The Myth of Religious Violence


October 31, 2014

The popular belief that religion is the cause of the world’s bloodiest conflicts is central to our modern conviction that faith and politics should never mix. But the messy history of their separation suggests it was never so simple.

Karen ArmstrongAs we watch the fighters of the Islamic State (Isis) rampaging through the Middle East, tearing apart the modern nation-states of Syria and Iraq created by departing European colonialists, it may be difficult to believe we are living in the 21st century.

The sight of throngs of terrified refugees and the savage and indiscriminate violence is all too reminiscent of barbarian tribes sweeping away the Roman empire, or the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan cutting a swath through China, Anatolia, Russia and eastern Europe, devastating entire cities and massacring their inhabitants.

Only the wearily familiar pictures of bombs falling yet again on Middle Eastern cities and towns – this time dropped by the United States and a few Arab allies – and the gloomy predictions that this may become another Vietnam, remind us that this is indeed a very modern war.

Sam Harris- We should have a conversation

The ferocious cruelty of these jihadist fighters, quoting the Qur’an as they behead their hapless victims, raises another distinctly modern concern: the connection between religion and violence.The atrocities of Isis would seem to prove that Sam Harris, one of the loudest voices of the “New Atheism”, was right to claim that “most Muslims are utterly deranged by their religious faith”, and to conclude that “religion itself produces a perverse solidarity that we must find some way to undercut”.

Many will agree with Richard Dawkins, who wrote in The God Delusion that “only religious faith is a strong enough force to motivate such utter madness in otherwise sane and decent people”. Even those who find these statements too extreme may still believe, instinctively, that there is a violent essence inherent in religion, which inevitably radicalises any conflict – because once combatants are convinced that God is on their side, compromise becomes impossible and cruelty knows no bounds.

Despite the valiant attempts by Barack Obama and David Cameron to insist that the lawless violence of Isis has nothing to do with Islam, many will disagree. They may also feel exasperated. In the west, we learned from bitter experience that the fanatical bigotry which religion seems always to unleash can only be contained by the creation of a liberal state that separates politics and religion.

Never again, we believed, would these intolerant passions be allowed to intrude on political life. But why, oh why, have Muslims found it impossible to arrive at this logical solution to their current problems? Why do they cling with perverse obstinacy to the obviously bad idea of theocracy? Why, in short, have they been unable to enter the modern world? The answer must surely lie in their primitive and atavistic religion. But perhaps we should ask, instead, how it came about that we in the west developed our view of religion as a purely private pursuit, essentially separate from all other human activities, and especially distinct from politics.

After all, warfare and violence have always been a feature of political life, and yet we alone drew the conclusion that separating the church from the state was a prerequisite for peace. Secularism has become so natural to us that we assume it emerged organically, as a necessary condition of any society’s progress into modernity. Yet it was in fact a distinct creation, which arose as a result of a peculiar concatenation of historical circumstances; we may be mistaken to assume that it would evolve in the same fashion in every culture in every part of the world.

We now take the secular state so much for granted that it is hard for us to appreciate its novelty, since before the modern period, there were no “secular” institutions and no “secular” states in our sense of the word. Their creation required the development of an entirely different understanding of religion, one that was unique to the modern west. No other culture has had anything remotely like it, and before the 18th century, it would have been incomprehensible even to European Catholics. The words in other languages that we translate as “religion” invariably refer to something vaguer, larger and more inclusive.

The Arabic word din signifies an entire way of life, and the Sanskrit dharma covers law, politics, and social institutions as well as piety. The Hebrew Bible has no abstract concept of “religion”; and the Talmudic rabbis would have found it impossible to define faith in a single word or formula, because the Talmud was expressly designed to bring the whole of human life into the ambit of the sacred. The Oxford Classical Dictionary firmly states: “No word in either Greek or Latin corresponds to the English ‘religion’ or ‘religious’.” In fact, the only tradition that satisfies the modern western criterion of religion as a purely private pursuit is Protestant Christianity, which, like our western view of “religion”, was also a creation of the early modern period.

Traditional spirituality did not urge people to retreat from political activity. The prophets of Israel had harsh words for those who assiduously observed the temple rituals but neglected the plight of the poor and oppressed. Jesus’s famous maxim to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” was not a plea for the separation of religion and politics. Nearly all the uprisings against Rome in first-century Palestine were inspired by the conviction that the Land of Israel and its produce belonged to God, so that there was, therefore, precious little to “give back” to Caesar.

When Jesus overturned the money-changers’ tables in the temple, he was not demanding a more spiritualised religion. For 500 years, the temple had been an instrument of imperial control and the tribute for Rome was stored there. Hence for Jesus it was a “den of thieves”. The bedrock message of the Qur’an is that it is wrong to build a private fortune but good to share your wealth in order to create a just, egalitarian and decent society. Gandhi would have agreed that these were matters of sacred import: “Those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.”

The Myth of Religious Violence

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Before the modern period, religion was not a separate activity, hermetically sealed off from all others; rather, it permeated all human undertakings, including economics, state-building, politics and warfare. Before 1700, it would have been impossible for people to say where, for example, “politics” ended and “religion” began. The Crusades were certainly inspired by religious passion but they were also deeply political: Pope Urban II let the knights of Christendom loose on the Muslim world to extend the power of the church eastwards and create a papal monarchy that would control Christian Europe.

