It is a sad reality that discussions about religion all too often lead to conflict and sometimes even violence. One way to deal with that problem might be akin to the old adage that one should never discuss politics or religion at polite gatherings.
The country of Malaysia recently decided to ban all religious discussions in public. Malaysia is a religiously and ethnically diverse country– about 51% of the population is Malay, and are Muslim, another 26% are predominantly Buddhist Chinese (though some identify as Confucian or Christian), another 7% are Hindu, and others. Because of the majority of Muslims, Malaysia is sometimes called a Muslim country, though the issue is greatly debated.
In recent years, there had been increasing discussion of religious diversity, but now the government has returned to its previous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The reason given is to protect the public: “Public discussions such as these have the potential to create resentment among the public,” said Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Aziz, who holds the title Minister in the Prime Minister”s Department. “They have widened the gap between the different faiths and because of that, the government has decided to ban all public discussions, forums, and conferences on the matter before it gets out of hand.”
“We are not concerned with private discussions at home; what we worry about are inter-faith roadshows, public forums, and conferences.” “The government has given Malaysians the freedom to discuss any current issue, even the freedom to criticize us in a constructive manner. We, however, cannot extend this freedom to religion because it can incite disharmony in our multi-religious society.”
Yes, there are those who use the public forum to stir up passions and villify those of other religions. Yet, while a concern for peaceable and civil discussion is praiseworthy, it’s hard to see how a prohibition on all dialogue and encounter can possibly lead to a long-term solution. Divisions that are not addressed do not go away; they simply fester, and become the seedbed of even more tension and conflict.
We need to talk about it. And we need to find ways to do that with respect and civility.
- “`No” to Discussing Religion.” Daily Express (East Malaysia)
- “Malaysia clamps down on public debate about religion.” WorldWide Religious News
- “Malaysia, Truly Asia? Religious Pluralism in Malaysia.” The Pluralism Project Research Report