Atheist Republic provides opportunities for non-believers around the world to gather with like-minded people, share their views and also provide each other with tools to better express themselves online and offline. It is an online Website and Facebook group with more than 1.7 million followers worldwide. It has Chapters or “consulates” in hundreds of cities around the world. The consulate of Kuala Lumpur got together for dinner and drinks and they took a picture of the group. That was a seemingly innocent move but it turned out that many Malaysian people, and even the Malaysian government, wants those people punished for not believing in Islam.
The photo of the gathering by the Malaysian consulate has caused uproar from some in the Muslim community recently after it was highlighted by pro-Islamist blogs, leading to threats of violence and death on social media. Comments like “Where are the religious authorities? Catch these people!” and “Their leader is Iranian. He should be arrested and beheaded, the accursed man,” appeared on social networks and it’s not the end of the trouble. Deputy Minister in charge of Islamic affairs, Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, said Putrajaya will investigate the local group, even bringing in the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, as it allegedly involved the faith of Muslims in the country.
According to Atheist Republic founder Armin Navabi’s statement, such attacks could be expected from countries like Pakistan or Bangladesh, but Malaysia is supposed to be an example of “moderate” Islamic country. These threats put what has been seen as a moderate Malaysia side by side with more radical countries like Saudi Arabia, and destroys that moderate image. Armin Navabi, a former Muslim from Iran, claims that this situation is going to encourage these atheists to continue organizing events because they won’t let anyone intimidate them. “They are so brave,” Navabi continued, “and I was so sad to see the reaction they got, but they are taking it very bravely, which is so encouraging and I am so proud of them.”
“Malaysia is a country that cares about its image and they do care about their international relations…. (Incidents such as this) has to hurt them publicly for this to stop (them) thinking about taking such actions,” Navabi said.
Just for the record, the world IS watching Malaysia and the reaction and condemnation are already huge.
Allie Jackson, the Atheist Republic’s chief executive, condemned those unfortunate events:
“I’m horribly upset at what I’m seeing unfold here. A group of beautiful people got together to hang out with each other, it made them happy and they took a picture. They didn’t hurt anyone, they didn’t mean to cause harm, they just wanted to be together and have a good time. The next thing we know...the government is getting involved. They are being told that they should be beheaded, or run out of their country. This is how the outside world sees this situation. Not believing in god doesn’t cause harm, but people posting that these people should be murdered, does. Why won’t the government investigate the real harm?”
Although Malaysia is a multi-religious society, it appears that the Malaysian constitution only theoretically guarantees freedom of religion. Islam is the official religion of the federation, as well as the legally-presumed faith of all ethnic Malays. No ethnic Malay is allowed to leave Islam, while non-Malay Muslims seeking to apostacise require permission from a sharia court, which is rarely granted. Legally, every Malay in Malaysia must be a Muslim. Attempts by Muslims to convert to other religions are punished by the state government, with punishments ranging from fines to imprisonment.
Such threats of violence by Malaysia must be stopped. Humans are equal everywhere; human rights must be respected, not violated. If someone has freedom to believe, they must also have freedom not to believe. Islam, that threatens physical punishment for apostasy, is not freedom. Theocratic forced belief does not produce genuine belief. It produces a belief that is a sham and is only for self-preservation.
The reputation that a country sends to the world can change very easily, especially if that change is for the worse. The Malaysian government must focus on people who represent a real threat to the whole nation, its reputation and its freedom. It must focus on those who would take away individual freedoms, including freedom of religion. Atheists do not do that. Let’s not make new bonfires for innocent people; the time of burning witches is ancient history.
Malaysia, you are known as a moderate country with a history of human rights. What will you do in this case? Will you tarnish that reputation? The people of the world are watching.
Photo Credits: The Malay Mail Online