Sheep and goats

In case we are unclear about where certain political parties, politicians and civil society groups stand, I think the ICERD issue has made things crystal clear.

ICERD is about saying no to racial discrimination. And the PH Government wants make Malaysia a signatory, like most of the countries in the world. In truth it does not change much, and we certainly don’t have to be a signatory. But at the very least it is a statement that we agree with the concerns of ICERD.

Yesterday the PH Government put out a statement to say that it no longer intends to sign onto ICERD. To my mind this is the right move as the issue is being exploited to deepen the very thing it seeks to end.

PAS now says that the planned rally to protest ICERD on December 8 will continue but will now be a celebration of victory and gratitude.

Hadi, the PAS president had earlier said it was compulsory for Muslims to oppose ICERD as its ratification would place Islam on the “same level” as other religions in the country.

This despite the fact that muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, UAE, Algeria, Pakistan, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

UMNO president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has questioned today the validity of the statement by the Prime Minister’s Office to not ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

He claimed the statement could only be considered valid if it was signed by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad himself, and later brought to Parliament so that it could be recorded in the official hansard.

He said the Opposition is nonetheless thankful over the decision, claiming it was affected by several anti-ICERD protests across the country in past few weeks.

Khairy Jamaluddin has called for the resignation of Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah over the blunder surrounding the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) but also urged the organisers of the proposed Dec 8 anti-ICERD rally to call off the programme following the PMO’s announcement after the organisers said it would go on, but on grounds of celebration.

“The government has shelved plans to ratify ICERD. This is the time to ‘lower the temperature’ of the country’s politics. It’s better not to carry on.

Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) labelled the decision appalling and said that the Government and government leaders failed to show moral leadership when it was most needed.

HAKAM regrets the decision but understands that the issue has been twisted to spread fear and divisiveness. It also objected to calls for the foreign minister’s resignation.

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng today called on the Chinese community to be wary of extremists trying to stoke tensions among the Malay community using the issue concerning the ratification of a UN rights treaty.

There are those who celebrate the notion that Malaysia will not stand for equality, those who are thankful that this is so and wants to go on with the political games, those who view leadership as doing the right thing regardless of the situation, those who choose to view the situation in its broader context, those who advise caution.

The season to be jholly?

When I saw the images in one whatsapp group I belong to, I thought they were funny in a Malaysian humour kind of way. Malaysians like lame puns and use them to poke fun at serious issues. Just look at the way we abuse Najib’s name.

And soon the media started to cover the story and I found that this was not an individual’s attempt at humour but a store selling “jholly” products with a Christmas theme.

Apom Store is a shop selling products that showcases the quirky side of Malaysian culture (Apom stands for “A Piece of Malaysia”) and has released a line of “Jholly” Christmas gifts featuring a mascot with a resemblance to fugitive businessman Jho Low, the central figure in the 1MDB case.

I was somewhat surprised to read that Hannah Yeoh took exception to this via Twitter and Facebook. This was also picked up by the media.

“Actually I don’t find this funny at all. Christmas is about celebration of the Greatest Gift for mankind, the One who is righteous and perfect in all His ways. Nothing like the 1MDB players at all,” she wrote.

Expanding on this, she expressed disagreement with the notion of associating Christmas with the 1MDB corruption scandal.

However, Yeoh stressed that she was not forcing her religious beliefs on any party and was simply expressing her views.

“Feel free to celebrate Christmas and the holiday season whichever way you choose but don’t deny me the space to point this out as simply not funny.”

For a while I felt I was insensitive to my faith because I had not caught the issue she was raising.

But somehow the matter stayed on my mind and I have come to disagree with her action.

Notwithstanding the fact that this was a merchandising effort that is completely in line with the business model of the shop, I felt her point that Christmas is about Christ is wrong.

The fact that she was reacting to drawings of a fat man in a santa hat, saying “Jho, Jho, Jho” with phrases referencing shopping and drinking already tells me what she identifies as Christmas. And this Christmas is not about Christ.

And to enter this space to proclaim her beliefs and “denounce” what others were practising is rude and insensitive.

She mitigates her action somewhat with her statement, “Feel free to celebrate Christmas and the holiday season whichever way you choose but don’t deny me the space to point this out as simply not funny.”

But even this felt high-handed. Who is she to give permission to others to do what they would for their Christmas? And, is this really her space to express her opinion about what others are doing, in their own space, without harm to anyone (except Jho Low to a very slight extent)? I think not. Not, if her point is that Christmas is about Christ.

