Who's afraid of Hannah Yeoh?

Karim Raslan

Author Karim Raslan with Subang Jaya assemblyman and Selangor legislative speaker Hannah Yeoh.

THE term “Meng-Ahok-kan” has entered the Indonesian political lexicon. It means to accuse someone (preferably a political rival) of blasphemy.

Everyone knows that I am a big fan of Indonesia. But with the jailing of the outgoing Governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or “Ahok”, Indonesia has failed its better self and created enormous unease amongst its own minorities.

Malaysians are now presented with a situation that eerily echoes the infamous Ahok case. It involves a hard-working and much-loved grassroots politician called Hannah Yeoh Tseow Suan.

I first met Yeoh – who is a member of DAP – back in 2013 and I have tracked her career ever since.

In fact, after the 2013 general elections, I wrote that voters of her Subang Jaya state constituency in Selangor, which at the time was 29.2% Malay and 68.8% non-Malay, “…like Hannah Yeoh because she works phenomenally hard and is sincere and approachable. The fact that she’s a DAP cadre is secondary.”

Yeoh had won re-election with a thumping majority of 28,069 votes. She would then become Speaker of the Selangor State Assembly, the first woman, and the youngest legislator ever, to hold this role.

I have always thought of Yeoh as a remarkable politician and, more importantly, a good person.

Bright and feisty, she has a dedication to the public good.

Therefore, it is very saddening for me to learn that a police report has been lodged against her.

Yeoh has been accused of attempting to proselytize Muslims, which is an offence in our country.

Why? Because her memoirs, “Becoming Hannah”, apparently contains quotes from the Bible.

This is laughable, no one is forcing anyone to read her book.

I may be fond of Yeoh but there’s no way I would want read her political memoirs. Life is just too short and Subang Jaya is one of my least-favourite places.

Still, Yeoh has lodged a report against her accuser and I have no doubt that she will be vindicated should the law become involved.

I also sincerely hope that the allegations have nothing to do with the upcoming general elections, where Selangor is expected to be a battleground state.

After all, if we study history, we will learn that the mixing of religion with politics always ends in disaster. There are no exceptions to this.

Indonesia has learned this the hard way – Ahok’s jailing has damaged the Republic’s sterling reputation for pluralism on the world stage. This will in turn fuel the concerns of minorities and indeed, investors.

What is even more worrying is that her travails come on the back of several disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia.

These incidents arguably stem from Malay-Muslims feeling insecure – whether over the location of places of worship or allegedly “non-halal” content in food or even paint brushes.

But I have never understood why we Malay-Muslims should feel this way.

Just look at the facts: in 2016, the Department of Statistics estimated that 68.6% of Malaysia’s population was Bumiputera, of which the Malays are a part of.

Moreover, in 2015, the Pew Research Center’s “The Future of World Religions” report highlighted that Muslims will make up 72.4% of Malaysia’s population in 2050, or 32.7 million out of the projected 45.2 million.

Christian Malaysians, on the other hand, will remain at just 9.4%, while all other religions will see their share decline.

Also, the position of the Malays and Islam is guaranteed by the Constitution. Our place in politics, governance, defence and business are all secure.

So why should we feel so afraid and besieged all the time?

Why must we react so negatively whenever non-Muslims publicly and peacefully practice their religion – which is a right also guaranteed by the Constitution?

It is true that Malay-Muslims are the majority community and the custodians of our land.

But let us also not forget that all Malaysians, whatever their race or religion, have a stake in this country and its future.

As Tunku Abdul Rahman once said, “There is a place in the sun for everyone in Malaysia”.

I do not deny that the Malay-Muslims are facing many challenges and threats.

But our fellow non-Muslim Malaysian citizens – like Hannah Yeoh – are not one of them. – May 18, 2017.

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