In a speech celebrating Malaysia’s 10th year of Merdeka (Independence), then Deputy PM Tun Abdul Razak declared:
“We have drawn from the richness of our multi-racial cultural heritage and have built a Malaysian culture with an identity of its own.We no longer speak of Chinese or Indian or Malay culture; we now speak of a Malaysian culture! We are fervent in our belief that our people are born free, free to pursue their religious beliefs, and free to live a life of their own choice. We are zealous of this freedom and we will defend it with our lives.
After becoming PM in 1970, in a speech on fostering national unity, Tun Razak said:
“Proses bagi menyatu-padukan kaum-kaum yang ada di negeri ini bagi mencapai perpaduan yang penuh tentulah memakan masa yang panjang. Usaha-usaha yang dijalankan hendaklah mempunyai asas-asas dan prinsip-prinsip yang tertentu, dan sebaikbaiknya hendaklah prinsip-prinsip dan tujuan-tujuan yang boleh diterima oleh semua kaum, menjadikan satu ikatan yang mengukuhkan perpaduan kita.”
“The process of bringing together the various communities in this country to achieve full unity will take a long time. The efforts that are being undertaken must be based on specific principles and have goals that can be embraced by all communities, in order to forge the bonds that will strengthen our unity.”
Fast Forward to 2011
Responding to this statement, Bishop Paul Tan said:
“This is puzzling – painful even – coming from a leader who has just been to see the Pope and has announced the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Malaysia,” said Bishop Paul Tan.
Bishop Tan went on to say: “It is his [Najib’s] government’s fidelity to the freedom of religion guarantees in the constitution that is in doubt, not Christians’ respect for Islam.”
The Roman Catholic Church is a founding member of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST).
“The initiative to form the council in 1984 was a reflection of the desire of Christians to dialogue with other religions.” Muslims have chosen not to participate in the Council.
“Yet, after our oft-repeated loyalty to the constitution and our efforts at promoting inter-religious dialogue, it is our sincerity that is subject to proof, judging from the prime minister’s remarks,” said Bishop Paul Tan.
The Presumption of Patriotism
Between the arrests under the Emergency Ordinance of leaders of Bersih as a result of their campaign for free and fair elections and the PM’s conditional offer of respect for Malaysian Christians “if they respect us” as if that respect was lacking at present, it is hard not to conclude that the Malaysian government operates on the presumption that some Malaysians, by reason of their faith are automatically suspect. Citizens have a right to expect that their patriotism and ability to live in harmony with people of other faiths not be called into question because they ask for better government. Bersih 2.0 was a testament to a unity of purpose and goodwill amongst the electorate.
More than 50 years after independence, our leaders should be as ready as voters appear to be to “speak of a Malaysian culture.” Our leaders should be more, not less “fervent in our belief that our people are born free, free to pursue their religious beliefs, and free to live a life of their own choice.”