At this point you might ask: is this really worth writing an article over?

The thing is, as I was mulling this over, Oktoberfest kept coming to my mind. People wanted to celebrate Oktoberfest. But some religious personalities (or others who claim to represent muslim interests) say to celebrate a drinking festival openly is an affront to them.

And so some state governments banned Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest is not about Islam. It is not aimed at muslims. It has nothing to do with them. But they want to encroach on Oktoberfest and demand their sensitivities be respected.

And I felt Hannah was doing the same even though she put it nicely.

And I want to speak out against this. We are multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious and if we cannot respect other people’s space, even though it offends us, but are caught up on our own space and our rights and our sensitivities, then we contribute to the division.

ICERD revisited

I was dismayed by headlines of demonstrations against ICERD by the malay-muslim community, led by UMNO-PAS.

Then the next day the headlines read, “Malay-Muslims will ‘run amok’ if ICERD ratified, Zahid warns”.

Mahathir though had a good ripose: ICERD won’t cause riots unless Zahid stirs up trouble.

But the writing is on the wall. At a gathering to oppose ICERD on Saturday, Zahid openly called for a merger between UMNO and PAS, for race and religion.

“Let us set aside our differences in the name of Islam, Malays, Malaysia and bumiputra and merge.

“It was a mistake for us to fight each other,” the Umno president said, adding that he would be willing to lead the merger.

And today, UMNO and PAS MPs went after Waytha in Parliament calling him a racist and a liar for his remarks caught on video some 10 years ago when interviewed on Dutch TV.

Waytha Moorthy is the minister in the PM’s department, tasked with matters of national unity. He was the one who announced the Government’s intention to ratify ICERD.

At that Parliamentary session, Waytha said regarding ICERD,

“This matter has been brought to the attorney general’s attention and if there are any conditions where Malaysia must make any adjustments on Article 153, the government will not ratify ICERD. That is a guarantee.

“The government believes that with the dialogue, discussion and consultation sessions with the public, they will be able to accept the government ratifying this human rights instrument,” said Waytha.

He also gave his “personal” view that Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, which allows for Bumiputera privileges, does not discriminate.

This article by Zurairi AR gives a good background to the Waytha video controversy. His conclusion is worth noting:

Perhaps Umno, PAS and the Islamist lobby should just come clean that the reason behind the demonisation of Waytha is simple and too transparent: To paint him as the figurehead for the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and thus, the perfect reason to block the move.

But even before this explosion of sentiment against ICERD, there were voices of caution. Boo Su-Lyn wrote an article titled “Why ratify ICERD now?” She makes a good point.

Don’t get me wrong; I think the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) is a great United Nations treaty.

But ratifying ICERD would require a total change of mindset and how things are done in Malaysia, not least the ruling political parties’ own race-based membership structures.

Malaysia must move, sooner rather than later, towards equality.

But to do that, I believe it is more effective to start by changing some things locally first and holding lots of town hall meetings with the public, not just select NGOs, before taking the significant step of ratifying a UN treaty.

Racial superiority, unfortunately, is still socially acceptable in Malaysian society.

Now in the face of growing sentiment, PH is beginning to backtrack on the matter.

Mahathir: Impossible to ratify ICERD

Azmin: Malays, Bumiputeras need not worry about ICERD

The PKR deputy president said Putrajaya is not in a rush to accede to the convention, and Pakatan Harapan (PH) has already started working towards an equal distribution of wealth based on needs, and not race.

“There is talk that we supposedly want to ratify the international convention to ensure the elimination of racial discrimination. I would like to tell you that we in PKR have done so much earlier by ensuring that all races received equality and justice in the distribution of economy.

“That is why the economic policies introduced by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim are based on needs, and not race.

Lim Guan Eng: DAP to leave ICERD ratification to PM, won’t be drawn into racial debate.

Anwar: Postpone ICERD implementation, focus on economy.

PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said the people should not be too focused on matters that could divide unity of Malaysians.

“We need to continue to support Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s leadership. We need to generate reforms and changes. There are other pertinent issues such as the price of rubber, increase in price of goods… the economy.

“ICERD is not something urgent that needs to be addressed immediately. We can postpone its ratification,” Anwar said in his maiden speech as party president to adjourn PKR’s 13th congress today.

As I have said in a previous article, I see ratification of ICERD as a statement of where Malaysia stands vis-a-vis racial discrimination. It is a voluntary exercise and reservations are allowed against articles that are problematic.

