Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Religious intolerance, here and abroad


Two examples of religious bigotry today, which helps illustrate the difference between individual and government discrimination.

First, in New Hampshire, an idiot confronted Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney's visit to New Hampshire started on a sour note Tuesday when a restaurant patron declared he would not vote for the Republican presidential contender because of his faith.

"I'm one person who will not vote for a Mormon," Al Michaud of Dover shouted at Romney when the former Massachusetts governor approached him inside Harvey's Bakery.

The kicker? This wasn't someone from the religious right; it was a self-described "liberal" who said he plans to vote for Hillary Clinton.

There are plenty of questions about Mr. Michaud. If he disagreed with Romney's politics, why make a point of criticizing his faith? Why shout it out in a small, crowded room? It's enough to make one wonder if his goal was actually to embarass Romney. And then there's the classic question of whether he's really a liberal -- and if he actually understands what that word means.

Regardless, I hope we can agree that his moment of fame was classless, rude, illiberal and violative of American values, even if it is in accord with much of American political history. And be glad that in this country a member of a minority faith is only subjected to such individual actions and not (generally) government persecution.

Now let's go to the other side of the globe, where that sadly is not the case.

Malaysia's best known Christian convert, Lina Joy, lost a six-year battle on Wednesday to have the word "Islam" removed from her identity card, after the country's highest court rejected the change.

The ruling threatens to further polarize Malaysian society between non-Muslims who feel that their constitutional right to religious freedom is being eroded, and Muslims who believe that civil courts have no right to meddle in Islamic affairs.

On the one hand, this is a fairly minor matter: words on an ID card. She was not actually prevented from converting, and is not in danger of being killed for doing so. And the legal point is minor, too: whether the secular courts have jurisdiction over such matters. They decided not, that only the country's Sharia courts can allow the removal of the words from Joy's card.

Let's put aside, too, the problem of having parallel legal systems. Listen instead to the words of the judge:

"You can't at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another," Federal Court Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim said in delivering judgment in the case.

Or consider the reaction of the crowd outside:

About 200 mostly young Muslims welcomed the ruling outside the domed courthouse with shouts of "Allah-o-Akbar" (God is great).

And what fate awaits Joy in the sharia courts, if she goes that route?

In practice, sharia courts do not allow Muslims to formally renounce Islam, preferring to send apostates to counseling and, ultimately, fining or jailing them if they do not desist.

They often end up in legal limbo, unable to register their new religious affiliations or legally marry non-Muslims. Many keep silent about their choice or emigrate.

Fines and jailing, never mind the related legal prohibitions against marrying nonMuslims.

It always astonishes me that believers can justify coerced membership in religion, any religion, failing to understand that doing so not only grossly violates individual rights, but it undermines that religion's legitimacy. It's pure power politics, nothing more.

The world should continue to support Joy and express outrage not just at her treatment, but a legal system that allows such religious-based discrimination and disallows freedom of conscience. This is what true persecution looks like, and Malaysia should be pressured to change its laws to respect individual belief.

And for those of you inclined to ask "where are the moderate Muslims?", consider this very balanced article from Al-Jazeera. Or Sisters in Islam, a Malaysian Muslim women's group that is one of several that has sided with Joy in this case.

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hard to believe there are such idiots here in NH. I live not far from Dover In my five years here I havent met anyone who would raise their voice or heckle like that.
Politics does strange things to people I guess.
GK

5/30/2007 3:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hard to believe that Christians will not vote for atheists, skeptics, or members of the Church of Satan, but might vote for Tom Cruise.

5/30/2007 5:35 PM  
Blogger M.Y. Chong said...

Let me be the first to assure you that not all Malaysian Muslims are this batshit. Honest. ^^;

The legal point is not quite as minor as it seems. As long as the word 'Islam' remains on her IC, she will be treated as a Muslim, and cannot marry her (Catholic) fiance.

Lina Joy is 42. I hardly think anyone would fight so long for a little whim or fancy.

5/30/2007 6:09 PM  
Blogger Not Your Mama said...

I saw that crazy coot on the news. Not like any Dem I've ever known, can we evict him?

GK: one of our most infamous local half-wits (of the let's kill-all-the-Mexicans and bomb Iran variety) is from NH. Did you folks pay him to leave? If so, how much will we need to offer him?

5/30/2007 10:49 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

GK, NYM: Yeah, he does seem to be out there. I imagine just about everyone he claims affiliation with would like to disown him.

M.Y. Chong: Agreed on all points. I know not all Malaysian Muslims (or Muslims, period) are that nutty. I realize the legal inconveniences associated with having "Islam" on her card, but my point was that at least nobody is preventing her from practicing Christianity or, say, threatening her life (as happened in Afghanistan with Abdul Rahman. And yes, the judge's comment about changing religions on a whim was plain ignorance.

5/31/2007 7:39 AM  
Blogger mahaguru58 said...

First and foremost, you know nuts about the true situation here in Malaysia.

Just surfing the internet and reading biased viewpoints from here and there does not justify you to pass judgments on us Malaysian Muslims and to what we were rejoicing about.

Hell, I wouldn't object a bit if the Syariah Courts rule her as the apostate she is and give her her dues according to what God Almighty has laid out for her.

The thing is, we ourselves aren't too excited about keeping apostates and hypocrites within the faith.

You can take her kind in, we don't have need for her IF after all advice been given to her, she still choses to be a KAFFIR, no Muslim worth his name would want to have anything to do with such kind!

As it is, we are already lamenting the manmade version of Syariah laws being orchestrated to be dished ou here in Malaysia.

I suggest you lay off interfering or assuming anything about us here and focus on matters closer to you.

I can start posting a whole lot of shit about how screwed up other faiths are but that's not my style or wish to.

As Prophet Eesa @ Jesus Christ, the son of Mary advised, ' do not cast your pearls before the swine' ; I figure that we ought to just refrain and let the obstinate's slide pass us by and we each go about our ways.

Peace be upon u bro.

6/01/2007 3:13 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Mahaguru, it's really simple.

If someone wants to be Muslim, or Christian, or whatever, that should be their choice.

If they want to switch religions or simply stop being a Muslim, Christian, or whatever, that should be their choice.

They should not need permission to make such choices, nor should there be fines, jail terms or any other punishment for such decisions.

Nor should religion be a factor in education, hiring, housing or other such matters. Although I recognize this last can be more troublesome in certain cultures where religious identification is stronger than other identifications.

So what did I misunderstand?

6/01/2007 8:27 AM  

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