Time for 1Malaysia to shine

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FRANKLY speaking, events over the past 72 hours are hardly surprising. It was a question of when churches would be burned and not why they have been attacked.

In recent years, Malaysia has witnessed increasingly intolerant behaviour over how the minority should worship or even where they should place their houses of devotion.

In November 2006, several hundred Muslims gathered outside a Catholic church in Ipoh on rumours that a mass conversion of Muslims was to take place there.

Although the rumours turned out to be unfounded as the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes was conducting a baptism for children, the true culprits behind the SMS rumours remain unpunished.

Although Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria was implicated in the matter, no prosecution followed.

In May 2009, police reports were lodged against two undercover journalists from the magazine Al Islam, who desecrated the Holy Communion by taking it out of their mouths to photograph in a Kuala Lumpur parish, and they also went unpunished.

They had infiltrated the church over rumours that it was converting Muslims.

Some time last year too, the relocation of a Hindu temple in Shah Alam became a much-heated affair, culminating in the abuse of a dead animal and prosecution for six men.

Residents of Section 23 protested the relocation of the temple to their area, citing traffic congestion, dirtiness and possible rise in criminal activities.

While the minority Hindus listened quietly to the grouses, their mere mention of decibels generated by mosques during prayer times caused the meeting to take a turn for the worse, forcing organisers to end it immediately.

Christians and Hindus are not alone in facing this intolerance as followers of banned movements Al Arqam and Ahmadiyah have found out.

After it was banned in 1994, five Al Arqam members including its leader Ashaari Mohammad were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) while Ahmadiyah members have been ordered to stop worshipping at their headquarters near Batu Caves.

In December 2008, the Selayang Municipal Council tried to make them remove the kalimah syahadat, or Islamic creed — "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah" — from their headquarters.

Sky Kingdom, which had a combination of giant teapots and jugs, saw its 33-building commune in Hulu Besut demolished while the leader, Ariffin Mohamed @ Ayah Pin, has been on the run since.

The "Allah" issue which has resulted in several churches and a convent school being attacked is the culmination of such intolerance for minority beliefs.

And while the prime minister angrily denied Umno had a direct role in the attacks, his party and administration cannot completely absolve itself from the responsibility.

When the news broke that Catholic newsletter Herald was permitted to use the term "Allah" in its national-language publication, party leaders chose not to explain the issue to the people.

Instead, party veterans such as Pasir Salak member of parliament Datuk Tajuddin Abdul Rahman described the act by Catholics as a "form of provocation".

Since 2009, Umno-owned newspaper Utusan Malaysia has used every opportunity to describe every act by the opposition as a form of challenge to the Malay-Muslim majority.

Whether it was about Perak giving land titles to villagers or legitimate questions in parliament over religious allocations, Utusan Malaysia and its columnists have described each act as a challenge to Malay sovereignty or test for Muslims.

Even the case of the Herald lawsuit did not escape their wrath.

Since the "Allah" ruling was made on the last day of 2009, Umno leaders have not sought to explain the issue or the court ruling in the full context to Muslims.

Apart from Upko minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, none of the government leaders have sought to explain that the term "Allah" has been in use by East Malaysian Christians before the formation of Malaysia itself.

Or that the Catholic church has been using the term "Allah" in the Bahasa Malaysia section of its publication for East Malaysians for decades prior to the ban by the previous home minister last year.

Instead, Umno's junior leaders are officers in the Facebook group Menentang Penggunaan Nama Allah Oleh Golongan Bukan Islam.

Besides Deputy Minister Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, the officers of the group include Umno Youth leaders Tun Faisal Ismail Aziz and Lokman Nor Adam. Eleven of the 40 officers of the group proudly profess to be from Umno.

While the Umno-linked officers did not make provocative suggestions, they have done little to explain the issue in its proper context. The group is allowed to believe that the Catholic church's lawsuit is a new phenomenon, is a plot to mislead Muslims and a challenge to Malay Muslims.

Conversely, PAS, which is a more conservative Islamic party, made it clear last Monday that the term is permitted so long as it is not abused and that it would not protest the court decision.

Umno-led Barisan Nasional, however, has remained steadfastly silent on the matter until the Metro Tabernacle bombing. Besides Dompok, only Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin has suggested that a dialogue be held between the National Fatwa Council and Catholic leaders.

Until the eve of the first attack, none of the government leaders spoke out against a demonstration by Muslim NGOs on the issue either.

On Saturday, Datuk Seri Najib Razak said that his 1Malaysia campaign remained intact despite the recent attacks and the Umno president galvanised his party by launching the Juara Rakyat tagline.

The "People First, Performance Now" campaign has seen some positive changes, such as the 1Malaysia Clinic campaign launched by Najib last Thursday.

But if 1Malaysia is to survive and be more than an election campaign, the government has to do more than to offer piecemeal solutions such as the giving of allocations to a destroyed church or offering party premises for the churchgoers.

Despite the tension in the country, this is the best opportunity for the prime minister to impress on what 1Malaysia is all about.