But some people speak of ICERD as handing over the sovereignty of the country to some external group and this notion is extrapolated to a constitutional conflict.

And this has led to the exploitation of the issue to fan racial and religious emotions. Listen to this person who was protesting ICERD (concluding paragraph):

“As a Muslim and Malay, I oppose the ratification of ICERD. Everyone has been treated fairly before this and there is no need for Malaysia to ape the West,” he said.

Perhaps people like Boo Su-Lyn and Azmin are right: Let’s just do the right thing without putting a label on it. And perhaps the time will come when it will be obvious to everyone that ICERD ratification changes nothing.

The PKR 2018 Election

It began on 22 September and after 8 weeks, the PKR 2018 Election has drawn to a close, or maybe not.

“I don’t know why (they are celebrating). We have yet to reach the end (of the poll),” she (the PKR President) told reporters after launching the Astro Junior Championships U15 (Regional) badminton tournament, here.

According to the official website, there were 76 positions at the central level and 10,212 at division level, contested.

It was certainly a huge undertaking and having done so using a new untried e-voting system, it was also a huge risk.

It would have been more sensible to hold division elections separate from the central elections but my guess is that they have no time left as their last election was in 2014.

With the whole process taking so long to complete, following the election was a challenge but the media basically boiled it down to team Azmin and team Rafizi.

Essentially Team Azmin has won, except for Azmin himself, as the results for the deputy president position hangs on a balance.

Perhaps the most relevant thing arising from the election so far is the damage to PKR’s reputation.

Responding to an article I shared about a statement the PKR secretary-general made regarding the membership of the Julau branch, which went from hundreds to thousands in 1 day, my niece’s husband commented, “Getting worse this party”. That from a person who rarely makes political observations.

Even before the election, I had written an article about the accusations thrown at Azmin by Rafizi, and the way Rafizi paraded his close ties with Anwar, questioning whether justice is still at the forefront of the party.

More pertinent is Ambiga’s response,

Ambiga said they were about to “lose the moral high ground to call themselves reformists” if the unsavoury situation at the party polls continued.

She also questioned the veracity of 13,000 new registered voters in the party in Julau, Sarawak within just one day in June, ahead of the cutoff date for new members to be eligible to vote.

“After all, they saw through the shenanigans of the last government and threw them out. Thirteen thousand increase in members in one day? Really?” she added.

Perhaps the most damaging is the controversy surrounding Julau.

It seemed that the PKR secretary-general explained that the 13,000 new registered voters in the Julau division came from the Julau MP Larry Sng, who joined the party on May 11, having contested as an independent.

But that did not stop claims that some were actually dead people, and thousands share the same address, and others were people who did not know they are now PKR members, and still others who actually still belong to rival political parties.

The controversy did not end there. On the day of election at Julau, Rafizi (according to some reports) claimed that some of the tablets used in the voting system have been compromised by the presence of a malicious program. The election results were then suspended.

The police came into the picture, a technical man sent by PKR to help supervise the election in Julau was arrested, and the compromised tablets were seized.

There were other issues: Some Malacca and Negri Sembilan divisions had to hold their election again as slow internet access hampered the process. A wireless jamming device was found at 1 election center. Several incidents of violent protests occurred.

The fact that there were acts of violence and sabotage are of little consequence in the sense that these are events that cannot be anticipated or prevented. One can only mitigate the damage and provide clear information that will allay suspicion of fraud or interference.

In this I find PKR wanting. For a party that have been insistent on clean and fair elections for more than a decade, it should be familiar with all the issues involved in the integrity of elections.

On the matter of the membership of the Julau division, the secretary-general came out to say,

“The PKR HQ received the 12,000-over applications from Julau on June 12. The deadline was the 26th. Then the party leadership approved the applications for Julau and more than 400,000 applications from all over Malaysia.

“After that, the new memberships become open for objections, with the final date being July 17. The onus is on the branch to object. We did not receive any objections from them,” he said when contacted by Malay Mail.

He stressed that only members from Julau may object to the new membership applications.

Saifuddin explained that while the authority to evaluate the authenticity of suspect memberships was with the central leadership, it could not do so independently of a formal complaint from the affected branch.

When such reports are filed, he said the party’s application committee will investigate.

“But as a non-Julau member, can we reject the names submitted? We can’t because there were no objections from them,” he said.

Basically he said that the veracity of members is not the responsibility of the PKR HQ.

