DECEMBER 18 — This letter is in defence of the G25 of eminent retired civil servants against the disrespectful, unwarranted and malicious attacks from the Young Professionals.
Initially, I had intended to refrain to getting involved despite the aghast I felt at the blatantly hypocritical and unfair manner in which the Young Professionals had targeted the G25. In fact, and I cannot emphasise this strongly enough, there was some sense of sympathy and empathy for the stance against the threat of secular authoritarianism even when it was wholly misplaced and reeks of paranoia.
Indeed, what irked and hence compelled me was the manner in which the G25 was subjected to the Young Professionals’ tirade the second time around (i.e. in the counter-reply) which was devoid of actual engagement and full of knee-jerk reaction.
Firstly, the tone of the Young Professionals was disrespectful, insolent and harsh — directed at a group of seniors or elders and who very clearly have the interests of the country and people at heart. Instead of carefully outlining one’s position clearly and reasonably, the Young Professionals seem more interested in impugning and maligning the character of the G25!
Secondly, the presentation of the Young Professionals was imbalanced and one-sided. They had the audacity to claim to be fair and just but refrained from criticising the shortcomings and flaws of the Islamic religious authorities while all the while picking on the G25 who are no longer part of the establishment.
Thirdly, as such, the claim by the Young Professionals to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution and to be liberal is belied by their word and deed embodied in their two letters in relation to the G25, particularly the statement made by Datuk Noor Farida Arrifin.
The claim and accusation that the Noor Farida’s statement was meant to shut down free speech is absurd and downright risible since the very existence of criminal defamation demonstrates that there are legal limits thereof.
If the Young Professionals were sincere, they should be calling for the ban on the use of the word, “Allah” in the Malay Bibles to be lifted since this constitutes violation of freedom of expression as per Article 10 of our Federal Constitution (let alone Articles 3 and 11).
Furthermore, are they prepared to advocate for the Sedition Act (1948) to be applied to the Islamic religious authorities too if, for example, there any sermon that demonises Jews and Christians as these are downright seditious and discriminatory contrary to Article 8 of our Federal Constitution(!)
Now, let us be very clear. There is no threat of secular authoritarianism in Malaysia where Islam is the religion of the federation. At the same time, Malaysia is a secular country since the one and only highest law and source of law of the land is none other than the Federal Constitution.
We hold both truths together — as contained in the very nature of the Federal Constitution itself which represents a synthesis (to be distinguished from syncretism) of sorts, if you will. To insist otherwise is nothing else but reflection of a siege mentality (!)
And let us also be very clear, Islam comes under the purview of the Malay Rulers and they alone are the guardians and patrons of the religion in their respective states. The term “federation” itself is noteworthy for it presupposes and implies an aggregate or group of states and is therefore differentiated from a unitary or central State.
Therefore, the role and function of Islam is not a centralised matter and any body that violates this constitutional provision is acting unconstitutionally and in rivalry to both the Federal Constitution as well as the position of the Malay Rulers.
Ironically, the position taken by the Young Professionals would contradict their stated aim one of which is to uphold the integrity and dignity (martabat) of the institution of the Malay-Muslim sultanate.
The Young Professionals, therefore, would do well to reflect on their position and question whether they are sincere in defending and upholding the supremacy of the Federal Constitution.
As I have said before, I as a Malaysian Chinese and Christian (Lutheran) am sympathetic and empathetic to some of the underlying concerns of the Young Professionals.
But their “zeal” is misplaced and misguided, and lacks a true appreciation (penghayatan) of the nature of the Federal Constitution and of the relationship between religion and secularism in this country.
The dominance of Islam as the established and official religion by proxy or vicariously, i.e. by the representation at the federal level (with the exception of the direct role in relation to the Federal Territories) of the position at the state level analogous to the status of the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong as the first among equals (primus inter pares) within the Malay Rulers’ Conference takes place within the framework of a secular Constitution.
Malaysia has its own unique “take,” so to speak, and as such the relationship has to be, and I cannot emphasise this strongly enough, contextualised and cannot be imposed upon from “without” by a dogmatic or rigid understanding.
Let me illustrate. As a Lutheran, I believe in the first use of the law which means the political or civil use. In its essence, the law remains unchanged and unchanging. But in its form, the law “ought” (prescriptive/ moral) to change and in fact “is” (descriptive/ empirical) changing.
The essence of the law assumes different forms according to the context-specific situations of a given culture or society or civilisation. And so what may have come to be acceptable in the West may not necessarily be so here. For example, same sex marriage can never and should never be legally and socially recognised in Malaysia, ever.
The context is different than, say, the UK which passed a law in 2013 so as to strengthen the institution of marriage (as per David Cameron) and elevate the status of civil partnerships of gay couples. Churches here in Malaysia stand alongside non-Christians particularly our Muslim compatriots in upholding and preserving the sanctity of marriage and of the purity and norm of the nature of sexual relations.
On the other hand, churches in the UK might have to navigate the situation delicately, i.e. perhaps holding on to a nuanced position whereby the red-line would only be when same-sex marriage is forcibly imposed upon while at the same time recognising or passively resisting the Same-Sex Couples (Marriage) Act (2013).
In short, the understanding of secularism in the West is different than that here. Likewise, the term, “liberal” — for I consider myself to be a “liberal” in certain respects and “conservative” in other respects.
In terms of theology, I am neither/nor — for my faith is not dependent on these positions but on the proclamation of the gospel in word and sacrament, i.e. on what the external or spoken word of the gospel does to the hearer — which distinguishes between what belongs to this world (law as the modus operandi) and what belongs to the world to come (grace as the modus operandi).
Or to paraphrase Noor Farida — there should be some limits in both substance and form on the sanction of private sins — which are to be distinguished from public sins (which by the way is what actually happens in reality, contrary to the intention of the proponents).
In conclusion, Young Professionals should take heed of their advice and be more consistent in their attitude and approach — as it is not the G25 who are guilty of hypocrisy but the accusers themselves.
* Jason Loh Seong Wei is a lecturer at the faculty of law & government, HELP University.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.