Saturday, 24 May 2008

The "Secular" Controversy


"Had Allah willed He could have made you all one community? But He made you as you are (diverse) as a test. So vie one with another in good works. Unto Allah you will all return, and He will then inform you of the meaning of differences within you."

[Quran 5:48].

"Many of our perceptions are distorted by our prejudices, particularly if we perceive those prejudices to be convictions".
Ravi Zacharias


There is this constant "threat" of a spiritual war - at least in their minds.
In their fervour, the "religious right" never tire of debating on these matters.
These "necessary wars" go on ad infinatum, ad nauseaum, so as to keep the "fire of God" burning in the hearts of men.
Of late there have been a few articles published in Malaysia Today, catering to this debate - controversies starting with the Hijab, scarf, "sexy" school uniforms , and then the question of the "secular state".

Let us take the Malaysian political climate into consideration.
Here is a "Pakatan" at it's infancy (not a formal coalition, in the real sense of the word - they don't even have a common symbol or identity as yet) that is trying to achieve a paradigm shift in our political structure.
There are two stumbling blocks for this pact, towards achieving unity in purpose.
One is the question of "the secular state" - a tussle between the staunchly "secularist" DAP, and PAS - which is passionate about being Islamic.
The other is that of the agent provocateur on the sidelines who needs to dismantle this "pact", so as to perpetuate their racist/ religious hegemony in the interests of the "putra elite".

The debate about "Islamic State/ values" is the perfect tool to drive a wedge between the parties mentioned above, and have no doubt in my mind that it would be used to the hilt by the agent provocateurs to achieve their goals. Is it possible that more of these controversies would be highlighted by the Putra-philes so as to jeopardize the "uneasy pact" of the "Pakatan Rakyat"?.

Anyway, although the "secular" spirit has been articulated in general in our constitution without specifically stating it, many have failed to understand and accept this fact. To many a staunch Muslim, "Secular" is a "four-letter-word" - at least, as they understand it.

The argument often brought about is that the Malaysian Federal Constitution does not say that Malaysia is a secular state. Those who espouse this argument, need to understand why the constitution is worded in such a way.

Allow me to quote from The Australian Achievement: From Bondage To Freedom by Dr. Mark Cooray
"The rule of law requires both citizens and governments to be subject to known and standing laws. The supremacy of law also requires generality in the law. This principle is a further development of the principle of equality before the law. Laws should not be made in respect of particular persons. As Dicey postulated, the rule of law presupposes the absence of wide discretionary authority in the rulers, so that they cannot make their own laws but must govern according to the established laws. Those laws ought not to be too easily changeable. Stable laws are a prerequisite of the certainty and confidence which form an essential part of individual freedom and security. Therefore, laws ought to be rooted in moral principles, which cannot be achieved if they are framed in too detailed a manner."

For one thing, DAP needs to articulate what it means to be a "Secular State". They need to be able to articulate their ideas, so as not to alarm the "religious".
They need to be able to convince PAS and Islamists alike, that "secularism" isn't the "dirty word in Islam" (a popular notion in the Islamist's camp), that it is made out to be. For this to happen, DAP definitely needs to understand and relate to the philosophical basis of "secular humanism", Islam & the "Islamic politician's" psyche better, instead of simply "defining the constitution" and harping on the "secular state" rhetoric.
They need to have a think-tank who can articulate the idea that Islam is compatible with "secular humanism", as opposed to the stereotype perceptions.

There is a belief among the religious that "secular humanism" is "anti-God".Myths are created towards propagating these ideas while the achievements of "secularists" are conveniently ignored or belittled.

The advocates of theocracies need to understand that-

"Humanists are staunch supporters of freedom of religion, belief, and conscience, as laid out in both the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These rights protect the freedom of religious belief equally with the freedom of nonreligious belief, the freedom of religion equally with the freedom from religion.
Secular humanists would actually oppose advocacy of their worldview by schools or the government because that would violate the neutrality of a secular society, and the rights of religious believers. Secular humanists believe that a healthy society supports a variety of worldviews, just as it supports a variety of political parties. They also believe that religious and philosophical views should be every bit as open to debate and discussion as political beliefs."
-10 Myths About Secular Humanism

PAS on the other hand, needs to articulate their ideas on an "Islamic State" better.
One that can be inclusive in its ideas based on "Universal Values" (which are incidently, very Islamic), by not espousing arbitrary repressive laws that belonged to a different time, age and culture, which are supposedly "Islamic".
They should understand that resigning one's fate to "God-ordained" laws without sufficient intellectual debate or consensus, isn't an option in this era of ICT.

It is ironic that there are many prominent Islamic thinkers who believe that the philosophical/moral/ethical premises of the Constitution of USA is far more "Islamic" and superior than that of many a "chest-thumping Muslim" nation of the OIC - and rightfully so, too.
Academic debate on these matters at our hallowed halls of educational excellence is however, quite constipated at best (and we have the HP6 ideologues of our nation to thank for that) - usually dwelling on "accepted ideals".
These topics are deemed too "sensitive" - just as mentioning "May 13" was, not so long ago (unless it was to threaten for votes, of course). Our leaders believe that the masses are simply incapable of civilized conduct, and would foam at their mouths with the first mention of any misconception.

PAS should be aware that the lack of open inter-faith dialogue and exagerated sensitivities help "those with vested interests", in demonizing PAS in the eyes of the non-Muslims. It aids them further, should the masses
remain in ignorance and get emotional in response to perceived insults, without rationally addressing their fears and insecurities.
It is a formula for governance that has worked well over the centuries for the despotic regimes of theocracies, monarchies and many a pseudo-democracy or socialist state.
Therefore, one would do well to pay heed to what Voltaire meant when he said :-

“So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannise will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.”

Therefore, what matters isn't really the populist rhetoric of politicians advocating "virtuous" systems of governance (based on debatable ideas deemed "holy"), but the well defined and thought out set of progressive values and ideas that allow for freedom and embraces humanity as a whole, in all its diversity.


"It will not do to cling to the cause and wish the result away.
Reality does not play mind games.
What is more, to anesthetize the mind in order to abort what comes to birth
when wrong ideas are conceived and borne in the womb of culture,
will only kill the very life-giving force of the nation that nurtures the idea."

-Ravi Zacharias

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