Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Candlelight Vigil For Dignity

Joshua from Agora Spore travelled hundreds of miles to be there at the candlelight vigil for Revathi yesterday. And KJ John, our friend at OHMSI and collaborator in the Total Truth study group wrote in his column In Another Tongue:

"The Lina Joy case has brought to the forefront core issues related to the freedom of conscience and the role of the Federal Constitution as the supreme law of this nation.

There is in fact an excellent article by Kim Quek which very clearly and simply argues the total case and full set of issues. Another excellent one appeared in the New Straits Times by Zainah Anwar.

The two become a must read. To the average Malaysian, the core issue is not whether Lina Joy converted or not, or whether M Revathi converted or not; the real issue is whether the constitution guarantees the freedom of conscience to every Malaysian.


In the field of academic theory or in the sciences of knowledge, the answers to the implicit ontological questions will be defined by the assumptions we all make about the nature of man. Ontology is the study of the nature of reality. Therefore, the key or core question is what really is the nature of human nature?

There are at least four or five theories about right the answers, based on academic theories; and yes, they are all only theories, and only from the point of view of empirical science. I do not mean to discuss each of them here.

Suffice to say that I subscribe to one of the theories; that of created humans by an Almighty Creator; who is a distinct other person and whose image we correctly bear. Therefore, as with the faith of all revealed religions; we believe that God created Man in his own image; and male and female he equally made them. Therefore we all bear his resemblance and capabilities.

One of these qualities is the freedom of conscience or the related concept of free will. This character or feature of human nature helps us define the concept of conscience. It is this aspect which is also defined as “the age of reason,” in all cultures.

While all socio-cultural socialisation is relevant and important; it is at the age of reason that a child ‘technically’ becomes an adult and begins to make choices that are meaningful, relevant, and significant. Granted that all such choices are never always good and right; from the perspective of society or the parents, but they nevertheless become the responsibility of the actor, and not those of non-actors.

We all bear the consequences of the choices we make including the eternal ones, so teaches every religion. If we take this responsibility of human choice away from an adult, then we also accept the full implications that such a human is only a function of the environment and never fully responsible for his or her own actions or choices. In sociology this is based on one “theory of nurture” against an alternative “theory of nature”.

Accepting responsibility

Translating all this into reality, now if we develop an entire society of Malaysians based only on this nurture theory, then we begin to accept illegal and irresponsible behaviour like that of the Mat Rempit as something tolerable and acceptable because they are a function of their nurturing environment. But we nurtured them. Therefore we are still responsible for their wrong behaviour.

If a student fails, the teacher is responsible. Most rational and moderate Malaysians will reject any such limited theory of human nature. Most will also see that responsibility begins equally with the nature aspect of human nature which is called the freedom of conscience or the freedom of the will.

Then we also conclude that our entire life is an opportunity of living a life of destiny; and ultimately being answerable to a Creator for the choices we do make; and the choices we choose not to make. It involves both action and non-action. Such a worldview makes holding people responsible for their own behaviour a fundamental and radical trait. Therefore, applying the nurture and nature theory jointly and both as equally valid, one can hold humans fully responsible for their behaviour even if they are not socially cultured properly. They simply need to receive the carrot-and-stick approach to learn civic culture or public space morality.

We then call it good moral values. But whose responsibility is it then to teach such public space morality? Surely, not just those in the public sector of governance! Is not governed society equally a responsible member of the triad for good governance; collaboratively with the public and private sectors being the two other components?

Therefore, it is imperative that the candlelight vigil for Revathi - planned by civil society groups at 8pm at Dataran Merdeka today - becomes a people's movement against the abuse of dignity and destiny of all Malaysians; regardless of religion or race, geography or economic status. My prayer is that hundreds or thousands of ordinary Malaysians of all races and religions will join this peaceful protest for another Malaysian whose freedom of conscience and freedom of life is now denied because of the wrong and illegal actions of a small segment of society.

In a civil law state wherein there is the constitutional guarantee of freedom of human rights and civil liberties, it is shocking that we can condone such a political abuse of religious power against one Malaysian while denying her the basic privileges under the Federal and civil constitution.

Lesson from history

Maybe we can and should generalise all this even further and learn one major lesson from the Gandhian protest of the Salt March against the British Empire. Malaysians need to also do a peaceful protest march against the abuse of the basic rights of all Malaysians by a weak bureaucracy which seems to have lost political will to stand up for what is right, honest and true; as defined by the Federal Constitution and our flag.

Maybe we can expand the peaceful protests to all cities. Maybe in each city, a small team of 10 Malaysians (of all races and religions) can organise themselves to go with 10 lighted candles and stand vigil in each town square or what we can henceforth call the 50th Dataran Merdeka of each town. This must become a multi-racial and multi-religious movement; the beginning of the real meaning of a Bahasa Malaysia and therefore a Bangsa Malaysia. I pray that the this people’s peace march of candle light fervor will in fact become the first step for the evolution of a new Bangsa Malaysia; even if only after 50 years.

Dataran Merdeka is after all the right place for us to being our march for the new future of Malaysia, to be attained by 2057. It was here that the freedom and independence of this new federation was declared and honoured. It must rightly be here too that the freedom and conscience of the citizens are also acclaimed, protected and preserved, right next the historic courthouses.

For it is this ‘rule of law’ principle which will ultimately protect and preserve the reality of the multi-cultural Malaysian federation. Without our written and unwritten constitutions vide the Social Contract of old, the legal federation cannot exist in its current form. They both define our rules and form of legal existence as a people in the international community of the world.

We cannot afford to only look back any more but must instead being to look very much forward and maybe 2057 is a good place as any to start.

But, it must involve all Malaysians; including the ordinary ones, and all Sabahans, and Sarawakians, and all women; as equals."

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