PAS Islamic state, where non-Muslims are reduced to second-class citizenship unable to take part in major policy decision-making process, incompatible with democracy and political pluralism

- DAP forum “911 – One Year After’
by Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur, Wednesday): UMNO Youth  Exco member, Affendi Zahari, the first speaker of the forum, said nothing has changed since the terrorist attacks of September 11 in New York and Washington last year. 

I do not agree. I  can just  give one change – before September 11 last year, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was persona non grata to  the White house unable even to get an invitation for tea and  a tete-a-tete with the US President but after September 11, Mahathir is quite comfortable in the White House and can even claim parentage for the US Patriot Act. 

It was exactly one year ago this time that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York was perpetrated, claiming over 3,000 innocent lives from over 81 countries, including Malaysia. 

Has the world become safer 12 months after September 11?  On the first anniversary of September 11, the United States government has gone on a high terrorist alert, raising from yellow, indicating an “elevated” risk to orange, showing a “high’ risk – the second highest of its five-stage alert. 

The US Vice President was gone into a secret hole and jets are patrolling the skies above New York and Washington with anti-aircraft missiles deployed around Washington. 

Having failed to catch Osama bin Laden, Bush is now going after Saddam Hussein. Instead of “draining the swamp to clear the mosquitoes”, Bush’s increasingly unilateralist actions in defiance of international opinion and international law will only result in the multiplication of “swamps” and more “mosquitoes”.  In going after Saddam Hussein, Bush will end up producing more Osama bin Ladens. 

Twelve months after September 11, the world has become a more dangerous and not a safer place, as the root causes of terrorism – political and economic despair and hopelessness – have not been addressed, and the Ground Zero in New York has now been joined by Ground Zero in Jenin in Palestine. 

September 11 has wrought profound political  changes world-wide, exploited by incumbent governments as justification for  an array of undemocratic and repressive laws and measures which would have been intolerable to their citizens before the terrorist attacks. 

Malaysia is no exception.  The September 11 terrorist attacks have stunted the possibilities of reform and democratization which were on the cards after the 1999 general elections. 

Before September 11 last year, demands and pressures by Malaysians for reform, democratization and good governance  were reaching a high point. The government was on the defensive on its arsenal of draconian laws. The Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was not so truculent in the defense of the Internal Security Act and the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim spoke of a review of the ISA, and even Suhakam stood up  against the Internal Security Act as violation of human rights and called for the immediate release of the  reformasi activists.  There were hopes that there would be far-reaching changes in the system of justice with greater respect for the just rule of law  with the surprise appointment of the new  head of the judiciary. 

But all these came to nought after September 11, with the government taking the offensive with high-handed and arbitrary governance, exploiting the people’s concerns about security and fears of terrorism and extremism –  which replaced  concerns about reform, democratization and good governance as their first order of priorities. 

This is reflected in the truculent speech of Mahathir at the recent Suhakam conference, declaring that there can never be absolute freedom  because such liberty will lead to anarchy – when no one had ever asked for “absolute freedom”; the revisionist stand of Suhakam on the ISA, conceding that the government should be left to decide whether security should precede human rights and the meaningless Federal Court judgment last Friday purportedly releasing Mohd Ezam, Tian Chua,  Saari Sungib and Hishammudin Rais from ISA detention. 

I have here the judgment of the Chief Justice, Tun Mohamad Dzaiddin Abdullah last Friday, where he declared in his conclusion: 

“Accordingly, I would allow these appeals and issue the writ of habeas corpus for the appellants to be set at liberty and be released.” 

But the reformasi four were never “set at liberty”, because of the ridiculous and unacceptable distinction that the Federal Court had quashed the police detention under Section 73 of the ISA, but not the Minister’s detention under Section 8 – when there is only one preventive detention and the Minister’s detention cannot stand when the earlier police detention is unlawful and tainted by mala fide. 

