Lately, I have spent some time browsing through news and issues related to civil rights in the US.
One of the most prominent current issues that touched the conscience of the nation was the murder of George Floyd.
This created an unprecedented scene during a tumultuous week across the country. It was provoked by nine horrifying minutes captured by onlookers outside a convenience store in Minneapolis, as George Floyd’s life was extinguished by local police.
His death quickly sparked outrage across the US and then the world.
Of those who were from civil society condemning such an inhuman act by a certain white police officer was the US religious establishment, which was steadfast in condemning racism and abuse of power.
For instance, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement: “We are broken-hearted, sickened, and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes.
“What’s more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences.
“This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.
“As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference.”
Dozens of Muslim organisations in the US also came together to call for reform of policing practices and to support black-led organisations.
What is obvious from religious leaders and their followers in the US is the understanding that behaviours and actions with a racist element are morally and universally unethical and should be condemned in all forms.
Looking at Malaysia – where there are followers of Islam, the official religion, and those from minority religious groups – what is obvious is that religious leaders are not speaking up and so are condoning or becoming passive receptors of racism and religious bigotry.
What is more troubling is there is no common stand against bigotry, among Muslim, Hindu, Christian or Buddhist leaders.
They don’t question institutional racism and bigotry in the public sphere. Even if there are statements, they are targeted at issues that are communal in nature. They tend to target something specifically instead of going beyond a person’s communal sentiment and speaking out for the rights of those who are treated unjustly.
Why is there such apathy among Malaysian religious leaders and followers when there is a death in custody – what more when a minority community seems to be the most affected?
It is time for religious leaders of all religions in Malaysia to wake up to make a stand of conscience against institutional racism and bigotry.
Yet, is this possible when religion, ethnicity and politics are intertwined in pursuit of power? – The Malaysian Insight