The Spanish inquisition was a deeply flawed attempt to secure the internal order of Spain after a divisive civil war, at a time when the nation feared an imminent attack by the Ottoman empire. Similarly, the European wars of religion and the thirty years war were certainly exacerbated by the sectarian quarrels of Protestants and Catholics, but their violence reflected the birth pangs of the modern nation-state.

It was these European wars, in the 16th and 17th centuries, that helped create what has been called “the myth of religious violence”. It was said that Protestants and Catholics were so inflamed by the theological passions of the Reformation that they butchered one another in senseless battles that killed 35% of the population of central Europe. Yet while there is no doubt that the participants certainly experienced these wars as a life-and-death religious struggle, this was also a conflict between two sets of state-builders: the princes of Germany and the other kings of Europe were battling against the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and his ambition to establish a trans-European hegemony modelled after the Ottoman empire.

If the wars of religion had been solely motivated by sectarian bigotry, we should not expect to have found Protestants and Catholics fighting on the same side, yet in fact they often did so. Thus Catholic France repeatedly fought the Catholic Habsburgs, who were regularly supported by some of the Protestant princes.

In the French wars of religion (1562–98) and the thirty years war, combatants crossed confessional lines so often that it was impossible to talk about solidly “Catholic” or “Protestant” populations. These wars were neither “all about religion” nor “all about politics”. Nor was it a question of the state simply “using” religion for political ends. There was as yet no coherent way to divide religious causes from social causes.

People were fighting for different visions of society, but they would not, and could not, have distinguished between religious and temporal factors in these conflicts. Until the 18th century, dissociating the two would have been like trying to take the gin out of a cocktail.

These developments required a new understanding of religion. It was provided by Martin Luther, who was the first European to propose the separation of church and state. Medieval Catholicism had been an essentially communal faith; most people experienced the sacred by living in community. But for Luther, the Christian stood alone before his God, relying only upon his Bible.

Luther’s acute sense of human sinfulness led him, in the early 16th century, to advocate the absolute states that would not become a political reality for another hundred years. For Luther, the state’s prime duty was to restrain its wicked subjects by force, “in the same way as a savage wild beast is bound with chains and ropes”. The sovereign, independent state reflected this vision of the independent and sovereign individual. Luther’s view of religion, as an essentially subjective and private quest over which the state had no jurisdiction, would be the foundation of the modern secular ideal.

But Luther’s response to the peasants’ war in Germany in 1525, during the early stages of the wars of religion, suggested that a secularised political theory would not necessarily be a force for peace or democracy. The peasants, who were resisting the centralising policies of the German princes – which deprived them of their traditional rights – were mercilessly slaughtered by the state. Luther believed that they had committed the cardinal sin of mixing religion and politics: suffering was their lot, and they should have turned the other cheek, and accepted the loss of their lives and property.

“A worldly kingdom,” he insisted, “cannot exist without an inequality of persons, some being free, some imprisoned, some lords, some subjects.” So, Luther commanded the princes, “Let everyone who can, smite, slay and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisoned, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel.”

Dawn of the liberal state

By the late 17th century, philosophers had devised a more urbane version of the secular ideal. For John Locke it had become self-evident that “the church itself is a thing absolutely separate and distinct from the commonwealth. The boundaries on both sides are fixed and immovable.” The separation of religion and politics – “perfectly and infinitely different from each other” – was, for Locke, written into the very nature of things. But the liberal state was a radical innovation, just as revolutionary as the market economy that was developing in the west and would shortly transform the world. Because of the violent passions it aroused, Locke insisted that the segregation of “religion” from government was “above all things necessary” for the creation of a peaceful society.

Hence Locke was adamant that the liberal state could tolerate neither Catholics nor Muslims, condemning their confusion of politics and religion as dangerously perverse. Locke was a major advocate of the theory of natural human rights, originally pioneered by the Renaissance humanists and given definition in the first draft of the American Declaration of Independence as life, liberty and property. But secularisation emerged at a time when Europe was beginning to colonise the New World, and it would come to exert considerable influence on the way the west viewed those it had colonised – much as in our own time, the prevailing secular ideology perceives Muslim societies that seem incapable of separating faith from politics to be irredeemably flawed.

This introduced an inconsistency, since for the Renaissance humanists there could be no question of extending these natural rights to the indigenous inhabitants of the New World. Indeed, these peoples could justly be penalised for failing to conform to European norms. In the 16th century, Alberico Gentili, a professor of civil law at Oxford, argued that land that had not been exploited agriculturally, as it was in Europe, was “empty” and that “the seizure of [such] vacant places” should be “regarded as law of nature”.

Locke agreed that the native peoples had no right to life, liberty or property. The “kings” of America, he decreed, had no legal right of ownership to their territory. He also endorsed a master’s “Absolute, arbitrary, despotical power” over a slave, which included “the power to kill him at any time”. The pioneers of secularism seemed to be falling into the same old habits as their religious predecessors.

Secularism was designed to create a peaceful world order, but the church was so intricately involved in the economic, political and cultural structures of society that the secular order could only be established with a measure of violence. In North America, where there was no entrenched aristocratic government, the disestablishment of the various churches could be accomplished with relative ease. But in France, the church could be dismantled only by an outright assault; far from being experienced as a natural and essentially normative arrangement, the separation of religion and politics could be experienced as traumatic and terrifying.

During the French revolution, one of the first acts of the new national assembly on November 2, 1789, was to confiscate all church property to pay off the national debt: secularisation involved dispossession, humiliation and marginalisation. This segued into outright violence during the September massacres of 1792, when the mob fell upon the jails of Paris and slaughtered between two and three thousand prisoners, many of them priests.

