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LAST_UPDATEThu, 23 Nov 2017 2am

Moderate, Liberal Or Extremist: Where Do We Draw The Line?

Photo: hornbillunleashed.wordpress.comPhoto: hornbillunleashed.wordpress.com

Ibrahim Ali, President of Perkasa,had called for the burning of Malay language Bibles because of the word ‘Allah’ but was not charged under the Sedition Act 1948.

Eric Paulsen was arrested for his tweet criticizing the government agency JAKIM. He was only released on bail two days later and is being investigated under the Sedition Act.

K – Pop band, B1A4 had a fan meeting recently and a fan’s physical embrace by her favourite band member caused an uproar resulting in threats of arrest under religious law.

Judging from these scenarios, calling for the burning of a holy book, arrested for criticizing a government agency, a young girl threatened with imprisonment on moral grounds, isn’t it too much?

Even though these scenarios mentioned are not related but they share one common thing, the action or reaction is extreme.

Firstly, take the example of encouraging the burning of the Malay language Bible because of the word ‘Allah’ in it. In Islam, we are taught to respect other people and their religion and be moderate about everything that we do or say but burning the bible, the holy book for Christians is not reflecting that.

As for Eric Paulsen if you read his tweet again and this time really read it, he said “JAKIM is promoting extremism every Friday. Government needs to address that if serious about extremism in Malaysia”.He is only criticising a state government agency, not Islam. Is criticising JAKIM equal to criticising Islam?

Why can’t we criticize a government agency in a democratic country? Note here the word that I use is ‘criticize’ not ‘condemn’. Those who work in government agencies are human beings, same goes to the leaders who are elected by Malaysians. They are bound to make mistakes and when they do, we should correct them.

Latheefa Koya, Legal Advisor of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) also questioned Paulsen’s arrest. She acknowledged that there are some people disagree with his statement and asked them to debate with Paulsen rather than arresting him for giving his opinion.

This ongoing debate about extremism and liberalism seems to focus on religion, or rather religion being manipulated by politics. The combination of these two factors often leads to provocation, as can be seen by the examples discussed earlier.

Hugs, Kisses And Extremism

Photo: shutterstock.comPhoto: shutterstock.com

One thing about most Malaysians (you know who you are) is they love to respond to every little provocation without looking into the matter beforehand. Some of them just read the headlines but do not read the whole article.

Let us take a look at the latest controversy that has fuelled the debate on liberalism and extremism. Malay girls and their passion for K-Pop. The K-Pop group, B1A4, had a fan meeting on January 10and usually during fan meetings there will be a session where the fans get to interact with their favourite band members.

Yes, the physical contact exhibited was inappropriate and insensitive in our culture. The conservative voiced their concern that the whole episode reflected too much ‘liberal’ influence.But is condemning the girls and threatening action under religious law bordering on the extreme?Extremists comments are like cyber bullying. Photo: www.opencolleges.edu.auExtremists comments are like cyber bullying. Photo: www.opencolleges.edu.au

“I think most Malaysians are taking the matter way too extreme. The comments that some Malaysians gave about the video and actions by the officials will scare and scar the girls for life. For me the video should have not been uploaded in the first place. If you want to advice the girls, making the video viral is not the way.

“It seems to becoming a trend to make a video go viral nowadays.” said Lisa, a 27-year- old beautician whom I had asked about the recent controversy.

Was it harmless affection? Or is it an example of too much liberal influence on the younger generation? According to Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, it was a “harmless gesture between stars and fans”, he observed in his Twitter posting.

“We shouldn’t waste our time. Government departments should not waste time on this,” he said, also pointing out that there was hugging in other concerts held locally, including a recent one by India’s movie star Shah Rukh Khan”, he had further commented according to local media reports.

When this recent K-Pop hugging incident erupted into a media storm, it wasn’t long before other filmed incidents of physical embrace between celebrities and VIPs starting getting media attention as well with many people asking where you draw the line. Once we start down this line of thinking, it is not hard to find extremism waiting round the corner.

Historically, ‘Liberalism’ Has Been Part Of Our Culture All Along

Liberalism for me is not a threat and yes I am a liberal when it comes to culture and custom.However, many do view liberalism as a threat when it comes to religion.

Tan Sri Dr Muhammad Kamal Hassan. File PicTan Sri Dr Muhammad Kamal Hassan. File PicProfessor Tan Sri Dr Muhammad Kamal Hassan of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) advised Muslims not to be fooled into accepting the philosophy that equates all religions with Islam.

