Societal renaissance for a liberal, secular nation

DECEMBER 9 ― I was called a traitor recently by a self-proclaimed professional.

The logic is, I promote secularism, liberalism, do not support hudud,  I am therefore being “disrespectful” of Article 153 of the Constitution which apparently champions Malay rights. Her letter ended with a request for me to leave the country.

How original.

But to her credit, she is right to an extent. I do support a secular, liberal and a more tolerant Malaysia. Where we differ is that I don’t only support Article 153, but the whole Federal Constitution where our fundamental liberties i.e. freedom of speech, religion, association, and equality before law is enshrined.

Article 153, if read together with the whole Constitution, shows that it doesn’t allow suppression, repression and diminish the right of other Malaysians to forward the Malay agenda.

So if writing and saying all this makes me less Malay, then so be it.

Liberalism

I’m not sure why some are dead against liberalism.

Just so we are clear and on the same page, liberalism it is defined as the “belief in the value of social and political change in order to achieve progress.”

So, which part of liberalism is not aligned with Malaysia; socially, politically, culturally and even religiously speaking?

The Rukunegara for example starts with:

“Bahawasanya Negara Kita Malaysia medukung cita-cita untuk menjamin satu cara liberal terhadap tradisi-tradisi kebudayaannya yang kaya dan berbagai corak….”

(Translated as: Our nation, Malaysia, upholds the vision to guarantee a liberal way in upholding our rich diverse tradition and culture.)

I didn’t get that from any 1Malaysia textbook. That was written and composed as a way to unite us post-May 13, 1969.

And Tun Mahathir Mohamad, when outlining the challenges for Vision 2020, listed: “the establishing of a matured, liberal and tolerant society in which Malaysians of all colours and creeds are free to practise and profess their customs,cultures and religious beliefs and yet feeling that they belong to one nation” as one of the nine challenges.

So, why are we branding liberalism as a public enemy of sorts, a threat to society and a danger to the religion in 2015 when it was repeatedly envisioned by our forefathers ― and one is still around ― as a value that is not only compatible with a tolerant, modern and progressive Malaysia, but also a prerequisite to building a successful and progressive nation?

And more importantly where are we heading to as a nation if liberalism is painted as a public enemy?

Secularism

I support secularism because I believe in the separation of religion and state. The separation ensures that religious groups don't interfere in affairs of state, and makes sure the state doesn't interfere in religious affairs.

Unlike what some people say, it not only seeks to ensure and equally protect the freedom of religious belief and practice of all citizens, but also the right of citizens to be free from religion.

It frees public services including schools, hospitals, government offices of religious characters. Students and government officers should be able to don or not to don the “tudung.” Religious ceremonies should not delay and hinder classes.

Similarly concerts, academic books and works of creative arts should not be banned in the name of any religion. Banning them is unconstitutional.

What more in a country that confuses Islam and Arab culture. I am most often than not confused whether we are trying to be another Arab country in our zeal to appear and feel “Islamic.”

Secularism is a framework that envisioned an equality that is reasonable and practical enough throughout society. Our forefathers decided that we should be secular given our multiracial and multicultural background and I agree with them.

So why is secularism a bad thing in this country?

Article 153 of the Federal Constitution

I am a medical doctor by training and not an expert on the Constitution. Having said that, reading the Constitution in its entirety to understand the spirit in which it was created wasn’t difficult.

I understand how the Red Shirts and the likes have exploited and cherry picked certain articles, clauses to support their cause. But if you go through the Constitution including the whole of Chapter II where Articles 5 to 13 talk about our fundamental liberties, or Article 136 which states equal treatment of civil servants regardless of race, you will realise the spirit in which the Constitution was written and designed with regards to Article 153.

Even Clause 9 of Article 153 says, “Nothing in this Article shall empower Parliament to restrict business or trade solely for the purpose of reservations for Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak.”

If the sole intention was for the preservation of the Malays and natives in Sabah and Sarawak, that clause would not have been there. The fact that it is shows that the Constitution is primarily non-discriminatory across all races and religions unlike what has been portrayed by certain parties with vested political interests.

Hence it is in my opinion that policies, laws and actions created by the government that are racist should be deemed unconstitutional, regardless of how much it will help the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak.

Societal renaissance

We live at a time where a halal trolley is given more prominence than the additional 70,000 Malaysians unemployed between September 2014 and September 2015.

A time where Ministers want to close down soup kitchens but spend millions and millions caring for two pandas in the zoo.

Malaysians need to realise that it is time they speak up and be heard. We need to tell our family, friends and colleagues that it is al right to be different. To be ourselves and not trapped by the mainstream dogma — which is living with the outcome of other people's thinking.

The freedom to choose, opine, think, differ and debate on matters ― the hallmark of developed individuals ― are essential building blocks to a great, successful nation and civilisation.

Not by asking them to leave the country.

On that note, let me wish all friends and colleagues, readers, followers a Merry Christmas and a blessed, successful and joyful 2016.

May 2016 brings about a societal renaissance that ushers in a better future for us all.

A renaissance that begins with ― you.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.