Early in 1794, four revolutionary armies were dispatched from Paris to quell an uprising in the Vendée against the anti-Catholic policies of the regime. Their instructions were to spare no one. At the end of the campaign, General François-Joseph Westermann reportedly wrote to his superiors: “The Vendée no longer exists. I have crushed children beneath the hooves of our horses, and massacred the women … The roads are littered with corpses.”

Ironically, no sooner had the revolutionaries rid themselves of one religion, than they invented another. Their new gods were liberty, nature and the French nation, which they worshipped in elaborate festivals choreographed by the artist Jacques Louis David. The same year that the goddess of reason was enthroned on the high altar of Notre Dame cathedral, the reign of terror plunged the new nation into an irrational bloodbath, in which some 17,000 men, women and children were executed by the state.

To die for one’s country

When Napoleon’s armies invaded Prussia in 1807, the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte similarly urged his countrymen to lay down their lives for the Fatherland – a manifestation of the divine and the repository of the spiritual essence of the Volk. If we define the sacred as that for which we are prepared to die, what Benedict Anderson called the “imagined community” of the nation had come to replace God. It is now considered admirable to die for your country, but not for your religion.

As the nation-state came into its own in the 19th century along with the industrial revolution, its citizens had to be bound tightly together and mobilised for industry. Modern communications enabled governments to create and propagate a national ethos, and allowed states to intrude into the lives of their citizens more than had ever been possible. Even if they spoke a different language from their rulers, subjects now belonged to the “nation,” whether they liked it or not.

John Stuart Mill regarded this forcible integration as progress; it was surely better for a Breton, “the half-savage remnant of past times”, to become a French citizen than “sulk on his own rocks”. But in the late 19th century, the British historian Lord Acton feared that the adulation of the national spirit that laid such emphasis on ethnicity, culture and language, would penalise those who did not fit the national norm: “According, therefore, to the degree of humanity and civilisation in that dominant body which claims all the rights of the community, the inferior races are exterminated or reduced to servitude, or put in a condition of dependence.”

The Enlightenment philosophers had tried to counter the intolerance and bigotry that they associated with “religion” by promoting the equality of all human beings, together with democracy, human rights, and intellectual and political liberty, modern secular versions of ideals which had been promoted in a religious idiom in the past. The structural injustice of the agrarian state, however, had made it impossible to implement these ideals fully. The nation-state made these noble aspirations practical necessities.

More and more people had to be drawn into the productive process and needed at least a modicum of education. Eventually they would demand the right to participate in the decisions of government. It was found by trial and error that those nations that democratised forged ahead economically, while those that confined the benefits of modernity to an elite fell behind.

Innovation was essential to progress, so people had to be allowed to think freely, unconstrained by the constraints of their class, guild or church. Governments needed to exploit all their human resources, so outsiders, such as Jews in Europe and Catholics in England and America, were brought into the mainstream.

Yet this toleration was only skin-deep, and as Lord Acton had predicted, an intolerance of ethnic and cultural minorities would become the achilles heel of the nation-state. Indeed, the ethnic minority would replace the heretic (who had usually been protesting against the social order) as the object of resentment in the new nation-state.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the leading proponents of the Enlightenment in the United States, instructed his secretary of war in 1807 that Native Americans were “backward peoples” who must either be “exterminated” or driven “beyond our reach” to the other side of the Mississippi “with the beasts of the forest”. The following year, Napoleon issued the “infamous decrees”, ordering the Jews of France to take French names, privatise their faith, and ensure that at least one in three marriages per family was with a gentile.

Increasingly, as national feeling became a supreme value, Jews would come to be seen as rootless and cosmopolitan. In the late 19th century, there was an explosion of antisemitism in Europe, which undoubtedly drew upon centuries of Christian prejudice, but gave it a scientific rationale, claiming that Jews did not fit the biological and genetic profile of the Volk, and should be eliminated from the body politic as modern medicine cut out a cancer.

When secularisation was implemented in the developing world, it was experienced as a profound disruption – just as it had originally been in Europe. Because it usually came with colonial rule, it was seen as a foreign import and rejected as profoundly unnatural. In almost every region of the world where secular governments have been established with a goal of separating religion and politics, a counter-cultural movement has developed in response, determined to bring religion back into public life.

What we call “fundamentalism” has always existed in a symbiotic relationship with a secularisation that is experienced as cruel, violent and invasive. All too often an aggressive secularism has pushed religion into a violent riposte. Every fundamentalist movement that I have studied in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation, convinced that the liberal or secular establishment is determined to destroy their way of life. This has been tragically apparent in the Middle East.

Kemal AturturkVery often modernising rulers have embodied secularism at its very worst and have made it unpalatable to their subjects. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the secular republic of Turkey in 1918, is often admired in the west as an enlightened Muslim leader, but for many in the Middle East he epitomised the cruelty of secular nationalism.

He hated Islam, describing it as a “putrefied corpse”, and suppressed it in Turkey by outlawing the Sufi orders and seizing their properties, closing down the madrasas and appropriating their income. He also abolished the beloved institution of the caliphate, which had long been a dead-letter politically but which symbolised a link with the Prophet. For groups such as al-Qaida and Isis, reversing this decision has become a paramount goal.

Ataturk also continued the policy of ethnic cleansing that had been initiated by the last Ottoman sultans; in an attempt to control the rising commercial classes, they systematically deported the Armenian and Greek-speaking Christians, who comprised 90% of the bourgeoisie. The Young Turks, who seized power in 1909, espoused the antireligious positivism associated with August Comte and were also determined to create a purely Turkic state.