But with a 1-member-1-vote system, the 13,000 Julau members would have more weight than 30 PKR divisions in Sarawak, which according to PKR central committee member Latheefa Koya, stands at 9000.

On the matter of the compromised tablets in Julau,

The chairman of the PKR Party Election Committee (JPP) Datuk Rashid Din said in a statement here that the matter was detected by the ‘Unit Sistem & IT JPP’ at 2pm at the Julau Voting Centre after the devices failed to function as usual.

”A report was sent to seek the feedback of the JPP Cyber Security Team in Petaling Jaya.

”The information received said the software was used to erase the e-voting application in the tablet, steal data, change the password and control the tablet using a remote-controlled computer,” he said.

He said the unit had taken several immediate steps to overcome the problem by changing the voting mode to offline, to switch off the Device Administrator privilege and to install the ‘Prey Anti-Theft’ application from the ‘Application Manager’.

As those who are familiar with software will know, these claims are quite farfetched. (See too this response from the Prey software developer.)

Subsequently the JPP has issued a statement saying the Julau election results have not been compromised.

The whole point of using an e-voting system is:

1. It can be made relatively tamper proof
2. It is more efficient, with checks made almost instantly
3. It can provide an audit trail
4. Results can be available very quickly

The revelation that you can change the voting mode to offline is quite shocking as it is a compromise.

The fact that votes can be lost via a poor internet connection is shocking. There should be several points for data storage, with the cloud as the final destination. Together with an audit trail, the developer of the system should be able to ascertain the veracity of the data.

That the tablets used can be compromised by the installation of unauthorised software is shocking. If access is so easy how can you assure the public of its integrity?

However, the reported acts of sabotage are, to my mind, a red herring. 7 tablets compromised out of 76 used in 1 division election has a miniscule effect. On top of this what was done, if indeed, was to remove the e-voting program. It would take insider knowledge and great skill and access to compromise the data. Similarly the jamming device. Some people want to cast aspersions on the veracity of the process. But a clear technical explanation can clear the air.

What is even more shocking is the amount of unverified information given out to the public over the past few days, including the involvement of the police. And the lack of clear, professional input on what is a technical matter. A PKR man was arrested and then released. Yet no word on him since.

But for me, the most shocking is the slow release of the results of the election.

I am sure everyone can still remember the anxiety on May 9 when the Election Commission were slow to announce the results of the elections.

In the case of PKR only the elections held in weeks 1-3 have official results announced. In an e-voting system, how can you have so much to deal with in the “peti undi ragu”?

In the meantime we get all sorts of unofficial results in the media.

I can understand the Azmin camp’s impatience in claiming victory. Just as Mahathir did early on May 9 when the unofficial results became clear.

For the President of PKR, who suggested that unnamed infiltrators may be behind the Julau controversies, the election is not over yet.

“I am waiting for JPP to make a decision. I am leaving that (to them) as we want the election to be conducted independently,” she added.

Even though she has her own preferred candidate.

Paradise now

This was a sermon I preached 2 years ago. My church community is once again going through a spate of bad news. Rama’s article reminded me of what I had shared then.

My heart has been weighed down by the many deaths experienced in our community in recent times. I thought it would be good to speak about it.

Let me read the text to you, from the New American Standard Bible.

Luke 23: 42-43
42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”
43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

When I was in my teens, everything about being a Christian captured my attention; the church was my community and as a young Christian I was learning everything for the first time. Those days I learned about evangelism, about gifts of the Holy Spirit, about mission and sacrifice, about the Word of God.

In my teens, faith is an exciting journey and there is much to learn.

During my university years and after that working as a full-time worker with varsity students, the fact that Christ came to give life, life abundantly, was what captured my heart and mind. The idea “To be truly spiritual is to be truly human” was something that appealed very much to me.

At the same time, I was introduced to, and explored, the Christian mind; not only that there are key characteristics that define the view that the Christian has towards the world of objects and ideas, but also the assertion that Christian thought should be rational and consonant with truth.

In my varsity days, what attracted me was that faith is life affirming, and intelligent.

Now, in my 60th year, and my 48th year as a Christian, the fact that Christ has conquered death is central to my faith, or to frame it nicely,

In these later years of life, I have come to see that central to my faith is that my destiny is paradise.

