Selective religious freedom is not religious freedom at all
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Selective religious freedom is not religious freedom at all

MALAYSIA is in the spotlight again as religious intolerance is on the rise and religious minorities are under increasing scrutiny from both government officials and members of the public, according to a report from The Diplomat.

A recent gathering of the “Atheist Republic” group, and the political fallout and public outcry that followed, are held up as a prime example of this.

An innocent photo depicting a group of mostly young men and women, casually dressed, raising cups or peace signs and smiling for the camera, prompted a violent backlash from netizens, some of whom called for the deaths of the participants or demanded they be thrown out of the country.

Accompanying the photo was the caption, “Atheists from all walks of life came to meet one another, some for the very first time … each sharing their stories and forming new friendships that hopefully last a lifetime! We rock!”

Shortly after, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki asked for an investigation to determine if any Muslims were involved in the meeting.

A day later, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Shahidan Kassim, suggested a forced education for the atheists.

He said in a press conference:

“I suggest we hunt them down vehemently and we ask for help to identify these groups.”

This is powerful and divisive rhetoric in a country that enshrines freedom to practice religion in its constitution.

According to The Diplomat, it is rhetoric like this – coming from the highest levels of government and society – that is emboldening the fundamentalist Muslim community, not only against atheists but all religious minorities.

There have been recent examples of this, such as a cross being removed from a church façade, statues being removed from parks, and people getting arrested for conducting prayer.

SEE ALSO: Pew study: Governments around the world are tightening the screws on religious freedom

There seems to be a disconnect between what religious freedom really means and how it’s being carried out. Any bastardised version of religious freedom selective in its approach, is not religious freedom at all.

If it is acceptable to harass and demean people of another faith in your home country, then you condone the rights of others to do the same to those of your faith in other nations. You cannot have it both ways.

Those who call for atheists to be hunted and hanged will no doubt be the same people who are outraged by Trump’s Muslim ban, the treatment of Rohingya Muslims or any instance in which followers of the Islamic faith are not freely able to practice.

As so often seems to be the case in religious stand-offs, there is a feeling of “us” and “them”. As if the people who hold different beliefs are some dangerous “other” to be feared. And it is easy to maintain this feeling in your home country when surrounded by people of the same faith. But what if you were to become the “other” as so many Muslims in many parts of the world have been forced to become?

SEE ALSO: Brunei, M’sia, Indonesia rated region’s worst violators of rights, religious freedom

Through malicious policy and provocative rhetoric similar to what we hear today in Malaysia, Muslims are often marginalised in societies across the globe. In trying times such as these, religious freedom should be of the utmost importance.

But it must be understood that religious freedom does not simply apply to your religion.

If you cannot respect the followers of other faiths, how can you expect anyone to respect yours?

** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent