“In all the ills that befall us, we are more concerned by the intention than the result. A tile that falls off a roof may injure us more seriously, but it will not wound us so deeply as a stone thrown deliberately by a malevolent hand. The blow may miss, but the intention always strikes home.”
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, ‘Reveries of the Solitary Walker’
In my piece on how unilateral conversion should be a crime, I made two points that I believe clearly illustrates the maliciousness of the state in enforcing a religion upon its citizenry. Furthermore but no less despicable, the state is endorsing the action of a parent in unilaterally converting a child to a religion in which in Malaysia at least there is no way out.
Those two points were:
1) “What unilateral conversion does, and we should be clear that this involves Islam as the Islamic (sic) minister is wont to remind everyone, is rob the child of the right of his or her religious freedom. This has far-reaching consequences in Malaysia because race and religion have legal obligations along with the so-called special privileges that places a Muslim in the harsh glare of federal and state Islamic authorities.
2) “If an adult wishes to place his or herself under such obligations, then it their right to do so, but a parent unilaterally deciding to convert a child without the consent of their partner is not only morally reprehensible but should also come with legal consequences, preferably jail time with a couple of stokes of the rotan.”
With the recent decision by Perlis to “harmonise” the Malay language version of the enactment with the English version, it is time to call out that spade and say that all these types of laws are an attempt at “cultural cleansing”.
I write “attempt” because in cases like these, more often than not the child when reaching adulthood chooses to conform to his or her “original” religion and lives a life as a non-Muslim until his or her passing when the state comes a calling and demands that that the burial be an Islamic affair. I suppose the moral of this tale is that even in death, the state attempt to define who you are.
While Perlis Menteri Besar Azlan Man has claimed that the controversy was spun out of context, the real question is why his administration has chosen this particular moment to "harmonise" this mendacious piece of legislation when the federal government is taking steps to (or they claim to be) correct this unjust situation. I would argue that if the Perlis MB and his coterie were really interested in protecting the rights of all Malaysians, and especially the child in these situations, there are state level legislative means to do so. However, we know this is not really the case.
Just a couple of days ago, a friend of mine told me that the son of an Indian Muslim convert attempted to use his religion - Islam - as a ‘get out of jail’ card when he was arrested for a minor offence. Right religion, wrong skin colour, my friend quipped.
In my last column, I quoted the well-regarded and well-known Orang Asli advocate Colin Nicholas who rightly pointed out the state’s agenda in erasing the culture and identity of Orang Asli children by segregating them from their parents and inculcating them with the culture of the state or should that be the culture endorsed by the state?
The same principle applies to these unilateral conversion cases but here the state outsources its tyranny to actors, maliciously acting in their own self-interests but more importantly acting maliciously against their former spouse. In both types of state-sanctioned interference, the ideas of culture and identity are usurped by the state in an attempt to forcibly (and I would argue “violently”) impose homogeneity.
Of course, the most important right here is the child’s right. While I am of the view that parents should never impose their religious beliefs on their children, the reality is that ultimately non-Muslim children are free to discover their own path, because the state - so far - imposes no obligations and responsibilities on their beliefs.
The same cannot be said of Muslim children or those children who have been maliciously converted by a parent with the sanctioning of the state.
‘MCA proved me right’
In the news report on the Perlis incident, it said that, “The amendment appears to run contrary to efforts by the federal government to end unilateral child conversion to Islam”, which is of course hilarious because in Malaysia, political intent and action is fickle and truly depends on the whims of the executive instead of any legal or parliamentary process.
Furthermore, this idea of harmony and bona fide towards non-Malay citizenry is always questionable. After all, it was “Islamic affairs minister Jamil Khir Baharom claimed in his written parliamentary reply that any legislation to ban unilateral conversion is unconstitutional.”
Add to this the mendacity of PAS in using the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016 as a bargaining chip to further its own Islamic agenda, what we are left with is the reality that Islam as enforced by the Umno state has no interest in justice but rather the promulgation of the idea of religious and racial supremacy.
However, if this was not bad enough, the sole MCA representative in Perlis (Titi Tinggi assemblyperson Khaw Hock Kong) chose the cowardly approach from abstaining from voting. The last time I presented a white feather to the MCA, I wrote this, “The MCA’s sin is that it does not have the courage either to support its partner, Umno, or leave BN.”
And guess what, MCA proved me right. This coward chose to meekly remain quiet instead of throwing in with Umno or the opposition. Would I have been pissed off if the MCA representative voted with his BN (I am including PAS in this) comrades?
Most certainly, but at least he would have taken a stand, however wrong it may have been and if there are accusations of cowardice, it would have at least the fig of standing with your political allies, since the option of leaving them has never been seriously considered. Furthermore, what is extremely distasteful is that here was an opportunity however symbolic for the MCA to demonstrate that it would not simply kowtow to Umno but as usual, the MCA chose to remain on the side lines instead of acting for the betterment of the non-Malay communities when it comes to religious provocations in this country.
There is really no point in the MCA deputy president Wee Ka Siong saying the party is "exceedingly disappointed and dismayed" because ultimately it means nothing when a member of the MCA not only does not vote according to the party’s supposed stand but apparently is unable to even vote according to his conscience.
In a recent protest about the DAP colluding with PAS, “The Selangor MCA contingent began its protest about 11am, chanting ‘The wolves are in collusion’, ‘DAP betrayed its principles’, ‘DAP sold out the Chinese’ and ‘Dissolve DAP’.
The behaviour of this MCA representative is a clear example of how it is the MCA that is:
1) Colluding with PAS by choosing to abstain from voting.
2) That it has betrayed the principles it claims to have.
3) And that if anyone sold out the ‘Chinese’ or better yet the non-Malay communities, it is the MCA and certainly not the DAP.
Let me put it another way, how many times have DAP representatives from the Selangor government publicly acknowledged their disagreements with their Selangor PAS counterparts? How many times have the DAP clashed with their PAS and PKR counterparts on the issue of protecting non-Muslim rights?
What this proves is that even when the stakes are so low, the MCA seems unable or unwilling to rise to the occasion. The only party that should be dissolved is MCA.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.- Mkini