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Why Can’t We Speak Against Religion? May 31, 2007

Posted by Tim in Malaysia, Religion, Thoughts.
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What is it about religion that makes it seem impervious to scrutiny? In many conflicts in the world today: Palestine/Israel, Ireland, Thailand, Iraq, Pakistan, Darfur, etc, a lot of awareness is raised of the violation of civil rights, women’s rights and needless deaths – but you’ll hardly ever catch people criticizing religion. And while none of these conflicts stem wholly from religion alone, when you tiptoe around it or dismiss it as “personal beliefs” or “sensitive” you’re ignoring the elephant in the room.

Take Elizabeth Wong’s post (and I wanna make clear I love her blog) on the Lina Joy case :

To kill two birds with one stone is to have the majority view advocate for jurisdiction be placed in the realm the Syariah court, and the dissenting view aim at satisfying the detractors.

This is, after all, an election year.

There were no winners on Wednesday morning, unless we include the Islamophobes who gained an additional dart or two.

Many are saying the Lina Joy decision is a violation of civil rights, which guarantees freedom of religion. And it is, indeed. But few are pointing out that the verdict was hardly political, or what the verdict means. The two Muslim judges voted to reject her appeal, with the non-Muslim judge the sole dissenter. There were hundreds of youths outside the courtroom shouting Allah-o-Akhbar (God is great). The motivation behind the decision isn’t rocket science.

And the reason the Lina verdict is devastating is not just because she is denied freedom of religion – indeed, I think that it is obvious even to the judges that you can’t control what people think or feel – it is because that to officially deconvert, she will have to go through the Syariah court. Islam carries heavy penalties for apostates. In more fundamentalist countries, this means death or imprisonment; in Malaysia it means a jail term or “rehabilitation”.

But because religion is “sensitive” and a “personal choice”, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone willing to point out that the root of the problem is how Islam handles apostasy. And so time and time again we get trampled by the elephant in the room.

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