Sunday, July 31, 2005

There's No Such Thing as a Good State Religion

I was planning on blogging about the MC5/Sun Ra Arkestra show in Central Park this afternoon, but realized that many people were reading this blog after being sent here on searches for information about Ayah Pin and the Sky Kingdom. As I was writing this, I also found a news item that the entire Sky-Kingdom site had been demolished. I haven't been able to find any more details than this, but will post an update when I do.
From what I've seen on the web, the search for Ayah Pin is still ongoing. The hunt - and all the episodes leading up to it, including a previous demolition attempt at the Sky Kingdom, have led to an interesting debate about the nature of state religion in Malaysia, which I found in a series of editorials from Malaysia Kini.
Umran Kadir has argued there that the Koran says explicitly "let there be no compulsion in religion," and that this therefore means that the Malaysian govt. is out of line for chasing down Pin. An opponent of the Sky kingdom sect who is also critical of the government, in a follow-up letter, says that the punishing of "apostasy" is different from not allowing freedom of religion, because it is about the protection of the faith. According to govt. spokespeople, the leader is such a threat that he must be "stopped now."
Supporters of the transformation of the US from a secular state to one governed by "The ten commandments" or some other more modern set of religious laws would do well to reflect on what is going on in Malaysia right now. People on the very far right were mobilized into action many years ago by the US govt's seige against the armed Branch Davidians. While there is not in every case a direct connection between the US "rapture" right and the militia groups, the Christian identity movement does bring some of them together.
Were the US government to start passing laws based on explicitly religious values, it is likely that Koresh's group would be declared apostates as Pin's have been. As Thomas Jefferson pointed out a long time ago, religious people especially should support the disestablishment of the church, because it allows much greater freedom and autonomy for religious groups. I think we can see an example of this in the sad situation now going on in Malaysia, where angry mobs get the nod from the govt. for their attack on so-called threats to the faith of Islam.
Someone here posted something which I imagined was meant to be a critique of an earlier comment of mine that that Muslim governments are not "especially repressive," and I stand by this claim. If you know your history, you can see that the Catholic Church, which tortured and burned dissenters at the stake when it held state power in Europe, and the Puritan church, which banned theaters and other forms of entertainment when it had state power, and the New England puritans who burned witches in Massachusetts, were all repressive. You might learn something that the people who learned from those bitter experiences in Europe's devastating Catholic vs. Protestant wars of the 16th century finally figured out. The truth is that state religion leads to repression not only of the non-religious, but especially of the religious - because religious dissenters who attract religious followers are a threat to the authority of the state religion. In the case of Ayah Pin, those who support the government law actually argue that it's because he's a deviant type of Muslim that he's most dangerous.
Indeed, the fact that Ayah Pin is an ethnic Malay and ex-Muslim makes him part of a constituency that the government very much wants under its control. Thus, the Malaysian government, while officially supporting freedom of religion, takes this particular "apostate Muslim" very seriously and is doing everything it can to get rid of him, his followers and his influence. As a religious government which touts its modernity and moderation, contemporary Malaysia should provide a cautionary tale to those Americans who think we need more religion in our public life.
As political scientist, Farish Noor argues, in two articles, one in January and a second in February, describing a "homegrown" taliban in Malaysia,
such ‘morality’ and ‘decency’ campaigns have little to do with standards of morality and decency, but rather everything to do with state power and control. And in any case, if these ‘moral guardians’ are so obsessed with morality and public decency, they should focus their attention on other genuine moral problems in our society, from the levels of corruption to the ‘surat layang’ culture of Malaysian politics, from detention without trial to the alleged killing of prisoners under custody. He goes on to argue, in this really excellent article, that it seems to be that the most religious members of the society are the ones under the strictest religious policing.
So far as I can tell, the US government has done and said nothing about this latest attack on religious freedom by our South East Asian allies. surprise. surprise.
If and when I learn more about what's going on in Malaysia, I will post something more here. Also, recall, lest you are inclined to see all this as simply funny because of the teapot business, Human Rights Watch has an issued an alert regarding this religious movement and its fate.


Chanders / NYC said...

Dear Blogger,


In the next few days, the local grassroots media website New York City Indymedia will be re-launching with an additional feature: a “community blogwire” that will syndicate headlines from local weblogs that we think might be of interest to the NYC progressive community. The blogwire will include headlines from rss-syndicated blogs that link back the original post on the original weblog; in short, we see that as an attempt to serve as a ”hub” for the NYC grassroots media community as well as a generator of our own original content. Upon occasion, we will include a short (1-2 pgfs at most) excerpt of the rss-feed in the “features” section of our website, along with a link back to the original post.

We would like to include your blog as one of the weblogs we will be syndicating. If you would would be willing to give us permissiobn to link to our site in the manner descibed above, please email us at or at imc-nyc-web (nospam) indymedia (dot) org and let us know that it is ok with you. Feel free to drop by the NYC IMC website at any time to see what we have in mind.


Chris Anderson and the
The NYC Indymedia Web Team

La Bona said...

I think it is a crying shame that some people can be threatened by a few concrete structures.

I say the Sky Kingdom crushing akin to the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddha by Taliban

I have a related blog here Islam: Persecution of Sky Kingdom II.

May God address the injustice ...

reb said...

This is why I wrote on an earlier discussion of the Sky Kingdom post that this is not about Islam. I think state religion of any kind leads to repression. I certainly don't imagine God will address the injustice.