or read transcripts? Zilch. Nothing. Business as usual.

Once again, church leaders had to clear the smog over the issue and come into the line of fire.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia has said that in the Malay language, Allah means God and Tuhan means Lord. Both God and Lord are used in the Bible and have different connotations. Allah cannot be substituted by Tuhan and by doing so, Bahasa-Malaysia speaking Christians will not be able to affirm the deity of Jesus Christ and teach the doctrine of the Trinity, said the federation recently.

“If churches in Malaysia agree to stop using the word “Allah’’, it means that the right to edit the Scripture of a major world religion has been given over to a secular government," it added.

The usual argument put forward by elected representatives of minority groups is that it is more effective to work quietly behind the scenes and not take a public position on controversial issues. A whole lot of good that approach did in fighting off the proposed conversion law.

It is quite clear that the quiet diplomacy of the Christian representatives in that instance failed miserably. In fact, by keeping quiet and not bringing the pulse of their constituents to the knowledge of the PM, these leaders are doing the government a great disservice because it creates the impression that only a handful of noisy Christians feel strongly about the Al-kitab or Allah issue.

Similarly, what did the Christian Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers do when Perkasa and Jati attacked the Vatican envoy for stating in moderate tones his support for the use of the word Allah by Christians here?

Precious little.

At some point you have to decide what is more important: the chauffeur-driver car and bodyguard or standing up for your faith and beliefs.

Or perhaps, it is time their constituents in Sabah and Sarawak send them a major message. - July 14, 2013.

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