The Barisan Alternative would not have been formed in the first place to take on the Barisan Nasional as one united front in the 1999 general election if PAS was not prepared to respect the opposition of DAP, Keadilan and PRM to an Islamic State, focussing on the common objectives of restoring justice, freedom, democracy and good governance in Malaysia.
Barisan Alternative leaders should face up to the unpalatable fact that in the next general election, whether 2003 or 2004, if the voters are faced with the choice between an Islamic State and a sixth term of Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister, the choice would be the latter as Mahathir would already be close to eighty and cannot remain at the helm of government for long while voting for an Islamic State would be the start of a journey which could not inspire confidence and hope from the experience of other countries.
Before the 1999 general election, PAS leaders were at pains to help the other Barisan Alternative parties and leaders to assure the people that the Opposition Front was founded purely on the common objectives of restoring justice, freedom, democracy and good governance and was no agreement on an Islamic State. PAS leaders even went out of their way to explain that there was no basis to worry about an Islamic State as PAS was fielding less than one-third of the parliamentary candidates and could not have the two-thirds parliamentary majority necessary to alter the Constitution for the establishment of an Islamic State.
Of late, however, PAS leaders have decided to openly and publicly disregard the opposition of the other component parties of the Barisan Alternative to an Islamic State and flout the Barisan Alternative Manifesto “Towards A Just and Democratic Malaysia” by publicly reiterating its commitment to an Islamic State.
For instance, the Selangor Bar Journal May 2001 in an exclusive interview with the PAS deputy president Abdul Hadi bin Awang said that at the top of the agenda of a PAS-led Federal Government once it is returned to power is to commence implementing Islamic law, starting with the amendment of Article 4 of the Malaysian Constitution to enable Islamic enactment which are in conflict with laws passed by Parliament to prevail, such as the death sentence for apostasy.
Hadi said that if Malaysia came under Islamic rule an act against the religion would be construed as an act against the State, which would be tantamount to treason for which the sentence was death.
He said: “The laws on apostasy only bind Muslims and do not affect non-Muslims but a non-Muslim should be aware of the consequences of apostasy before converting because then he would come under the purview of Islamic law.”
PAS leaders should not expect Malaysians, both Muslims and non-Muslims, to be unconcerned about such a position, not only from the human rights principles of freedom and justice, but also because of the raging controversy among Muslims including a significant body of opinion among the ulama from the earliest Islamic history that apostasy is not a capital crime as the Qu’ran is completely silent on the death penalty for apostasy.
PAS president Datuk Fadzil Noor from Manchester yesterday urged the DAP not to make a hasty decision by leaving the opposition front over the Islamic state issue or the DAP will be walking right into the Barisan Nasional trap.
DAP will not take the “easy way out” or “walk right into the Barisan Nasional trap” and this was why the DAP had insisted immediately after the last general election that there should be Barisan Alternative leadership dialogues to iron out our ideological differences over an Islamic State. I must say, however, that the dialogue held on June 16, 2001 to deal with the issue had been most unsatisfactory.
The issue confronting the Barisan Alternative is whether the PAS leaders are prepared to respect the DAP’s opposition to an Islamic State in Malaysia not because of anti-Islam sentiments but because an Islamic State in multi-racial and multi-religious Malaysia is not compatible with parliamentary democracy, power-sharing in a plural society, human rights and individual freedoms, women’s rights and social tolerance.
DAP respects PAS for its ideological position on the Islamic State, but in a modern, multi-racial and multi-religious society where non-Muslims comprise some 40 per cent of the population, and where it is not only non-Malays but Malays who oppose the establishment of an Islamic State, is PAS prepared to be realistic and concede that its Islamic State concept is not a practical or feasible proposition or option for Malaysia?
Hadi has said that the establishment of an Islamic State would take time and he pointed to Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Iran as countries which are still in the preliminary stages of establishing an Islamic State - but what is more pertinent is what is PAS’ outlook of Islam on democracy, equality and human, minority and women’s rights
Let us take Iran, where President Khatami was re-elected on June 8 with a 77-per cent landslide. Malaysians both Muslims and non-Muslims have great admiration for the young Iranians - two thirds of Iranians are under 30 - and women, the backbone of Khatami’s support, in their struggle to define democracy within an Islamic system.
Although Khatami was swept to power four years ago with 69 per cent of the vote, he had operated more like an opposition leader than a chief executive. Ultimate power under the Iranian Constitution lies in the hands of the supreme spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei based on the Iranian theocratic concept of velayat-e faqih or the rule of the religious jurists, who exercises absolute authority over all vital matters of state as head of the army, the security services and the judiciary as well as the final say on both internal and international affairs, including powers to veto legislation by the reformist-dominated Parliament.
During Khatami’s first term as President, his reformist-supporters among the journalists, editors and students have been clapped into jail, publications banned, people unjustly prosecuted and punished for spurious crimes and there had also been cases of assassination of liberals by rogue operatives inside the security services.
It is a tribute to the remarkable resilience of the human spirit for freedom and justice among the Iranians that they have not allowed the oppression of 22 years of Iranian revolution to break their spirit, so much so that secularization is now a social movement in Iran and some reformist clerics have even called for a separation between mosque and state - a separation between religion and politics that does not mean for one minute of being against Islam.
While Malaysians salute the Iranians for their remarkable fortitude and spirit to keep high the banner of reform and civil society, freedom, justice and rights of the people in the past 22 years of the Iranian revolution, Malaysians understandably do not want to go through such a harrowing experience for 22 years - and still with so little progress!
Saudi Arabia, whose monarchy claims legitimacy through fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam but which is regarded by Islamic scholars as having denied its population fundamental political and civil rights that are respected in Islam, and Sudan, where an unrelenting Islamist government in a religiously-divided country has exacerbated a painfully long civil war, are not the best model examples for Malaysians, both Muslims and non-Muslims, in the 21st century of globalisation, liberalisation and information and communications technology.