Your neighbour, Sazali Yunus, is a Malay Muslim. Some weeks back, the two of you got together for beers in a nearby café when members of the religious authorities suddenly walked in. Days later, Sazali gets charged in the Syariah court for having consumed alcohol. Although the Federal Constitution of Malaysia dictates that no one citizen is above the law, Sazali ends up getting punished while you get off scot free. Question is, was Sazali discriminated against on account of him being Muslim?
That is the fundamental question many of those who’re against The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) should be asking. According to Article 1 of the said convention – which, if you don’t already know, isn’t legally binding even if ratified – racial discrimination is “any (form of) distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”
See the problem?
ICERD has very specific provisions on racial discrimination but isn’t exact on religion. Malays, on the other hand, are Muslims by default, meaning, race and religion go hand in hand. The Chinese, Indians, Punjabis, Ibans, Kadazans and so on are either Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Christian, Thaoist, Buddhist, etc. What this means, is when you talk about the Malays, you’re necessarily talking about Muslims. However, when you talk about the non-Malays, you could be talking about any religious group, Muslims included.
It follows, that because we have Malays in Malaysia, when we talk about race-based discrimination, we have to be very clear which segment of society we’re referring to. In Sazali’s case, the clerics will swear heaven and earth that the Islamic bench meant only to lead him to the “path of clear water” pursuant to the dictates of Allah. By that token, Sazali is ‘preferred’ by the Federal Constitution of Malaysia because he is Muslim. But because the same constitution grants religious authorities the right to act on all Malays, we can also conclude that he was ‘targeted’ because he’s Malay.
In short, Sazali is both ‘preferred’ and ‘targeted’ by the Federal Constitution of Malaysia because he’s Malay-Muslim. By definition, this is a form of ‘racial discrimination’, in a sense that the Federal Constitution of Malaysia couldn’t give a hoot if the non-Muslim Chinese, Indians, Punjabis, Ibans, Kadazans and so on were to drown themselves in beer. What this means, is that the minute the Government of Malaysia (GoM) ratifies ICERD, the dual system of law provided for by Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia would immediately be brought to question on account of it being discriminatory against the Malays.
Now do you see the problem?
If argued well, any Malaysian law that targets Muslims would automatically become a racial concern simply because we have the Malays. By that token, because the Federal Constitution of Malaysia forbids non-Muslims from attempting to convert Muslims but allows Muslims to convert non-Muslims, once can easily connote this to racism by citing the case of the Malays. The only way out of the conundrum would be for the GoM to declare Malaysia to be an Islamic state. The minute that happens, and should the Conference of Rulers agree, the ruling Pakatan Harapan could easily amend the Federal Constitution of Malaysia in ways that subject all non-Muslims to Syaria laws.
The DAP knows this.
While its leaders are confident that this will never happen under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s leadership, it is what happens after he’s gone that concerns them most. People like Lim Kit Siang are well aware of Mahathir’s attempt to get UMNO and PKR Members of Parliament (MPs) to cross over to PPBM en masse. Should the crossovers give rise to a new Muslim-majority coalition, there is no saying what the new government would do should it win big come the 15th general election. So, by ‘forcing’ Mahathir to ratify ICERD, the DAP is indirectly getting him to repeal Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia which he himself introduced in 1988.
See the game plan?
Because the DAP is now Mahathir’s ‘ally’, its leaders do not want to be seen disputing the Prime Minister in public over religious matters. So, to give the impression that their main concern is racial discrimination, they’re telling you that the ratification will not impinge on existing laws that are exclusive to Muslims. But I’ve already proven to you how laws that target Muslims would automatically become a racial concern. It follows, that the minute the GoM undertakes to ratify the convention, we can kiss the dual system of law goodbye and consider this to be a Chinaman state.
And once that happens, the Muslims can all get together in public without worrying about religious authorities and drown themselves in beer to celebrate the birth of “Malaysia lagi baru.”