The first time I had to seriously consider death in terms of my faith was when I was asked to preach at a funeral. I was in my late 30s at the time. Just a short 5 minute sharing from Scripture but I had to think hard about what is the most meaningful truth I can share to this young woman whose mother had just passed away, and who had accepted Christ on her death bed. And this was the passage I set my heart on to share:

And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

I didn’t want to bore everyone with my theology. I wanted this simple declaration by Jesus to imbue that moment of death with a much deeper meaning and a more glorious destiny.

This has stayed with me ever since. Today you shall be with Me in Paradise. What a wonderful certainty when you have to say goodbye to a loved one.

When my parents aged to the point where I could see their frailty, death once again came into my life. But for my parents, death was a friend. My father said to me, “My work is done.” And my mum many times told me that she wants her rest. And she meant her eternal rest. For them, there is nothing more that this life could offer, except weakness and pain. Because of their faith, death is a door, an opportunity, a final, wonderful blessing that they longed to embrace. And so when death came, I thanked God for his wonderful blessing.

This made me see that where we are now, what we call life, is mortal. Where Christ is, is paradise. There is a qualitative difference that Jesus emphasised in his statement: Today you will be with me in Paradise.

In conquering death, Christ does not promise us more of the same. He promises us a deeper, richer life.

Paradise to my mind is not just in terms of location, but also the quality of the life that will be ours to embrace. Our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our soul, will be made whole. How wonderful that must be. In this life we struggle with our frailties. In Paradise we glory in the marvelous and perfect handiwork of God.

CS Lewis alludes to this, calling us to think of the best fruit we have ever tasted: juicy, fresh, sweet, filling all our senses with a wonderful symphony of taste, smell and satisfaction. And then asking us to imagine what that fruit will be like when it is perfectly created as God intends, eaten by a person whose body is whole and perfect.

My brothers and sisters, heaven is a wonderful place. It is where the God of love reigns supreme, where Christ has gone to prepare a place for us all.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

Between this life and life after death, there is no comparison. There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain; for the old order of things has passed away.

One day when I was having lunch with a couple, after one of the husband’s treatments in hospital, I shared with them this thought: You do what is necessary as a responsible steward of the life that God has given you. You avail yourself to what is available to treat your ailment. But you also embrace the core truth of your belief: that death is a blessing; a doorway into his Presence. You are not to be careless with life, but neither should you cling to it, as if what is behind the veil is something terrifying. Indeed, what is behind the veil is a wonderful life that God has redeemed for us through the sacrifice of His Son.

In other words, our faith calls us to live with no fear of death. Indeed, Christ has transformed death to a gateway to Paradise.

But in recent times, there are others who also act out of a lack of fear of death. These days suicide bombers are a common phenomena; but to my mind, their embrace of death is out of a despair of this life. And it is this despair that makes their freedom from death destructive. Their life has convinced them that nothing good can be achieved by life, and their only recourse to significance is to destroy. They have no love of life, and so they have no qualms in taking life away from others.

This is not what Christ sacrificed himself to give us. And so our theology is not to lead us to desire the hereafter to the point of not caring for the life in the here and now.

I come that you might have life, and have it abundantly, Jesus says.

Christ came not only to give us life in Paradise, he came that we might have abundant life here on earth. How is this so? We should not take this to mean that abundant life will be handed to us; rather, the riches of our glorious inheritance in Christ gives us the basis to pursue this life with abandon, with generosity, with all our heart, soul, mind and might, because we will never be poor again. Even if we go to the grave penniless, we gain heaven’s glory on the other side. What more if in this life we are a source of blessing to others and a cause for people to give glory to God! That truly is abundant life!

How has our view of death influenced our living?

One scene in the movie The Return of the King, as King Theoden leads his men into battle against the forces of the evil Sauron, in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, captures my imagination:

On the morning of March 10, 3019, the “Dawnless Day” began. Sauron sent forth a large mass of dark and foul clouds to cover the lands of Gondor. Sauron’s purpose was to spread fear and uncertainty among his enemies, as well as to aid his dark servants; it was said that dread was one of his greatest weapons. The forces of Mordor arrived on two fronts: the army of the Lord of The Nazgûl came forth from Minas Morgul, and the other up the river Anduin from Umbar; mainly the ships of the Corsairs with Haradrim and Easterlings. On March 14, 3019, the Siege of Gondor began, and on the morning of March 15, the Army of Rohan arrived with 6000 riders.

If you have seen the movie you know that this was a pivotal moment. Although badly outnumbered, the Fellowship of the Ring needed Rohan to fight and hold off Sauron long enough for reinforcement to arrive.

