Suaram is appalled with the news on the recent intimidation and harassment of S Ambiga including the latest threat by a group known as Bersih 4.0, led by Jamal Md Yunus.
Suaram has learnt that Bersih 4.0 plans to set up stalls in front of Ambiga’s residence at Bukit Damansara on 24 and 25 May.
We are concerned with this dangerous trend of harassment and threat of harassment on the private space of individuals.
We are of the opinion that such actions are personally motivated and in bad faith.
Suaram welcomes Kuala Lumpur Mayor Ahmad Fuad Ismail’s decision to reject Bersih 4.0’s application for a permit and calls upon the City Council to promptly disassemble the stalls put up on the said dates and protect the personal space and privacy of the residences there.
In view of the above, Suaram strongly urges all parties to respect the integrity of public assembly and refrain from personally motivated harassment on individuals at their personal residence.
We also call upon the police to ensure the safety of residents of Bukit Damansara, particularly Bersih 4.0’s main target, Ambiga and her family.
DAP’s focus on fault finding words uttered by MCA warrant a rebuke as the Rocket should instead address more severe issues such as Hudud law as well as the implementation of an Islamic state by PAS which will gravely impact the rights of non-Muslims. DAP only selectively responds to questions hurled at it and turns a deaf ear towards unfavorable topics including the theocratic ambitions of PAS.
DAP’s Teo Nie Ching and Hannah Yeoh were quick to rain criticism on MCA President Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek over his statement. However they choose to keep quiet on what really matters, like how will DAP ensure their rights will not be affected under PAS’ Hudud law. DAP plays coy over hardline policies but are quick to express criticism on irrelevant, insignificant issues.
What did Chua say – why shirk his comments?
No matter how many times MCA and the public have urged DAP to clear the air over their stance on PAS’ theocratic goals, to this day no prominent leaders in DAP (Lim Guan Eng included), have spoken up against these theocratic policies by PAS. They are not grasping the key problem to this controversial debacle and continue to evade their responsibilities, while picking on the usage of words by Dr Chua in his speech.
PAS spiritual leader, Dato’ Nik Aziz’s previous statement emphasizing that only a Muslim candidate is eligible become Prime Minister is itself, a violation against our Federal Constitution but we do not see DAP clarifying on his remarks.
DAP leaders only know how to make a big fuss out of something minuscule like Dr Chua’s words in his speech. The people should see how DAP is selling out the interests of the non-Muslim community for its personal political gain. Their willingness to neglect the rights of non-Muslim indicates it can stoop so low so no different from ‘political eunuchs’.
Attending the 2012 U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar this week during the peak of the Egyptian presidential elections is the dream of pundits, commentators, and intellectuals alike seeking to analyze the next steps of seculars, Islamic groups, and all other political forces that have arrived on the scene after the Arab Spring.
May 15, 1948 is the day acknowledged by many as the beginning of the illegal displacement of the Palestinians from their land by the invading European Jewish refugees. It is their “day of infamy.” It has become widely known as Al-Nakba Day or the “Day of the Catastrophe” which falls on the day after the creation of the state of Israel. The date has grown in significance and is now annually commemorated the world over by those who support justice for the exploited and oppressed.
So it was no surprise that freedom lovers in Mumbai, India were planning a day of support on Al-Nakba Day. What was surprising instead was that police raided the premises of some of the organizers and confiscated the banners highlighting the plight of the Palestinians. In a story carried by countercurrents.org, the actions of the Mumbai police were called into question, for they did not simply stop at taking away the banners.
Instead they took the members of the staff who were preparing for the protest to the police station for further questioning. It was only after pressure from high sources that the truth finally filtered out. According to some of the police, who chose to remain anonymous, the raid was carried out at the behest and instructions of the Israeli consulate in Mumbai. Fearing bad publicity, the Israelis must have found sympathetic ears in the Maharashtra government.
Mumbai, in the state of Maharashtra, is also the home base of the extreme right-wing organization Shiv Sena, which is known for promoting ethnic violence against minorities including Muslims. It is no secret that their fundamental belief is that India is only for Hindus and no one else. One would be blind not to notice a parallel between the ideologies of Shiv Sena and the Israelis.
According to countercurrents.org, there has been a backlash against the underhanded and unjustified actions of the Mumbai police in raiding the premises of the organizers of Al-Nakba Day. There are charges that the local police are now acting as agents of a foreign consulate against Indian citizens on Indian soil, indeed a matter of great concern.
There was clearly an infringement of sovereign and democratic rights and those protesting stated, “We thus lodge our protest and condemn the action of the police as strongly as possible. The banners were not put up in any public space without the due permission of the municipal authorities, as is the norm. The banners were strung outside the balcony on the first floor of the said private premises. Moreover the banners had the following messages in the context of the May 15th protests that are held globally:
i) Boycott Israel – Save India!
ii) Free Palestine & Right of Return of the Refugees
iii) May 15th – Nakba Protests!”
The group goes on to demand that action be taken against “the Israeli consulate, wherein they are clearly told to operate within the limits of a foreign entity as a consulate and not step beyond the boundaries and the laws of our country. They need to be told that they are not the new viceroys of India, where they can directly call up the local police station and have them raid and arrest patriotic citizens.”
|Tariq A. Al-Maeena|
In strongly condemning the actions of the police and the role played by the Israeli consulate, they demand, “All the police stations in our city of Mumbai, across Maharashtra and India, need to be warned that they should not be acting against Indian citizens at a telephone call from either the Israelis, the Americans or any other foreign power. We will not betray the sacrifices and the memories of our founding fathers and the thousands who laid down their lives for a free India.”They also warned that, “the next time our sovereign democratic rights as Indian citizens are again infringed upon, the people of this city will lay siege to the police station.” Spoken like true nationalists in a country whose democracy and secularism is coming under extreme pressure. India is on the threshold.
One thing is clear from both the attendees of the conference and election results across the Middle East and North Africa: The day the Islamic political parties have been waiting for has come. Yet this day has come with a multitude of challenges that could see the success of these political forces jeopardized without them even gaining full power.
These challenges include transparency, struggling economies with high rates of unemployment, and rule of order in places like Egypt and Libya. Yet the one challenge that the Islamic groups seem to be grappling most with intellectually is that of pluralism.
Many of the Islamic political movements in the Arab world are products of post-colonial trends that sought to return the independence of struggling nation-states, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. They then went underground for decades after being marginalized by authoritarian regimes that sought to quash all types of opposition. The regimes were particularly brutal toward religious groups, which they viewed as having a faith-based resilience that kept them as a dangerous source of real opposition to the political status quo.
Pluralism has not been on the agenda of many of the leaders in these movements, at least not an understanding of pluralism that goes beyond just diversity, encompassing an energy and willingness to engage and make policy based on pluralism. Sadly, the only real pluralism that these leaders have been exposed to was during their time as graduate students in the West.
Developing a culture of pluralism requires the newly elected leaders of these societies to grapple with diversity in all forms. It is a social contract that both governments and citizens in a society need to be committed to and willing live by. These movements clearly have a long way to go.
Pluralism is not only an important commodity in societies that have various religious, ethnic, and racial groups but an important component of power sharing.
Case in point is the ability of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to develop coalitions that transcend token representation and include real compromises with liberals, secularists, and Copts. The Brotherhood has gone from 50-percent support in the parliamentary elections to half that in the presidential elections, much of it because of their inability to build trust and create coalitions with people they disagree with.
These groups’ problems with pluralism go beyond their political platforms, impacting even how they interpret religious texts. Having for decades lived in authoritarian societies, these groups’ leaders have not had the ability to develop a strong Islamic discourse on pluralism, as is being developed by Muslims living as minorities facing the reality of pluralism daily in the West. For many years dictators have used economic, social, and religious differences in societies as leverage to pit communities against each other based on fear and to sustain their power.
Religious institutions in these societies, such as Al-Azhar in Cairo, have not had the independence from government intrusion necessary to develop curricula that would challenge state structures and develop open societies. Freedom of thought and expression are the hallmark of developing a theology and discourse based on pluralism.
If the Islamic political movements are going to succeed and not become just like the authoritarians they resisted for so many years, it would behoove them to look at historical religious precedence within their own faith and replicate the experience of the Prophet Muhammad when he first arrived in the city of Medina.
He brought together the various communities, including the Jewish community, pagan community, and the nascent Muslim community, to sign the historical document known as the Sahifa. The Sahifa brought these communities together, as one society, to all imprint their unique identities into a constitution that would serve as a model for pluralism.
The challenge for these movements is clear, and the road ahead is filled with various pitfalls, both on the domestic and international fronts. The question now is whether they will have the honesty to be introspective. Just this week, the father of the Islamic political party in Tunisia, Rachid Ghannouchi, addressed the issue of pluralism here in Doha, saying the success of theses groups will depend on whether they choose to “be the representative of their people or whether they choose to claim to be the representatives of God.”
The Emir of Kuwait is faced at this very moment with the decision of approving a law that would impose the death penalty against unrepentant Muslims (and varying prison sentences upon others) who exercise their religious freedom of speech in a way deemed blasphemous. So far, this is the most extreme version of such a law in the region, and it is very surprising that it makes its appearance in enlightened Kuwait.
