Church leaders take one step forward, two steps back

By Terence Netto
May 14, 11 | MalaysiaKini

COMMENT “Two steps forward, one step backward’ was a staple of communist strategy where cagey negotiators make two hard-to-meet demands and then retract one to show they are flexible and reasonable.

Christian church leaders who met Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday over reports in Utusan Malaysia of an alleged Christian plot to dethrone Islam as the country’s official religion, were inveigled into a reversal of this negotiating strategy: they took two steps backward and as a sop, were conceded one step forward.

‘Backward’ here is not intended as a description of the nature of the two assurances they gave the PM – that they will respect the status of Islam as the official religion and they will continue to cooperate in fostering interreligious harmony in the country.

Instead, the word is used to describe the concessions Church leaders had to make when there was no substantive reason to suspect them of disrespecting Islam’s special status and being only dubiously for interreligious concord.

In return for the two steps backwards, Church leaders, upset over rabble rousing reports in Utusan, had the meager satisfaction of knowing that the Home Ministry had reprimanded the paper’s editor for irresponsible reporting. Ditto, one step forward for the Church leaders.

Barely had they time to savour this measly gain than Perkasa’s Ibrahim Ali pops up to tell them that as an earnest of their unwavering respect for Islam’s special status, Church leaders should drop their insistence on the use of the term ‘Allah’ and on the dissemination of the Malay Bible, Al-Kitab.

Sure, Perkasa is not Umno, though it is widely suspected of being its proxy, and Ibrahim is not Najib, though the latter is unable to repudiate the rabid right-winger if only to convincingly demonstrate what the PM means by his slogan ‘1Malaysia’.

Unsuspecting Church leaders now find themselves boxed in simply from having conceded two assurances when there were no substantive grounds to suspect their deportment on both counts.

A convoluted situation

Their ‘two steps backward, one step forward’ predicament has now opened the way for pressure to be brought to bear where they may well have to retreat further simply as demonstration of the sincerity of their avowals.

It’s a convoluted situation: it is implied that you have been found wanting on two counts; you are asked to give two undertakings on which your deportment has been attacked before but never proven to be false; whereupon you are meagerly conceded a point; after which you asked to concede on two other points which have always been yours by constitutional right.

It’s a fine mess that Church leaders find themselves in. But they can opt for the final simplicity of excessive complication.

All they have to do is lever the evolving two-coalition system to their advantage. This they can accomplish by meeting up with the leadership council of Pakatan Rakyat. It would help they don’t impose any pre-conditions, such as no pictures are taken or no press conference is held afterwards.

Church leaders already know Pakatan has no problem with Christians using the term ‘Allah’ for God. Likewise Pakatan has no anxiety over Christians importing or disseminating the Al-Kitab amongst Malaysians except Muslims.

Church leaders can easily obtain Pakatan’s reaffirmations on the two scores. They need not give Pakatan any assurances that they would continue to be unswervingly for interreligious harmony because Pakatan has not suspected them of being otherwise.

In fact, one Pakatan leader, the deposed Perak menteri besar, Nizar Jamaluddin, has been on record as embracing Christians as fellow legatees of the Abrahamic dispensation when he hosted an open house during Christmas celebrations in Ipoh in 2008, the first time such an open house was hosted by a state chief minister.

In sum, there’s every reason for Church leaders to shed the clamps of their present tangled situation by discussing things with the Pakatan leadership.

Should they approach in the spirit of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, “Come, come let us reason together,” they are likely to find in Pakatan an interlocutor with a rather more inclusive vision of patriarch Abraham’s progeny.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them. It is the ideal occupation for a temperament that finds power fascinating and its exercise abhorrent.

  1. #1 by Jeffrey on Saturday, 14 May 2011 - 12:38 pm

    To give two assurances to placate a situation that was not created by them in the first place is to give an impression that they might have been guilty of it somewhat…and it vests the PM with credit to have made them concede to give the assurances…. They are outwitted.

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Saturday, 14 May 2011 - 12:42 pm

    We now have news that 8 pastors have been quizzed by the police after Najib had a meeting with Church leaders and Hishamuddin still insisting there was ‘some basis’ for Utusan report. Yet Bigdog and Utusan investigation is limited to a meet between the editor and a letter of warning.

    How is it Najib have a meeting with the Church leader and yet, clearly they are emphasising the wrong side in the ‘investigation’. You have to ask, is there determined sinister attempt to provoke the community, to provide Najib and UMNO/BN with an excuse for drastic action i.e., ops lalang.

    Do not be surprise by more provocation. They have completely gone mad with politicking. Utterly senseless.

  3. #3 by DAP man on Saturday, 14 May 2011 - 12:42 pm

    Remember what UMNO did to Tengku Razaleigh on the eve of the 1990 GE. They even made him a ‘christian’ and frightened the gullible Malays.

    Utusan will paint the whole country red that Christians are colluding with Pakatan to make this country into a Christian nation.

    I would suggest each and every single pastor to urge his faithful to vote for the Opposition.
    Agreed, the church does not involve in partisan politics but its can present its case by holding a dove in one hand and a snake in the other.
    Now which will you chose?
    Should Christians vote for BN and allow themselves to be oppressed?

  4. #4 by vsp on Saturday, 14 May 2011 - 8:47 pm

    The church leaders, being led to account for the mischief of Utusan, is like a rape victim being led to account for the crime of a rapist. She is indirectly being blamed for the rape by pledging not to wear sexy clothes, not to use makeup, not to shake her buttocks while walking and not to walk in the street alone. In other words, the victim is being blamed for the crime that she does not commit.

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