©The Sun (Used by permission)
By Jacqueline Ann Surin
Dear Prime Minister Abdullah, When you first came into power after the 2004 general election, you promised us that you would be prime minister for all Malaysians.
In fact, I still have the letter you sent out to voters before the elections that promised you would fulfill your duties with sincerity, integrity, efficiency and fairness.
It was a letter that moved people, including staunch Opposition supporters.
There was hope that a new leadership which was more conciliatory, more willing to listen to differing views and more just was in store for the country.
And people invested in that hope by voting the Barisan Nasional back into power with a clear majority.
But recent events, including your administration's reactions to these events, have been deeply troubling.
The most recent has been the disruption of a peaceful and legitimate public forum in Penang organised by a group of non–governmental organisations that wanted to help people reclaim their rights under the Federal Constitution.
It was unfortunate, but really no longer inconceivable, that those who opposed such a civil discussion should frame their opposition in ways that incite hostility, threaten violence and make false accusations in the name of Islam, a religion that in fact promotes peace and justice.
What is actually more troubling is that as prime minister, you have also publicly announced that these issues of Constitutional rights are "sensitive" and the organisers of such events must be careful not to tread on "dangerous ground", lest the government has to use the Sedition Act against them.
Why would you lend legitimacy to the argument that Malaysians should steer clear of discussing issues which affect us all as citizens, whether Muslim or non–Muslim?
By continuously telling Malaysians these issues are "sensitive" and "dangerous", isn't your administration really creating a self–fulfilling prophecy? Aren't you in fact supporting the argument that these issues should not be discussed?
Additionally, Malaysians have been reminded by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz that it's not for no reason that the word "amok" comes from the Malay community.
Non–Muslims – and that easily translates to non–Malays in this country – are told we cannot speak out about the way Islam is used to formulate laws and public policies in this country even though they affect all of us.
We are told that not just the Sedition Act can be used, so can the Internal Security Act which allows for detention without trial.
In fact, I found it deeply paradoxical that Nazri could repeat the threat of the ISA at an international meeting of experts on Islam and human rights last month.
How can an unjust law be Islamic? We know it cannot, and yet, it would seem your administration is wielding it as a way to silence citizens in a democracy.
The way I see it, naming something "sensitive" and "dangerous" is just a disingenuous way of saying, "This is not open for dialogue and discussion. We might tolerate your views but only to a certain extent."
What that extent is, is left to be seen. We hope your election promises will be kept for all Malaysians, but really, many of us are more fearful than reassured.
From a non–Muslim perspective, the events leading up to the need for public discussions such as the Article 11 forum in Penang, have been disconcerting and troubling.
The painful injustice suffered by S. Shamala who found that her estranged husband could unilaterally convert their children to Islam, and the widow of M. Moorthy who discovered she could not bury her husband according to Hindu rights, are real and frightening.
But those instances of injustice are not being framed as "sensitive" by non–Muslims. They are not being used to threaten violence or incite hostility in order to silence discussion of the issues at hand.
Additionally, when you upheld the decision for the tudung to be used in police parades, did you consider how it would make non–Muslims feel? How can it still be a surprise then that most non–Malays will not join the police force?
Really, I don't need to be a Muslim or a Malay to have a stake in this country. But even that might be delegitimised because in more ways than one, I'm a minority.
And I'm constantly reminded that my views and concerns must give way to the privileges and rights of the dominant race, and a specific interpretation of the faith they profess.
But really what I want to ask you is this: Why do I have to constantly feel afraid in my own country? Why am I continuously told I have less rights to discuss important issues affecting my community?
You promised to be prime minister for all Malaysians. We hope you will remember that promise.
A Malaysian citizen.
Jacqueline Ann Surin believes that you cannot be neutral on a moving train. She is an assistant news editor at theSun.