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Catholic newspapers embattled in Malaysia

In Asia, Catholicism, Christianity, Church, Faith, Government, Islam, Malaysia, News, Politics, Religion, Thoughts, Values on August 14, 2008 at 00:16

It often starts with a drive against political and religious minorities; it nearly always ends with heavier chains on all the People…

I was surfing about for news on Christians in other countries when I read a report on The Star Online (here) that a Malaysian Catholic newsletter,  the Herald, was being threatened with revocation of license for publishing an editorial on a coming election.  Its editor protested that the Malaysian Home Ministry had not read the editorial–for he had only asked people to pray for honest elections–but the Home Ministry was adamant, for The Herald had dared to publish articles dealing with politics.  Now, says anilnetto.com, another paper, Catholic Asian News, has received the same warning for the same “offense”: writing about politics.

At first, I though this was part of the worldwide assault on Christian values and institutions, but further reading told me that this was not the case, the Malaysian situation being light years away from, for instance, the strange Canadian persecution of Christianity (see Lifesite for an example). Instead–but please correct me, Dear Reader, if I’m wrong, as I’m just an overseas observer–, I think there are 2 other ways to interpret the situation.

First, it may simply be an attempt to curry favor with strict Muslims given upcoming polls.  This might be plausible given the controversies surrounding the Herald, particularly its attempt to use the Arabic word ‘Allah’ for ‘God’ (blessed be His Name), but I still have my doubts.

To begin with, I find it hard to credit the Malaysian authorities with any form of  State “extremism”  or “fundamentalism” (to use the ill-used terminology of Western media) beyond what is strictly enjoined by the Qu’ran and Hadiths.  Muslim Malaysians adhere to the relatively unrigorist Southeast Asian schools of Sunni Islam; and in any case, (though Christians may not know this) many Muslim countries, including Malaysia, have accorded Christians a good degree of fairness and security. They were many times deprived of full equality, but those rights of Christians that were recognized were religiously enforced.

At most, therefore, the emerging policy could me merely an opportunistic  attempt to attract the Islamic vote, in which case it could backfire:  For it  is my belief that Southeast Asian Muslims, whether or not they advocate State enforcement of shariah, are generally not followers of al-Wahhab, and will likely look askance at an attempt to suddenly adopt a rigorist policy against non-Muslims.

The second and, I think, more likely interpretation is that the threats are simply a lashing out at a vulnerable minority by an increasingly paranoid State that, for instance, recently re-arrested then quickly re-released  former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim for obviously ill-conceived reasons.  This seems conceivable in light of the situation of Malaysian politics, which has been in flux since the (nominal) departure of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of the nationalist UMNO.

To be sure, the policy seems irrational because, as Mustafa K. Anuar rightly points out, all religions call for right acts and, therefore, personal and social justice, but maybe that’s the real problem. Put in social justice into the equation, and you would have a clear clash between its State-sponsored and Religion-supported visions; the monopoly of power of a State and its ruling party/faction would be challenged by a factor more ideological, and hence more dangerous, than mere pragmatic politics.  In such a case, unless they’re made up of fair-minded people like Konrad Adenauer, the State and its ruling party/faction will be sorely tempted to use its coercive power to remove the challengers from the field and force them to become nicely Liberal irrelevancies that vote politely at elections and don’t ask questions in between.

From a Christian viewpoint, the fact that Catholic papers are targeted may seem doubly unfair, but it is an injustice that, sadly, authentic Christians should expect.  For one, we are a minority; and more, some form of persecution should be expected even in nominally Christian nations. Quite simply, the one true Church stands as one of the great (and annoyingly visible) barriers to the Hegelian apotheosis of the omnicompetent Total State and its ruling party/faction: Her faith in an authority above, and not represented by, the State; her transnational organization manned by  well-educated clergy; her willingness to oppose even governments in the name of faith and morals–all these make her an alternate power base that invites repression.  Tito’s Yugoslavia, Diocletian’s Rome, Bismarck’s Germany all persecuted her for this reason; and in a fluctuating political environment with populations to mobilize, the Church is simply too tempting a target.

Hence, Malaysians in general, and Malaysian Christians in particular, may be justified in fighting the threatened sanctions if they are, as I fear they may be, part of an irrationally conceived but all-too-usual bid for more party or social power.  It often starts with a drive against political and religious minorities; it nearly always ends with heavier chains on all the People; and it it is my firm belief that no country,  particularly a nation of our fellow Malays, deserves to be thus victimized by arbitrary acts of misgovernment. However, if I am wrong, I would heartily welcome due correction.

May God in His justice and mercy bless us all.

  1. […] Catholic newspapers embattled in MalaysiaI was surfing about for news on Christians in other countries when I read a report on The Star Online (here) that a Malaysian Catholic newsletter, the Herald, was being threatened with revocation of license for publishing an editorial … […]

  2. Dear sir,
    It is not only the catholic church that has problems in Malaysia, Recently a shipment of religious books (in Bahasa Melayu) to a Christian church int he east Malaysia too was confiscated due to the Word Allah which the Malaysian authorities deem only for the MUSLIM God. They think in term of My God nad Your God but they forget their religion the same as Christianity belies there is Only One God!

    Recently the Forum on Conversion to Islam organized by the Bar Council of Malaysia to talk about the issues when one member of the family converts to Islam and how it affects the lives of the whole family members was abruptly cut short due to Demonstrations and storming of the forum.

    I know though not all Malays Muslims feel the way the hooligans acted during the demonstration yet it is so very sad to know that you are the minority and even though in your constitution it states the freedom to worship and the freedom of speech but it is not upheld due the conflicting law on sensitive issues and the stated official religion of Islam of this Country.

    read more here http://us2.malaysia-today.net/2008/
    and here
    http://www.othermalaysia.org/
    both sites are by Muslim men in Malaysia

  3. To Valerie: Thank you very much for the clarification. From your comment it appears that I may have over-estimated the degree to which Christians can expect equitable treatment in Malaysia, but I dearly hope that this is not yet an endemic problem.

    BTW, I intend to republish your reply as a separate post as soon as I may. When I do so, and you wish to take it down, please just tell me and I’ll comply; but I do want others to hear your side of the story.

    God bless you.

  4. The news is disconcerting… Well, a lot of events these days really are disconcerting (and even worse!)… And it’s been a while since I’ve visited blogs… So to cut the story short, I’d like to notify a change of addresses. The old postcard.. link no longer works. I hope you can have it replaced with this one – http://karlomongaya.wordpress.com. Thanks!

  5. To karlo: Welcome back, and it’s great to hear from you! I’ll update the links as soon as I may…

    And yes, a lot of stuff nowadays is downright distressing; but I get hope from the fact that people still try to keep the flame burning…

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