– Julian Tan
The Malaysian Insider
January 07, 2014
When it hit international news that “Malaysian Islamic authorities seized more than 300 Bibles from a Christian group in a raid last Thursday”, I found myself pegged at the centre of my lunchtime discussions with Cambridge colleagues from around the world.
“What’s happening in Malaysia?” inquired my Bengali friend, her eyebrows scrunched together in bemused curiosity.
I had just managed to peel open the plastic lid of some leftover pasta when I realised that all eyes were on me to explain the sad religious altercation that had transpired in my country – a country that spoke of moderation and unity, but in recent years, with almost meaningless banality.
“I… I don’t know,” I muttered under a debilitated sigh.
The truth was that I was tongue-tied, speechless about the raid.
The whole dispute seemed so ludicrous and absurd to the point that it felt surreal.
How was I to explain to friends from such progressive nations like the United States and Hong Kong that in my own country, there were laws to ensure that some words were property to only certain groups and using them, if not part of those groups, was illegal?
Would they even believe me if I told them that the raid and seizure of Bibles were because Christians in my country were not allowed to use the word ‘Allah’ as this was feared to cause conversions from within the Muslim community?
As a Malaysian who has been in Britain for the past six years for higher education, I, like many other Malaysians living overseas have had the painfully frustrating ordeal of witnessing the socio-political travesties that have developed in recent years back home.
Because it seems like every time Malaysia manages to headline CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera, it is for reasons that necessitate justification and rationalization on our part for our country when talking about these issues to our international friends.
This latest development in the increasingly tense relationship between Muslims and Christians in Malaysia has left me floored.
Why is it that in twenty fourteen, the age we all thought we would be traveling to work in flying cars, my countrymen are arguing over the use of a word?
Cost of living is proving too difficult to sustain with current wages, crime remains a pressing issue and corruption an even bigger one – surely there are far more important things to worry about than protecting the irrational sensitivities of a group because of a single word?
And why hasn’t the prime minister broken his eloquent silence on this never-ending slew of gross violations against the minorities of the country?
He was elected to be prime minister for all. And with Malaysia at risk of a collapse of interfaith ties, these are surely important times, especially for a country where diversity is fundamental to its very identity.
It is frustrating because as someone from the outside looking in, you realize that too many bigots have been allowed to assume power over some of the country’s biggest decisions. As if that isn’t bad enough, the ignorant in power are unapologetically so.
It is frustrating because you want so much more for your country than a society that is so entitled and narcissistic that anything and everything has become offensive – it is as if everyone has stopped thinking altogether.
It is frustrating because it seems like the voices of the educated are so thoroughly drowned out by the uneducated, so much so that it has become socially acceptable to oppress minorities just to fill vacuous, inflated egos.
On behalf of most Malaysians who have watched the way this “Allah debacle” unfold so far, I just want to say that we are all exasperated, exhausted and quite frankly fed up with this recurrent absurdity that is plaguing our nation.
For once, could Malaysians abroad have news on our home country to boast about at our lunchtime discussions? Maybe then, more people like me would want to return to contribute to its growth after university or working abroad, and brain drain would perhaps then solve itself as well. – The Huffington Post, January 7, 2014.
* Julian Tan is a PhD student at Cambridge University.