Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Turning Point in Malaysia

The Associated Press reports on a key court case that will help decide whether Malaysia remains a pluralist democracy or continues to slide towards the Islamist abyss:

Lina Joy has been disowned by her family, shunned by friends and forced into hiding -- all because she renounced Islam and embraced Christianity in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Now, after a seven-year legal struggle, Malaysia's highest court will decide on Wednesday whether her constitutional right to choose her religion overrides an Islamic law that prohibits Malay Muslims from leaving Islam.

Either way, the verdict will have profound implications on society in a country where Islam is increasingly conflicting with minority religions, challenging Malaysia's reputation as a moderate Muslim and multicultural nation that guarantees freedom of worship.

Despite the heroic efforts of civil society groups such as Article 11, Malaysian Islamists have enjoyed great success in recent years at imposing their agenda of intolerance. If the court rules against Miss Joy, the Islamization of Malaysian society will only accelerate. Her lawyer explains the consequences for both his client and his country:

The constitution does not say who has the final word in cases such as Miss Joy's. If she loses her appeal and continues to insist she is a Christian, it could lead to charges of apostasy and a jail sentence.

"Our country is at a crossroad," said Miss Joy's attorney, Benjamin Dawson. "Are we evolving into an Islamic state or are we going to maintain the secular character of the constitution?"


Miss Joy's case "will decide the space of religious freedom in Malaysia," said Mr. Dawson. If she wins, "it means that the constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of religion prevails. If she loses, that means the constitutional guarantee is subservient to Islamic restrictions," he said.

Finally, the article describes how the Lina Joy case has demonstrated the ability of Malaysian Islamists to curb free expression:

Miss Joy's decision to leave Islam sparked angry street protests by Muslim groups and led to e-mail death threats against Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, a Muslim lawyer supporting her. The widely circulated anonymous e-mail described him as a "traitor" to Islam and carried his picture with the caption "Wanted Dead."

Proselytizing of Muslims is banned in Malaysia and apostasy is a crime punishable by fines and jail sentences. Offenders often are sent to prisonlike rehabilitation centers.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Whatever the outcome, this case will be a crucial turning point in Malaysia's culture war. I just hope the court decides in favor of freedom instead of intolerance.


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