So in the aftermath of the church bombings in Malaysia everyone is talking about love and forgiveness and turning the other cheek. This is great, and is reflective of a more politically sophisticated and mature Malaysia. Syabas, rakyat Malaysia.
But at the same time it is important to hold accountable those responsible for this shameful and ridiculous behaviour. We have, staring at us, a problem that needs to be fixed.
So I am going to say what everybody has been thinking but nobody has said.
The first thing I said to my mother when news of the bombings got out was that this is all her fault.
Her fault, and the fault of the thousands of uncles and aunties in churches who praise the Lord in our churches and sing hallelujah but willfully ignored the antics of a regime whose very pillars are ethnic and religious superiority. Her fault for voting for a coalition that runs on racism and perpetuates these destructive supremacist ideologies for political survival. The church’s fault for closing both eyes to a government bent on appeasing its home-grown, depraved, and self-righteous voices, even to the extent of violating the constitutional rights of its citizens. The church’s collective fault for selling out the future of its sons and daughters for short-term, tentative, and impermanent peace of mind.
But it is unfair to blame us, said my mom, for we did not see the signs.
Oh the church saw the signs, for there were many — the church just saw fit to ignore them. It put its trust in man. Surely the many Christian cabinet members will take care of the situation — like when they persuaded Abdullah Badawi to lift the ban on Iban “Allah Taala” bibles. Jehovah jireh, for God will provide representation in Parliament for the Christian voice. Let the Christian politicians take care of it, because good sense will always prevail in the end. And render to God what is God’s, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Don’t think about such matters — let us shop and pray and do business. But at the very back of our minds we all knew that these were just ad hoc, superficial, Band-aid solutions to mere symptoms of a deeper, chronic disease. And we all knew that at the stroke of a pen by a madman, our delusions of harmony and religious tolerance would come crashing down.
Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.
Because the church knew that the system was rotten. Because UMNO’s hegemony meant that it could willfully override the concerns and sensitivities of everyone else, and its arrogant, self-perpetuated, supremacist rhetoric meant that it someday would. Because UMNO’s longevity depended on how well it could co-opt the minorities into thinking that they had a voice in policy-making while indoctrinating its political base into thinking that it was under constant siege by hostile and increasingly assertive minorities. Because the church knew that this was unsustainable: someday the situation was going to blow up in its face — but then decided to keep its mouth shut and let the Christian politicians handle it.
And blow up it did. The church, complicit, had sown the seeds of the bombings with its own apathy. The cow-head protests and church bombings — and the perennial, inflamed, machinated escalations from politicians, “NGOs,” and the mainstream media — these are the true face of UMNO and its teachings.
Finally — and what a hideous, despicable, yong-sui face at that.
And where are our Christian politicians? Where are Pairin and Ongkili? All we hear is Dompok’s meek voice amidst the massive show of strength from the pantang dicabars. Is there no one to articulate a more inclusive, pluralistic, mutually respectful, and equal Malaysia for all? Have not our Christian politicians categorically failed us? The lack of vision, leadership, and courage stinks to high heaven.
Juxtapose the inelegant silence from our Christian political “voices” with (an albeit divided) PAS, which, along with Pakatan, proposes that Malaysia move away from a narrow interpretation of ethnic identity to a Malaysia based on universal values like justice, freedom, democracy, and equality — and which maintains the rights of non-Muslims to use Allah with some caveats. Christian concerns need not be articulated by Christian politicians after all. Juxtapose UMNO’s delusional ravings with the dignified Malaysian response to the bombings — on twitter, in the blogosphere, and all over cyberspace — perhaps nation building did happen after all, in spite of UMNO.
So as flippant as this sounds, maybe we needed this to shake the consciences of our aunties and uncles, previously content to see no evil and hear no evil. UMNO has built its victories on hate, fear, and our apathy. Sooner or later, this is what the church gets when it votes for an unjust regime that systematically perpetuates chauvinism.
So vote wisely. My mother did — the church mostly did — in 2008. Vote not for political parties or pacts or for co-religionists and “representation,” but for voices that best articulate the vision for a progressive, open, inclusive, egalitarian, and just Malaysia. The signs are clear — the system is rotten — and it is high time for real, structural, fundamental change.
Do not fail us again.
This article was published in the Malaysian Insider.