You really have to respect PAS for their single-mindedness. At a time when you would expect the opposition to put up a common front, PAS leaders were loyal to their cause to a fault. While PAS Youth’s support of JAIS’ raid on the Damansara Utama Methodist Church reminds us of the transient nature of the Pakatan alliance, for PAS, this is a stark reminder to their supporters that they do walk their talk.
The PAS Youth leader, Nasrudin Hassan’s statement (reported by the Star on 10 August 2011) is a carefully postured response to the raid. In an attempt to douse the potentially inflammatory topic, he reminded critics to remain impartial as JAIS was only carrying out their duty in policing the akhlak of Muslims and protecting the sanctity of Islam. Such posturing highlights a common theme in interfaith and interracial conflicts in Malaysia — ‘Group sovereignty and autonomy’. In simpler terms — I take care of my problem, you take care of yours.
We see this in the politics of Barisan Nasional, where each race has a representative component in the alliance, each component looking out for the interests of their subjects.
We see this in the education system of Malaysia, where vernacular schools cater for the educational requirements of each linguistic group in the country.
We also see this in our legal system, where a parallel Syariah court was created with exclusive jurisdiction over its own subject — Muslims.
Such policies are pervasive in our society because it provides a platform for a multiracial community to reconcile their differences — by not dealing with them. Nasrudin’s statement echoes this theme of unity through division by justifying the church raid with legal authority, while sidestepping the central reason for the conflict — the need to strike a balance between the rights and needs of different groups.
Worst of all, Nasrudin’s support for the church raid is counterproductive to his party’s newfound progressive image. It is a natural conclusion to Nasrudin’s statement that the rights of Muslims not to be proselytized overrides any other groups’ right to practice their religion in peace and harmony, and all other religious practices had to be subjected to disproportionate disruption at the hint of the possibility of proselytization of Muslim.
Article 3(1) of our constitution reads:
‘… but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.’
‘… but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony with Islam in any part of the Federation.’ [emphasis and italics added]
To subject other religious practices to a JAIS raid every time a suspicion of proselytizing of Muslims arises is a fundamental breach of our Federal Constitution — Article 11’s freedom of religion, Article 10’s freedom of assembly, and Article 5’s liberty of the person. The magic word for balancing rights in a multiracial society is ‘proportionality’. You don’t raid a church based on a suspicion of proselytizing of Muslims. You raid it because proselytizing is happening and there is no available alternative.
There are those who argue that there could have been proselytizing of Muslims happening, and we can only conclude whether to support JAIS’ actions or not depending on the evidence collected. These arguments are not worthy of a reply, because they ignore the most fundamental concept of procedural justice — that innocence is guaranteed until proven guilty.
Also, the argument that JAIS was merely doing its job is the same kind of argument the government used to defend the police high-handed measures in the crackdown of Bersih 2.0. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if the police exercise their power to arrest a gathering of more than 5 persons without permit arbitrarily. I personally would have been arrested many times over. It is a common understanding in legally-developed societies that power conferred by legislation cannot be used like a blanket bomb; just because the law allows you to conduct raids does not mean you do it whenever you can. Such arguments are suitable only for Neolithic societies.
Democracy is not about the submission of the minority to the views of the majority. It is about tolerance and balancing rights of diverse opinions. We do not live in autonomous bubbles of reality; Malaysia is a conglomeration of many diverse societies that seek to live in harmony with one another. As such, to expect submission every time our bubbles cross path is not the recipe for a harmonious existence — it is tyranny of the majority.