Monday, January 11, 2010

The Way Forward

Attacks on places of worship as we've seen over the past few days are unprecedented in Malaysia--but they offer an unprecedented opportunity for Malaysians. The government cannot solve the Allah issue; only the rakyat can. We have the power to see this through to a peaceful conclusion--all we need is faith in each other.

Overbearing optimism is not my thing, but we have no other option. Who really thinks the government—any branch of it—can bring resolution and closure to this issue? Who really believes that if someone, be it the Federal Court or the Cabinet, issues an open-and-shut "this is who can use 'Allah'" edict, that everyone will decide to quietly abide by this imposed ruling?

It's a trite thing to say, but dialogue is necessary more than ever. There are genuinely concerned Muslims who do not understand the Christian perspective, and vice-versa. The only possible way we can understand each other is if we talk to each other.

The people who want to bomb churches are another matter. Those we can and should safely ignore--they are not interested in dialogue. I'm confident that a lot of the people threatening violence right now are playing politics more than they are abiding by any faith.

But more importantly, there are also people who can change their minds, and who are willing to discuss these things. These people are the vast majority of Malaysians. And they include a lot of people who matter.

Remember when Khalid Samad was a radical for visiting a church and speaking to his Christian constituents in their house of worship? That was a big deal--it would have been a bigger deal if any of the mainstream media outlets covered it. It was all but unheard of for Malay Muslim Malaysian politicians to meet with the people they serve in a non-Muslim house of worship—to say nothing of a PAS politician.

Now, because a few idiots tossed some bombs into a few churches, we've seen our Malay leaders descend on churches all over the Klang Valley. The Prime Minister has gone to a church; the Menteri Besar of Selangor has gone to a church; the president of PAS, the PAS Youth Chief, the Umno Youth Chief--they've all gone to church! The potential for reaching across the religious divide and sharing in our common humanity has never been greater.

And these visits do make a difference--these dialogues change minds. Khairy Jamaluddin, the Umno Youth Chief, was once known for making some of the most inflammatory, ill-thought-out statements imaginable. Now he wants to initiate a fund-raising campaign, spearheaded by Malay Muslim Malaysians, to rebuild the affected churches.

PAS Youth chief Nasruddin Hassan had already issued a statement merely saying he "disagreed" with the attacks on churches. After visiting Metro Tabernacle and speaking with the worshippers there, he told the press that he now strongly condemns the attack. He called the people responsible cruel, inhumane and "clearly not religious". Going down to the ground and participating in dialogue makes a real, tangible difference--it can change your mind.

And in spite of the inflammatory rhetoric at the protests after Friday prayers this week, it is clear we all want a peaceful resolution to the present strife. In Shah Alam, one speaker at a rally urged listeners to "bakar gereja"--and met with stunned silence from the protesters. Nobody wants violence--nobody but a few thugs.

We cannot let these thugs shake our faith in the natural process of coming to an understanding. Now, more than ever, is a chance for us to come together and say no to those who want to see our country and all we have worked for for over fifty years go up in flames. Our leaders who have visited the attacked churches are participating in a process of dialogue and understanding--a process that must continue, regardless of thugs who want to put a stop to it.

It should not take an attack on a mosque or a temple to get other Malaysians to visit these houses of worship, and try to better understand the patchwork of faiths which makes up our national heritage. There is nothing wrong with talking about our faith with Malaysians from other backgrounds; the aftermath of these attacks has made that clearer than ever. Out of the ashes of this sickening sectarian violence, we can build a better Malaysia.

(The Malaysian Insider)

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