Response to “Hate Ideology a Threat to Unity” NST Oct 20, 2006

Response to “Hate Ideology a Threat to Unity” NST Oct 20, 2006
Puan Mimi Nora Abdul Majid

In her NST column of 20 Oct 06, Zainah Anwar takes Muslim self-loathing to a new height, lambasting all who disagree with her views of Islam as purveyors of a “culture and ideology of hate”. And why not, Muslim self-loathing and self-hate has become very marketable since September 11. Irshad Manji and Hirsi Ali have made careers out of it. Zainah herself has occasionally basked in the international limelight.

People with prejudice against Islam and the Islamophobic media would pat you on the back and give you media access that others can only dream of. Neoconservative think-tanks and western foundations who take it upon themselves the burden of a civilizing mission to bring ‘democracy’ to the Muslim world (i.e secularizing Muslim mainstream society beyond recognition) would give you support and international exposure.

Yours is the courageous voice of the most ‘oppressed’ in Muslim societies, when in reality such women usually come from a privileged background, with western education and a highly westernized lifestyle out of touch with the mainstream values and traditions of their society.

Now out of a sense of noblesse oblige and a deep embarrassment of something they don’t fully understand, they embark on a mission of bringing their sisters out of the bondage and slavery of mainstream Islam. If Zainah is Tunisian, Moroccan or from some other Muslim country where such efforts are going on in earnest, it might work.

Her chronic self-loathing has made her believe her own and the Islamophobes’ propaganda that Muslims who don’t subscribe to her interpretation of Islam as some ominous force wearing black robes who oppress their women and leave them toiling at home the whole day, hate having nonbelievers as neighbours, and bent on killing those they don’t like.

But she lives in Malaysia where Muslim women have made significant strides in the various professions, public administration, politics and even in the corporate world, yet remaining well at ease with the teachings and values of mainstream Islam. Compared to them, Zainah’s strengths seem to be her brash outspokenness and a fool’s courage of delving too deeply into things that she has no prerequisite knowledge.

For, Islamic jurisprudence and Quranic exegesis are academic disciplines in their own right. Perhaps it is this realization that is making her desperately lash out in all directions, attacking all the Muslim NGOs who have joined together to express concerns over the secular ambitions of a few that seem to be targeting Islam specifically . Everyone who disagrees with her idea of what Islam should be are purveyors of a “hate ideology” that “halt any further democratization and liberalizing of this country”.

The list includes ACCIN, JIM, ABIM, MACMA, and PEMBELA, an umbrella organization of some 80 Muslim NGOs which obviously takes its name from one of its key founders, the Peguam Pembela Islam.

We accept that there are weaknesses in the institutions and agencies that are tasked with the administration of Islam and Muslim affairs in this country. That is quite understandable given that our religious officials largely come from an educational and social background that may may not equip them with the necessary skills and understanding when dealing with delicate issues in Malaysia’s more urban environment where many more Muslims have adopted the western lifestyle and there is greater interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims.

But Zainah has disingenuously been using these institutional weaknesses to attack the Shariah, the institution of the Ulama and the teachings of mainstream Islam especially where they concern moral precepts and gender issues. In doing so many Muslims feel that she has helped mislead non-Muslims to have a negative view on Islam and perpetuate old prejudices, and emboldened some with powerful positions in the media to join the Islamophobia bandwagon in a very public manner. This has hurt Muslim sensitivity to a point that it is causing serious distrust between Muslims and non-Muslims.

In her latest column she cranks up her crusade on mainstream Islam a few notches as a response to Muslims, through the various established and newly formed NGOs, who raised their concerns over the handling of the Azlina Jailani’s apostasy case. A Muslim who chooses to leave the religion (murtad) has to go through the proper procedure as stipulated by law, just as someone who wishes to enter the fold of Islam has to. However, Zainah and colleagues in the Article 11 Forum have turned this into a “human rights” issue rather than one of procedure, attempting to force-feed their views of how the relevant constitutional provisions are to be interpreted in a manner that is highly provocative and extremely insensitive to mainstream Muslim sensitivities.

It is not unexpected that such a vile affront can and did lead some Muslims to be agitated and issue words that she rightly identified as “hatred” and “threats”. This knee-jerk reaction is unequivocally regrettable and unacceptable. However, none of these can be attributed to the NGOs she attacked. These NGOs have acted in a very responsible manner in voicing out their legitimate concerns and actually helped rein in the emotions in the street and defused the tension.

None of the statements issued by PEMBELA or its affiliates could be described as representing “an ideology of hatred”. After all among the founders of PEMBELA are some of Malaysia’s highly illustrious and respected lawyers and former presidents of the Bar Council. But Zainah’s infantile, hyperbolic rhetorics are not the least surprising. Her trademark style is to liberally name-call those who disagree with her Liberal Islam agenda as “fanatics”, “extremists”, “supremacists” etc to hide her lack of substance in her arguments.

Yes, we heard that there were death threats against the founder of Article 11 Forum. We condemn such uncivilized actions and believe that the police should investigate the matter. But knowing Malaysians, nobody would be so foolish as to think that the Article 11 Forum founder is worthy enough to be turned into a martyr.

We think that the Prime Minister was wise enough to put a limit to this cultist approach to “freedom of expression” in the interest of the nation’s social harmony and stability without needing to succumb to “pressure” from PEMBELA.

Yes, we too want to restore the “Malaysia that we know and love”, a Malaysia whose constitution guarantees the place of Islam as the religion of the Federation, where the Shariah in its presently limited sense can co-exist with civil law and non-Muslims are guaranteed the freedom of following and practising the religion of their choice. This has worked reasonably well that we have received worldwide accolades and recognition as a model Muslim nation.

It is only when those with a skewed focus on what constitutes fundamental human rights, and exploiting the current environment of relative openness, pursue their secular vision shared by the few with such dogged fanaticism that we are seeing an unprecedented crack in our religious harmony.

Finally, Zainah takes great pains to advertise her commitment to democracy. She lamented that this “ideology of hate and intolerance” is halting “any further democratization and liberalizing of this country.” Big words indeed. But Zainah talks about democracy and liberty only when it suits her crusade against mainstream Islam. When it comes to the fundamentals, where was she?

The dark events of 20 September 1998 and what followed is still fresh in the memory of those who are truly concerned with the health of our democracy. Never mind about the 2 protagonists (the then PM and his deputy) locked in a mortal political combat. Malaysians witnessed with horror the unprecedented rape of our institutions of democracy in that macabre game of politics – the Judiciary, the office of the Attorney General, the police, the civil service…where citizens who had legitimate rights to protest were beaten in the streets and some of those around the ex-deputy PM suffered a fate much worse. We did not hear a squeak from Zainah even when she later had the power and authority of a Human Rights Commissioner.

One cannot help being very suspicious of her pious platitudes to democracy and liberty. When it comes to mainstream Muslims exercising those very rights within the limits that our Constitution accords us, she tells the whole world that we are a hateful and intolerant lot. Someone should pass her the mirror.

Puan Mimi Nora Abdul Majid
Founding Member

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