During the first world war, approximately one million Armenians were slaughtered in the first genocide of the 20th century: men and youths were killed where they stood, while women, children and the elderly were driven into the desert where they were raped, shot, starved, poisoned, suffocated or burned to death.

Clearly inspired by the new scientific racism, Mehmet Resid, known as the “execution governor”, regarded the Armenians as “dangerous microbes” in “the bosom of the Fatherland”. Ataturk completed this racial purge. For centuries Muslims and Christians had lived together on both sides of the Aegean; Ataturk partitioned the region, deporting Greek Christians living in what is now Turkey to Greece, while Turkish-speaking Muslims in Greece were sent the other way.

The Fundamentalist Reaction

Secularising rulers such as Ataturk often wanted their countries to look modern, thatShah_of_iran is, European. In Iran in 1928, Reza Shah Pahlavi issued the laws of uniformity of dress: his soldiers tore off women’s veils with bayonets and ripped them to pieces in the street. In 1935, the police were ordered to open fire on a crowd who had staged a peaceful demonstration against the dress laws in one of the holiest shrines of Iran, killing hundreds of unarmed civilians. Policies like this made veiling, which has no Qur’anic endorsement, an emblem of Islamic authenticity in many parts of the Muslim world.

Following the example of the French, Egyptian rulers secularised by disempowering and impoverishing the clergy. Modernisation had begun in the Ottoman period under the governor Muhammad Ali, who starved the Islamic clergy financially, taking away their tax-exempt status, confiscating the religiously endowed properties that were their principal source of income, and systematically robbing them of any shred of power. When the reforming army officer Gamal Abdul Nasser came to power in 1952, he changed tack and turned the clergy into state officials.

For centuries, they had acted as a protective bulwark between the people and the systemic violence of the state. Now Egyptians came to despise them as government lackeys. This policy would ultimately backfire, because it deprived the general population of learned guidance that was aware of the complexity of the Islamic tradition. Self-appointed freelancers, whose knowledge of Islam was limited, would step into the breach, often to disastrous effect.

If some Muslims today fight shy of secularism, it is not because they have been brainwashed by their faith but because they have often experienced efforts at secularisation in a particularly virulent form. Many regard the west’s devotion to the separation of religion and politics as incompatible with admired western ideals such as democracy and freedom. In 1992, a military coup in Algeria ousted a president who had promised democratic reforms, and imprisoned the leaders of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which seemed certain to gain a majority in the forthcoming elections.

Had the democratic process been thwarted in such an unconstitutional manner in Iran or Pakistan, there would have been worldwide outrage. But because an Islamic government had been blocked by the coup, there was jubilation in some quarters of the western press – as if this undemocratic action had instead made Algeria safe for democracy. In rather the same way, there was an almost audible sigh of relief in the west when the Muslim Brotherhood was ousted from power in Egypt last year. But there has been less attention to the violence of the secular military dictatorship that has replaced it, which has exceeded the abuses of the Mubarak regime.

After a bumpy beginning, secularism has undoubtedly been valuable to the west, but we would be wrong to regard it as a universal law. It emerged as a particular and unique feature of the historical process in Europe; it was an evolutionary adaptation to a very specific set of circumstances. In a different environment, modernity may well take other forms.

Many secular thinkers now regard “religion” as inherently belligerent and intolerant, and an irrational, backward and violent “other” to the peaceable and humane liberal state – an attitude with an unfortunate echo of the colonialist view of indigenous peoples as hopelessly “primitive”, mired in their benighted religious beliefs.

There are consequences to our failure to understand that our secularism, and its understanding of the role of religion, is exceptional. When secularisation has been applied by force, it has provoked a fundamentalist reaction – and history shows that fundamentalist movements which come under attack invariably grow even more extreme. The fruits of this error are on display across the Middle East: when we look with horror upon the travesty of Isis, we would be wise to acknowledge that its barbaric violence may be, at least in part, the offspring of policies guided by our disdain.

Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence is published today by Bodley Head.

Ibrahim Ali and The A-G’s Chambers: A Matter of Double Standards


October 30, 2014

Ibrahim Ali and The A-G’s Chambers: A Matter of Double Standards

by Tay Tian Yan@www.themalaysianinsider.com

Gani PatailThe Attorney-General’s Chambers has finally broken its silence and offered reasons for not charging Perkasa president Datuk Ibrahim Ali.

It said Ibrahim’s threat to burn the Bible did not fall within the definition of seditious tendency as it was meant to defend the sanctity of Islam, adding that we have to look at the case in its totality and not separate it from the context in which it was made.

Totality and context? So, a person threatening to burn the Bible just because someone else had distributed the Bible outside the school can now be spared action.Will such logic work?

Last September, US Pastor Terry Jones and his assistant soaked 2,998 copies of the Quran in a petrol tank, each representing a victim of the September 11 attacks, and prepared to bring them to a park for burning.He was stopped and held by the Police as he made his way to the park.

Jones argued that he was not anti-Muslim. He only wanted to defend the US Constitution and pay homage to the victims of the September 11 attacks.If the American prosecutor were behaving like our A-G, knowing the mysteries of “totality” and “context”, then it was likely that a verdict like this would be passed down: Jones must not be charged, for in totality it was the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center first, creating the context for a threat against the sanctity of the Christian faith, and that given such “totality” and “context”, Jones was provoked into burning the Quran.

