Mea Culpa

A meditation on our culpability as a citizen for the church attack and burnings that started on 8 January 2010.

My initial reaction upon discovering that churches were attacked and burned was to brim with my almost customary outrage and disgust. A house of worship no matter what the religion is entitled to respect and treated as sacred ground, more so by those who do not belong to that religion.

I wrote a piece in that anger and have reproduced it below, just so you can get an idea into my emotional state at the time and contrast it with my present. I blamed the Prime Minister, Home Minister, Inspector General of Police, in short, the usual suspects, for virtually allowing those Islamist zealots to commit those acts of arson and terrorism. I would have posted that piece were it not for a server problem that prevented me from doing so and forced me to sleep. When I woke up and re-read the draft, I felt different. There was a distance between how I felt today and yesterday. It no longer resonated with me. Truth be told, after reading it, I thought it shallow and even a little untruthful.

Yesterday’s (8 January 2010) anger that seized me gave way this morning to a great sadness and pity not just for the church, or even the Prime Minister and his cronies, but for each and every one of us, and so our country. Worse, I actually felt somehow culpable for the church burnings! Why do I, who abhors violence, have nothing to do with the church burnings, and despise the Islamist zealots that did it, still feel responsible?

Though the burning wreck is the handiwork of Islamist zealots, I cannot help but see the fingerprints of our apathy, our greed, our selfishness, our ignorance, our obsession with convenience and ease in there too. What I completely missed earlier now stands so clearly and brightly that I can no longer ignore it.

When we take no interest in the affairs of our country, in our countrymen; when we remain mute and paralyzed in the face of injustice and manifestation of evil; when we fold our arms and pretend helplessness; when we devote our life to the temple of entertainment and self-indulgence; we are responsible.

We are responsible because we let them into our lives and letting them govern us. We are responsible when we vote them in or couldn’t be bothered to vote them out. As much as our present leaders are to blame on a political, societal and operational level, we are equally blameworthy on a spiritual and morally culpable level. The truth is we, as citizens, have failed ourselves and our country as surely as we have appointed leaders destined to disappoint and fail us and our country; men like the Prime Minister and the Home Minister.

If we, as citizens, insist on not accepting some responsibility for the state of our country, and laying it solely on our leaders, then in truth we did not elect leaders. We elected sacrificial lambs to sacrifice on the expensive altar of convenience for our sins of apathy, greed, ignorance, inertia, so that we can feel good about ourselves. And in thinking ourselves without blame we become unable to see our own faults and so prevented from asking how we too are responsible for the present national condition. If we are unable to see things truthfully, we cannot change them truly.

What are we left with then if we too are to blame? Two very important things present themselves if we have the strength of patience and the eloquence of humility. The first is the meaning of these church burnings. The second is the opportunity for redemption. Let me deal with them in turn.

In those burned down churches, I hear our wake up call to how bad things are. It is an unmistakable call of attention to our apathy, our greed, our selfishness, our narrow mindedness, our short sightedness and downright laziness. In short, it is a call of attention to our own failings and abdication of responsibility as citizens of this beautiful and great country.

How can we expect our leaders to do their job when we do not do ours as citizens? We complain that it is tough to be a good citizen and take an interest in things, participate in them and sustain that. But it is equally tough to be a good and capable leader who stays on the true path and ward of the lures of corruption and power. Both require effort and interest. More importantly, both are essential for each other and to each other. You cannot have a good leader with an apathetic citizenry and vice versa. The leader and the citizenry are two sides of the same coin. Both are responsible for themselves as much as they are responsible for each other. The intensity of the attacks and the fire symbolizes the dangerous level to which have reached in the abdication of our duties as a citizen.

That is the point I wish to drive home here. Being a citizen of a country does not simply mean, working your job, earning your money, going home, watching television and only caring for your family with the rest of the country be damned. If that is what you have thought all this time, then we cannot be other than where we are today.

It means more than that. Much more than that.

