Allah judgment: The role of Mahathir, PAS and Anwar — Rama Ramanathan

OCT 23 — In “Allah Judgment: Ipse Dixit, we won’t fix it,” I didn’t mention the attacks on church buildings and desecration of mosques days after the December 2009 High Court Judgment.

During the appeal, Federal Counsel presented those tragic events for the judges to consider.

One of the Judgments took those events as a second plank for “reasonableness” of the Home Minister’s decision: “Therefore I am of the view that the 1st appellant indeed have (sic) a reasonable basis for exercising his subjective satisfaction of his discretionary power to impose the impugned condition [prohibition on use of ‘Allah’.]” (Justice Abdul Aziz, paragraph 40)

Note: The first plank was: “since 1986 the 1st appellant when issuing the 1986 direction prohibiting the usage of four (4) words including kalimah ”Allah” in any Christian publication had already assessed the potential harm to public order and safety it would cause if the usage had not been restricted.” The Judgment cites no evidence to support this plank.

The Home Minister issued his prohibition on the Catholics-only newspaper in January 2009.

Considering we’ve even had a Home Minister who approved of cow-head wielding Muslims protesting against a Hindu temple, I’m surprised the court did not ask what facts prompted the Home Minister to issue the prohibition to a non-Muslim publication.

The Judgments don’t mention any investigations, intelligence or surveys prior to January 2009. After January 2009, the only “facts” are those related to the infringements on church properties and mosques in 2010, mentioned in my first paragraph.

Here’s why I’m not surprised by the absence of facts to support the 2009 prohibitions.

In 1980 Terengganu legislated a “Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non Islamic Religions Enactment.” An Umno-BN state assembly passed the enactment.
According to reports, Terengganu prohibited non-Muslims from printing 25 words (including “Allah”) and 10 phrases.
Later 9 other states passed enactments with the same title: Kelantan in 1981; Malacca, Kedah, Selangor, Perak in 1988; Pahang in 1989; Johor, Negeri Sembilan in 1991; Perlis in 2002.
Other states did not adopt Terengganu’s list. The reasons for inclusion/exclusion of words were vague.

Over the years I have often heard lawyers exclaim that if anyone were charged against these enactment, Judges would ask counsel “what mischief did the enactments seek to address?” – and counsel would be unable to answer.

In “Ipse Dixit,” I pointed to Dr Mahathir’s diabolical diagnosis of genetic and mental weakness of Malays as the root cause of the present “Allah” dilemma.

Mahathir became Deputy Prime Minister in 1976 and became Prime Minister in 1981 when his predecessor Hussein Onn resigned “due to health reasons.”

At that time, Mahathir, whom we now know as one of the most successful politicians in Malaysia, was considered unlikely to succeed. There were serious doubts over whether he could lead Umno to victory. He was vilified by Malaysia’s Islamic Party, PAS.

Mahathir soon proved his critics wrong. He patiently and vigorously sculpted strategies to ensure his survival for long enough to achieve his vision for Malaysia.

Mahathir devised a powerful strategy to rob PAS of the claim that Umno is not ‘Islamic’.  He would ‘show the people’ Umno was Islamic, and would make Malays rich.

Mahathir used Islam as a tool to sculpt the new image of Umno. Barry Wain has put it so well, I can do no better than to quote him again:

“Recast overnight by his critics as an “anti-Muslim villain” and contemptuously labelled Mahazalim, Mahakejam and Mahafiraun – the Great Oppressor, the Cruel One and the Great Pharoah: in summary, the cruellest of them all – Dr Mahathir chose not to address the many sources of discontent. Instead, he tried to recover Malay affection by further out-bidding PAS on religion, offering some of the items on the fundamentalist agenda he had always opposed. Encouraged and emboldened, religious bureaucrats flexed their muscles and tried to impose a grim form of Islamic orthodoxy. The whole sorry saga culminated in a declaration by Dr Mahathir in late 2001 that Malaysia was, in fact, already an Islamic state – a day that in local terms is likely to live in infamy.”

Barry Wain, Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times (New York, Palgrave: 2009), 218.

Mahathir’s co-opted of Anwar Ibrahim, the principled, radical leader of ABIM (Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia, Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement) who was even detained without trial for 22 months on account of his passion for the welfare of the poor.

At the time Anwar joined Umno in 1982, only Terengganu and Kelantan had passed the restrictive enactments I mentioned earlier.

How did Umno get its Islamic credentials? (1) The co-option of Anwar, a politician with stellar Islamic credentials; (2) Mahathir’s strategy of doing “Islamic things” like passing legislation to ‘show’ Umno is Islamic – and thereby silence PAS; (3) courting the international media and showcasing Malaysia as an Islamic nation.

We all know what happened to (2) and (3) above. What Mahathir did to Anwar and those aligned with him not only wrecked Mahathir’s domestic credentials but also wrecked his international credentials.

The State Islamic Religions Enactments – since they are not identical – created an administrative nightmare for the Federal Government which controls import and printing of publications. The enactments also signalled that Malaysian Islam would claim as its own words which are part of the world’s inheritance. Christians chose to ‘trust’ benevolent Umno leaders to always find political solutions and avoid applying the law.

My point: the only ‘mischief’ the enactments responded to was the stridency of the political party most likely to unseat Umno. That’s why the Allah appeal Judgments are devoid of pre 2009 facts: there are no facts to establish that the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims will threaten national security.

In Malaysia, facts are engineered when necessary to support the decisions of Ministers.

That’s why the January 2010 events are not pertinent to the verdict. They are pertinent only as an assurance that violence will be orchestrated when needed to save Umno-BN.

It’s not about Islam or Catholics and Christians, it’s about retaining power.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.

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