Theoden, having come out of the influence of his adviser Grima, or Wormtongue as he is commonly called, led his men into the decisive battle with the cry, “Death!”

Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!
spear shall be shaken, shield shall be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now, ride! Ride for ruin and the world’s ending!
Death! Death! Death!
Forth Eorlingas!

Watching that scene, it became crystal clear to me: when you embrace death and you do not fear it, it frees you to do what is right and good, leaving the outcome to God. The 3 friends of Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar the king:

“Your Majesty, we will not try to defend ourselves. If the God whom we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace and from your power, then he will. But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty may be sure that we will not worship your god, and we will not bow down to the gold statue that you have set up.”

The fear of death clouds our judgement. But through the death and resurrection of Jesus, death no longer has a hold on us.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

Perhaps God may call some of us to a special ministry that demands the sacrifice of our life. But for most of us that is unlikely to be the case. But the call is still the same: Do we hoard our life for fear of losing it? Or do we spend it generously because after we have gone through this life, God is there with a glorious new life in Paradise.

When we live in the light of Paradise in the hereafter, we live in Paradise now.

ICERD

The introduction on the Wikipedia page on ICERD says,

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) is a United Nations convention. A third-generation human rights instrument, the Convention commits its members to the elimination of racial discrimination and the promotion of understanding among all races. Controversially, the Convention also requires its parties to outlaw hate speech and criminalize membership in racist organizations.

The Convention also includes an individual complaints mechanism, effectively making it enforceable against its parties. This has led to the development of a limited jurisprudence on the interpretation and implementation of the Convention.

The convention was adopted and opened for signature by the United Nations General Assembly on 21 December 1965, and entered into force on 4 January 1969. As of January 2018, it has 88 signatories and 179 parties.

Positive discrimination policies and other measures taken to redress imbalances and promote equality are specifically excluded from the definition of racial discrimination.

Of note is Article 7, which obliges parties to adopt “immediate and effective measures”, particularly in education, to combat racial prejudice and encourage understanding and tolerance between different racial, ethnic and national groups.

The key controversy of ICERD is the presence of dispute resolution mechanisms, including allowing any dispute over the interpretation or application of the Convention to be referred to the International Court of Justice. However the Convention allows signatories to lodge reservations against any specific articles.

Seen as a whole, ICERD is a convention that was initiated by the UN more than 50 years ago, aimed at the elimination of racial discrimination and the promotion of racial understanding and tolerance.

It is quite shocking that Malaysia, being a multi-racial community, is still not a signatory to this convention.

The recent focus on ICERD in Malaysia is due to the fact that it is on the PH Manifesto because Mahathir raised the matter in his speech to the UN.

Some groups have spoken against, and even demonstrated against, the move to be a signatory. PH intends to honor its Manifesto make Malaysia a signatory but suggests that discussions be held first before doing so. A wise move, given that there is so much misinformation about the matter.

However it looks like Syed Saddiq, the Youth and Sports minister, did not get the memo and asserted that the PPBM Youth wing will reject Malaysia’s ratification of ICERD if it weakens or erodes the rights under Article 153 of the constitution, the monarchy, the position of Islam or any other rights enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

“This means that changes must be on what Malaysians want without outside interference. We reject any attempt by outsiders to pressure or threaten us to review any law in Malaysia or provisions in the constitution if Malaysia ratifies the ICERD.

“PPBM Youth urges the government to reconsider ratifying the ICERD if it leads to Malaysia’s laws being on the same level as international laws because this could lead to socio-economic imbalance and the erosion of certain rights,” Syed Saddiq, who is Muar MP, said in a statement today.

Clearly this young politician is fast learning Malaysian Political Speak, the ability to cover all the important concerns of race and religion without needing to understand the issues at hand and still sound as if he is open to reason.

Azmi Sharom has written a simple and clear response to some of the fallacious assertions against ICERD that are making the rounds on WhatsApp. The minister should spend a few minutes reading it.

My take on the matter is simple. Racial discrimination is shameful and it should not take much thought to proclaim that Malaysia stands with the rest of the world on this matter.

It is true given our history that the outworking of such a stance can be tricky as the lines between discrimination and affirmative action may not be easy to define. Throw in the fact that the constitution also enshrines certain key agreements, not just among the races but also with respect to East Malaysia, and you can see that some clear guidelines need to be laid down.

But the broad goal should not be in dispute. And those who do dispute it, and think that equality is NOT a goal that Malaysia should aspire or subscribe to, clearly have in mind, however they may disguise it, racial discrimination, or in their case, racial supremacy, or apartheid.