"All religions in Malaysia must oppose radicalism and extremism. Common sense and rational thought is not to damage the religion but should instead be used to strengthen the faith,” he said as published in UKM news portal.

Dr Muhammad was sharing his view from the religious perspective. But from the actions of various government agencies, enforcement authorities and NGOs, Malaysians are getting confusing messages about the definition of ‘liberalism’ in the context of culture and society.

Malaysian Digest contacted Dr Mohd Faizal Musa, Research Fellow at Institute of the Malay World and Civilization (ATMA), National University of Malaysia (UKM) to provide an intellectual perspective on this issue.

“Liberalism ideology is an ideology or political cluster that stresses on independence and equality. This ideology started and expanded in Europe during the renaissance era has stressed on ideas like just general election, civil rights, freedom of religion, freedom of trade, freedom of speech or opinion and private ownership.

“We should be grateful that liberalism ideology is finally among our Muslim community. In the Malay society, the ideology has already been part of our life. In 1812, William Marsden, the main fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society since 1783, had published a Malay-English dictionary. In 1812, the word ‘murah’ which means ‘cheap’ now in English has another meaning. During that time the word ‘Kamurahan’ (new spelling is ‘kemurahan’) was interpreted as ‘liberality’ where Marsden used ‘melimpahkan adil dan kamurahan’ or in English ‘to cause justice and liberality to abound’ as an example.  Dr Mohd Faizal Musa. Photo: Utusan Dr Mohd Faizal Musa. Photo: Utusan

So historically, ‘liberalism’ has been part of our life all along. But why does it have a negative connotation today?

“In our Rukun Negara, liberalism has been chosen and upheld befitting to Malaysian culture. In fact it isa recommendation. The government’s official portal explained the relationship between liberalism and Malaysian culture:

‘Our country is indeed upholding the free will, gaining even more unity among its people,  maintaining a democratic way of life, creating a just society where the country’s tranquillity and peace can be enjoyed by all fairly, maintaining a liberal way towards our rich cultural traditions’.

“This Rukun Negara is often abandoned by many, hence many people did not realise that Malaysia wants to maintain a liberal way towards our rich cultural traditions.

“Due to that, to answer whether liberalism is suitable with Malaysian culture, I have to say that liberalism has been accepted since 1970. Since it has been a national ideology and philosophy for 44 years, it is not too much for us to say, those who refuse to accept liberalism ideology, it is best for them to look for other country than Malaysia.” said Dr Faizal during our interview via email.

"In this country, we are faced with extremism from various angles, some ultra orthodox, ultra conservative, ultra social and ultra liberal. We want our youths to be in the 'middle class' - Khairy Jamaluddin, 17 January 2015

At the recent Malaysian Youth Council (MBM) meeting held over the weekend, the Youth and Sports Minister had reiterated the council’s stand on unity and moderation.  The Rembau MP had also acknowledged that there are extremist elements in both ends of the spectrum and stressed the importance of trying to keep a moderate perspective while respecting all cultures and customs in Malaysian society.

Photo: www.islam21c.comPhoto: www.islam21c.com25-year-old Syafiq, working as a banker said it is something good to have liberalism in culture. Living in Malaysia requires us to be open and accept other people’s cultures as long as it does not clash with Shariah teachings for Muslims.

There has been a lot of talk about liberalism and religion in Malaysia and it seems that local media has narrowed it to just that only.  According to Dr Faizal, we must try to differentiate the two.

“The 1948 Human Rights Declaration [endorsed by Malaysia] emphasises each differences, including different religion practices must be protected. Hence there is no such thing as liberalism to generalize all religion.

“Human rights in fact celebrate differences that each of every one of us has and claims that the basic rights which is right to be different and believe to our own religion are defended and protected. Any abuse of this right is a violation towards the agreed human rights spirit and brotherhood of the world.

“Plus it violates the Quran. Islam emphasizes freedom of religion like what had been mentioned in al-Baqarah verse 256.” Dr Faizal explained.

Extremism happens to all of us sometimes, we act extreme because we let our emotions get the best of us. We say we do that in the name of freedom of speech without thinking about the repercussion.

I believe all religions teach us to be careful about what we do or say so that we may not cause harm to others. I do endorse the right to the freedom of speech but I limit myself so that I may not cause harm to myself or others.

-Malaysian Digest