Silver lining in the church attacks

It seems these unfortunate incidents are forcing many Malaysians into a time of introspection. 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.

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.

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Insensitivity at our void decks

I was shocked to hear the story related by PM Lee in his National Day Rally speech in Mandarin about the Malay wedding and the Chinese wake. For those who didn’t tune in that early, here’s a rough translation:

A Chinese grandmother died. The family decided to hold wake at the void deck of the next block. But without waiting for approval from the town council to hold their wake there, they proceeded to set up their wake. Coincidentally, that void deck had already been booked by a Malay family for a wedding. The invitations had been sent out. Now they discovered their wedding location had been snatched by another party. The Malay family of course felt very unhappy. The town council staff attempted to resolve the matter by asking the Chinese family to relocate their wake to another void deck. But the Chinese family was unwilling to accommodate. They felt that even though the coffin had not arrived, the wake had already been set up and tearing it down will bring bad luck. So a problem arose. Obviously the party in the wrong was the Chinese family. But they were unwilling to move. Fortunately, with the intervention of the MP and town council staff, the Malay family very graciously agreed to move their wedding to another block. As a gesture of gratitude, the town council waived the rental charges, and also helped them put up signs redirecting wedding guests to the new location. This happened last year.

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Maria Hertogh dead, but the fearmongering will continue

Maria “Bertha” Hertogh (aka Nadra binte Ma’arof) died of leukaemia on 7 July 2009 in her home in Huijbergen, Netherlands, at the age of 72.

Hertogh’s name has been indelibly been printed on the minds of all Singaporeans, particularly those in the post-independence generations, as being synonymous with racial riots. Rarely is her name mentioned in local history and social studies textbooks, or National Education lessons, without the accompanying phrase, “We must never take our racial harmony for granted.”

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