By Raveen Veerasenan Jeyakumar
Moderation in religious beliefs, practices and laws should be instilled in the country’s administration and among its people.
A country’s government and its people who hold firm to moderate principles in religion and political ideologies will achieve long-term stability. This is because the people will not feel that their fundamental rights are being eroded or that they are being oppressed, thus preventing any serious conflict or resistance.
The key problem in religious beliefs, practices and laws that are overly conservative or overly liberal is that ultimately the people’s fundamental rights will be oppressed.
Overly conservative religious beliefs and laws will apply gradually increasing control and restrictions on the people until their fundamental rights are oppressed. The people are not given a choice; instead the state enforces overly conservative laws on them.
One key factor for the trend towards more conservative religious beliefs and practices is the defence and reaction in the name of defending a religion or expressing solidarity in response to incidents abroad or global trends.
Consider the impact of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, the imperialism and neo-imperialism against several Muslim countries by certain Western forces, the Western forces’ geopolitical agenda to create instability in several Muslim countries, and the brutal oppression of the people of Palestine.
Oppressive trends or events are wrong and violate international laws. They must be rejected and condemned by everyone, regardless of race or religion.
However, an overly conservative approach in response to resisting imperialism is not sustainable in the long term, as it would only involve people who accept and practise such overly conservative lifestyles. No wonder the efforts at non-violently resisting imperialism have not been big and strong enough to create the required impact. Only governments and societies that have the principles of moderation instilled in their religious and political ideologies will be able to form strong and stable coalitions for the long term with other societies and with countries made up of different ethnicities and religions. This is because moderate governments are more respectful, tolerant and cooperative towards those whose beliefs and practices differ from their own.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have overly liberal ideologies and practices. In these situations, the people’s fundamental rights may also end up being oppressed when governments favour elite interests. These governments could favour the interests of elite businessmen, large corporations and influential politicians over the interests of the people by putting in place lax and weak rules and regulations for business. When the elite class’ pursuit of profits fuelled by their immense greed gains the upper hand, the average person’s quality of life, especially in socioeconomic terms, will fall.
So apart from the geopolitical factors, within Malaysia, after decades of manipulating ‘race’ and religion as political weapons, religious sentiments in the administrative system, the civil service and within segments of society have become overly reactionary and conservative.
This rising trend has resulted in the erosion and oppression of fundamental rights and discrimination against certain groups in society.
To prevent the decline towards religious extremism, which could destroy Malaysian society, the government, through relevant ministries and departments, should facilitate the following seven measures:
One, encourage political parties to work together with NGOs which advocate moderation such as the Malaysian Mulsim youth movement Abim and Ikram to conduct frequent and consistent community meetings at the ground level throughout Malaysia. This will allow more personal, in-depth discussions about the various issues affecting the people that need to be tackled. Such sessions will also provide an opportunity to spread moderate principles in religious beliefs and practices. This tactic of working at the ground level to spread influence and gain support has been used by certain parties to great effect, as witnessed in their strong support bases
Two, promote the principles of moderation – especially clemency, forgiveness, understanding and consideration – at both federal and state levels. Overly conservative laws which focus on controlling, punishing and forcing are not effective as they do not promote understanding and awareness about why certain actions are deemed wrong or illegal
The authorities can advise people about religious issues. But they should also respect the fundamental rights and privacy of each individual and not interfere in people’s private lives by indulging in moral policing
Three, needs-based affirmative action must be implemented immediately, effectively and responsibly for those in need, that is the poorest 40% of households and the lower-middle class. Politicians should not take advantage of such a policy to enrich themselves and their cronies. Implement ethnic-based affirmative action immediately, effectively and responsibly only to rectify ethnic imbalances in certain sectors that still need such action, eg to correct the ethnic imbalance in the civil service as well as the lack of ethnic Malay managers and company owners among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Quotas in such sectors should reflect the national ethnic composition. They need to be implemented within an established, reasonable timeframe and must be stopped once that timeframe has ended.
This is to avoid any discrimination against and injustices towards certain ethnic groups similar to what has happened in the past over a long period.
Through such affirmative actions, the socioeconomic status of the target communities will be raised. They will achieve financial security and their sense of financial burden, stress, desperation and insecurity will fall. This, in turn, will make them less easily influenced and attracted to overly conservative and extremist ideologies spread by certain groups with their own agendas.
Four, the government should instil principles of moderation in the civil service throughout the country. This goal is to change the mindsets and beliefs of those who are overly conservative and insecure and of those who have negative perceptions towards those of other ethnic backgrounds.
Five, the authorities should take stern action against all actors who try to instigate unrest by stirring up sensitive ethnic and religious issues. It is not at all fair if actions are taken one-sidedly only against the common people while the elite class (eg certain politicians who brazenly and with such arrogance make derogatory statements against other religions and ethnic group to score political points) escape any punishment.
Six, the government should use all forms of media to spread the principles of moderation through discussions, debates and public service announcements. There should be more news coverage about people who practise moderation in their religious beliefs and practices and who work with communities of other ethnic backgrounds and religions.
Seven, the government should encourage cooperation between NGOs of different ethnic and religious backgrounds to discuss and come up with solutions for the bread-and-butter issues that people face.
Malaysian society is presently divided over issues pertaining to ethnicity and religion. Only discussions and cooperation on socioeconomic issues can unite people of different backgrounds effectively.
This is because the interactions among different people during the process of working together will organically provide understanding and awareness of the perspectives and reasoning of people from diverse backgrounds.
Such cooperation will make society more moderate and accepting in its mindset and ideology and reduce the sense of ethnic and religious insecurity, over-conservatism and negativity towards people of other ethnic and religious backgrounds.
The government should take this issue seriously and implement these proactive measures quickly to instil the spirit of moderation in religious beliefs, practices and laws within the administrative system and the rest of society. This will enhance prospects for the nation’s long-term harmony, prosperity and stability.
FIrst published at this link (Aliran) on 23 March 2013
(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)
Raveen Veerasenan Jeyakumar is a 29-year-old based in Ipoh with an interest in social and environmental issues. He has taken part in various social work activities under Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).