The killing of Ahmad Rafli Abdul Malek, the enforcement chief of the Pahang Islamic Religious Department, is a case of yet another shooting-related death for yet another day under the Malaysian sun. The authorities are panicking, despite a certain mainstream English newspaper claiming the police’s war on crime is already a success not too long ago. Minister Jamil Khir Baharom said the government was contemplating arming federal religious officers with guns in response to the murder. The state of Terengganu is already arming its religious enforcers and urging other state authorities to follow suit.
I find this deeply disagreeable.
Guns are a symbol of power. One does not tempt a man or woman with a gun. When a person points a gun at you, there is no room for argument. “Just do as I say, or I will shoot.”
In a less than friendly environment, the mere presence of a gun is enough to instill fear. It drives almost everybody but the bravest away from public space, effectively killing any open public sphere. For those who enjoy having a vibrant open society, the threat alone is enough reason to oppose the greater proliferation of guns.
Even the authorities whom we trust to be among the most competent to handle firearms has given us reasons to doubt them. Having the Inspector-General claim that the missing guns highlighted by the Auditor-General’s report could have fallen into the sea just does not create confidence. The fact the guns are missing alone is worrying enough in times when it feels more and more crooks have guns these days.
Now, the government wants to give guns to the religious authorities, which are quite incompetent at handling firearms.
The proliferation of guns, at least since the recent past, is a new concern in Malaysia. An old threat to an open society is the troop of moral police all around the country. The situation is not as bad as in Saudi Arabia just yet, but the religious authorities are convinced that it is their job to keep our society morally upright, and uptight according to norms defined by them.
They do this not just by roaming public spaces and imposing their values on others. They also invade private spaces. Respect for privacy is of no concern to them. They spy and snoop around because they think they have the moral right to do so. “Morality is paramount. I am the guardian of morality. I am an agent of god. Obey me.”
These are the bunch of men who the Minister thinks may benefit from having guns. It is a double whammy for an open society. It is bad for our society.
These moral police are not just concerned with catching youth dating somewhere in the park or Muslims eating in public during Ramadan. While it is comically outrageous to have dudes with self-proclaimed moral superiority needing guns to arrest those whom in their eyes, are offending common sensibility – sorry, or was it the religious authorities’ sensibility? Was it god’s? – there is a more serious fear behind it all.
These religious authorities are also vigilant against religious teachings which do not follow the government’s official religious prescription. The Shias suffer from discrimination and persecution in Malaysia, with these religious authorities being the primary tool of religious oppression.
Several news reports stated that the police are investigating whether the murder is linked to the recent gazette of anti-Shia law in Pahang. Other reports linked the murder case to a cult referred to in the media as Tuhan Haron. If the Shia connection is true, then maybe after so much oppression the religious authorities, some of the oppressed are rising up.
Religious enforcement officers, used to oppressing others, now feel insecure. To provide these enforcers with security to oppress further, they get guns.
I do not think these religious authorities need guns. Instead, I think they need sledgehammers to crack open their narrow provincial xenophobic minds. Maybe, just maybe, if the religious authorities had not been oppressing the religious minority, those groups would not resort to hostile action.
Just leave the gun business to the police.