KUALA LUMPUR: Once the object of love and veneration but now hate and denigration, Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s constant outbursts have made him one of the most criticised individuals in this nation.
And even on Valentine’s Day, it is brickbats and not bouquets for the former premier.
Ironically, Mahathir who threw scores of people behind bars without trial on the basis of national security, is now considered to be a threat himself.
And his unrestrained remarks on sensitive issues have earned him the wrath of a vocal senior clergyman as well.
Bishop Paul Tan urged the government to take stern action against Mahathir and all those who stoke the flames of racial and religious tension.
The action, he stressed, was vital so that these persons’ “evil oil does not flow to others ending in engulfing Malaysia in flames”.
Similarly, he said the law must come down hard on Perkasa president Ibrahim Ali and others who called for or supported the burning of Christian Bibles containing the word ‘Allah.’
“Action must be taken against those who for political expediency accuse Christians of trying to make Malaysia a Christian country. Those who make false accusations against any ethnic group without concrete proof enflame the already tenuous and fragile fabric of the Malaysian society.
“It is my conviction that all precautions must be taken to ensure that racial or religious riots do not break out in Malaysia.
“If a person representing a party fans the already simmering embers of racial and religious tension in Malaysia, vigorous and strong action should be taken against him or her,” he added.
With the 13th general election looming, Tan, 72, called on the Christian electorate to cast their ballots with wisdom and to forgive those who had wronged them in the past.
“Vote in any person whose track records prove that he/she is clean, upright,transparent and who courageously stands up for justice for all and works effectively for the good of all citizens, even the most discriminated against – the Orang Asli, the poor Malays in the kampungs, the downtrodden Indians in the estates, etc.
“We should not forget either our ‘modern slaves’, the migrant workers, who are being ruthlessly exploited, although they contribute to the building of our country,” he added.
Tan said that whichever party took over the federal leadership, be it Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat, it must protect all citizens. “It must be clean from any corruption even if it is legally done, for example, doling out money to win votes.
It must be equitable, transparent and upright. It is for these reasons that I fully support any protest for a just, clean and fair election, for example, Bersih’s call.
“Although I have not taken any partisan side in saying what I have said, I cannot take a moral, religious and political stand for justice, cleanliness, equity and fairness. The Vatican would be happy that I dare speak out the truth, without taking any political side,” he added.
Meanwhile, Tan, who is the immediate past president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Singapore, Malaysia and Bunei, also responded to those who criticised him for being vocal on political issues.
He said that he firmly adhered to the Catholic Church’s stand on forbidding bishops and clerics to take political partisan sides.
“Therefore if from what I have said that appeared in the press, someone were to construe that I were for a political party, it would be their conjecture; it would be their problem and not mine. As far as my memory goes, I have spoken out on religious freedom, human rights and morality. This is encouraged by our Pope,” he added.
However, Tan said that sometimes there is a thin line between politics and religion, for example, the issue of the use of the word ‘Allah.’
“This is because politicians and political parties have insidiously made use of religion for their political ends and thus blur the line that divides religion and politics,” he pointed out.
“Permit me to bring up a recent ‘hot’ issue – the use of the word ‘Allah’; it is strictly an issue of religion – whether people of faiths other than those who profess Islam can use it or not. It is also an issue of freedom of a human person to use any word in any language provided it is not done to denigrate a person of another religion or any religion. Unfortunately, politicians and political parties have jumped onto the bandwagon for selfish political interests,” he added.
Tan also stressed that he believes in the separation of state and religion in the sense that religion is not politics.
Religious representatives, especially leaders, he said, should not meddle with strictly political matters that come under the domain of politicians, and politicians should not interfere in the running of obvious religious issues that belong to duties of religious leaders.
“I confess that at times things are not that clear-cut, for example, moral and human rights questions. They often straddle religion and politics. Take an example: the fight for gays to be married. It is both a moral issue and a political problem,” he added. -- FMT