On Pointe - A citizen’s right to question bill

THE expediting of a private member's bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 in Parliament last week has ignited a debate. While there are different dimensions to the bill, three observations are of concern.

The first is the immediate silencing of one half of the population with regard to commenting on the bill. Non-Muslims have been told on numerous platforms that this bill is of no concern to them.

As a Malaysian, I disagree. As a citizen, I have the right to know, I have the right to have an opinion and I have the right to question. It gets tiring to have to repeatedly say this is my country too.

Every few months we go through this rollercoaster of emotions when hudud is raised and every time a line is drawn between "us" and "them". But no one tries to understand why the "others" are gravely concerned.

When are people going to realise that they cannot stop others from thinking, questioning, debating and having opinions? We cannot keep cherry picking what citizenship affords.

Instead of silencing genuine concern, why not educate people as to what is being proposed and find out what the concerns are and then address those concerns.

The second observation is the lack of knowledge about what is being proposed. In the past politicians who are proponents of hudud have used Nigeria as a successful example. This itself shows a blatant naivety as to what is happening in Nigeria and a grave miscalculation of reality.

Perhaps Nigeria is not the best country to emulate when it comes to religious harmony.

Then there is other worrying news like that of a 60-year-old non-Muslim woman in Aceh who was whipped nearly 30 times last month for selling alcohol.

While politicians in Malaysia continue to state that hudud does not affect non-Muslims, the images of weeping mothers battling the courts over custody of their children remain strongly etched in our minds.

While hudud punishments and syariah are different, to the non-Muslim, who has watched the politicians and courts drag religious bodies through multiple legal battles over permissible use of language, the fear that hudud punishment like syariah law will sooner or later affect the non-Muslims is very real.

This is simply because it has happened multiple times. Add to that the waning confidence in a just legal system or institutional structures for proper recourse.

The third observation is the manner in which the bill was reintroduced or rather how it cut the queue and then was almost immediately requested to be postponed to the October meeting by the very person who proposed the bill in the first place.

One has to question the sincerity of this drama. Instantly what transpired is a long list of politicians who have threatened to resign, and a back and forth between that same line of "us" versus "them".

Why was this particular bill expedited? What is the political motive behind this? Maybe I'm being cynical but while this issue has taken over our headlines, what other news is being neglected?

It is unnerving when such serious bills are allowed to cut queue knowing full well the mess it creates. All these observations make many uneasy, because the very people who are making the laws, do not seem to play by the rules.

Malaysia is still a multi-religious, multiethnic country with a Federal Constitution. While the right to religious freedoms is enshrined, we cannot pretend that everyone in Malaysia is accorded that right equally.

Instead of allowing for this to divide us further, why not start having conversations about the concerns in an educated and mature fashion. Acknowledging that there are contradictions and that as Malaysians we all have a right to know, to question and to have an option.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com