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Thursday, January 31, 2013

NGO seeks church-state separation


A group of social activists, concerned with the intrusions of religion into the public sphere, has been canvassing support for the formation of a body that will campaign for the separation of church and state in Malaysia's politics.

Malaysia Secular Forum (or Sekular Forum Malaysia), which is in the process of registration as an NGO, is troubled by what it views as the increasing tendency of politicians in Malaysia to mix religion with politics. The body has been mulling an appropriate time for its launch.

"There's too much of this mix and this has been to the detriment of the human rights of citizens of the country," said one proponent behind the formation of MSF, who spoke on background toMalaysiakini and requested anonymity for now.

He said the group is composed of professionals and social activists who have been troubled by the increasing encroachment of religion into the political sphere.

"We think this encroachment has gone too far and want to caution citizens about the detrimental consequences of this phenomenon," he explained.

"We know and respect the fact that Islam is the official religion of the country but ours is a secular state nevertheless. To smudge the difference would be damaging to our polity," he said.

NONEHe cited the most recent episode where Perkasa chief Ibrahim Ali (right) had made a call to Muslims to burn Malay language bibles that used the ‘Allah' word as an example where inflammatory speech on religion is allowed to exceed rational bounds.

He said the people behind MSF would not urge that Ibrahim Ali be made to account for his rash talk, but would use his example of intemperate speech as evidence of what society would have to contend with when religion is allowed too much intrusion into the public arena.

Members to include religious people

MSF would try to enlist the support and membership of religious people in its campaign to keep church and state separate in Malaysia, said the source.

"There's a great deal of wisdom from history that such a separation is necessary for civil society to flourish," argued the MSF proponent.

When told that Muslims would be averse to joining the MSF because they feel that secularism implies that religion has no role to play in the ‘public square' - the term used to describe the arena where civil society engages in debate about public policy - the MSF proponent countered:
"This is a misunderstanding of what secular means. It does not mean that religion has no purchase on what transpires in the public square; it merely means that no one religion is allowed to dominate the terms of the debate."

He said MSF would not espouse the proposition that the ‘public square' be naked, that is, stripped of all influences stemming from religious standpoints
.
According to him, the ‘naked public square' was a western evolution that an Asian democracy like Malaysia would be loath to emulate.

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