Monday, June 2, 2008

How Christians in Malaysia voted on 308

Taken from:

The Christians of Malaysia make up about 8-12% of the population with large congregations in Sabah and Sarawak as well as the urban centre’s along the west coast of the peninsula. They have always played a big role in Malaysia’s history, and the contributions of luminaries such as Peter Mojuntin and Teresa Kok to our public life cannot be discounted

This community, however, has lately felt increasingly as if it is under siege. The creeping pace of Islamisation in Malaysia has made many Christians feel like strangers in their own land. The Lina Joy case, the demonstrations outside an Ipoh Catholic church, the ‘body-snatching’ issue and the banning over Malay-language Bibles are just of a few incidents that have contributed to their unease.

While the Churches have attempted to remain neutral, as per the Bible’s dictum to - 'render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and render unto the Lord what is His', the decline of tolerance in Malaysia has politicised many of their parishioners. In the run-up to the polls many church leaders; angered by the pressure (sometimes verging on intimidation) placed on the community responded by calling for their congregations to vote for 'tolerant, transparent and moderate leaders' which in turn became a coded reference to the opposition.

"The youth, in particular the young leaders are more willing to defend the rights of their faith."
It would not be out of place therefore to speculate that the Umno/BN strategists failed to understand the extent to which their neglect of this generally apolitical community had forced them into the arms of the opposition. Their sectarian saber-rattling has proven counter-productive, as the results show. It has become passé to talk about how voters in Sabah and Sarawak ‘saved’ the Barisan, and it is highly likely that the Christian community there played a role in this.

The Opposition, on the other hand fully exploited the concerns of the Peninsula churches to maximum benefit. One cannot help but lavishly praise the political and socio-religious astuteness of Shah Alam MP Khalid Abdul Samad’s decision to visit a Catholic church in his constituency, the construction of which was stonewalled for decades under the previous state government, at that. The warmth of the standing ovation by which he was greeted is a clear sign that many Christians in the Peninsula had gone over to the Opposition. Who knows what could have happened had the same sentiments caught on in East Malaysia?

Some extremists have certainly gone to great lengths to make Malaysian Christians feel unwelcome. A cleric I encountered during the campaign trail once told me: 'We Malaysian Christians are living through a period not unlike the Reconquista in Spain, when the Catholics returned to take control of a once Muslim Iberian peninsula.'

That he could see parallels between contemporary Malaysia and the period of medieval Spanish history which saw the rise of the Inquisition is certainly disturbing. Another leader, Reverend Herman Shastri, General Secretary to the Council of Churches Malaysia declared: "Points of tension between the different religions have been taking place with more frequency. Part of this is due to the fact that information is more easily disseminated now, but it is also indicative that Malaysians are changing. The youth, in particular the young leaders are more willing to defend the rights of their faith".

All of these ought to be red flags for the Umno/BN leaders to modify their policy, but has somehow eluded their notice. The former, in particular stubbornly holds on to the sectarian rhetoric that has alienated racial and religious minorities in the countries so. This could cost the party more than it already has. Christian unhappiness towards the BN didn't take root in East Malaysia, but the sustained attacks by narrow-minded religious authorities on the half-a-million strong Sidang Injil Bonero Malay language evangelical church could easily change the equation, providing the opposition with a strong potential support base.

Despite this, the results of 8 March have done much to restore Christian confidence in the direction of the country. That some Christians, as in the case of Shah Alam and elsewhere, could throw their support behind the Malay-Muslim politicians of PAS and the PKR, and that the latter avidly appeal to them, augurs well for a more tolerant Malaysia.

Fears however, that a ‘backlash’ against the national minorities is coming simmers in the surface. Certainly, the calls of certain quarters to ‘defend Islam and ketuanan Melayu’ despite the obvious dominance of both has made other Malaysians more and not less nervous.
Such talk ignores the fact that a good many Malaysian Christians voted against Umno/BN not to throw their political weight around but as a wake-up call to the coalition to buck up. Many hope that the Barisan Nasional will respond in a positive fashion, and return to the multi-racial principles upon which it was founded on.

Despite this, it cannot be denied that the endless infractions, the nasty bureaucratic delays over churches and constant carping has made many Christians feel less Malaysian and less at home. Whilst 8 March had demonstrated the power of their vote the sense of being a people set apart remained deeply embedded. (By KARIM RAZLAN/ MySinchew, 1 June 2008)

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