From this vantage point, we can fashion our opportunity for redemption. In this sense, the Malays can learn from the Chinese when confronted with disaster. The Chinese character for disaster or crisis can also be read as opportunity. This is what the Malays as a race have to be aware of and learn. Instead of lamenting and playing up their victimhood, they should treat adversities and disasters as opportunities for improvement

Why do I say opportunity in adversity or disaster? The French have a saying, Tous le matin du monde, which means each morning brings a new dawn. By this it is meant that each day brings a new opportunity to start a fresh, to forgive the sins of yesterday if we cannot forget or reconcile them, to redeem ourselves for tomorrow. Each day of every hour, of every minute, of every second lies hidden opportunity for the first agitation of change for a better future, a better relationship, a better more honest and more responsible us.

So what opportunity am I talking about?

It is the opportunity to change and improve our relationship with each other as citizens, with our leaders and with our country; it is the opportunity to take charge and reshape this great and diverse nation in our shared vision – not the vision of just one deluded man; it is the opportunity to secure our nation’s future for our children and ourselves – the rakyat – and not to give it up for the security and the wastage of the families of the powerful, the corrupt, the betrayers.

Above all, it is the opportunity to transcend our human failings and in doing so, become a greater human being; it is the opportunity to prove that good does triumph over evil and most importantly, it gives us the opportunity to ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.


The Betrayal of Our Leaders

The betrayal of our Home and Prime Minister in the handling of the Allah issue and why they must resign to spare Malaysia any further humiliation.

I place the blame for the perpetrators of the church burning squarely on the shoulders of our Prime Minister, the Home Minister and their followers. Both these Ministers have been completely dishonest, lacking in bona fide and betrayed all of us in their handling of the ‘Allah’ non-issue.

The blame begins with the Home Minister for coming up with the blasphemous notion that only Malays are entitled to use the word ‘Allah’. If our Home Minister and the civil servants in the ministry had the barest understanding of spirituality and some sense of religion, they would have not have done that. They would know that religion was just one of the many paths to spirituality, and that neither is capable of ownership by anybody or any group. But the Home and Prime Minister are entirely opportunistic beasts who will just say anything and everything to achieve their personal agendas. Tengku Razaleigh was correct when he said ‘that only the “gutter politicians” would resort to fanning the sensitivities of the people in pursuing their agenda.‘ We don’t just have the common politicians here. We have gutter politicians.

Let us contrast what they said the night before 8 January 2010 when the Islamist zealots with what they said after that. In Malaysiakini, the following was reported:

“We cannot stop them if they want to congregate in mosques,” said Najib, when asked if the government was practising double standards in handling demonstrations.

However, he stressed that the gatherings should be confined to the mosque compound and he hoped that it will not spill over to “something more serious”.

Najib said he hoped that there would be “minimal” protests tomorrow as to not cause tension in the country as he wanted the matter to be resolved through the courts.

“We should take the attitude that the matter should be resolved through the court in an amicable way. We should not raise the tension levels in this country,” he said.

Our Home Minister was reported in the following:

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein today said the government does not prohibit the people from expressing their views on the issue over the use of the word “Allah” by the Catholic weekly magazine Herald, but on condition that their actions do not undermine national security.

“I will take action if it affects security,” he told reporters after chairing a post-cabinet meeting at his ministry.

So both our Ministers were aware of the possibility that ‘something more serious’ could happen but just ‘hoped’ nothing would happen. They did not take the usual precautionary measures like they do when there is plan to hold a public gathering by members of the opposition, the Bar Council, or whomever they think work against the interest of UMNO or Barisan Nasional. They did not (i) have the police issue a statement that they must apply for a permit under section 27(5) of the Police Act 1984 (ii) issue derogatory and anxiety laden statements against the organizers about the violence that would ensue and (iii) send the police, special branch and FRU in full force to break up the gathering in the most violent and disrespectful manner possible. And in all those times, they successfully dispersed those gatherings.

Our Ministers should remember the precursor to these church burnings since they are friends with the cow-head protestors who did this:

On Friday, they went a step further to show that they were at the end of their tether by holding a noisy demonstration outside the Selangor state secretariat, dragging a severed cow-head which they stomped and spat on.

