LTE: Global Movement of Moderates – Crucial questions for Malaysia

Sisters in Islam (SIS) welcomes Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak’s initiative to launch the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMM) in January 2012. Najib’s proposal is crucial in light of some worrying trends especially in Malaysia.

In his 13 Nov 2011 speech at Honolulu, Najib said, “It’s time for us, the majority who are peace-loving and moderate to reclaim our rightful place in the centre…we cannot afford to stand by and remain silent in the face of extremism and violence.” SIS cannot agree more with this statement. Rising threats and violence, including on religious grounds, should not become the norm among Malaysia’s diverse population. But sadly, recent incidents have shown the ugly face of intolerance and violent threats by certain quarters, including non-state organisations, major political parties and the police. These include increased threats to human rights defenders, freedom of religion and minorities.

1.      Increasing threats towards human rights defenders
Malaysian human rights defenders are increasingly targeted by both state and non-state actors. For example, lawyer Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan was threatened with rape and murder by several non-state actors, and labeled an enemy of Islam in the government-owned media. Some have even called for her Malaysian citizenship to be revoked. All because she chose to lead Bersih 2.0’s calls for electoral reform, and for choosing to launch Seksualiti Merdeka in Nov 2011, a festival about gender and sexual diversity in Malaysia. A nation that aspires to lead others on “moderate” values needs to be able to address these problems in its midst first.

2.      Increasing threats towards freedom of religion
We are also alarmed at the increasing hostility towards religious minorities in Malaysia. For example, while we support Himpun‘s freedom of expression and assembly, we are alarmed by their calls for an Anti-Apostasy Act. The call for this Act is set within a highly-charged environment. For example, when Lina Joy sought to remove the word “Islam” from her identity card, both she and her lawyers were subjected to death threats by non-state actors. The government has yet to resolve these highly charged sentiments and laws regarding apostasy. A nation that aspires to “moderate” religious values also needs to address freedom of religion in constructive and compassionate ways.

3.      Increasing threats towards minority groups
We are also seeing increasing violence and threats towards minorities of different descriptions. For example, there are documented cases of violence towards Muslim transsexuals in Negeri Sembilan, perpetrated by state Islamic enforcers. There are also longstanding threats against so-called “deviant” Islamic groups, such as the Ahmadiyah in Selangor, also by state Islamic authorities. A “moderate” nation also needs to be able to cope with various minorities, even if they are despised by the self-proclaimed majority.

Thus, we call on the Prime Minister to consider these concerns in his vision for the GMM. We hope he consults with numerous groups, especially victims of extremist violence, in helping to shape this cause. Finally, the Prime Minister should ensure that our fundamental rights and liberties as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and our Federal Constitution are safeguarded and upheld.

Sisters in Islam
17 November 2011
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