I would like to share with you 2 important articles by the Bar Council which I believe would shed more light on the entire proceedings that morning. In my opinion, both links below does not appear to be adequately mentioned to the same level of detail by the MSM (The Star) to date:
It is ironic that notwitstanding the rude and intrusive protests which appeared to deny the fundamental liberties of all Malaysians there (and worse - appeared to be indirectly aided by the Police who were not successful in performing their basic duty which is to prevent the protestors from rudely entering and disrupting the meeting), the majority of the attendees were indeed Muslims. There are also several formal Muslims representations in the meeting. Even though I am not a Muslim, from what transpired during that morning, I felt the Muslims in the meeting were more Islamic (if there is such a concept) than the protestors, at least to my limited understanding of Islam being a beautiful religion.
From what I can see from both links above, the objectives of the Bar Council meeting is and was a peaceful and engaging one. There was insightful sharing of information and experiences which I find enlightening, such as ...
"In the first session, which was moderated by Chin Oy Sim, two guest speakers were invited to tell their stories. The first speaker, a Chinese woman who requested to remain anonymous, told the crowd how her father married an Iranian woman and converted to Islam without his wife's knowledge. When the wife found out about the conversion, she applied for a divorce. However, during the course of the divorce proceedings, he passed away. Issue arose as under the Syariah law, the speaker and her family are not recognised as the legitimate family and hence they are not entitled to the father's property."
"The second guest speaker was an Indian woman, who told her harrowing struggle to get her father a Christian burial. In her scenario, her father had converted to Islam without the family's knowledge. However he had decided to convert back to Christianity. When he died of heart attack, the hospital informed the speaker that his father had died a Muslim. To show proof that his father was a Christian, the speaker showed his Mykad which stated that he was a Christian. She was told that the Mykad carried no weight and to treat it as 'sampah' (rubbish). The speaker then continued her struggle to insist that her father be buried as a Christian. In the end, the authority withdrew their order to bury her father as a Muslim. But what was interesting to note in her story is the fact that after all the suffering that she and her family had to go through, nobody offered any apology."
I am sure many would have indeed loved to hear more about the meeting, but unfortunately, the meeting was cut short by the protestors. The above are just a couple of extracts - do click on the links above to read the full report.
And then, the grave dissappointment occured ...
"At about 9.50am, merely 10 minutes before the agreed end time, the leaders of the protest came up to the auditorium to voice their protest on the continued forum.
Things got a bit emotional and they started to shout for the forum to be stopped, uttering racist remarks to some of the audience.
Professor Mehrun Siraj took the microphone and advised everyone to calm down, saying as Muslims, they should not act in such an unruly manner and she was close to tears while saying that.
But that did not deter the impatient leaders who refused to back down and threatened to call up their supporters from downstairs to join them in the auditorium.
Madam President then gave a short speech to close the forum and everyone was advised to disperse peacefully.
The leaders then lingered at the back of the auditorium waiting for all the audience to leave.
One of them even went further and opened the auditorium window and shouted to the protestors downstairs inciting loud cheers from them."
Reading this, I am speechless, because I simply find the behaviour of the protestors appalling and completely unacceptable. I wonder why they did not registered themselves for the meeting? It was an open forum, so, they would have been accepted. Then, wouldn't that have been far more constructive? They should have followed the example of this particular member of the public:
"A member of the public, describing himself as a 'concerned citizen', when interviewed, admitted that he arrived early and registered for the forum with intention to voice out his dissatisfaction in the forum for challenging the right of Islam and Muslims in this country.
Instead, he came down from the forum expressing his satisfaction saying that the forum was a good effort.
That the forum, instead, discussed the predicament faced by the non-Muslim families of the converts.
He concurred with the Bar Council that these unresolved issues need to be ironed out and brought to the open.
He was glad that he made the effort to join the forum and found the true intention of the Bar Council, despite it starting out of curiosity and hostility.
He also expressed his sympathy towards the crowd whom, he said, were clueless and had no idea that they were fighting against something that does not exist."
I am also particularly touched and heartened to note (as reported in the HRC report above), that ...
"... one of the participants of the forum, Dr Mehrun Siraj, former SUHAKAM commissioner, decried the actions of the protestors in disrupting the forum, and was quoted (in The Sun’s report on 11 August 2008) as having said to them:
You represent UMNO, I represent the Muslims. Muslims must act based on the Qu’ran and Sunnah. We must behave well. Muslims must not be rude. I am ashamed of your behaviour. Islam does not condone this."
Even though I do not know Dr Mehrun Siraj personally, nor know much about her, but based on this little that I know so far here, I have no doubts that if she were to run for office, she would have my complete support.
It was truly refreshing to my heart to hear such words of universal truth, wisdom and tolerance from a person whom I would regard as having excellently displayed the true Muslim and Malaysian spirit.
Which led me to wonder ...
Were Najib and Abdullah also "fighting" against something that did not exist? Did the mass media portrayed to all its readers something that did not exist? Why were all of them fighting imaginary ghosts?
The Star reported this from PM Abdullah - http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/8/12/nation/22060919&sec=nation
Abdullah not in favour of ‘sensitive’ forums
PUTRAJAYA: The Home Ministry will decide if there is any basis to act against the Bar Council for holding the Conversion to Islam forum that could threaten the peace and security of the country, said Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. (Seng comment: Note that the PM did NOT object to the Home Ministry's possible ISA action as reported elsewhere ... Why the suspense and intimidation?)
The Prime Minister said the Bar Council had been advised against holding the forum that touched on sensitive matters like religion and race. (Seng comment: On what basis should the Bar Council not hold the forum, based on what you've read so far? What is so wrong with this meeting?)
“I hope such an incident won’t repeat itself. Last Saturday’s forum is proof that issues relating to religion and race are sensitive in the country.
“Thus, it’s important for us to control and restrain ourselves from discussing such matters.
“It’s better not to hold such forums in the future,” he told reporters ... (Seng comment: Is the PM properly informed of the Bar Council meeting? On what sound basis and reasoning should such a forum not be held in future? )
And also The Star reported this about Najib, which I had previously blogged here - http://fusioninvestor.blogspot.com/2008/08/open-door-closed-door-back-door-najib.html
Some quotes which I find disturbing coming from Najib ...
"Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said he had expected the extreme reaction to occur as the council ignored advice to call off the forum.
"We had expected this to happen. I’ve already said this before, don’t make it an open forum, do it behind closed doors. There will surely be some form of extreme reaction that will occur (if it was held openly)."
"“We’ve expected the incident to happen because the issue that was to be discussed is sensitive,” he said after launching the Federation of Malay Economic Bodies (Gabem) exhibition and convention at the PWTC here yesterday." (Seng comment: One thing which I didn't notice then, but only now is that Najib repeated this at least 3 times in The Star article that "he/we had expected this to happen". Why 3 times? Did he knew something was going to happen, but allowed it to happen?)
"Najib also said that the basic pillars of the Constitution should be accorded full respect if Malaysians wanted to live peacefully and harmoniously." (Seng comment: Like his boss, was Najib also fighting against something that didn't exist?)
So, what do you think actually happened that morning when the Bar Council organized the forum?
Will we ever go past and beyond the racial and religious divisions that presently exists between us?
Will we ever achieve this without constructive dialogue and meetings of mind like the one which the Bar Council organized, if we blindly followed our PM's decree that "It’s better not to hold such forums in the future", or Najib's insistence that "he had expected the extreme reaction to occur"?
What can each of us do - as concerned Malaysian citizens - to ensure that we do not continue to be be divided by race, religion or any other superficial characteristics?