The annual Christmas merry-go-round

Emmanuel Joseph

The rising anti-Christian sentiment in Malaysia, especially around Christmastime, is centred on the vilification of Christianity in the country. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, December 20, 2023.

‘TIS the season to be petty, again. Every year, we find a new problem with Christmas.

These past few years, religious groups, preachers and people have claimed wishing someone a Merry Christmas meant endorsing something wrong – be it a Christian celebration, the date of Jesus’ birth or Christianity itself.

This year, the Antichrist(mas) came in the form of a zealous bakery that did not think halal status and festive greetings belonged in the same premises.

To be fair, the management did base it on an Islamic Development Department ruling, which has since been rescinded.

The root cause of it – the progressive (or rather, regressive) vilification of Christians in this country – has been allowed to continue for far too long.

Both opposition and government groups participated in the potshot – taking its roots from as far as Tengku Razaleigh’s campaign for the Umno presidency.

It has since deteriorated to disinformation campaigns, politicisation, the blurring of issues, and a systematic targeting of Christians as an undesirable element in Malaysian society.

The singling out of Christians in the larger, politically driven “Muslim/non-Muslim” dichotomy is not accidental.

Christianity is a majority religion in Europe and the United States, seen as bullies in many topics close to the heart of our Muslim Malaysians, like the situations in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The incidental religion of many DAP leaders makes it easy to bundle it with “chauvinist”, “communist”, or “Zionist”, in the unholy litany of titles designed to evoke fear and mistrust against these leaders by the Muslim electorate.

The effect of this is seen today in the packaging of issues into what is presented as “Christian excess” in Malaysia, which is unacceptable, as we are not a “Christian” country – these bundling include carols and decorations in malls, which serve more commercial than evangelical purpose, the holding of Christian closed concerts, which are private religious events, invitations of Christian speakers, or even the presence of the Malaysian flag or military or police emblems at church services, often for specific Malaysian groups – like the armed forces, or Christian students of a public university, for instance.

Christianity, like Christmas, should be less conspicuous, the argument goes, forgetting a time Christians played a larger part in our regional history, education, medicine and charity; forgetting that these “excessive” people are concentrated across just a handful of towns in just half the states in the peninsula; ignoring our Sabah and Sarawak family, where Christians form a much larger proportion of the population.

As these voices are allowed to perpetuate myths, the response of Christian leaders, both political and spiritual, become more muted, partly due to resignation with rising conservatism in the country and partly due to perhaps knowing nothing will come out of correcting the wrong perceptions or combating the purposefully perpetuated half-truths.

Or perhaps, they take umbrage in knowing whatever radicalism is new that year, malls will still compete to see who has the largest, shiniest, most outlandish decorations, events and promotions.

That our civil leaders and even our monarchs, defy the “wisdom” of the few and extend their greetings to all subjects for all festivities.

That people continue to celebrate Christmas and other celebrations, even greeted by leaders from organisations that revel in repeating the anti-everything rhetoric.

Yet the danger of extremism remains.

While placating all groups – playing to the conservative gallery while rocking the liberal cradle – is the hallmark of all Malaysian governments, the fact remains even the most right-wing parties will need to tilt to the middle, while the most centrist of governments still swerve left and right to pander to the needs to maintain a stable administration.

A Christmas greeting may seem like a storm in a teacup, but it is telling of deeper issues that need to be tackled before they rein in even reindeer.

Wishing all The Malaysian Insight readers a safe and Merry Christmas! – December 20, 2023.

* Emmanuel Joseph firmly believes that Klang is the best place on Earth, and that motivated people can do far more good than any leader with motive.

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