Government wading into dangerous precedent

Updated on 7-Jan

The recent ruling allowing the Catholic Herald to use the term “Allah” in their BM publication has started a flurry of emotional reactions.  Marina Mahathir called them “knee jerk reactions” and that’s probably what they are.

With all the rest of the component parties in BN reacting with a deafening silence, it appears that only Umno is running this action to prohibit the use of the term by the Herald.

Yesterday (6-Jan), the Home Ministry says they “will allow a public demonstration against the “Allah” ruling, planned by Muslim groups this Friday at the Kampung Baru mosque here, to proceed and will only take action if “things get out of hand.” ” (read here).

Today (7-Jan), Najib our beloved Prime Minister says “that Muslims are free to protest and express their views against a court decision allowing the Catholic weekly Herald to use  “Allah” as God’s name.” (read here).

Imagine the surprise of the public when this article was published.  It appears that the Home Ministry feels that public gatherings like a candlelight vigil is more dangerous than this public demonstration by Muslim groups.  The public is still watching the outcome of the cow head stomping case where the authorities did not take any action until much later and after public outcry forced them to do so.

One wonders on what criteria is the approval given and if there will be water canons awaiting this group of people?

This decision by the Home Ministry and the reasons given by the Home Minister appears to be justifying a green light decision rather than his previous outright denial of applications.  Well, maybe the previous denials of applications were made by the police and not the Home Minister.  So, then why is the Home Minister involved in approving this planned demonstration?

Updated: Today (7-Jan), the IGP has “warned the groups planning to stage protest rallies against the use of the word “Allah” to cancel their plans or face action.” (read here).  Strangely, we have the Home Minister and Prime Minister on a collision course with the IGP.

Such actions will cause the government to wade into a dangerous precedent that will cause them to waffle in their decisions yet again, especially in future public demonstrations that are sure to be planned.

The Home Ministry must make very sure and clear how and why they are making these approvals and be fair and justifiable into the future for all parties.  This is a clear precedent in the making and the future applications will fall on this one for reference.

For example, will they give the same approval if the Catholic church organizes the same public demonstration in support of the ruling?  Very tricky and dangerous precedent indeed.  As innocent candlelight vigils are forbidden, why would this be allowed?  But the Home Ministry works in mysterious ways it seems.

Finally, will the Home Ministry be updating the publication license condition that all licensed publications cannot use the term “Allah” unless certain criteria is met?  So, newspapers, magazines and publications like the Herald must adhere to the licensing conditions and these must not be arbitrarily set.  This condition is not effective to non-licensed media like online news and blogs, much to the dismay of the government.

Public commentators must realize that the court ruling is with reference to using the term in the licensed publication and does not apply to other situational usage.  The arguments and opposition put forth thus far has crossed this boundary, way beyond so as to indicate an absolute ban of use for non-Muslims.  They have set up a strawman instead of taking the ruling issue specifically.  As a result, the sentiments have enlarged all the way to the general right of use for this particular word.  And if this be the case, there will be other words that will be raised in the future that nobody else can use except certain groups of people in the country.

At the present moment, the situation has appeared to be emotional charged because the government is pitted against a hapless Catholic publication.  Not only that, the government or Umno in this case, is pitting this as a religious sensitivity and by allowing the public demonstration appears to show that the Home Ministry and the government is biased.

The entire episode is not just a legal issue but has become a political one as well.  Politicians are commenting on this to gain air time and to be seen fighting for religious rights.  Umno is seen to be against the PKR and PAS with DAP’s support.  MCA, Gerakan and MIC leaders have been inconspicuously missing this commentary.

One good thing has come out of this though.  Perhaps there is more tolerance for differences of views and opinions and people can express them more publicly and freely than before.  However, all this can change and go back to the dark ages if the maturity and tolerance of differences take a turn for the worse with sentiments and emotions stroked the wrong way.

Cherish this freedom for now and pray that the maturity and tolerance nature of Malaysians will prevail.

After all, Malaysia Boleh!  And March 2008 showed this side of Malaysians.


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