For now, Malaysians still lack the imagination of what sort of multi-cultural or multi-religious society Malaysia will be. The absence of such a social vision contributes in large to a rather thin common ground or common culture that could serve to bring the different ethnic, religious and regional groups together. Although efforts have been made to define a narrative that would serve as a common social vision for Malaysia in terms of religious harmony and ethnic integration, details are still somewhat sketchy for an ideal. This state of affairs impinges very much on freedom of religion and belief and its place within the national polity.
It is commonly said that what appears to be religious conflict is in fact “politics, not religion.” This view is widespread in the West, especially in foreign policy, international relations, and even human rights circles. There are similar claims that what is happening is “economic, not religious,” or “ethnic, not religious.”
These judgments often stem from a belief that religion itself is not a major factor in human events.
The target of the new law is the burqa and niqab but, already the Danish People’s Party have turned their attention to the head scarf, launching a new poster campaign that tells women to “throw of the headscarf and become part of Denmark.” Given the rise in religious apathy and intolerance towards religion generally, who knows what will come next; tomorrow the cross or the yarmulke could be the next target. This is why it is important now, more than ever, for all freedom-loving people to come together, to stand together and oppose this unnecessary, counterproductive and hypocritical law.
Securitization is not simply state prevention of foreign political violence. It is also increasingly aimed at Islamic religious practices like the burqa which are interpreted as signs of political radicalism. One of the unexpected consequences of such a situation has been to grant governments greater means to control religions in general. As such, it is a very serious threat to religious freedom and democracy across Europe.
Theatrics aside, Ahmari missed a critical opportunity to engage in a constructive debate about the niqab and the limits of religious liberty and pluralism in the public square. Instead he turned to seemingly more pressing issues: the bullying and silencing of free and honest debate in Europe by progressive liberals. “Does liberal opinion permit Europeans to discuss the burka openly, honestly, and fearlessly?” he asks. “The answer is almost certainly ‘no,’ judging by the furious reaction that greeted Boris Johnson’s recent remarks,” he answers. The Johnson controversy, Ahmari would have us believe, has little if anything to do with “Islamophobia,” anti-Muslim bigotry, or the right to manifest one’s religious beliefs. It has everything to do with “a prohibition against expressing any discomfort, enforced on pain of social ostracism and joblessness” by “illiberal liberalism.” A prohibition that is “a recipe for populist backlash.”