We are beginning to learn about the futility and danger of racial polarization. We are very slowly accepting the fact that the Creator does not put all the good guys in one ethnic grouping and all the bad guys in another. We are also learning that racism and tribalism is a result of ignorance and misconceived sense of comfort with “group identity”. We are also very slowly learning that decency, acceptance of each other as human beings, love, respect, mutual assistance, and such can be strong binding force between us which are more real than ethnicity and racial similarity. The Creator has in fact disclosed to us the reason why He has created us in diversity:
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know each other (not that you may despise (each other). Surely the most honoured of you in the sight of the Creator is (he who is) the most righteous among you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). (Quran: 49:13).
Honour does not come simply from being a Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazan, etc. It comes from being righteous. We have seen since independence that thieves come from all ethnic groupings as do good persons too.
While we are opening our eyes to evils of racial polarization, we are still blind to the more dangerous and emotive phenomenon of religious polarization and extreme religiosity.
This phenomenon becomes doubly dangerous when irresponsible and power-hungry politicians politicize religion and ride on the religion platform for the sole purpose of gaining political power. This is dangerous because it has three possible negative effects:
1) It has a tendency to divide the adherents of the religion itself. For example, in this country, it could divide politically inclined Muslims into PAS Muslim and UMNO Muslims. Such a division, apart from causing obvious disunity in the country could also cause mass confusion among the uninformed party members who idolize their respective political leaders. Politicizing religion often tends to hijack the understanding of the religion along intellectual lines, as it should be.
2) It also tends to divide the Nation as a whole. For example, you immediately alienate the non-Christians if you have a party called Christian Party of Malaysia. Obviously, a Christian party may only allow participation of Christians in the party and this does not augur well for the long term nation building. Nation-building is the responsibility, duty and right of ALL willing and able citizens irrespective of religion, ethnicity or class.
3) Once we allow a political party registered as Islamic Party of Malaysia, you cannot disallow the registration of say a Hindu Party or a Buddhist Party and so on. The floodgates for “religious politicking” are opened. This clearly will worsen religious polarization and one can imagine the kind of political catastrophe that will ensue whenever a general election draws near! The political appeals to religion are highly charged with uncontrollable emotions. One has to look at countries where religion and politics are mixed to understand the explosive potential.
Politics is the art of positioning oneself with the target audience, supporters and potential voters. Invariably, politicians seldom rise to the level of statesmanship. Most of them remain at the popular level pandering to the popular sentiments, norms and thoughts of the Rakyat, even though the thoughts themselves may be immature or incorrect.
“Educative engagement” of the Rakyat is something unknown to most politicians. It is too much effort and the results of such an effort are usually long term. The impatient politician does not have the time to think or to wait. This is why the politicians often opt for the expedient than for the necessary.
When religion enters the equation, we create monsters of the worse sort. In Malaysia, the majority of the Rakyat are Malays and the predominant religion is “Islam”. Hence, any aspiring politician will have to pander to and take into account these two factors – “Malay issues” and “Islam issues”. This will give rise to the tendency for a politician to be “more Malay“ and “more Islam” than anyone else on the face of this earth – to seek attention.
Politics is also about power. The “successful” politician is one who is able to concentrate as much power in himself as possible. In other words, he must have a monopoly over power. Likewise, the politician who uses religion as his political tool will want to concentrate as much “religious authority” in his person as possible. Religious authority, let us not forget is power – power over the minds and conduct of the target concerned.
Hence, it is the prime objective of the “religious” political party to concentrate as much “religious credibility” in its institution as possible, even to the extent of trying to mould public opinion that other institutions should not talk about the religion. We saw this recently in PAS. The leaders of such parties have to try to monopolize the religion itself, if it is possible. They have to position themselves as the last decider of what is and what is not part of the religion which they are using as a political platform.
In our country, politicians have the absolute freedom to make the most illogical and absurd statements which normal people will be embarrassed to make. They do not think twice that what they say will be reflective of their mentality. This is because they are deluded by the mandate they got by being voted in as an MP or an Adun. They mistakenly think that this mandate is a license to dispense with decency and thinking. Hence, arrogance is born.
Religious arrogance among the people in power and in authority is the worst form of oppressive conduct. People who are arrogant tend to be oppressors. They are unable to accept dissenting views because they take it as a personal affront to their power. They want to be the sole interpreter of the religion and everyone else MUST accept it. Non-compliance may lead to dangerous irrational behaviour on their part. In the Quran, an example of a person with major religious arrogance (and with political power) is the Pharaoh.
“But the sorcerers fell down prostrate in adoration, saying: "We believe in the Lord of the Worlds,- The Lord of Moses and Aaron. (Quran : 7:121 -122)
“Said Pharaoh: "Believe you in Him before I give you permission? Surely this is a trick which you have planned in the city to drive out its people: but soon shall you know (the consequences)”. (Quran: 7:123)
The Egyptian people could not decide on their faith WITHOUT FIRST OBTAINING PHARAOH’ PERMISSION. In other words, the Pharoah has a monopoly over the religion of the Egyptians and he becomes a god. This is arrogance leading to oppression. DO you not notice how people with religious arrogance react violently when they feel that their views or positions are being challenged? This is precisely how the Pharaoh reacted:
"Be sure I will cut off your hands and your feet on apposite sides, and I will cause you all to die on the cross." (Quran: 7:124 )
Any dissenting views will be met with a final punishment – death, ban, ostracize.
I believe that every citizen of this country has the right to practice and profess the religion of his choice and no one else has the right to compel his views (especially if you are in political power) on others. Politics tend to take wither down this right of the ordinary Rakyat because it wants to concentrate power in the hands of the politician. ON the contrary, I believe that it is the power of the politicians to interfere with this Rakyat’s right that should be curtailed by laws.
To this end, I would support any legislation that outlaws the use of names of religion attached to political parties. This will free the religion from politics and allow the true teachings of the religion to be understood.
For example, years and years of brainless enmity between the Shias and Sunnis in the middle eastern countries and Pakistan testify to the dangers of religious arrogance - it gives rise to bloodshed, loss of property and all round misery for the people. Examples of Hinduism mixed with politics in India is also another case in point.
Religious arrogance and misuse of religion by politicians must be nipped in the bud before it becomes a major national security threat and hampers intellectual development in the country.