As Azmi Sharom wrote in his conclusion:

Our Constitution is actually in line with that principle. Article 153, which provides for the special position of the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak, states that the King, under advice from the government, may set quotas (for business, education and civil service) for as long as it is reasonable to do so.

If parity is achieved, then surely it is reasonable to stop. This is in line with the ICERD.

Unless of course the writer of the message forwarded to me wants the Malays (and natives of Sabah and Sarawak) to be forever given special help, regardless of their standing and position in society.

If that is the case, then why not be honest about it and say that the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak are of a different class of citizenry and everybody else is second class.

That would at least be honest – racist and bigoted, sure, but at least honest.

Cultural Wars

I came across an article entitled “White evangelicals are the sleeping giant of the 2018 midterms” recently.

The author claimed that conservative evangelical Christians are an important support base for Donald Trump and the Republican Party. In an effort to explain why this is so, despite an overwhelmingly popular view that Trump and the Republicans have been unfair, unjust and unmerciful in their views and policies towards the weak and marginalised, he has tried to look at Trump’s presidency from the point of view of this group of people.

The white evangelical community views the Trump era as a fundamental realignment of American politics, with the Christian right reasserting itself after eight years of Barack Obama. They understand that if Republicans lose the House or, even worse, the House and Senate in the midterm elections, their agenda is at risk. On the surface, the GOP is leaning into a fear-based white identity campaign, but underneath, evangelicals have a whole set of other issues they care very deeply about that have nothing to do with immigration or crime.

Essentially the writer framed the community’s concerns as cultural: abortion, gender, LGBTQ issues, US-Israel relations. The most important is the control over the Supreme Court that rules on many of these issues.

Seen from that point of view, the Trump administration has been wonderful:

  • defining gender as binary (male and female);
  • removing recognition of LGBTQ in the education space;
  • encouraging policies that discourage and restrict abortion;
  • moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem;
  • securing the return of 3 men held prisoner in North Korea, one of whom is a missionary;
  • and most of all, 2 new members of the Supreme Court who are conservative Christians, swinging the balance to the right.

I think it is important to at least note that a cultural war has going on in the US (and exported worldwide), most easily identified by the “battlefield” over LGBTQ. I have placed battlefield in quotes because I think that this battle has been largely lost to the liberals and they now control the narrative. What has once been an issue of homosexuality now includes bisexuality, pan-sexuality and perhaps others as well. There is now no norm and sex has been moved from a moral issue to one of choice. Any attempt to reverse this is now viewed as an act of bigotry, hate and denial of a person’s rights.

This removal of what has been a cultural absolute is but one of many and I do think that all absolutes will be systematically attacked.

The battle against many cultural norms have been sophisticated and nuanced. The narrative has moved away from “wild Roman orgies” to tender love, personal struggle, suffering discrimination and hatred, justice and acceptance. Movies portraying LGBTQ issues have moved to teenaged protagonists.

Unfortunately, Christian response has often been awkward, relying on black and white, this or that, “I must be right because I represent God’s point of view” arguments, and ignoring the liberal’s challenge for us to be able to present our values with integrity, and to articulate these truths in the context of love, hospitality and sacrifice that underlines the Gospel.

And this, I believe is the failure that is behind what we see in the US these days and the Church is in danger of becoming once again, the villain.

Vinoth Ramachandra writes in his article,

A globally renowned American Christian leader told me a few days ago: “You must understand that Americans are largely an ignorant, uneducated people.” That ignorance, he went on to say, is widely prevalent among the white conservatives of suburban as well as rural churches. This perhaps is the largest “unreached peoples’ group” in the world, a people who need to be converted from fear to love, from prejudice to hospitality, from patriotism/civil religion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In our own context in Malaysia, these challenges confront the Church, especially when we have another religious voice that has strong conservative views. It is important that we do not reflexively take the opposing view and lose the truths that we hold, or unthinkingly support views that discriminate the marginalised. We need to not only articulate the nuances of righteousness and mercy, justice and love, but also to express these truths in our actions, our programs and our institutions.

Pahit Zahid

A few days ago, during a parliamentary session, Zahid raised a question:

The incident in Palu (Indonesia), it was said that over 1,000 people were involved in the (LGBT) activities and the area was hit (by the disaster). This is a punishment from God.

“I would like to ask, as part of Malaysian Islamic Development Department’s (Jakim) tasks to implement the Mukhayyam outreach programme to help the LGBT community, on steps taken by the government agencies and other states on this issue.