So, Jones should escape the sanctions of the American laws because he was forced to protect his own religion and the US Constitution while showing respect for the September 11 victims?

In a similar manner, R.S.N. Rayer who cursed UMNO at the Penang State Assembly sitting and who was later charged for making seditious remarks, should most definitely be spared as well because he had been provoked by the UMNO reps and given such a context, he was actually defending his own sanctify by saying “celaka”.

Rayer should most positively be allowed to cite the “totality” and “context” factors when defending for himself in the court in future because these two things are never patented to the A-G. Anyone can apply them!

The same should also apply to a dozen other individuals charged under the Sedition Act, for they were all defending their own sanctity under specific “totality” and “context” circumstances.

Not charging Ibrahim Ali is totally unacceptable, and the excuses cited are anythingIbrahim Ali but convincing. Instead of prosecuting Ibrahim Ali, the A-G’s Chambers has offered such ridiculous logic to justify its inaction, putting itself in the middle of a credit crisis.

If such logic can be applied to condone irrational acts, our world is indeed too dangerous a place to live in, for the Islamic State militants could claim that they waged jihad under the oppression of the Shiites, and their intimidation to the West was meant to guard the sanctity of Islam.

Consequently, the West must halt all the air strikes, the Syrian and Iraqi regimes must surrender their power, non-Muslims must be converted, while the entire world must submit itself to Isis authority.

There is no other alternative for the A-G Chambers but to see the truth and act in accordance with the nation’s laws. Stop all the imbecile excuses right away. – mysinchew.com, October 30, 2014.

Want to Touch a Dog? In Malaysia, It’s a Delicate Subject


October 27, 2014

Want to Touch a Dog? In Malaysia, It’s a Delicate Subject

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/27/world/asia/dog-petting-event-underlines-malaysias-culture-wars.html

by Thomas Fuller@www.nytimes.com

Dog Event

When he organized a get-together for dog lovers and their canine-averse neighbors, Syed Azmi Alhabshi thought he was doing a public service.

But after hundreds of people showed up to the event, billed as “I Want to Touch a Dog” on Facebook, and when pictures started circulating on the Internet of Muslim women in head scarves happily hugging dogs, Mr. Syed Azmi became an unwitting protagonist in the latest chapter of Malaysia’s culture wars.

In the week since the event, Mr. Syed Azmi, a pharmacist, has received more than 3,000 messages on his phone, many of them hateful and a dozen of them threatening physical harm. The police advised him to stay at home.

Malaysia’s Muslim leaders, who cite Islamic scriptures stating that dogs are unclean, lashed out at him in the news media. “I feel the anger, and it is real,” he said in an interview.

Over the past two weeks, Muslim leaders in Malaysia have denounced Halloween as a “planned attack” on Islam and Oktoberfest parties as a public vice “the same as mass-promoted adultery.”

The culture wars have waxed and waned in multicultural Malaysia in recent years as conservative Muslim groups have pushed back against what they describe as libidinous and ungodly Western influences in a country that has rapidly modernized and become more cosmopolitan.

The dispute over touching dogs has underlined the fault lines in what has increasingly become a country polarized between members of the Malay majority, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, and ethnic Chinese, Indians and other minorities, who are typically Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist.

The dog controversy joins the decades-old disputes over the availability of pork, the imbibing of alcohol and the pressure on Muslim women to wear conservative clothing.

Although many Muslims in other countries do not view touching dogs as forbidden, conservative Islamic groups here say the Shafie school of Islamic jurisprudence that they follow views dogs as unclean and requires the faithful to undergo a ritualistic wash if they come into contact with canines.

The Malaysian authorities described the “I Want to Touch a Dog” event as an offense to Islam. Othman Mustapha, the Director-General of the Federal Islamic Development Department, which has the official mission of protecting the “purity of faith,” said the event was a challenge to the authority of religious leaders.

The religious authorities in Malaysia have the power to crack down on practices they view as going against Islam, but Muslim law is selectively enforced and highly politicized. Many Malaysian Muslims own dogs, drink alcohol in public and have very westernized lifestyles.

Criticism of the dog event has led to a backlash by a small but vocal group of moderate Muslims in the country who view the strictures of the religious authorities as oppressive.

“All we are getting these days is how to hate an ever-growing list of people and things,” Marina Mahathir, the daughter of a former Prime Minister and a leading liberal voice, wrote in a newspaper column published last week. “How much energy are we to spend on hate? And how does hating anything and everything make us happy and better Muslims?”

Mr. Syed Azmi, the pharmacist, said he thought he had his bases covered. Before thesyed_azmi_alhabshi_organiser_dogs_191014 event, he contacted and received acknowledgment from the state religious authorities.

He also invited an Islamic scholar who showed Muslims how to conduct the ritual washing after they had touched the dogs. “I expected it to be in the news, but not to the point where people would get so angry,” said Mr. Syed Azmi, who is Muslim.

 

Thinking Malaysian Muslims Needed, says Dr. A.Farouk Musa


October 26, 2014

Thinking Malaysian Muslims Needed, says IRF’s Dr. A. Farouk Musa

by Elizabeth Zachariah@www.themalaysianinsider.com

Seen as one of the brighter prospects in the Muslim world, Malaysia is now at the crossroads of either being a progressive Islamic country or regressing into a world where clerics rule without any question.