On Sunday, Mahathir decried the “arrogance of power” of the United States, but he failed to take the same medicine which he  prescribed to  the West – that the answer to the problems of the world “did not lie in confrontation, force or a war to end all wars, but in justice and fair play, sensitivity and a willingness to admit mistakes, and in banishing the idea that any one race had a monopoly of the right values, systems and solutions to all human ailments”. 

After September 11,  the “arrogance of power” of the Mahathir government in dealing with the problems of Malaysia, whether in his  unilateral “929”  declaration that Malaysia is an Islamic state, going against the 45-year 1957 Merdeka Constitution, the social contract and the 1963 Malaysia Agreement, or in the recent controversy over the use English to teach mathematics and science in primary schools from Std. One, have become even more palpable and forbidding. 

Yesterday, for instance,  the Education Minister Tan Sri Musa Mohamad gave a parliamentary reply to the DAP Secretary-General Kerk Kim Hock, citing four studies which he said supported the government’s policy to use English to teach mathematics and science in primary schools, when all these four studies are about the effects of bilingual education and the academic performance of ethnic and linguistic  minorities like Greeks and Spanish-speaking Mexicans trying to master English in the United States – which can have no bearing on the performance of  Malay students in national primary schools, where Bahasa Malaysia is the mainstream medium of instruction. 

If these four studies are to be quoted, it is in support of the preservation and development of mother-tongue education, whether Chinese or Tamil primary schools in multi-racial Malaysia and the  opposition to the use of English to teach mathematics and science from Std. One for national, Chinese and Tamil primary schools. 

But the “arrogance of power” of the Barisan Nasional government after September 11 have become so serious that no one seems to bother whether the government has got the right studies to back up new policy changes in education! 

The lesson to be drawn here is that there must be a full realization of the changed political perceptions and concerns of the people after September 11 if reform, democratization and good governance are to remain high on the people’s order of priorities, in particular in Year Two of post September 11 – when the next general election is likely to be held. 

The third  speaker, Professor Dr.  Syed Hussein Alattas said the traumatic September 11 events brought out the common bond and unity of humanity. 

Tonight’s forum is represented by  the Barisan Nasional, the Barisan Alternative and the DAP.  Whatever our political differences, there are areas of commonality for all political parties for the simple reason that we are all  Malaysians. The question is whether we can build on this commonality, while maintaining our differences. 

I would like to put forward the serious proposal that all political parties, whether Barisan Nasional, Barisan Alternative or the DAP,  should try to build on the commonality of democracy in Malaysia. 

Nobody wants “absolute freedom” but the time has come for a Royal Commission of Inquiry on Democracy, to arrest the undemocratic developments of the past few decades and achieve a national consensus on a roadmap and timeline on the the progressive democratization of all aspects of national life – as I do not believe there is any political party whether in government or opposition which could publicly oppose a programme of  democratization in Malaysia. 

The second speaker, Dr. Dzulkifli Ahmad, the head of PAS Research, urged understanding for  PAS aspirations to build a new polity and human civilization through Islam within the mechanics of democracy and Malaysia’s plural society. 

DAP fully supports the 45-year constitutional “social contract” that Islam is the official religion of multi-racial, multi-religious Malaysia and will continue to work with Islamic and other forces in the cause of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance. 

We do not see, however, how PAS Islamic state, where non-Muslims are reduced to second-class citizenship status unable to take part in major policy decision-making process, could be  compatible with democracy and political pluralism in Malaysia. 

In his  recent clarification of  media reports quoting him as saying  that non-Muslims would have  no part to play in policy-making in an Islamic State,  Acting PAS President, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang said he  saw no reason why a non-Muslim could not have a say in policy-making on general issues such as housing and transportation. 

Such a clarification in fact  confirmed  a second-class citizenship status for non-Muslims in the PAS Islamic state, which cannot be acceptable whether from democratic principles or in the light of Malaysia’s plural characteristics.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman