A biblical perfect storm?
Writer: Wong Chin Huat
Published: Fri, 08 Apr 2011
History is often written unconsciously.
When the Tunisian police confiscated Mohamed Bouazizi’s vegetable cart, then President Ben Ali would never have thought that the innocuous incident would eventually bring him, Housni Mubarak and perhaps a few more Arab leaders down.
When the Shah Alam municipal officials tore down a Hindu temple in Klang on the eve of Deepavali in 2007, little did then Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo – let alone former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi – know this demolition would eventually cost them their jobs.
I believe when the Home Ministry officials stamped and serialised the 35,000 copies of Al-Kitab, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein also did not know this act would land him, and more importantly Sarawak Chief Minister (CM) Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, into a huge political storm, when many Sarawakians are already angered by land grabs and deforestation under his 30-year rule.
No, it’s not the taking of a cart, the demolition of a temple, or desecration of 35,000 copies of Malay-language bibles that moves the wheels of history. They are but the last straws that broke the camel’s back.
One year ago, I asked my Sarawakian friend in Kuching if there could be a Dayak version of Hindraf. The answer I got
was negative. The most oppressed among the Dayaks are often uninterested in any fightbacks, I learned.
Even earlier, I had also wondered if there could be any Martin Luther King Jr-like figure rising from the East. The answer I’d got was negative, too, at least not in the present. Christianity is not a yet a political ideology capable of guiding voters in the polling booth, I learnt.
Today, I am increasingly convinced that a Christian version – instead of a Dayak version – of Hindraf is here. They may not be the same as Hindraf, but the churches are now speaking louder for their congregations, much like the Hindraf lawyers four years back.
No, we haven’t seen any Martin Luther King figure yet, but the churches – in Sarawak and beyond – are certainly resembling more and more like America’s Southern Baptist churches which evoked the icon of Martin Luther King alongside Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Barak Obama.
Kuching is a city that shies away from politics. Even outspoken internet opposition supporters hesitate to do a “Taib must go” sign in the public.
But three weeks ago, the Kuching Ministers Fellowship held an indoor prayer rally where 2,000 to 3,000 people showed up.
A 100,000-person gathering is scheduled for tomorrow, three days after nomination.
If it really happens, even if just one-tenth of the targeted turn out, it would send shockwaves through the whole of Sarawak.
It’s eventually about breaking the taboo that “politics” is “dangerous”, “sensitive” or “simply not to be discussed in public”.
But what’s wrong with voicing concerns in public? Why must public interests be kept to private conversations while the most private part of life is good for public discourse?
The Peninsular Malaysian Indians were once firm believers of that apolitical code of conduct. Only after the Hindraf rally have they learnt that a show of strength can be a viable option.
For years, the Hindus had wanted Thaipusam be declared a public holiday in Kuala Lumpur but to no avail. However, following that rally, there are now specific programmes to help the Indians.
The “pray for religious freedom” rally in Kuching has forced the PM Department Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jala to dish out a 10-point plan to resolve the Allah 2.0 controversy, which is over the banning of Malay-language bibles. The earlier controversy was over the right of the Malay edition of Catholic publication Herald to use the word “Allah”.
But Idris’s 10-point compromise was shortlived. Before he could even get all the major Christian groups to sign up, it has already been shot down by Hishammuddin.
Understandably, the Umno heavyweight has to entertain the right-wing Malay-Muslim NGOs, religious officials and the bureaucrats who are angered by this compromise, and is worried that this may precede the government’s concession to drop the appeal in the Allah court case.
For the rightwing, the exclusivity of the word Allah is an ideological battle that they cannot afford to lose. Pas and progressive
Muslims who support the right of non-Muslims using the word would have been vindicated.
Just a year ago, Sarawakian Christians were relatively quiet compared with their Sabahan counterparts in the issue. That sense of exceptionalism evaporated when 5,000 bibles were confiscated in Kuching port.
Like the Hindraf activists who found an unexpected ally in Pas, Sarawakian Christians may find it unbelievable that Pas is actually more accommodating than they had previously imagined.
But with the Al-Kitab issue heading nowhere for now, it’s increasingly looking like another perfect storm brewing in Sarawak.