“How effective are such programmes, so that we can avoid similar punishment from God,” he said.

It is especially vile and venal to suggest, when a neighbour is undergoing a catastrophic event, that this is God’s punishment.

It is like kicking a man when he is down, only worse.

Even when you sincerely believe it to be true, this is the time for compassion, not judgement.

So I wondered why he said it at all. And on such a public forum as a parliamentary session, well knowing that his remarks would be taken up by every newspaper and media.

I did some light googling.

Zahid said members of the LGBT community should not be a part of Malaysia’s security forces. “A line needs to be drawn,” he said, on 24 October 2017.

On 31 December 2017 this news was published:

On news that a “White Party Kuala Lumpur” (a spin-off of the region’s largest annual gay music festival) will be held, Zahid vowed to block the event.

“As the Home Minister, I have instructed the police and Immigration Department to ensure that the White Party is not held in our country, anywhere at all – indoors or outdoors.

“This is my commitment that I wish to state to all Malaysians.”

That’s about as much as I got going through 8 pages of a google search for “Zahid LGBT”. The rest of the hits were on his parliamentary remarks.

So no. He was not particularly anti-LGBT. It is very unlikely that he actually believed the Palu earthquake was the result of LGBT activities.

More likely, as some have suggested, is that he wants to align himself with the religious right, thinking that perhaps this is a group that will welcome anyone who upholds their views, even someone facing trial for corruption.

He has planned to embark on a roadshow to “clear his name.” I wonder what his spiel would be.

And before we huff over people who would overlook clear wrongdoing for the sake of their own religious agenda, just take a glance at the US these days.

I have not had much of an impression of Zahid. In fact if anything, I was somewhat sympathetic of a man who has inherited an impossible situation.

No longer. Here is a man who deliberately smeared a community powerless to fight back, who condemned a suffering people as under the curse of God, and blasphemed God, portraying Him as one who would simply lash out in anger and judgement to punish both the guilty and innocent; all this, it would seem to me, to push forward “race and religion” in his own defence.

Now he leaves behind such a bitter taste.

The Peace

Call: The peace of God be with you
Reply: And also with you
Together: Amen

In the midst of disquiet, the Spirit has led me to spend time on Philippians 4: 4-9.

Most of all, friends, always rejoice in the Lord! I never tire of saying it: Rejoice! Keep your gentle nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come. And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.

Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy. Keep to the script: whatever you learned and received and heard and saw in me—do it—and the God of peace will walk with you. (The Voice)

Joy, I think, is a step ahead of peace. It seems to me that you cannot have joy without first being at peace. And so while Paul clearly calls on us to rejoice, he took time to show us how to find peace.

I’m sure most of us are familiar with Paul’s advice. Don’t empower anxiety. Rather, take the time to empower peace. And you do this in faith: sharing with God everything on your heart and being thankful for what has come. (I did the first but neglected the second) And as this reality grows because you empower it, you will know the peace of God who is present.

And then you move further, away from the ugliness that has caused you to cry to God in the first place, to fill your minds with the beauty that envelopes his Person. And you then bring the God of peace with you wherever you go.

It brings to my mind this simple ritual of announcing peace to another.

Call: The peace of God be with you
Reply: And also with you
Together: Amen

To be honest I usually cringe when asked to do this in church. But that is because it has been an empty ritual to me.

But in these days of my disquiet, it is the Spirit who announced peace into my gloom.

And I realised I had been caught in a spiral of anxiety and dispair because I felt that this is the appropriate response to the circumstances.

Sometimes we have to dispense with many words and explanations and just announce peace to a fellow Christian. Because no words or explanations can make the situation better. Sometimes the situation is beyond our understanding. But peace is always necessary and lifts the situation. And we need to break through our rational searching and just receive that peace that is beyond human understanding.

So I reached out and texted my friend, “The peace of God be with you.” And he replied, “Thank you very much.”

The full ritual, of course, is for my friend to reply, “And also with you.”

And that would be a step further because it not only acknowledges my need as well, but it also accepts the truth of the first announcement.

Of course I’m not going to require my friend to respond accordingly. His response is good enough for me.

But perhaps the Church needs to help one another understand the ritual and practise it meaningfully and frequently, to bring peace into each other’s heart and mind. And to share not only each other’s pain and disquiet, but also the peace of God, and the God of peace, as we both say “Amen.”

The peace of God be with you.