One hundred and twenty-one civil society movements today issued a joint statement condemning the arson attack on three churches in the Klang Valley yesterday.
Out of the 121 signatories, some 20 were present at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur this afternoon to voice their “solidarity” with the Metro Tabernacle Church in Desa Melawati, Church of Assumption and Life Chapel in Petaling Jaya.
“Nothing warrants such deliberately provocative violent acts, amounting to terrorism, on places of worship,” said Farouk Musa of the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), who spoke on the behalf of those present.
“Such violence however must not be seen as a communal conflict of Muslims and Christians. It is as much an affront to Islam and to all religions as it is to the Christians.”
Farouk also referred to yesterday's protests by Muslim groups against the court decision allowing Catholic weekly The Herald to use 'Allah' in its Bahasa Malaysia section.
“While we celebrate freedom of expression, no demonstration must be carried out to intimidate others who hold different opinions,” he said.
“These acts are truly a blot on the image that we promote of ourselves as a harmonious multiracial and diverse society. It is also tantamount to an attack on the cardinal principle of the rule of law and the institution of the judiciary, which must at all times be left to decide on a case without fear, favour or intimidation.”
Writer Alliance for Media Independence (Wami) chairperson Wong Chin Huat added that the joint statement was endorsed by the over 100 signatories in less than 24 hours of the arson attacks.
Among the signatories are several prominent NGOs such as Sister In Islam (SIS), Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI), Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (Jerit), Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF), Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism Christianity Hinduism Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) and Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF).
Opposition parties PKR, DAP, PAS, Parti Socialis Malaysia (PSM) and Human Rights Party (HRP) have also endorsed the statement.
The statement called for a dialogue to resolve the Allah issue.
“No issue is too sensitive for rational debate in a democratic society. The threat of violence should not be used to kill democratic debate,” said Farouk.
Below are the excerpts from leaders of several civil society movements:
Sivin Kit of The Micah Mandate (TMM)
I believe I can speak on the behalf of the Christians in expressing gratitude, and we are very touched by the outpouring of concern from all quarters, especially our Muslim friends.
It is a painful experience for everyone and a lot of fear has been generated in the past one day because of what had happened.
In many ways, through conversation with different people, we see that... these are not acts by people with a right mind and a right vision of the kind of society that each and everyone of us envisioned.
But I believe that we cannot stop at mere sympathy although we appreciate the compassion shown - we need to move forward with courage and resolve.
This is a time for us to redeem whatever messy situation we are in and to turn it around in an meaningful engagement, and on the ground, we know that there are people who are willing to engage, but the question is whether we can get the environment and the encouragement to do so.
Zaid Kamaruddin, president of Jamaah Islah Malaysia (JIM)
Even though you do not see many Muslim organisations on this list, I know for sure that those organisations that deal with the specific issue of 'Allah' would draw a red line which is not to be crossed.
The incidents that have taken place, the attempted arson, is something that has shocked the Muslim community as well.
As such, if they intended to provoke us or to polarise the society or to drive a wedge between the adherents of different religions, I think we must stand together and show them that they will not succeed.
This is a very trying moment for our community, as Malaysians, and I know that while the Muslim community quietly detest the High Court decision, there is no avenue other than to go all the way to the final stage, and we have to accept whatever decision delivered at the end of the judicial process.
Haris Mohd Ibrahim of Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia
We saw in August last year how an issue of a temple relocation in Shah Alam was turned into a Hindu-Muslim divide.
We see again in December when the High Court decides on constitutional issues - which were taken to the proper forum for determination - again turned into an issue which plainly has in its agenda the division of our people.
We advocate and push for an agenda to change the minds and the hearts of this nation to come around and see that in truth we are one people in this country.
Now, if we understand the decision of the High Court and the statements in the public space, there has been a sinister attempt to turn this into a race issue.
In reality, if we go to the ground, Malaysians by far and large get on well with each other, but the agenda of a certain quarter is being facilitated by the mainstream media, which carried a very slanted reporting of these issues.
It is the responsibility of every Malaysian, who understand that falsehood is being fed to the masses, to make an effort from our part - individually or collectively - to try to diffuse and neutralise the lies which are being told to the rakyat.
Ambiga Sreenevasan, former chairperson of Bar Council
This is, in fact, the second provocative act against religious belief or institution. We recall there were such acts of intimidation against the Bar when we tried to organise a forum to discuss issues pertaining to marriage and conversion.
What is encouraging is, in these occasions, Malaysians have risen to condemn these acts - not our politicians - and the public has not fallen for it one bit.
It is time we sent the message that we are tired of groups of people who are trying to upset the harmony of our country by exploiting what they term as sensitive issues. The minute they term them sensitive, they legitimise responses, excessive responses, giving way for people to react in any way they want.
We are not against the freedom of expression, we are not against the freedom of assembly. Yesterday, we saw people gathered at the mosques and peaceably communicated their thoughts on the court judgment.
Court judgments are not above criticism - I would like to make it clear, as some people say that it is sub-judice, which is not true, provided that you do not make personal attacks against the judge. What is not acceptable is the violence perpetrated on the churches. We are not against legitimate expression of views.
It is also not acceptable to put the judiciary in fear of physical violence or outbreak of violence as a result of their decisions. My concern now is that, I hope, the judiciary can decided this case without fear or regard to any intimidation. That is how it must be.