The secular boogeyman
Whenever insecurities and anxiety are felt deep within the fibres of our society, factions from the far right of the political spectrum will often use fear mongering to suppress any sort of dissent. Although, by now, Malaysians have grown too familiar with religious rhetoric, the intensity we feel today is indeed worrying. The rise of unwavering conservatism is far more intense and prevalent.
Post GE15, sees a more divided nation. Lines drawn are more obvious than before and we find ourselves in a battle between the moderates and the extremists. Opposition lawmakers have released a variety of statements aimed to attack our democratic institution by casting doubt over the validity of the Pakatan Harapan led unity government. Thus, reignited the controversial discussion of inclusion and secularism and all the hypothetical evils that come with it.
In a recent interview, Machang MP, Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal defended his party’s stance on religious hegemony by reiterating how secularism can never be accepted in a Malay Muslim nation. Sentiments like his are often echoed and repeated to keep society in a constant loop of misinformation.
Secularism is an ideology that states religion should not be involved with the ordinary social and political activities of a country, it is not an opposition to religion but rather to avoid faith-based ideas, superstition, and religious interventions to form any influence on governance.
Many from the far right would build this simple narrative: secularism will see a society headed for destruction and decay, where crime and social ills will skyrocket. This sort of massive oversimplification over some very complex matters can be damaging. The general well-being of a society is reinforced by good governance through solid economic strategies and policies, political reforms, cultural diversity, inclusion and respecting our differences.
If our battle cry for GE15 was to save Malaysia, then post GE15 battle cries must be ones deeply rooted in preserving our moderate middle ground and protecting Malaysia from the overzealous bigots who are bent on restricting our rights and values.
Keeping Malaysia moderate is the discourse every Malaysian should be having. We need to understand that extremism must never be the foundation of public policies and our rights as citizens will be better protected when we are able to curtail bigotry from our institutions. Science has proven that people with racist attitudes hardly mingle with those outside their social circle, thus, limiting their cultural exposure, which then augments our differences in a way that can manifest social paranoia to destructive levels. Therefore, when you include opportunistic political leaders and organisations who continuously exploit these insecurities – this is a recipe for disaster. After all, ‘nothing is more likely to destroy a species or a nation than a determination to survive at all costs’ and this quote aptly describes the far right’s current mindset and motivation.
This piece is not about promoting secularism but to help others understand the basics and how certain factions would only want to further distort this perception to their own political advantage.
The narrative for rebuilding our nation should be based on facts, science, and reason. As our nation comes to terms with the ideals of mature politics and a broad coalition consisting of members of rival parliamentary group; logic, prudence and empathy must always stand on the forefront of any policy and decision making. These are the elements needed to formulate better strategies and guidelines to improve our nation’s social conditions. When extremism is legitimised, it makes it very difficult for a nation to unite; and when bigotry is institutionalised, our nation can never heal the way it needs to.
SYERLEENA ABDUL RASHID
MP BUKIT BENDERA
ADUN SERI DELIMA