If they actually knew anything about our country and its history, they should know that Islamic issues no matter how senseless and trivial would work up the minority group of incredibly sensitive violent Muslims who are ready to resort to violence or symbols of violence allegedly to defend Islam, as if it ever needed defending. Violence is just the excuse under which they try to ennoble their indefensible acts of violence and oppression against others. I would ask them this: If you really believe Allah is on the side of Islam, who on earth can sensibly threaten you? If Allah is as powerful as they keep claiming He is, why does He need some puny foolish emotionally imbalanced mortals to defend Islam?

Now let’s turn to what they said today. The Home Minister was reported as follows:

“I will use everything that is necessary to make sure that the country is safe,” he said during a press conference.

“ISA is not personal and political, but it is for security,” said Hishammuddin.

He also stressed that neither he nor Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak had given the go ahead for the protesters to rally today.

“We never said demonstrations can go on. Don’t put words in my mouth,” he said.

We are not putting words in your mouth, Mr. Home Minister. You are just too thick to understand it. Your failure to arrest those cow head protestors in the severest manner was your grave mistake. Your dilly dallying instead of taking decisive action against them emboldened those Islamist zealots into thinking that UMNO and Barisan Nasional needed their political support. Your Barisan Nasional policies brought us to the brink of this potentially explosive incident. When both you and the Prime Minister claimed that the government could not stop them protesting, that was all the license the Islamist zealots needed to unleash their brand of engagement.

It is a short step from abusing an animal’s corpse to abusing people and property. You all but invited them to take it. So from the symbolic violence of the cow hear we are now at the actual violence of church burnings. Actually Mr. Home Minister, you have said enough and really should be keeping your mouth shut until you retire, which cannot come soon enough for all of us. And aside from your talk what have you done about it? Let’s see what your staff the Inspector General of Police was reported to have said:

Quizzed if any drastic measures will be taken if any protest takes place, Musa said:

“We cannot reveal what action will be taken. Within the compound of the places of worship, we cannot take any action,” he said.

The inspector general of police added the police were also monitoring blogs and and social networking website such as Facebook.

“We will be checking all the blogs as some are inflaming sentiments and instigate people to break the law,” said Musa.

In short, our police force will not do anything if they stay within the compound because our brilliant IGP is not aware of section 27A of the Police Act 1984 which allows for the police to disperse an unlawful assembly aside from public places. That’s why I have said our police do not know their law. I suppose we have to be reassured that our police force will be facebooking, reading their favourite blog sites and maybe even download MP3s or porn while churches are being burned, our fellow country men made to fear for their safety and keep looking for Raja Petra, because he is a threat to Najib security. Nice.

And what is our Prime Minister’s reaction?

“Don’t point the finger at Umno or anybody. We have always been very responsible.

“Don’t say that these attacks were motivated by Umno. That is a very scurrilous statement that you have just made. You are alluding to it. Please stop that,” Najib told the journalist.

Clearly our Prime Minister’s primary concern is not that our national security is jeopardized, that our countrymen’s places of religious worship are being desecrated, that we have become the laughing stock of the entire right thinking world; his concern is that UMNO should not be blamed for the burning of those churches. After he had made that very clear, only then he gave us the usual crap:

“I condemn such action by the irresponsible people because it can harm the cordial relationship and harmony that has been in existence.

“As a multi-racial community we must practice respect for one another… it cannot come under threat from anybody,” he told reporters.

What utter rubbish! I’m in two minds about the cordial relationship but what ‘harmony that has been in existence’ is he talking about? The grudging acknowledgment of a tenuous tolerance at the surface that barely covers the simmering religious and racial conflicts beneath?

And as a ‘multi-racial community we must practise respect for one another…’? Does he really believe or even know what he is saying? The Home Ministry of his administration has taken a position that only Malays can use the word ‘Allah’ and he now tells us that ‘we must practise respect for one another’? That suraus and mosques proliferate everywhere and hardly any room is given to other faiths to establish their houses of worship and that passes of as respect? That non-Malays are being sidelined from university entrance and scholarships and that is respect? That non-Muslims live in fear that their funeral rites will be disrupted by religious departments who go about seizing corpses? Does this man even have a shred of decency to shut up when he has nothing whatsoever to offer except more nonsense? No, he doesn’t because he goes on to say:

“That’s why they must nip it in the bud, hope with this statement and action by the police, people will not take the law into their hands,” Najib said.

