Another Malaysian official is trying to punish atheists for daring to meet in public.
It all stems from a photo, taken earlier this month, of atheists gathering in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They were happy and drinking and causing no problems whatsoever. But when the picture began to spread, the government wanted to know if any of the people in it were ex-Muslims, since that might be a crime in certain parts of the country.
Shahidan Kassim, a minister in President Najib Razak‘s Cabinet, later said on camera that atheists in the country must be “hunted down,” because their lack of religion amounted to illegal thought crimes.
The Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar also warned the atheists “not to cause uneasiness, particularly among Muslims,” adding that the police would look into anybody creating “anxiety” among believers. (As if our existence alone didn’t already make people feel anxious.)
And now the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission is essentially asking citizens to report any websites that spread atheism. More to the point, he wants to shut down pages that are “propagating deviant Islamic teachings.”
Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Jailani Johar said MCMC would cooperate with the relevant agencies, such as the police and the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) to investigate the matter.
“Such a website should not exist because the Malaysian constitution clearly states that Islam is the official religion of the country and any act deemed as deviating from the true teachings of the religion is against the law,” he told reporters after opening the state-level MyMerdeka @60 programme here.
He’s referring, I assume, to the private Facebook group where the Malaysian atheists discuss issues and plan in-person gatherings. That’s what he’s afraid of.
Armin Navabi, the founder of Atheist Republic (the umbrella organization for the group that organized the Kuala Lumpur meetup), told me he was concerned about Johar’s words:
“I’m worried that his request for public cooperation could be seen as an invitation for an atheist witch hunt.”
That was my thinking, too. The government official basically wants people to flag atheist pages online in the hopes they’ll be shut down. And since atheists usually live online, it would be a huge blow if their forums were taken down.
This all stems from a fear that happy, peaceful atheists might disturb a society that relies on fear of God and Islamic law to keep people in line. But the atheists weren’t attempting a coup. They just wanted to get some damn drinks and meet each other.
That’s all it took to lead to this bizarre (and potentially dangerous) series of overreactions from the Malaysian government.