An unprecedented “touch-a-dog” day over the weekend seemed to have touched off more than a bark in a country of 30 million where three out of five are Muslims. Liberal and progressive Muslims voices are being drowned out even as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak talks about moderation.

dr-ahmad-farouk-and-din-mericanOne such voice is the founder of the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) group, Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, who was never perturbed with the criticism thrown at him nor the numerous police reports lodged against him.

But when he began receiving threatening emails from unknown people, the vocal activist considered throwing in the towel once and for all – mostly out of concern for his family – whom he guards closely, never discussing them with journalists.

His “sin” was his struggle to see a progressive Islam in Malaysia, but this did not go down well with certain quarters.

“They were trying to intimidate me, to stop me from expressing my views.This wasAzmi Sharom after I spoke at two forums on the hudud issue earlier this year. I began thinking it was not worth it as I was afraid for my family,” he told The Malaysian Insider. However, after confiding his fears in a friend – Law Professor Dr Azmi Sharom, who was recently charged with sedition– Dr Farouk changed his mind.

“He (Azmi) told me not to give up, to fight on. He said I was their voice and that I could not give up.”

Banning other voices

Months later, the academic cardiothoracic surgeon found himself at the receiving end of more brickbats and flak after inviting Indonesian Muslim scholar Dr Ulil Abshar Abdalla for a roundtable discussion in Kuala Lumpur.

Ulil-Abshar-AbdhalaUlil, well known for his liberal views, was barred from entering Malaysia after the Immigration Department put him on its blacklist, with the Home Minister claiming that the former would “mislead Muslims in the country if he is allowed to spread his brand of liberalism here”.

The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) also said forum should be stopped as it would contravene the teachings of the Shafie school of Islam and “threaten the faith of Muslims in Malaysia”.

Critics, including Dr Farouk, slammed Putrajaya over Ulil’s ban, saying the government was showing its “fundamentalist” stripes and insulting the intelligence of Malaysian Muslims.

However, last week, Ulil appeared to defy the ban on his teachings after he addressed an audience of about 100 people in Kuala Lumpur at the 3rd International Conference on Human Rights and Peace and Conflict in Southeast Asia, via Skype.

“That was a slap in the government’s face. In this age of technology, it is impossible for you to prevent ideas from being disseminated,” Dr Farouk said, adding that the idea of using Skype came from his friend, Azmi.

“Although I expected some resistance from the government over the forum, I did not expect that it would be to the extent of banning Ulil from entering Malaysia.”

This, the 51-year-old said, was Putrajaya’s way of stamping out the spread of progressive ideas on Islam to control the people, especially Muslims.

“They ban certain books written in Malay that were translated from English. Only the Malay books are banned. Why? Banning them from reading such literature which promotes progressive ideas is because they want to control how people should think.

“Nowadays when you listen or read the Friday sermons by JAKIM (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia), it seems as if they are trying to vilify certain terminologies, such as liberalism, democracy and secularism. According to them, these are dirty words and if a Muslim speaks about it, they are bad.

“If liberal means you are fighting against injustice, inequality, then I am a liberal,” he said, quoting a Tunisian activist.

“It is not to detach yourself from religion or religious values but to ensure that you will fight for the oppressed, the minorities and justice.”

Islamic Renaissance

It is with this determination that Dr Farouk, who is currently attached with Monash University, decided to set up the IRF in 2007 while working in Australia but only officially launched it two years later when he returned to the country after his stint Down Under.

Ten months after launching the IRF, Dr Farouk was struck with meningitis and was hospitalised for six months, spending two months in a coma. “And that is why I am now in a wheelchair. After that, it took me a while to get back to my work in IRF,” he added.

Dr Farouk had earlier moved to Kuala Lumpur in 2002 from Kota Baru and began working at the National Heart Institute (IJN) which was when he and some friends co-founded the Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF).

“I used to be a lecturer in Universiti Sains Malaysia in Kota Baru, Kelantan. My friends were telling me that my place was in KL, where I can actually share my ideas and thoughts, which, they said, were far ahead.

“And in Kelantan, if you are an ustaz, anything you say will be considered the Biblical truth. But if you are not, people are more sceptical of the ideas you promote.”

He left the MPF three years later after the issue of Lina Joy, the woman who had converted to Christianity from Islam, had cropped up and left him and his friends in odds over the matter.

“It seemed that they (his friends) predominantly decided to go against Lina for leaving the faith and I was against the idea, as I believed that there must be freedom of conscience. As the Quran says, ‘there shall be no coercion on religion’, meaning that you cannot force other people to embrace your faith as much as you cannot prevent a believer from leaving his faith.”

Critical thinking required

Asad The Message of the QuranThe idea of IRF, he said, was to rejuvenate the spirit and understanding of Islam, which was based on “The Message of the Quran” by Muhammad Asad, an Austrian Jew who converted to Islam in 1926.

“To me, this commentary is the most important work in the modern Islamic world. Asad MHe (Asad) was influenced by Muhammad Abduh (an Egyptian reformer and key founding figure of Islamic Modernism). Their thinking was so modern and that is what we need now in Malaysia.” He said that the country was in dire need of critical thinking, noting that the dogmatic way of thinking here has led to Malaysia lagging behind other societies in the world.

“If you look at our tagline, it reads ‘for people who think’. So thinking is the most important part that we are trying to promote. And this is what is lacking in Malaysian society. What we need now also is to ensure that there is justice, good governance, economic equality, transparency and accountability. These are the values we should strive for, not the ideal of Islamism where we set up an Islamic state for the state to impose upon its citizens.” – October 21, 2014.