The irony of this statement is that it comes after the churches have been burned and he’s talking about nipping it in the bud. Mr. Prime Minister, ‘nip it in the bud’ means you should have done something on 7 January 2010, not say you are going to do that after the three buds are burned. Again he’s hoping that now that all three have come out again to warn against it, they will not do it. But that is besides the point Mr. Prime Minister. The damage is done. Even if nothing happens tomorrow, it is enough that today happened.

The report concludes with the following:

“An investigation into this matter has already been launched, and those responsible will be brought to justice,” he added.

Malaysians, he said, were shocked by the actions.

“This divisive event, and others like it, do not represent Malaysia or Islam. They don’t represent our families, our communities, or the effort we have all made towards strengthening 1Malaysia,” he said on his 1Malaysia website this evening.

More rubbish. I don’t believe a word of what he said there. Those truly responsible for the great crimes of our country will never be brought to justice.

Not in our country. Not by this Barisan Nasional government. Never.

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Posts by Fahri Azzat

Fahri Azzat practices the dark arts of the law. Although he enjoys writing and reading, he doesn't enjoy writing his own little biographies of himself. Like this one. He wished somebody else would do it for him. He has little taste in writing about himself in third person. He feels weird doing it. But the part he finds most tedious is having to pad up the lack of his accomplishments, or share some interesting facts about his rather uneventful life, as if there were some who found that oh-so-interesting; as if he were some famous person, like Michael Jackson. When he writes these biographies, the thought, 'Wei, Jangan Perasaan- ah!' lights up in his head. So he usually just lists what he got involved with, positions he held and blah, blah. But this time. Right here. Right this very moment. Uhuh. This one. This one right here. He's finally telling it like it is.

Posted on 10 January 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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13 Responses to Mea Culpa

  1. Previn

    A great read indeed Fahri. Facts powered by a strong vocabulary.

    Okay, in my opinion the Non- muslims, in this country are the minorities compared to the 61% who are muslims. So knowing that fact, we the non-muslims should learn to respect or the least tolerate the Muslims to prevent instigation of a riot. The 'Allah' issue is something very sensitive in this nation, and it should not be debated or used as a leverage for political benefits. Instigation by political leaders on this matter has worsen the situation now. May it be BN or PR, if you are going to challenge the authority of Muslims in this country it can lead to severe problems.

    And the incident of the church in George Town could be the start to a much worst scenario. As suggested by Faris, why not use the word Tuhan.

    The political scene in our country has worsen, and leaders using sensitive religious factors as to discredit the government is not healthy at all.

    Sorry if I embrage any party this is merely my opinion, healthy reviews are always encouraged. Correct?

  2. teo siew chin

    the greatest jihad has always been and will always be to overcome the evil that dwells within our hearts.

  3. Faris Abdat

    Dear Fahri,

    Thank you for your response.

    Firstly, no where do I suggest that it is alright to give in to our anger in order to justify our actions.

    My emphasis on that point is to merely to show you that human emotion is a strong factor here as opposed to your suggestion that the church attacks were religiously-inspired – a suggestion proven by your usage of the term "Islamist zealots".

    Here, you seem to be unaware that the church burnings go against the explicit teachings of Islam. Otherwise, you won't subscribed to the idea that the perpetrators were "Islamist".

    Certainly, what is the difference between those who torched the churches and you who linked Islam with the burnings in defaming the name of Islam ?

    The perpetrators were certainly driven by anger, not religion.

    This is the point I was trying to make – a point which you did not seem to understand the moment you described them as "Islamist zealots. "

    Secondly, no where do I promote the idea that since the Catholics started this issue, it is okay to retaliate against them.

    What I was trying to impress upon you is the mitigating factor – a factor which seems to have been lost on you.

    Certainly, recognising the factors of an incident do not equal to agreeing with or supporting it.

    For example, the mitigating factors for anti-Americanism in the Muslim world are American double-standards. Recognising these factors do not immediately or automatically means that one would support terror attacks against the USA or its citizens.

    Thirdly, you seem naive in your understanding of the Allah's name controversy.

