by Jesse Galef –
Even though I recognize some thorny issues with secularism, it’s good to remember what can happen without it. Last week, the Malaysian High Court ruled that a Catholic newspaper was allowed to use the word “Allah” to refer to God in their local-language publications. The church argued that it was the only appropriate translation of the word. This might seem trivial, but it was actually very controversial and had been banned for three years – only Muslims were allowed to use the word. Here’s what the Wall Street Journal reported on the development at the time:
Thursday’s ruling by Judge Lau Bee Lan, however, suggests that some parts of the Malaysian establishment are beginning to push back against this steady Islamization of what had been one of the world’s most moderate outposts of the Muslim faith. Ms. Lau said Christians have a “constitutional right to use Allah,” but the government can appeal to a higher court where the ban can be reinstated.
Oh good – a moderate country allowing constitutional freedom of speech to protect minority rights. I don’t know enough about the Malaysian justice system to know what’s higher than the “High Court”, but at least there’s an independent judiciary willing to stand up for the law.
I’m sure the justice system will do its thing, cooler heads will prevail, and everyone can move on. No, I’m only kidding – people are going crazy over this:
Police were increasing their patrols of areas around churches and Christian communities were hiring security guards, after petrol bombs were thrown at four churches in and around the capital Kuala Lumpur, partially destroying one of them. Hours later, Muslim preachers used Friday prayers to object to a court decision that would allow use of “Allah” as the Malaysian language term for the Christian God.
“We will not allow the word Allah to be inscribed in your churches,” said one speaker at the Kampung Bahru mosque in central Kuala Lumpur. Protesters carried posters reading “Heresy arises from words wrongly used” and “Allah is only for us”.
Protests and dissent are acceptable, though sad when applied to this issue. Violence, on the other hand, is not acceptable. Neither are death threats directed at the judges:
In Thursday, the website of the Malaysian judiciary was vandalised by a hacker with the alias “Brainwash” who left threatening messages apparently related to the court ruling. “Mess with the best, die like the rest,” read one message. “Allah only restricted to Muslim only.”
It might seem strange for me to defend a Catholic church, but they should be able to use whatever words they want without fearing for their safety. Freedom of speech and freedom of conscience are vital human rights. On these principles, we should be allied with liberal religious voices. I hope everyone can condemn acts of violence and intimidation.