Nancy Shukri, Yours is Not to Reason Why?

By Kee Thuan Chye

De facto law minister Nancy Shukri is being bombarded left, right and centre for her written reply in Parliament to the question of why Perkasa President Ibrahim Ali has not been charged for his alleged threat last year to burn Malay-language Bibles. And she deserves it.

She has tried to cover up her blunder by insisting that she was not defending Ibrahim Ali’s act and that her critics got her wrong for saying she was. I agree she wasn’t. I agree some of her critics, like Gerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang, misread her reply – because, as she has claimed, she was merely conveying a justification handed to her by the Attorney-General’s Chambers without herself subscribing to it. She never said in her parliamentary reply that it was all right to burn Bibles to defend Islam. That is true.

Nonetheless, she can’t get away with not facing up to her responsibility. Her passing of the buck to the A-G’s Chambers is not acceptable as an excuse for not doing her job right, which amounts to not doing her homework and not thinking before acting.

In fact, her admission of conveying only what the A-G’s Chambers told her actually makes her look worse. It clearly shows that she was merely acting as a messenger instead of doing her job as a minister.

If she did her job right as a minister, she would have first checked the validity of the A-G’s justification for not charging Ibrahim. She would not have proceeded to write this reply to Bagan MP Lim Guan Eng’s question: “The statement made by (Ibrahim) was not intended to cause religious disharmony but was only to defend the sanctity of Islam. Therefore, no prosecution was carried out.”

Anyone given such a justification would have instantly balked at it. Any thinking person would have realised the import of its implications.

Even if Ibrahim were defending the “sanctity of Islam”, he can’t simply say things like that. He’s inciting people to commit an act that would inflame the sensitivities of others. And why talk only of the sanctity of Islam and not the sanctity of other religions? The Federal Constitution may state that Islam is the religion of the Federation, but the sanctity of other religions should surely also be respected. If you burn Bibles, you will desecrate the sanctity of Christianity. But the same Constitution guarantees that other religions “may be practised in peace and harmony”. So how can you say something that violates that peace and harmony?

Surely, Nancy should have asked herself these questions before she accepted the A-G’s justification?

She should also have asked why Ibrahim’s statement “was not meant to cause religious disharmony”. Burning Bibles is not causing religious disharmony? It’s not desecrating the sanctity of another religion? Hearing the statement, Christians will just smile and turn the other cheek?

Even in the United States, a pastor in Florida was arrested last year while he was on his way to burn 2,998 copies of the Quran. And the U.S. is predominantly Christian.

Did Nancy not realise what she was going to say in her reply before she wrote it? On receiving the justification from the A-G’s Chambers, did she not wonder about the oddity of it, the lack of logic in it, the misconception of Islam it will convey? Did she not think before she presented it to Parliament? And if she did not, how can she be a minister, what more a minister in charge of law?

She also tried to exonerate herself by blaming the media for taking only excerpts from her parliamentary reply and ignoring the rest of it in order to “create misinterpretation and misunderstanding”.

Her reply had said as well that Ibrahim addressed the statement only to a particular group that had purportedly distributed the Bibles to students, including Muslims, at a school in Penang. As such, the statement was not a threat to the larger society.

But the reasoning is flawed. Even if Ibrahim was directing it at only a group of people, the fact remains that he uttered the statement at a press conference, which means his message was meant to be published in the media and disseminated nationwide. How then could it not be a threat to the larger society?

Her reply also said, “The decision by the Attorney-General’s Chambers to not prosecute Ibrahim was because the context of his speech was in line with the spirit in Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution.”

The article provides for state and federal law to control or restrict the propagation of other religions to Muslims, but how is that relevant? This case is about burning Bibles. Does the spirit of Article 11(4) extend to the desecration of the sanctity of other religions as an acceptable method of controlling the propagation of other religions to Muslims? Surely not!

Former deputy minister Saifuddin Abdullah, an Umno member himself, is therefore right in criticising the Government for using an argument that “does not reflect the true teachings of Islam and cannot be used to justify such a statement from Ibrahim”.

Quoting from the Quran, he points out that Islam urges Muslims to respond accordingly when defending Islam: “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best.” (an-Nahl:125)

“The Government,” he adds, “should not come up with this kind of argument … because it may lead to a misconception of Islam.”

Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim shares the same view in saying that Islam would never condone the burning of Bibles. “It is just, I should say, the Umno position or the minister’s position,” he says.

In his own understanding of Islam, “we must respect all religious beliefs and, of course, religious texts”.

So, next time if a Muslim extremist were to kill someone of another religion and claim he was defending the sanctity of Islam because his victim was subverting Islam, Nancy would come riding in her shining armour on her white horse, quote Article 11(4) and absolve him of his crime? And then say it was justified by the A-G’s Chambers? See how dangerous that justification is?

And speaking of the A-G’s Chambers, I suppose it would only be right for us to now go after the A-G, Abdul Gani Patail, himself for allowing this kind of insidious nonsense to come out of his office. And – more importantly – for not taking the appropriate legal action when it is called for. The buck has to stop with him.

In the meantime, it still means that Nancy Shukri the de facto law minister is not off the hook for not doing her job right. She will have to upgrade her performance to prove that she is the right person for the job – or risk being remembered as a minister who does not reason why.

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new bestselling book Can We Save Malaysia, Please!