    As I have mentioned above, why not just use 'Tuhan' which is the Malay equivalent of 'God' ?

    Why insistent on 'Allah ' ?

    Dr Naguib Alattas has a great explanation as to why the Catholics should not use the name "Allah". You should read up on that.

    Get the Muslim perspective, and ask your Catholic friends my question – why 'Allah' and not ' Tuhan ' if it means the same thing right ?

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  5. Faris Abdat

    Dear Fahri Azzat

    In blaming on what happened on "Islamist zealots", you have shown yourself unable to truly understand what happened.

    The church burnings have nothing to do with religious zealotry. It has to do with the human emotion called anger. Pure and simple.

    You have failed to understand the anger at the attempt to appropriate a term most Muslims consider to be explicitly Islamic.

    You speak of the church burnings as if they came from nowhere, as if they were uninstigated. You speak nothing of the role of the Catholics in this mess. By stubbornly wanting to use the name of Allah, the Catholics knew they would be stepping on many, many toes but yet they persisted. They could have just use the term "Tuhan" but that does not seem good enough.

    You speak of Muslims who defame Islam by their behaviour. Yet you're doing the same by describing the church arsonists as "Islamist zealots".

    You failed to understand that Muslims have emotions, just like everyone else and that not every Muslim will behave like a Muslim should.

    The Muslim arsonists in question certainly acted in defiance of Islam in responding to this issue- so how can they be described as "Islamist " ?

    How dare you, as a Muslim, linked the sacred name of Islam to the church attacks ?

    These attacks on churches are wrong ; so is the attempt to blame Muslims entirely for this mess

    • Dear Faris,

      Thank you for taking the time and trouble to read me and respond. It is appreciated.

      I do not dispute your claim that we all possess anger. I do however dispute the fact that we have no duty to resist the immediate and urgent impulses it inspires, and that we must give into it, and that any act carried out in the heat of anger is permissible simply because our emotions are valid. And though our emotions are valid does not necessarily mean that it is the correct response to the situation. You seem quite happy to blaze in anger without first analyzing whether you are justified in doing so both from a spiritual and metaphorical standpoint. I understand this anger but I think it to be very misguided flowing from an unsophisticated appreciation of religion. I do not intend to go into that here suffice to say that Muslims here take their religion too literally and a majority of scholars of religion (from both within and without their respective faiths) are agreed that narratives of religion are not to be taken literally or simply ritualistically but mythically and metaphorically.

      Now you also seem to think that since the Catholics 'started' this, it is now alright to let loose on them. But who really started this in the historical and indeed, philosophical sense? Let me ask you – who owns the word 'Allah'? It was there long before Islam (which then appropriated it) and looks set to be there for some time. In short, nobody can own that word. If some tribe in the Amazon now wants to call their own deity 'Allah', nobody can stop them. So you see how misguided this notion of ownership over the word 'Allah' is in the first place? So the fault if any to me, lies first with the Home Ministry that took it upon itself to try and ban the word in a bid to boost their political prospects. If they had left this alone, we would not be fighting over a word over which nobody has ownership in the first place.

      They claim that if Christians use the word 'Allah' then it would be confusing but has there been really any empirical evidence of this? Is it so widespread that millions of Muslims in this country are converting to Christianity because of their use of the word? Words derive meaning and application from their context too. Somebody forward this to me which I thought illustrates the point:

      A man came home from work and his children ran to him and called out 'Ayah! Ayah!'.
      His neighbor got very upset and said to him, "Can you please tell your children not to call you 'Ayah'?"
      The man asked, "Why?"
      The neighbor retorted, "Because my children call me 'Ayah' too. They might get confused and mistake you to be their father."
      Then the man told his neighbour, are you not a shame to say that your children do not know who is their 'Ayah'. So you are saying by using the word 'Ayah', your children will call me ayah too without knowing who is their father.
      The neighbour said yes, only i should use the word 'Ayah'.
      The man said, then there is something wrong in what you are teaching your children.They are not sure and do not know who is their 'Ayah'.

      So you see how we Malay and claim to be Muslim look? We (I include myself here because the government has deemed me one) look incredibly stupid, in truth.

