BY NETUSHA NAIDU
The deliverance of bad news is never pleasing to one, unless they are consumed by a hatred so strong that it corrupts any sense of moral principle to recognise the hypocritical violation of human rights that execution is.
Hearing about Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry executing 47 people on the basis of “terrorist charges” has caught the world’s attention – particularly the Shia religious leader, Nimr al-Nimr.
More so, even Al-Qaeda members did not escape this tragedy. To some, it may be closer to Saudi Arabia acknowledging and taking action to end “the war of terrorism” but to others, this incident is just another enormous paradoxical moment that morbidly reinforces what we would call, the ideals of terrorism.
Isis has evolved from being downplayed as a regional threat to a global, ever expanding movement that has asserted its power through violence.
Due to its claim to faithfully abide to religious principles, Isis is known to have its own brand of Islam.
However, we seem to forget that their ideological base of Wahhabism has existed since the 18th century and did not begin when it first proclaimed the cause for a worldwide caliphate in June 2014.
In addition to that, Saudi Arabia’s governance does not fall far from the apple tree.
Given that it has disturbingly close similarities, especially when it comes to the celebrated normality of public executions and insanely barbaric laws.
This is where the challenge lies as Saudi Arabia itself, is a legitimised version of Isis.
It makes it far more difficult to erode such justifications for radical and extreme interpretations of religion because it is being perceived as acceptable by a bigger part of society.
This “bigger” part of society being “accepting” may not be an entirely accurate assumption, but it is the very silence of the majority that is taken advantage of and where the legitimisation finds itself comfortably nestling in the vacuums of fear and anxiety.
Of course, this persistent sensation of fear and anxiety is propagated by powerful elites that use religion as a tool to preserve status quo.
Again, this is an old topic that continues to be recycled and often reminded to the public – perhaps in hopes it will invigorate a greater spirit of civil society to revolt and reclaim religious freedom for ourselves.
At the same time, these leaders are also the very same people where a lot of us have expectations of representing nations to take the responsibility of defeating Isis.
Nevertheless, the responses of some countries to launch air strikes and close immigration borders do not appear to counter the problem, rather reinforcing the goals and aspirations.
How so, one may ask? It is because the consistency with the mentality of these exclusionists – we are subconsciously buying into their rhetoric of violence, their concept of religion being true that we are cowering to it.
It is a form of submission that feeds the existence of malign ideas. Perhaps this is what Mahatma Gandhi really meant when he said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
You cannot kill violence with violence because all you will have is more violence.
For those who recognise this, particularly Malaysian liberals have become engulfed with paranoia because of the “creeping Islamisation” that is happening in the country.
While some would accuse these liberals to be ironically “illiberal” for their discrimination against Arab culture and fixation for Westernised lifestyles, there is also the tendency to overlook the consequences of cultural imperialism when we are not carefully evaluating the social attitudes that we are importing as well.
It is not just about how many hundred ways one can wear the hijab, or competing to be the most pious of all. Rather, whether or not these principles that we draw inspiration from are actually compatible with the narrative of a Malaysian society that is liberal, plural and free.
Instead, what we have witnessed is a crusade against these elements to be “deviant” because they do not correspond with the narrow ideas that suggest pure monotheism – this is where the real danger lies.
It is unfamiliar to the history of our nation. As we have witnessed with the court ruling of Indira Gandhi’s case, to say that such ideas are not at the expense of others is rather immature.
Culture evolves according to changing social conditions, but that does not mean that cultural regression is permissive.
The obstacle that we are faced with today is the limitations in religious discourse – be it, the marketplace of opinions and concepts to who gets to contribute to the conversation.
Some ideas are good or bad, or even good and bad but the one thing that cannot be denied is its immortality over generations to come. Hence, it is up to us to decide which one becomes the prevalent force that governs the dynamics of society.
To me, at least, our priority should be to ensure we remain compassionate, understanding and respectful of the differences of people.
Differences exist because individually, human dignity is not uniform but we can do our best to protect each other from being undermined with institutions like the rule of law.
Diversity is the inevitable essence of the natural world. Yet, there is something attractive about homogeneity. It is ideal by those who wish to clip the wings of freedom that cannot be controlled.
It is one thing to come to terms with the diversity of society, but another to believe in pluralism.
I am not sure about the strange definition that some people have of the word “pluralism” but from what I have learnt, it is addressing the need for common interaction that allows society to be open and free.
In an essay titled “From Diversity to Pluralism” by Harvard professor, Dr Diana L. Eck, she demystifies the misconceptions that prevent us from making a commitment towards unity.
“Some people are wary of the language of pluralism, insisting that it effectively waters down one’s own religious beliefs by acknowledging that others believe differently.
“Some mistakenly think that a pluralist perspective assumes that there is no real difference among various religious traditions and their values. On the contrary, the encounter of a pluralist society is the encounter of real commitments and real differences.
“Pluralism does not require relinquishing the distinctiveness of one’s own tradition of faith to reach the ‘lowest common denominator’.
“In the public square of a pluralist society, commitments are not left at the door. Rather, pluralism invites people of every faith or of none to be themselves, with all their particularities, and yet to be engaged in creating a civil society, through the critical and self-critical encounter with one another.
“Pluralism is a process of creating a society by acknowledging, rather than hiding, our deepest differences.”
Closer to home, I supposed even our beloved Tunku Abdul Rahman must have shared the same sentiments. In 1960, the Tunku delivered an appreciation speech for receiving a replica of the “Freedom Bell” from the mayor of West Berlin.
It was a daily reminder of the value of freedom for Berlin citizens. When he called it the Peace Bell and when was stood to be corrected, he said; “You can’t have peace without freedom, and you can’t have freedom without peace.”
An all-embracing, inclusive counter-narrative is needed to destabilise the hegemonic presence of exclusionists in religious discourse.
Achieving this requires a collective effort to actively participate and seek fellowship that extends beyond interfaith boundaries, it is to go the distance and understand that all of us share a common aspiration – for a peace-loving society.
This, I believe, is an idea that has to live. – January 7, 2016.