Thursday, December 27, 2007

PM ,please listen to us

A Christian tells Pak Lah the truth

Francis Siah Malaysiakini Dec 24, 07 6:55pm

THIS is the Christmas season - a time where peace to mankind and joy to the world should rightly reverberate around us.

At Christmas, Christians are reminded that Jesus Christ is the center of God's plan for the world. His resurrection from the dead is further confirmation that Jesus is God's Son who will deliver on every promise. Jesus in the stable is not a fable. And because the message of Christmas is true, the implications are enormous for all who believe.

As a Christian, I think that Christmas is truly one of the most joyous and blessed seasons in the year. Let me exhort all fellow Christians to open our hearts and let the One who was born in a stable in humility, died on a cross in love, and rose from the dead in power, enter in!

As a Malaysian, I must confess that there were times when I fear for the degradation of religious tolerance in our multi-religious and multi-racial nation.

Two issues concerning Christians alone in recent days bear testimony to the fragile state of our so-called religious harmony which we have so proudly proclaimed to others but failed to commit ourselves to.

One is the 'crucifix' issue in our mission schools and the other which unfortunately cropped up during this joyous Yuletide season is the use of ‘Allah’ in the Catholic weekly, the Herald.

Indeed, these are difficult and trying times in the country and it is really up to us, Malaysians, how we wish to view these controversies and how we can best resolve them.

Stepping away from the Christian issues for a while, I have to say that I am somewhat disturbed by the actions and demands perpetuated by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf). While the concerns of the group and the Indian community in the country may be legitimate, it is Hindraf’s way and style of doing things which border on the extreme that is worrying.

Miba story warms the heart

However, out of the Hindraf issue, something positive has also emerged and it is this that truly warms my heart.

The Malaysiakini report of Malaysian Indian Business Association (Miba) president P Sivakumar's hard-hitting speech during the special meeting between Indian non-governmental organisations and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi caught my attention this past week.

According to Sivakumar, at the onset of his speech, he sought permission from Abdullah to speak without fear or favour and to tell him the truth.

To this, he said, the premier replied, "Yes, please tell me the truth."

The Miba president then laid bare the plight of the Indian community and in certain instances also told Pak Lah that his administration’s policies have marginalised the Indians.

Sivakumar said he wrapped up his speech by apologising to Abdullah if he had offended the latter with his remarks.

According to him, the premier replied: "Not at all, Thank you for telling me the truth."

Pak Lah is known as a deeply religious man and it is this virtue, more than anything else, that endears him to many Malaysians. He is expected to understand first and foremost the issues and concerns of the multi-religious facade of the citizenry he governs as the prime minister. It has been said that Pak Lah knows no politicking when he deals with religious matters. I hope that they are right.

In this context, I feel that Christians in Malaysia should also be open and tell the prime minister the truth whenever there is an opportunity to sit down with him at the conference table.

By and large, Malaysian Christians are a very tolerant lot. The clergy among the main Christian denominations with roots in this country are forbidden by their religious calling from partaking in active politics and this does make any sticky situation somewhat easier to resolve.

Now, let’s concentrate on the 'crucifix' issue.

Those who had their early education in mission schools in the country will probably share my sentiments. The schools started by Christian missionaries on our shores more than a century ago had only brought good tidings to education in this country.

Because the Christian missionaries were trained educators and educating the young was their vocation, their only desire and mission was to bring up ‘wholesome’ students. They succeeded and many Malaysians today are better off because they had benefitted from the knowledge imparted by the missionary educators.

Today, in the absence of these foreign missionaries, the local Christian clergy assisted by lay teachers are running these mission schools and most are government aided. Credit is due to the government for continuing to fund these schools. But the stature, status and wholesomeness of these mission schools have remained as they rightly should be.

As a product of the Christian mission school, it is only natural for me to come to the defense of my alma mater if any attempt, subtle or otherwise, is made to upset the equilibrium or change the status of these schools.

But the education I received from the Christian missionaries of yesteryears had also taught me not to blindly criticize others for their wrongdoing but to understand and reason with them in a sober manner as to why they acted as they had.

Barisan Nasional MP Syed Hood Syed Edros who suggested that crucifixes be removed from mission schools has explained that he was merely raising public concern. He said he raised the issue in Parliament in order to get clarification from the Education Ministry.

The MP for Parit Sulong had on Oct 29 suggested that crucifixes in mission schools be removed and church influence over these schools be stopped.

He said he was "ashamed and disappointed" that schools in an Islamic country like Malaysia are still under the control of churches and that they display icons like crosses and statues.

However, he told reporters later that he did not raise the issue in bad faith but had merely raised the “grouses of the public”.

Let me dissect the MP’s remarks. I don’t wish to jump to conclusion and blast him for his uncalled-for remarks immediately, even though I feel very unhappy about it. Let us look at the matter rationally.

Firstly, Syed Hood’s role as an elected representative of the people has to be recognised. His duty is to bring up the people’s problems and issues to the legislature. First point to him. Bravo!

Is the Parit Sulong MP sincere?

However, on a matter as religiously sensitive as touching on the removal of a holy symbol - the crucifix - Syed Hood, as a people’s leader, should have immediately explained to those who queried on the matter (if indeed that was true) that due respect must be accorded to the religious beliefs of others. He could have settled it there and then instead of bringing it up in Parliament. I’m sure this is not the first time that such a matter was brought up. Surely, as an MP, Syed Hood should be aware of issues that have been deemed sensitive in the past and avoid harping on them.

