Thursday, April 29, 2004

Let�s talk, PAS

Opinion (
James Wong Wing On
2:30pm Thu Apr 29th, 2004

It is often suggested quite rightly that PAS should hold more dialogues with non-Muslims in order to understand their hopes and fears, and also for non-Muslims to appreciate the positive aspects of the Islamic opposition which are often unreported or even distorted in the mainstream media.

This is certainly a good suggestion not only for the political and electoral benefit of PAS and the opposition in general, but also for the common good of this multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious nation.

For, like it or not, PAS cannot be wished or shouted away. The party is here to stay for a long time to come.

Contrary to popular perception, PAS which won only seven parliamentary seats in last month�s polls, did not suffer its worst defeat in its history. In 1986, it was reduced to only a single seat in Parliament and it fought back and improved itself in subsequent elections.

Indeed, if we go further back, PAS won Kelantan and Trengganu even in the 1960s and 70s, only to be overthrown by Umno either in elections or through the proclamation of �Emergency� like in Kelantan in 1978.

It nevertheless persevered within the bounds of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, and progressively transformed and reformed itself from being a mere �left-wing� of the ethno-nationalist Umno to an Islamic party that is multiethnic and committed to a non-racialist approach.

Vicious insinuation

So, to say that PAS is conservative and not open to changes is not true from a historical perspective. It is also politically vicious to insinuate or implicitly suggest that PAS may resort to armed struggle or terrorism after its setback in the 2004 polls.

However, what can legitimately be said about PAS is that its changes and reforms are always slow and limited, and at times, it appears overconfident to the point of being perceived as arrogant or threatening.

Seen in this light, it is good for PAS to talk more, especially with those of other faiths and not merely to its hardcore supporters.

The precondition for dialogues for PAS at present is even better than in the 80s and even 90s because there are now many bilingual or even trilingual party leaders and supporters who are professionals and intellectuals with backgrounds in liberal education and possess living and working experiences outside the Muslim heartland.

Non-Muslim Malaysians must be convinced, at least, that there is no compulsion in religion, that all religions and faiths are respected and appreciated, and also that the existing constitutional arrangements and penal codes are preserved and will be preserved, whether PAS is politically strong or weak.

Meanwhile, there must also be willingness on the part of non-Muslims to dialogue with PAS. They must not just listen to one side of the story about PAS put out by the mainstream media.

Surely, PAS leaders, even its religious scholars or ulamas, can accept honest and well-meaning feedback and alternative opinions that are delivered with universally accepted standards of courtesy and respect.

Do to others what we would like others to do to us, or do not do unto others what we would not like others to do unto us. This is the teaching of not only Jesus Christ but Confucius, Buddha and all great teachers of humanity and civilizations.

Universal rules

The fact that non-Muslims are in numerical minority is not a license for us to be ill-mannered, intellectually arrogant and emotionally abusive in public discourses and private dialogues. There are universal rules of engagement in public discourses and private dialogues that apply to both the majority and minority.

At the same time, PAS should also realise that, numerical minorities all over the world, like Muslims in Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Philippines, China, Australia or the United States usually have certain fears and anxieties, known or unknown to themselves, about the majorities.

Some of these fears and anxieties could be quite irritating and seen as irrational, but given time, patience and persistent, they can be assuaged. Patience and the willingness and readiness to listen to voices and noises alike are two hallmarks of leadership.

Of course, it is unreasonable to expect that, even with the most successful dialogues, Malaysians can do away with all religious distinction or what is often termed as �exclusiveness�.

There are always certain distinctions and �exclusiveness� in religious beliefs, cultures, languages and traditions which cannot be eliminated by anyone. Human beings being human beings are not computers or robots which can be programmed on one standard operating platform.

We should be proud of our respective elements of identity that are positive, healthy and peaceful, and respect those of others.

The point is to find enough inclusiveness and commonalities in diversity and plurality.


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