I feel sad for our neighbour, Malaysia, for what happened over the past few days, with four churches coming under arson attack, presumably linked to the controversial “Allah” ruling by the High Court. According to reports, this is the first time in the history of the country that churches have come under attack of this sort. Even through the turbulent period of the 1960s, including the 1969 race riots, houses of worship were deemed sacrosanct. All that has been shattered now.
The Metro Tabernacle Church, a 1,500-member Assembly of God church in the Kuala Lumpur area, had its first floor 80 per cent destroyed by the fire. According to the KL police chief, the perpetrators broke all the glass window panels on the ground floor of the building before pouring petrol into the building and setting it alight. Three other churches in the Klang Valley — the Catholic Church of Assumption in Kuala Lumpur, Life Chapel Church in Petaling Jaya and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Petaling Jaya — were also torched, although none seriously.
It goes without saying that these fanatical crimes deserve to be condemned in the strongest terms possible. I find it rather insensitive that demonstrations at some mosques against the High Court’s ruling still went ahead on Friday after the arson attacks happened, although according to Marina Mahathir, the turnout was lower than expected.
Despite the reprehensible actions of a few individuals, it is reassuring to see so many prominent Malaysians speaking out strongly against these attacks. PAS, the opposition Islamic party, has been particularly forceful in its condemnation. Their spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat said the culprits behind the attacks are committing a sin and will reap what they sow, while their president, Abdul Hadi Awang, called the firebombings “uncivilised” and against Islam. Prime Minister Najib Razak has announced a government allocation of RM500,000 to rebuild the Metro Tabernacle Church. Even UMNO Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin, who is better known for his firebrand comments defending Malay rights, said that this was a “despicable act” and that this is “not the Malaysia I know”.
It seems these unfortunate incidents are forcing many Malaysians into a time of introspection over how a dispute over semantics could have boiled over into attacks of this nature. The reset button on race relations will have to be hit. Hopefully cool heads will prevail over impetuous acts of bigotry. This could the the silver lining in this whole sad saga.