An imposing brand of ‘democracy’ - Brave New World | The Star Online

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An imposing brand of ‘democracy’


PKR’s alliance with PAS is as problematic as it is pragmatic. 

PAS has often maintained that many of its proposals are aimed only at Muslims. Therefore, when the party wants to introduce its version of Islamic criminal law, it as­sures non-Muslims that they will not be affected. Neither will they be affected by any possibility of public whippings once the Kelantan government gets round to implementing it.

Besides, the PAS leaders are holy men who know what God wants and what they propose are all Islamic laws.

The non-Muslims had best not get involved at all. And Muslims should not oppose the proposals in any way either, because to do so would mean you are not a good Muslim or are even an infidel. Then you will burn in hell.

In other words, let’s all sit back and let PAS do whatever they want. They know best. They are holier than we miserable sinners anyway.

I have always found such an attitude repulsive. I don’t care if it is being made by your run-of-the-mill secular despot or those who cloak themselves in supposed religiosity. Anything that has an effect on the lives of the people in a democracy should and must be debated by anyone who wants to. Otherwise, it is not a democracy.

I confess that PAS had me fooled. From the late 2000s until the death of its spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat in 2015, I honestly thought that it had moved away from its reactionary and provincial roots to being a more forward-thinking, inclusive and progressive party. It seemed then that it was more concerned about good governance and less about crass religiosity.

I was taken by the likes of Khalid Samad, Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Dr Mohd Hatta Ramli and their ilk. I was particularly impress­ed by Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, who spoke intelligently and always had a kind word even for folks like me, who I am sure must be an aberration to him.

But even in the heady days between 2007 and 2015, one could see that there was a tension between the progressives and the conservatives of PAS.

There were times when the strain between these two sides could be seen in the progressives as they struggled to keep on point while at the same time trying to appease the party’s more traditionalist members.

Anyway, that’s all in the past. The progressives, as we know, are now away from PAS and have formed Amanah. Good luck to them.

But PAS is still alive and kicking. Except now they are totally under the control of the mullahs. These are men who seem to have no problem cosying up to the ruling party and who are intent on pushing their conservative agenda into public life.

But, they say again and again that many of their proposals will affect only Muslims.

Just how far this is true is open to question. As it is, emboldened by its friendship with the ruling party and its supposed greater political clout (holding in its hands the power to cause havoc in the coming general election by forcing three-cornered fights), PAS is making sounds that it wishes to impose its values on everyone regardless of faith.

The recent attack on a beer festival to be held in the capital next month is a case in point. Thinly veiled threats about how the event will lead to “extremist behaviour” abound, along with uninformed claims that the festival will lead to rapes and a variety of other vices.

The PAS leaders acknowledge that the event will only be for non-Muslims. But how can you guarantee Muslims won’t attend, they scream. Also, the event will make Muslims angry. So shut it down.

So, the party’s religion-based acts will not affect non-Muslims, huh?

Pull the other one, mate. When people have power, they will use it and they will use it on anyone they choose. It doesn’t matter if you are a run-of-the-mill secular tin-pot dictator or if you clothe yourself in the garbs of religiosity.

This is the face of PAS. Now, I have no problems with that actually because it is better to know exactly what a person or a party is.

I still believe in a democracy and people must be free to choose who they want. It is best therefore to know who it is exactly they are voting for.

The problem here is PKR’s continued desire to work with PAS. This muddies the waters tremendously.

I understand the pragmatic reasons why PKR is doing so. It is terrified of any three-cornered fights (and perhaps this is justified). But knowing exactly what PAS is about, does PKR expect the voters to also just put aside principles and ideologies and be just as pragmatic?

Unless of course PKR has no problem with the imposing of personal beliefs onto the general public, the humiliation of public whippings, and the total disregard for the plurality that this country is based upon.

Azmi Sharom (azmi.sharom@gmail.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

Brave New World , Azmi Sharom

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