It would be an understatement to say that the pronouncement by the prime minister yesterday that the 10-point solution to the ‘Allah’ issue must be subject to state laws comes as a huge disappointment to those hoping that he would exhibit bold and distinct leadership in this matter.
So that we are all clear as to what Najib Razak has done, let us look at the specific wording of point no 9 of the 10-point solution:
“Beyond the Bible issue, the government wishes to reiterate its commitment to work with the Christian groups and all the different religious groups in order to address interreligious issues and work towards the fulfilment of all religious aspirations in accordance with the constitution, taking into account the other relevant laws of the country.
“In order to bring urgency to this work, in my capacity as the prime minister, I will meet the representatives of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) soon to discuss the way forward.”
Note that point no 9 starts with the words “Beyond the Bible issue”. This means that what follows in point no 9 is intended to cover other inter-religious issues apart from the immediate issue of the importation, printing, publication and distribution of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia, which would have used the word ‘Allah’ for God. These would have been dealt with in points no 1 to no 8. The meaning and intent of the words are very clear.
For the prime minister to now suggest that the reference to “other relevant laws of the country” meant that the 10-point solution was always intended to be subject to the various state enactments to restrict and control the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam is to fly in the face of the logic of the wording of the 10-point solution.
It is, with respect, a pure afterthought.
If it were not, then the situation is actually far worse. It would mean that the government had not a single iota of sincerity when it offered the 10-point solution as a “solution”. It would have known then that such a “solution” would not prevent state religious authorities from raiding premises and seizing copies of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia or Bahasa Iban.
So the bibles would on the one hand cease to be impounded by the federal authorities, only for it on the other hand to be confiscated by the state authorities. If that was the idea behind a “solution”, then it was no solution at all.
After all, the law in this regard has not changed from March/April 2011, when the 10-point solution was being crafted. It should not be forgotten that the 5,100 bibles impounded since March 2009 had been stuck in Port Klang, in the state of Selangor no less. The law in Selangor should therefore have been of primary consideration.
Given that the 1988 Selangor enactment was in full force and effect at that point in time, for the cabinet to have crafted the 10-point solution using the words that it did must either be evidence of a huge failure on their part to appreciate the full legal implications of their proposed remedy, or a clear example of an intention to deceive and defraud the Christian community in Malaysia.
It is uncomfortable for one to think that one’s government is intentionally out to hoodwink its own people, in this case the Christian community in Malaysia. Which is why it is suggested that the prime minister’s statement is nothing but a convenient afterthought that he has been advised to believe gives him a way out of his present predicament.
It does not.
The prime minister has yet to clearly confront his sworn duty and responsibility to protect and defend the twin freedoms of expression and religion of non-Muslim communities in Malaysia, enshrined in the Federal Constitution.
Apart from the rights of Bumiputera Christians (who comprise 64 percent of the Christian community throughout Malaysia and who live in Semenanjung, Sabah and Sarawak) who use Bahasa Malaysia as their language of choice to worship God, there are also the rights of other Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christian congregations, and the rights of the Sikh community throughout Malaysia. All refer to God as “Allah”.
The prime minister has also seemingly failed to be advised as to the true meaning and purport of Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution. The right of states to “control” and “restrict” (the Federal Constitution does not use the word “prohibit”) is one that is directed at “the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam”.
The framers of our Federal Constitution were clear: it is not about the mere use of words and phrases. Even Section 9 of the Selangor enactment which criminalises the use of 25 words and 10 phrases places their usage in four particular contexts, and is not an outright ban on their use.
Nit picking over words
The prime minister has ill-advisedly ignored these small but significant legal niceties and instead rushed to embrace the false “solution” to his present political predicament provided by a calculated misreading and misinterpretation of point no 9 of the 10-point solution. Namely, that it is all up to the states.
He has ignored the opinion given by his own attorney-general, and weakly reiterated his support of the 10-point solution. He is quick to point out that the states of Sabah and Sarawak, which do not have such an enactment as Selangor, are not affected. But he totally misses the point that Sabahan and Sarawakian Christians are.
Sadly, like a “bounced” cheque, the prime minister’s so-called 10-point solution of April 2011 when applied has now come to be seen as no solution at all. By resorting to what can only be called ‘nit picking’ over words, he has shown to all that the trust bank is empty and his account is lacking of credit and he of credibility.
But if ‘nit picking’ is to be the preferred method of the day, what then should we make of point no 6 of the 10-point solution:
“In the spirit of 1Malaysia and recognising that many people travel between Sabah and Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia, there should be no prohibitions and restrictions for people who bring along their bibles and Christian materials on such travel.”
Would “Christian materials” cover a church newspaper?
(ANDREW KHOO is co-chairperson of the Human Rights Committee of the Bar Council Malaysia)