      And why should I not blame the arsonists as Islamist zealots? Who did this then? Christians? No, as Amer has correctly argued, those that did it claim to be Muslims. They attacked churches purportedly in defence of Islam. Can you not see how blasphemous those acts are? Those people are saying that Allah cannot protect us and will not mete our justice so they have to take matters into their own hands. That's why I call them Islamist zealots and not Muslim. Because a Muslim submits to Allah. They leave matters of justice concerning spiritual right and wrong to be dealt with Allah on Judgment Day. Not these rogues. They want to torch the fabric of our nation because of the fire of hatred and small mindedness in their hearts. And to me, who is a Muslim in the truest sense of the word is not for you or me or any Jabatan Agama Islam to say – it is for Allah.

      The irony out of all this is that Islam, Christianity and Judaism come from the same Abrahimic tradition. They share the same prophets, the same parables, teach almost the same lessons and yet their adherents fight most passionately against each other and within each other. How can this be so when all three religions are supposed to promote, justice, humanity and forgiveness? Are the religions itself to blame or their followers who have not the spiritual maturity to understand and internalize the precepts of their declared religion? There is no doubt in my mind that the fault lies on the latter.

  6. Googs

    indeed. indeed.

    worse though, there seems to be a disturbing pattern emerging in these developments too, likened to that of how the so-called 'Islamic militants', 'jihadists' and 'fundamentalists' out there are representing to the world that Islam is vindictive,violent and intolerable by terrorising the daylights out of everybody, everyday. whereas, Islam advocates peace, perseverance and patience in the face of adversity and cruelty, and tolerance.

    so, since when did Islam confer the right to its believers to stake their claim for superiority and exclusivity just because they made it known to the world that they believe? since when did Islam allow leaders to make critical decisions at the expense of the non-Muslim citizens (dhimmis) and their well-being? since when did Islam give free passes to destroy places of worship?

    i cant help but notice this pattern recently, and soon after i shuddered at the thought of what is to become of Malaysia if it persists.

  7. Prem Das

    If one decides to have chicken curry for lunch, the fate of a live innocent animal, whose species has provided nothing but good for mankind, is sealed.

    The last election result is maybe the Good Lord is making chicken curry. Change is often accompanied by turbulence. It is naive to expect the occupiers of the corridors of power to simply throw up their hands and give up at the first sign of resistance.

    They too are fighting for survival too.

  8. Eloi

    Dear Fahri,

    Yours and mine, our MEA CULPA, will not go away if we still choose to be ignorant and silent.

    I hope others can see Fahri's point of view. We must look forward and work towards that new openness that so that this will not happen again.

    Nothing last forever but CHANGE. So we must CHANGE. Our country is unique and we should make it unique. Open up your heart to your fellow brothers (irrespective of race, religion). There is no superior here. We are all HUMANs. (God would have made a superior race if he wanted to but he made us all the SAME. Go figure that.)

  9. Bravo to Fahri Azzat. You are some of the few Malays besides Zaid Ibrahim that I really respect.You spoke out for Malaysian Malaysia! Fair square and truthful. May Allah bless you too.

  10. LM Chong

    Hate to hear Najib? Hishahmudin & Co saying that "we allow…". Please be reminded that i dont need your permission to allow me to practice certain religion at my choice, my mother language…

    Those are my basic human rights, far beyond my constitutional rights enshrined in FC.

    So please stop saying that you "allow", it really demonstrate your mindset which is dominated by totalitarian and fundamentalist.

  11. leekh

    Alas, you have said it all. Mutual respect has a special meaning in Malaysia. We can say our prayers over your head all day but you must respect my sensitivity by not doing the same over my head. I can preach my religion to you but you cannot utter a word of your religion to me.If I am fasting then you must show respect by not eating in my presence. When dining you must not consume "unclean" food in my presence, nor can you have the same on the table or even in the same room. But it is alright for me to eat whatever food I like whether you consider it "halal" or not! I can say your whatever I think about your gods but you dont utter a word about my god. If you dare voice any dissatisfaction about unfairness..then you can go back to your original country. If you say anything else then you are threatening us. If you talk too much you are threatening us! Mutual respect is whatever I say is mutual respect.

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