Spearheading the decline of democracy and productive exchange of opinions in Malaysia, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has repeatedly expressed his hopes and ambitions to further sap the country of however little might remain of societal and humanitarian modernity.
JUNE 2 ― Spearheading the decline of democracy and productive exchange of opinions in Malaysia, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has repeatedly expressed his hopes and ambitions to further sap the country of however little might remain of societal and humanitarian modernity. His most recent declaration ― referring to the Nur Fitri case ― that liberalism and human rights pose a threat to the Muslim identity is yet another proof of how backward-looking and untenable Najib’s reactionary opinions often are.
From a political perspective it is irrelevant whether this statement truly reflects what the Prime Minister thinks or whether it is merely a flagrant attempt to ensure that those whose lives are completely entrapped within the religious institution of Islam will continue to support him. The fact that such narrow-mindedness is publicly promoted by Najib shows how dangerously outlandish the official handling of Islam has become in Malaysia.
What exactly Najib implies when talking about the “Muslim identity” remains dubious. Based on his words, however, it appears to be a lifestyle, political stance, or even dogmatism that opposes essential and fundamental human rights. And from this it can only be inferred that Najib’s notion of “Muslim identity” is a threat to everybody, religious or not, who wishes to live in a free, equal and just society.
It can hardly be considered news that Najib is a self-proclaimed enemy of the modern world who uses obsolete ideas in order to consolidate his political influence. Although he might act as an open-minded and urbane leader of the ostensibly free world when playing golf with Barak Obama or travelling abroad propagating moderate Islam, at home in Putrajaya he drops the charade and makes it clear that he is determined to actively prevent Malaysia from becoming a truly modern nation beyond the economic sphere.
Freedom of religion does not exist in Malaysia; neither does freedom of speech. In fact, the nebulous Sedition Act that is essentially a handy tool for the powerful to squash any opinion that does not suit them has been bulked up only six months ago. Najib’s “Muslim identity” is something that is forced upon people, something they have to comply with or at least, if not Muslim, swallow quietly. Awarding Islam, a man-made institution that is just as vulnerable to abuse and mistakes as any other institution, with a legally dictated “sanctity” is the latest instalment of the intrusion of religion into Malaysian politics. It is also an official rejection of any attempts to re-invent a religious behemoth that has become utterly unsustainable and deplorably unresponsive to the realities of our modern global society.
There can never be sanctity in anything created by people; and the assumption that a century-old institution can stand the test of time without making any adjustments is simply erroneous. Najib is aligning himself with the plethora of Islamic extremists around the globe who aggressively try to inoculate institutionalised Islam against a much-needed renewal.
Examples of how this institution has become a hindrance for everybody excepting the pious and power-hungry are manifold. The existence of a Shariah Court creates a legal double standard between Muslims and non-Muslims. The insurmountable misogyny at the heart of Islamic institutions leads to a legal situation regarding marriage and divorce that shamelessly discriminates against women. The system is so obviously in need of an overhaul ― or much rather: abolition ― that particularly in a country as prosperous and well-educated as Malaysia such flagrant shortcomings will inevitably lead to dissension. If injustice and inequality represent core components of what Najib refers to as the “Muslim identity”, than this identity must not be allowed to continue to withhold basic human rights and thereby human dignity from Malaysia’s citizens.
People like Najib are not oblivious of such problems, but instead of initiating change for the better, they choose to intransigently cling to power, regardless of the negative ramifications of their actions for the populace. Islam is the source of political power in Malaysia and appeasing the more radical segments of society is crucial to keep it. Whether or not Najib actually cares about Islam deep in his heart does not matter: without using the religion and its oppressive institution for his benefits he never would have become Prime Minister in the first place. Promoting ignorance through the Sedition Act and related means is a necessity for Barisan Nasional, not only Najib as an individual, to avoid being downgraded to the opposition on the federal level for the first time in history.
The question remains: what is the Muslim identity according to Najib? It appears to be a lack of acceptance of everything and everybody who is different, who tries to change and improve society; a blind adherence to outdated and often anti-humanitarian laws; scepticism towards unbiased education and open-mindedness; and the continuing oppression of the female sex.
Most importantly, however, this version of the Muslim identity is what gives Najib and his supporters their political leverage. It is their prime instrument of political propaganda.
Indeed, human rights are a threat to Najib’s version of the “Muslim identity”. And every individual striving for equality and justice ― both in Malaysia and abroad ― can only hope that humanitarian thinking will replace Najib’s outdated and dangerous ideology as soon as possible.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the view of the Malay Mail Online.