This is where I doubt the MP’s sincerity in bringing up an issue that is smacked with religious sensitivities. The general election is dawning and the guy may want to score some political points in order to get noticed. This could be true for I have not heard of Syed Hood Syed Edros (Robin Hood, yes) if he had not brought up the ‘crucifix’ issue.

And by the way, who is he (an ordinary MP) to say that he is "ashamed and disappointed" that schools in an Islamic country like Malaysia are still under the control of churches and that they display icons like crosses and statues.

I’m sorry but I have to tell the MP that he is too ‘small’ to talk about such matters. Wait until he becomes the prime minister (which I doubt he ever will) and have an audience with the Pope - then he can tell the Holy Father that directly and resolve the matter bilaterally with the Vatican.

If not, then I suggest that he keeps such remarks to himself for they are ‘harmful and dangerous’ in our multi-religious society - one we have worked so hard to proudly protect and nurture.

Indeed, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nazri Abdul Aziz's warning that action would be taken against Syed Hood if a police report is lodged regarding his remarks is most timely.

However as a Christian and eternally proud to be a product of a mission school, I am ready to forgive Syed Hood for his attempt at political heroics.

He had since explained that his intention was misunderstood and he always respect other races and religions. The MP also said that, in life, one has to make mistakes and learn from these, and if he has made one, then it can still be rectified.

Okay Mr MP. You are forgiven but please don’t ever bring up the matter again.

This is also my plea to others, particularly to one group of people whose leader is so proud of brandishing his almighty keris. Let me advise them that race, like religion, is about one’s faith. And faith, if it is strong, can never come under threat from others. So let’s stop playing politics with race and religion and Malaysia will definitely be a better place for all.

Thankfully, the issue ended on a happy note too.

Reacting to the matter, Deputy Education Minister Noh Omar said that Christian missionary schools would be allowed to display crosses and there was no reason to take down the religious symbols.

"We will continue with the current practice, which is a tradition started a long time ago," he added.

If our prime minister wants to know the truth over the recent ‘crucifix’ issue - that, in a nutshell, is the truth from a Christian in this country.

The ‘Allah’ issue in Herald

Much has been written and debated about the ‘Allah’ issue this week. I think this is a ‘non issue’ right from the beginning.

Unlike the ‘crucifix’ which is the supreme symbol of Christianity that all Christians should protect and uphold, using the word ‘Allah’ is something Christians can do without and easily give way if certain quarters feel offended by it.

Let me attempt a suggestion to resolve the matter as a Catholic in total loyalty and obedience to the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, to whom the Herald permit is issued to.

My fellow Catholics and some of the more vocal members of the clergy can debate and argue with the Internal Security Ministry till kingdom come over the usage of ‘Allah’. But that is not going to resolve the matter.

If everything happen for a reason, then there must be a reason why the ‘Allah’ issue came up over this Christmas season of peace, compassion and forgiveness.

Lim Kit Siang (peace to our ever vocal Mr Opposition) has urged Pak Lah to overrule Deputy Minister Johari Baharom and rescind his ministry’s order to Herald to discontinue its Bahasa Malaysia section “so that Christmas Day this year will not be celebrated under a cloud of burgeoning religious intolerance.”

But the issue does not call for a political solution. Rather than stating that Catholics are unhappy and Christmas this year is “celebrated under a cloud of burgeoning religious intolerance”, we should instead prove to others that Catholics are indeed a very tolerant people.

Here, let me exhort my fellow Catholics in the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur to heed the request of the Internal Security Ministry and refrain from using the word ‘Allah’ henceforth in its publication. Just continue with the old fashion ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ which is perfectly understood by all. Then, there is the alternative of using the Hebrew/Jewish ‘Yahweh’ or the Latin ‘Deus’.

At times, it’s better to show and prove just how tolerant Christians in this country are. It’s not an act of cowardice or fear of speaking the truth. It’s all about the true Christian spirit - “when you are slapped on the left cheek, turn to the right one if you know that you’ve done nothing wrong”.

Working as a journalist for a good part of my adult life, allow me also to advise the editors at the Herald to practise ‘sensible journalism’. I’ve come to accept long ago that ‘responsible journalism’ in this country means that editors also have to be politically correct at all times.

‘Sensible journalism’ is about toeing the line of those who think they are powerful and almighty - allow them to think so as long as we know deep in our hearts that the Herald is about serving the Heavenly Lord and continuing to bring the Good News to all who believe.

If the permit is still there and Catholics can continue to have access to news and views about the local church via the Herald, what is the point in prolonging a non issue as the usage of ‘Allah’.

Remember, 'responsible journalism' in this country means being politically correct at all times and if we cannot agree on political correctness, then the option is 'sensible journalism' which allows others to think they are powerful and almighty as long as we can continue with our religious duties which is paramount.

It’s okay to let a few holier-than-thou guys in the Internal Security Ministry win. Our greater service is to our Lord, Master and Saviour.

So Pak Lah, this is the truth from a Christian as far as these recent controversies go. You are noted as a deeply religious person - so make me, a Christian, believe in your fairness and justice, Pak Lah just as a Muslim would believe in those virtues of Allah.

FRANCIS SIAH is a romantic Catholic (RC) who finds much joy in romancing with his God, Lord, Yahweh and Deus (no Allah, never mind). He can be reached at

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