Do politicians really care? — Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos

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NOVEMBER 12 — That may be a tough question to answer since politics is seen by some as a means of service to the people. As a teenager, I, too, had the highest of admiration for politicians and an awe for Parliament, respecting them for their sacrifices for the people.

Whenever someone asked me what I want to be when I grow up, I would say “politician” but deep down I wondered if I have the moral strength to sacrifice for the people.

However, as you read more, mix with politicians, and observe, your bubble of the ideal politician begins to pop. I recall one of the earliest groups of politicians to burst my bubble were from PAS. I was about 20 years old then and while in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), I witnessed the power of religion in politics and how politicised religion can lead to cracks between family members and relationships.

It was also in UKM that I witnessed the potential for political extremism and I personally experienced being almost a victim of “religious-based” violence after I had chaired our Economics Faculty’s annual general meeting.

Some of the PAS-aligned students were upset with me for disallowing questions that relate to the so-called lack of “Islamness” of the outgoing Economics Faculty student body. It was such a big matter in UKM then how “Islamic” you are if you wanted to succeed in politics, thanks to the PAS brand of politics.

Also the student politics at UKM then was rather odd. So-called “Islamic projects” were only organised by PAS-aligned student leaders and never by the Umno-aligned student leaders. Only PAS and PAS-aligned student leaders could speak on Islam.

I recall then Umno leaders, other than one Dr Mahathir Mohamad, used to be nervous to speak on Islam. So when I, not being aligned to PAS, organised the first of its kind “International Seminar on Islamic Financial Systems”, it raised several challenges in my sub-committee. I also never stopped speaking on Islamic issues. Those were two taboos I broke being not aligned to PAS.

I admit I had been partly responsible for causing the internal challenges in my sub-committee because contrary to the normal practice, I had insisted my working committee for the seminar include not only PAS-aligned students but also Umno-aligned students and non-Muslims.

I got my way, of course, even though some of the university officials felt it was not right to include non-Muslims. Luckily, the seminar was a major success.

On post-mortem day after the seminar, I recall some of the committee members were in tears when I pointed out I had forgiven those I know had tried internal sabotage and that now they ought to seek forgiveness from God, if they want. I also recall telling them that humanity is bigger than any religious dogma or politics.

I was worried then this would be the future Malaysia and I was not wrong. Our political leaders have failed to curb politicisation of religion, excusing their failure on global trends and political expediency.

I find it hard to believe some of these leaders, held highly by the Malays as intelligent and clever, are unable to foresee the danger that lurks in the future for both the country, national unity and unity of the Muslims.

PAS has been allowed to use its version of “Islam” as a political yo-yo to manipulate and sway the Malay voters to its whims and fancies. Umno, in response, though feebly and failingly falling into the PAS religious trap, try to “out-Islam” PAS.

In the process, rational and intellectual discourse of Islam gets shadowed and the worst uncompassionate face of “political Islam” gets dominance.

That’s the kind of “religious political platform” that the Muslims in particular and the non-Muslims in general face today. It is of concern to me because this kind of politics intrude my practice of my faith especially when powerful politicians use their influence to force certain understandings on me. When this happens, it is clearly an oppression of faith, which I am afraid quite a few of our learned judges are unable to grasp.

Now, on the other spectrum, there has been a rise of career politicians who enter politics as a source of income. Hence their priorities are evident. The last 30 years have also been an educational period for the citizens of this country — they witness veteran politicians retire and their children live luxuriously. This leads the citizens to reevaluate the so-called “sacrificial nature” of politics and begin to see that wealth distribution and political linkages have an unholy alliance.

I believe the lessons of our history are slowly making people realise the delusion and folly of racist and religious-based politics. Obviously, emotions travel faster than objective thinking and it may take a while for the painful reality to set in.

In the end, people begin to wonder: Do politicians really care and do we really want to vest them with much power?

* Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos is a senior lawyer and founder of Rapera, a movement that encourages thinking and compassionate citizens. He can be reached at [email protected]

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

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