PM owes Christians an apology for aides’ Christmas blunder, says PR
KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 30 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) politicians today called on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to take responsibility and publicly apologise for his aides’ gaffe at the Catholic archbishop’s Christmas tea party here last Saturday.
The Malaysian Insider had yesterday reported that Najib’s men had instructed church officials to remove crucifixes and other overt Christian symbols from being displayed at the party grounds in Bukit Nanas before the PM’s visit in their zeal to protect his Islamic credentials.
Hymns and prayers were also barred.
Sources disclosed that the orders were issued without the PM’s knowledge.
Leaders from the DAP, PAS and PKR urged Najib to act promptly and make clear his stand on the instructions, saying that further delay could harm Malaysia’s still fragile interfaith ties.
PAS lawmaker Khalid Samad described the actions taken by Najib’s aides as a “blatant act of religious intolerance” that reflected the prevailing attitude of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government.
“Christians have the right to celebrate their religious festivals as they see fit. I don’t see why Najib’s men had to go and give orders to remove this or that,” he told The Malaysian Insider today.
“It would be just like going to Batu Caves and telling the Hindus to remove the statues there,” he added.
“That’s the problem with Umno-BN all this while. They do all these unnecessary things that are completely unacceptable,” said the Shah Alam MP who has been derisively called “Khalid Gereja” by political rivals for his sympathy towards non-Muslims.
He explained that right-thinking Muslims understood that they were not celebrating the festival but showing respect and solidarity to followers of other creeds at such festivals.
“You’re not celebrating that festival because you don’t believe in that religion.
“You’re there to show not animosity but respect and solidarity and acknowledge they have the right to practise their religion,” he stressed.
Khalid noted that Najib could have easily avoided the ruckus if he had given clear directives to his staff on his personal policy regarding visits for religious occasions.
“If he felt that he was going to feel uncomfortable with all the crosses there, then he shouldn’t have gone.
“Otherwise, if he understands that as a Muslim his faith won’t be compromised... he should have told his men,” the 53-year-old said.
“The logical way to treat the situation now is for him to apologise on behalf of his aides and put the matter right,” said Khalid.
Selangor DAP chief Teresa Kok accused the prime minister of trying to curb religious freedom and demanded he take full responsibility and apologise.
“Najib should apologise to [the] Christian Federation of Malaysia for ‘de-Christianising’ their Christmas celebration,” she said in a strongly-worded media statement today.
The Selangor state executive councillor insisted that Najib must have given the orders and was distancing himself from his men’s actions in a bid to save face.
“Such an order from the Prime Minister’s Office’s (PMO) shows how insincere and ungracious Najib behaved as a guest at the celebration held at the Catholic archbishop’s residence.
“It is doubtful that Najib could have been unaware that his office had issued such a directive and far more likely that he is back-pedalling after having been exposed and publicly shamed,” she said.
Kok, a Christian, reminded Najib and the PMO that there is a “deeper meaning to Christmas beyond the Santa Claus and snow, and that that deeper meaning should be respected”.
“Christians have a right to be offended,” PKR’s communications chief Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad told The Malaysian Insider today.
The Seri Setia state assemblyman echoed both Khalid and Kok in denouncing the PMO’s tactless actions.
He said the conditions imposed on the Catholic church pointed to a deeply-entrenched system set up by Umno and the BN to keep the nation divided along religious lines.
“In Malaysia, because of Umno and BN, they [Muslims] don’t know much. That creates schizophrenia and this problem among the Muslims and non-Muslims,” said Nik Nazmi.
He said Muslims elsewhere were not fearful that their beliefs would be compromised if they shared in the festivities of followers of another creed.
“I think the PM should state clearly that they were wrong and it will not be repeated.
“It can get quite serious because ultimately the buck stops with him. He is the boss. He has to take accountability,” he said.
Nik Nazmi hinted that the nation’s tenuous religious situation may spiral out of control again unless Najib steps in quickly and addresses the issue.
Malaysia was rocked by a series of attacks against houses of worship in January this year following a controversial court ruling in favour of the Catholic church over the use of the word “Allah”.