Ulamaks and Malay-Muslim Politicians Vs The Thinking Malay


October 24, 2014

MY COMMENT: Prolific commenter, Mariam Mohktar, has raised an age-old issuemariam-mokhtar of the partnership between the ruling Malay political elite, and the ulamas and conservative religious functionaries. It is a marriage of convenience between them. They need each other to maintain their hold on power. It is a case of “Gu tolong Lu, Lu tolong Gua” (with apologies to the Prime Minister).

They are bound to feel threatened by intellectuals like Kassim Ahmad, Azmi Sharom and  poet laureate and novelist A. Samad Said, by an outstanding and public-spirited lawyer like Rosli Dahlan, by civil society activists like Ambiga Sreenevasan, Haris Ibrahim, Adam Adli  and Hishamuddin Rais, among others and now by an individual like Syed Azmi who was merely trying to eliminate the fear of dogs among Muslims.

They perceive their hold on the Malay Muslim community is being eroded with globalization and the social media. Their reaction is not discourse, but threat of punishment in the here and now and the hereafter. The Malay mind is, therefore, being mummified  by ignorance and dogma.

mullah-harussani-and-najibMullah Harussani of Perak and PM Najib

In his book, Concept of A Hero in Malay Society*, Dr. Shaharuddin Maaruf, when commenting on this partnership, has this to say: “…the Malay elite is encouraging many misplaced ideas and trends in thinking which are incompatible with progress…Important Islamic values that are conducive and harmonious to progress are not emphasised by the Malay elite; the Islamic conception of leadership is relegated into the background while feudal ideas concerning leadership are encouraged and propagated”. (page 2)

Dr. Maaruf goes on to say that “Intellectual interests and values are not nourished while irrationality and superstition are strengthened and accorded importance…The development of moral character that is sensitive to injustice is thwarted while the servile and morally numb human type is propagated”. For this purpose, the Malay elite makes use of the presumed superior knowledge of Islam of the ulamas. In that way, the ruling elite and the ulamas work in common purpose, that is, to legitimatise their hold on power over the Malays and their thought processes.

Today, their partnership has grown in importance in terms of politics. How long thisDin MericanY partnership can last is a matter of conjecture. But at this time we can acknowledge that it serves the political interest of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak who must pander to the ulamas and religious functionaries in the Prime Minister’s Department. After all, his position as Prime Minister is under threat.–Din Merican

*Concept of a Hero in Malay Society  ( 2014, SIRD, First Published in 1984 by Eastern Universities Press (M) Sdn. Bhd). Also read Malay Ideas on Development by the same author and publisher.

Ulamas and Malay-Muslim Politicians Vs The Thinking Malay

by Mariam Mokhtar@http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

The most dangerous threat to the Malaysian government is not an invading army, a contagious disease, or a nuclear threat. It is the thinking Malay.

syed_azmi_alhabshi_organiser_dogs_191014

When young pharmacist Syed Azmi Alhabshi (above right in pic) decided to organise the “I Want to Touch a Dog” event at Bandar Utama on October 19, he didn’t expect such a huge response. More than 1,000 people –Muslims and non-Muslims – turned up.

Whilst man and beast were having lots of fun, in other parts of the country temperatures were raised. Syed Azmi was perceived as a threat. Syed Azmi may have united Malaysians but he was alienating some conservative Muslims in Malaysia. His innocent “dog touching event” is a defining moment in 21st Century Malaysian history.

Muslim Girls and the DogThe Internet was awash with photos of tudung-clad girls smiling with their favourite dogs, Malay toddlers chasing German Shepherds, elderly Muslim couples stroking contented looking Labradors and Malay teenagers playing with Cocker Spaniels. Malays and non-Malays were getting to know one another, through another of God’s creatures. The people learned to bond – not just dog with humans, but Muslims and non-Muslims.

Malaysians, including the political leaders, should have been pleased to see harmony in action. People forgot their inhibitions. They did not see themselves as people of different faiths or races. They got on with one another, with help from the dogs.

Society’s party pooper, JAKIM, waded in to spoil all the fun. Its Director-General, Othman Mustapha, was furious and said that the programme should not have taken place to begin with. He barked that JAKIM would investigate the matter immediately.

He was followed by a Kelantan ulama who cried “Repent. Repent. Repent.” Other conservative Muslims claimed that the ulamas were being insulted. If anyone needs their heads examined, it is these people. This is not a political issue; so why were the ulamas angry? They were furious because they saw their power being eroded. The 3Rs – race, religion and royalty – keep us in check, and safely divided.

For years, Muslims have been told what to do by the ulamas. The political leaders, together with their cronies and religious authorities carve up Malaysia for themselves.

One political cynic said, “To keep them in power, the leaders manipulate laws. To control dissent, they bully us with draconian laws. We are threatened with sedition. We are told that women leaders will lead us to hell. We are told that God approves of the GST. We are told that voting for UMNO-Baru is a one-way ticket to heaven. The sad thing is that many Malays believe this.”

His colleague said, “After last Sunday’s dog touching event, more Malays are finally seeing the light. The Malay mind is being freed from its mental slavery. That explains why the authorities and the conservative ulamas are working at breakneck speed to find Syed Azmi guilty, but he has done nothing wrong.”

Fear of being irrelevant

Syed Azmi only wanted Malaysians to be compassionate towards animals and overcome their fear of dogs. He was not insulting the ulamas. The ulamas did not even bother to ask him why he organised the event.

ANJING

The ulamas and conservative Muslims see their power base eroding. They are afraid that they will no longer be of relevance in a modern world which does not believe in the 3Rs.

Many Muslims nationwide observed the event on the Internet and saw no issue with dog touching. The ulamas are afraid that the thinking Malay will start to ask questions about their other edicts, handed down, in the past, to control Muslim behaviour. The ulamas, like the political leaders, are obsessed with power. The rakyat is at their mercy. However, a thinking Malay can see past their warped thinking.

Touching dogs is not going to lead to touching pigs or eating non-halal food. It will not lead to free sex. It is the ulamas and their obsession with sex which makes the thinking Malay question why the ulama are stupid and shallow. The ulamas use sex as a crowd puller.

The ulamas must realise that in Saudi Arabia, the Bedouin tribesmen hunt with dogs (the Salukis), as in Afghanistan (the Afghan hounds). Dogs are used in search and rescue, for drug detection, hunting, and to assist the blind, the deaf and those with epilepsy. The dog is man’s best friend.

The thinking Malays wonder why things like chocolates, dogs, the word “Allah” and beer take prominence in the national debate. They wonder why the ulamas keep silent about the rising cost of living, petrol price hikes, the collapsing infrastructure, corruption, the abuse of power by the leaders, incest, drug taking by Malays and the high crime rate.

Today, the ulamas are against us touching dogs. Knowing how their minds work, it won’t be long before Muslims will be banned from eating hot-dogs, and using English idioms like “dog in the manger” or complaining that a book is “dog eared”, or that Malaysia has “gone to the dogs”.

The Kassim Ahmad Defence Fund


October 17, 2014

George Town, Penang

The Kassim Ahmad Defence Fund: Fight Arrogance of Power and Defend Justice

by Din Merican

kassim ahmad1Kassim Ahmad Arrested in Classic Mossad Covert Style by JAWI

On  March 26, 2014, officers of the Jabatan Agama Wilayah Persekutuan (JAWI) went to the northern state of  Kedah. They stormed and broke into the house of Malay scholar and public intellectual, Kassim Ahmad and abducted him in a 5 hour van-ride to Penang and then put him on board a midnight Air Asia flight to KLIA bound for Kuala Lumpur. This was a classic Mossad covert style raid and kidnap which had to be done under the cover of darkness.

JAWI’s territorial limits is only the Federal Territory which is Kuala Lumpur and JAWI had transgressed that territorial limit. But, JAWI  was not bothered. JAWI then interrogated the 80- year old Kassim Ahmad overnight and then charged him in court the next morning for defiling Islam. By then Kassim’s wife had made her way down from Kedah to Kuala Lumur to bail him. But she was disappointed. They refused to allow her to post bail for him because they said the bailor must be a Wilayah Persekutuan resident. And because she is a Kedah resident, she did not qualify. This is one of the perverse things JAWI did. There were many more.

Kassim and RosliUpon advice from his lawyer, Kassim Ahmad filed a Judicial Review to challenge JAWI’s actions. Judicial Review is a special type of legal action where the civil High Court is empowered to review the conduct of public authorities and public bodies from acting in an illegal manner. Because it is a special type of legal suit, a person like Kassim will need a special permission (Leave) to file a Judicial Review.

In Malaysia, defiling Islam is a serious syariah criminal charge. The state of Terengganu even issued a fatwa declaring Kassim Ahmad a Murtad (Apostate). But JAWI did not do that because if it did, then JAWI cannot proceed with the Charge against an apostate as an apostate is, by definition, not a Muslim.

So, what was this serious charge about? Kassim is charged for purportedly delivering an academic lecture at the Perdana Foundation officiated by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed. There you have it, this whole covert style prosecution is just about an academic lecture.

Most Muslims in Malaysia, including Judges, will become a bit troubled to show sympathy to anyone who is charged with defiling Islam. So, Kassim’s attempt at getting Leave was rejected because the High Court Judge, Justice Dato Zaleha Yusof, said that the civil courts do not have jurisdiction over a religious body. That seems to be a lame excuse. But never mind.

Kassim had to appeal and  the Court of Appeal agreed with him and directed the High Court to hear the Judicial Review. The Attorney-General’s Chambers then asked for more time to file affidavits for the Religious Minister, JAWI and the Syariah Prosecutor who are the Respondents in the Judicial Review. And this is where JAWI again shows its incoherent behavior as reported by Malaysian Insider and Malaysiakini. It would appear JAWI wants to bring about a collision course between the civil court and the syariah legal systems.

READ:http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/religious-court-on-collision-course-with-civil-court-over-kassim-ahmads-cas

READ:http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/269747 

Syariah Courts are located in the same complex as the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court called the Palace of Justice. Anyone who has been to the Palace of Justice will admire its beauty as a Palace. But then, can this beautiful Palace also serve its main function to deliver Justice?

If the Syariah Court insist on proceeding with the syariah criminal trial against Kassim whereasAzmi Sharom 3 there is a Judicial Review pending that has been ordered by the Court of Appeal, then the Syariah Court is courting problem. I suggest the Syariah Judge should introspect if that is what he wants to do- cause a crisis.

Until then, we Malaysians can only show our displeasure to these antics by JAWI by supporting Kassim Ahmad’s cause. We can do that by contributing to his defence fund. We can create this fund to support Kassim Ahmad and all other persecutions that endanger our liberty and freedom. In supporting Kassim Ahmad and others like Azmi Shahrom, we are securing a guarantee of our fundamental liberties.

To show your support, please send your contribution to this Maybank Account No: 514011895152.