Divisive politics in KL, religious harmony in Kuching

FRANCIS PAUL SIAH

COMMENT | Saturday, Sept 14, is a day I will probably remember for a long time to come.

Two significant events took place, one in Kuala Lumpur, the other in Kuching.

At the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Umno and PAS signed a historic national unity charter, marking the coming together of the two largest Malay-Muslim parties after decades of conflict.

An end to any long-running conflict which culminated into peaceful co-existence should be welcomed and applauded. The citizens of nations at war would rejoice to see the end of hostilities, sufferings and senseless deaths when peace is declared.Advertisement

However, in the PWTC event, it was all about politics with two major political parties teaming up for a singular purpose of attaining political power.

As Umno and PAS made peace and formally sealed their unity pact, they declared ‘war’ on their political foe, the ruling Pakatan Harapan government.

Isn’t this rekindling of Umno-PAS political romance all about gaining power? In order to be in power, you have to defeat your political opponents.

In politics, to defeat could well mean to destroy. Hence, last Saturday’s deal was a peace accord signed between two former foes to strengthen themselves so that they could inflict maximum damage on their common enemy.

Viewed in that angle, this has dampened whatever joyous vibes usually associated with the end of years of enmity and conflict between two warring factions.

While outsiders would consider it as such, Umno and PAS members were in an upbeat mood as they thronged the venue in full force to watch their leaders locked in a warm embrace in an open display of unity.

The media reported 25,000 were in attendance on Saturday. That was a record figure for an event staged by a political party, notwithstanding that it was two parties this time.

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi attempted to downplay the racial/religious stigma associated with the unity charter, declaring that Umno and PAS would not get trapped into narrow racial politics or fall into extremist religious beliefs.

But his words sounded hollow as soon as it became clear that race and religion were the dominant factors that brought the two parties together.

Even Malays/Muslims outside Umno and PAS had expressed concerns that the union would give rise to intense divisive bigotry and hateful racism.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad poured scorn on the pact, saying that “I cannot understand how Umno can work with PAS because Umno is kafir (infidel)”.

‘A movement of extreme racial politics’

Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari (photo) opined that it would create a movement of extreme racial politics.

This is yet another example of the racial and religious taunts that we have tried so hard and so long to discard but impossible to shake off. The nagging issues that have divided Malaysians for decades just won’t go away.

Over in Kuching, Sept 14 witnessed the opposite of all things evil.

The day started off with an Inter-Faith Harmony Walk where thousands of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus came together in a proud display of Sarawakian religious harmony and tolerance.

Multiple photos on Facebook showed Kuching Catholic Archbishop Simon Poh flanked by leaders of other faiths walking through the streets of the state capital waving the Sarawak flags, trailed by seas of singing and dancing youths.

Image may contain: 5 people, including Simon Poh, people smiling, people standing and crowd

In the evening, 25,000 Christians (coincidentally, the same attendance reported at the Umno/PAS event in PWTC) gathered at Jubilee Ground, Kuching’s oldest sports arena, for the Pentecostal Night.

The event, themed ‘Roh Kudus dan Penuaian’ (The Holy Spirit and the Harvest), was the first mammoth Christian gathering of its kind in Sarawak, which took a year of planning.

The faithful from Sabah, Brunei, Kuala Lumpur and Indonesia also turned up to join Sarawak Christians of several denominations for prayer, praise and worship.

Popular Pastor Philip Mantofa from Surabaya, Indonesia, was the main speaker at the session where the faithful braved the unhealthy Kuching haze to rekindle their faith together in such massive numbers.

Organising chairperson Janang Bungsu said that the Pentecostal Night was born out of a vision to transform the indigenous people into a God-fearing community that adapts well to the changing times.

Sarawak’s multiracial and multicultural diversities

The same evening, Kuching also witnessed a Monkey God procession that was also participated by a Malay kompang group and dance troupes from the Indian community.

What also stood out at the event, organised by a Kuching Chinese temple, was the sight of a Malay girl in tudung happily dancing away alongside her Chinese friends in a dragon dance troupe.

This is a showcase of Sarawak’s multiracial and multicultural diversities at its best.

Outside of Sept 14, I also find it noteworthy that Sarawak has reinforced its disregard to the Malaysia Islamic Development Department (Jakim) directive forbidding Muslims and non-Muslims from praying together by having an opening prayer at a lunch function attended by Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg on Sept 7.

Archbishop Simon Poh recited the event’s opening prayer, while Anglican Bishop Danald Jute delivered the “doa makan”, both in the presence of the chief minister.

This disregard from Sarawak should make it clear to Malaya that the hornbill state has its own tried and tested religious rulings which unite, not divide, people of different faiths.

It’s obvious which side still has a lot to learn about instilling genuine racial and religious harmony and tolerance among the citizenry.

  • Malaysiakini

FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at sirsiah@gmail.com

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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