Furthermore, similar though less draconian versions of this law have been recently adopted in Egypt and Tunisia. One year ago, hopes were high for these countries to usher in a new age of freedom, but the Arab spring is being viewed increasingly as an eruption of serious local, regional and global dimensions that will take a long time before its true character and impact is understood. In the meantime, we are witnessing unprecedented excesses, such as these anti-blasphemy laws, that must be addressed thoughtfully and effectively.
It is not sufficient to advise these countries to restrict their anti-blasphemy laws to cases of incitement to imminent violence or national security. In the era of the Arab spring, these criteria are often satisfied. Take the example of the young Egyptian Copt Gamal Abdou Massoud. His religiously offensive comments about Islam on Facebook led to riots in his village that soon spread to neighboring ones. Seven houses were burnt, both Muslim and Coptic, and a high level meeting between Muslim and Coptic religious leaders was convened to calm the situation. The court sentenced him to three years in prison. One could argue that the anti-blasphemy law was justified in this case. In fact, in reaching its verdict, the court in the Massoud case specifically mentioned the twin grounds of incitement to violence and threatening national security.
Thus a demand upon Egypt that it only criminalize speech that incites to imminent violence may help in some cases, but would not change the result in this case. This speech incited riots. The same can be argued for other cases. In dealing with anti-blasphemy laws in this tinderbox, it is not enough to propose our standards. We need to be cognizant of the local circumstances and tailor a more effective solution to the problem. For example, Amba Yisanti of the Coptic Orthodox Church demanded parity of treatment in blasphemy cases, so that the law applies equally to Muslim offenders. That is a demand we American Muslims should vigorously support along with the previously mentioned standard. It is not only fair through the lens of international justice but also through an Islamic one, a fact that is important in Muslim countries.
As to executing offenders, it is wise to remember that the model proposed by the Kuwaiti law was discredited when Socrates was condemned to drink the hemlock. Many centuries later, we are still talking about Socrates and his ideas, not his judges. On a more practical level, an execution in Kuwait may temporarily intimidate potential offenders but will not solve the underlying problems which are political as well as religious. These will continue to simmer before they suddenly erupt, as in Bahrain, causing incalculable damage to the state. On the political level, draconian anti-blasphemy laws are misguided autocratic responses in a region which is just now attempting to rediscover its democratic roots. On the religious level, they violate various Qur’anic injunctions, such as “there shall be no compulsion in religion.”
The problem of offensive speech is not solvable through executions or prison sentences, but through serious multifaceted education about respecting diversity, the opinions and faiths of others, interfaith understanding and collaborative community building. There is a long tradition in the Muslim World for that, although the recent surge of extremist ideology has wiped it from many memories.
It is time to revive this tradition in school education, internet websites, political discourse and community outreach. It is time to say “no” to the extremists loudly and unabashedly. They will not be allowed to steal and disfigure a great heritage. They will not be allowed to destroy harmony in otherwise peaceful societies. Most importantly, they should not be allowed to speak for the silent majority. I can think of no better weapon to defeat them than grass roots education as well as comprehensive and well-reasoned policies protecting all democratic rights, especially free speech.
For angry Muslims eager to protect their religion from verbal attacks, the Qur’an exhorts them to “restrain their anger and forgive others.” It is appropriate to remember this important verse at a time when people across the region are rejecting authoritarianism in favor of democracy. It is time to move away from angry authoritarian responses, and adopt the Qur’anic recommendation to let the “common word” be the link among the faiths, which can be accomplished through interfaith education and outreach. We should demand that the young Massoud and others like him receive interfaith education not a prison sentence. This approach is similar to some UN Human Rights Council proposals. More importantly, if anger gives way to forgiveness and education, an older Massoud may become a close friend to his village neighbors instead of a bitter enemy.
I recently watched one of the most brutal and upsetting films I’ve ever seen, called The Stoning of Soraya M. I suppose the title of this 2008 film should have warned me away, but I really don’t believe that anything could prepare viewers for the graphic, bloody and excruciatingly prolonged scene that gives the film its name. It’s the story of a 35-year-old mother, falsely accused of adultery by her bullying husband and local mullah, who is convicted under Islamic law and executed by the men of a rural Iranian village. The stoning, based on a true story, took place in 1986, but the small-mindedness and hate-filled religiosity are medieval.
The Stoning of Soraya M. is an indictment of Islamic fundamentalism and misogyny in post-Revolution Iran. The outrage of the film derives from the fact that this cruel execution is prescribed by Sharia law. Yet we all know that Islamic fundamentalists don’t have a corner on religious intolerance and hateful violence. It’s one of the paradoxes of human history that religious faith, the wellspring of morality and universal love, is also the source of so much cruelty and injustice, including cold-blooded murder.
Why is it that religious belief and teaching do not lead to moral action? What is it about religious thinking that it can create both kindness and hatefulness from the same basic beliefs? Philosophers and theologians have struggled for centuries over this riddle of human behavior, and more recently, psychological scientists have begun applying their experimental tools to explore this baffling truth. Two of these experts on religious cognition, Jesse Lee Preston and Ryan Ritter of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, have an original hypothesis about the disconnection between religion and morality, and some preliminary evidence to back it up.
One possibility, Preston and Ritter say, is that the good side of religion — the altruism, community building, inclusiveness — is not universal at all, but instead is reserved only for others of the same church or sect — or in the case of Soraya’s Iran, only the fundamentalist men. In this sense, religion is not just a belief system, but also a form of group affiliation, an in-group that excludes many more than it welcomes. The love and kindness are tightly restricted.
This does not of course preclude a personal and spiritual aspect of religion, including a genuine concern for all others, even those who don’t attend the same church or mosque or temple. Religious belief can be inclusive rather that exclusive, promoting the kind of altruistic behavior most of us associate with the great religious teachings. The love and kindness are universal.
According to Preston and Ritter, these two distinct sides of religious beliefs reflect the difference between institutional religion, on the one hand, and God on the other. Religion and God are not synonymous. They have different psychological roots, and lead to very different human actions. That’s the idea that the Illinois scientists decided to test in the lab, by priming peoples’ thinking and observing their behavior. They suspected that reminders of religion would promote insular thinking and restrict caring to the in-group. Reminders of God, by contrast, should activate concerns for moral virtue more broadly, leading to a more inclusive kind of generosity.
In the first experiment, volunteers sat at a computer screen, where they played a game called the “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” which gives each player a choice between being cooperative or self-serving. In this version of the game, cooperation required personal sacrifice, and it was also anonymous, so there was no expectation of payback. Although the volunteers were playing the game with an unseen partner, they were given a quick glimpse of the other player’s photo. Sometimes, the other player was white; others time, Indian. In other words, they knew if they were being asked to cooperate with someone like them or unlike them.
Before playing the game, the volunteers were subliminally primed — some with the wordGod, others with the word religion. The idea was to see if those primed to think about religion would be more generous toward their own in-group than were the others. And they were, dramatically so. The concept of religion clearly made them want to circle the wagons and help their own. What’s more, those primed to think about God — not about religion — were more cooperative with out-group members, compared to the religiously primed. In fact — and this was surprising — those thinking of God were more generous to outsiders than they were to insiders — suggesting a kind of “egotistic” generosity. It seems they were motivated by a desire to appear selfless, more than they were motivated by genuine altruism.
The scientists wanted to explore this dynamic further. So in a second experiment, they looked at the effects of priming on acts of charity in a real-life situation. The study was done in the spring of 2009, shortly after the first outbreak of swine flu. People were confused and a bit panicked about the risk of illness and death — and scientists still had no clear answers. The number of confirmed cases was rising daily, though at that point they had only been reported in the U.S. and Mexico.
The scientists took advantage of this public health threat to conduct their study. As before, some volunteers were primed to think about religion — specifically their own church affiliation — and others were primed to think about God. Then all the volunteers took a short survey about their health, nutrition and exercise habits. This was meant to get them thinking about their own health. Finally, all were given the opportunity to allocate a charitable donation to the American Red Cross and the Mexican Red Cross, dividing the cash up in any way they chose. The scientists wanted to see if those who were thinking about their own church would act more or less charitably toward Americans and Mexicans.
The results were basically the same as before. As Preston summarized at this week’s meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, in Chicago, those with religion and church on their minds gave more money to Americans than to Mexicans. That is, they restricted their charity to others like themselves. Those with God on their minds gave more to people unlike them — showing the same out-group bias as before. Interestingly, religious identity trumped even nationality as an in-group identity: Catholics — but not non-Catholics — gave more money to the Mexican Red Cross when primed with religion, but more money to the American Red Cross when primed with thoughts of the deity.
Religion also trumps nationality in the tragic death of the guiltless Soraya M. She is not the victim of secular law, and indeed the only secular authority — the mayor — must be tricked into condoning the punishment. She is the victim of the more powerful religious law, applied mercilessly by an insular group of zealots. The hero of the story is Soraya’s aunt, the devoutly religious Zahra, who would sacrifice herself to save Soraya. She connives to leak the story to a traveling journalist, and thus to the world, and in the final scene, as she delivers the incriminating evidence to the writer, it is Zahra who proclaims: “God is great!”