Liberalism Incompatible With Multiculturalism: Dr Hazlin Chong
On Saturday, 24th of August 2016, Dr Hazlin Chong, representing Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma), was invited as a panellist for the forum entitled “Liberalism and multiculturalism: Does freedom unite or divide?” as part of the Liberalism Conference 2016 organised by Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS). Below is her introductory speech for the forum:
Bismillahi rahmani rahim
I begin in the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Assamualaikum and a very good afternoon to the moderator, fellow panellists and audience. First off I would like to thank IDEAS for inviting Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia, Isma, as one of the panellists in this forum. It is always a pleasure for us to be invited to discussions such as this one, because it is important for the future of Malaysia. Hopefully from this discourse we could learn from each other and perhaps agree, or agree to disagree.
I am here representing Isma as an organisation, which sees Islam and the implementation of Islam, based on the principles of Islamic jurisprudence outlined from the Quran and Sunnah, as the solution to the world problems today. We have various agencies across the nation and members of different age, backgrounds and professions, all volunteering in order to achieve this common aim.
On the subject of liberalism, we are opponents of it because fundamentally, liberalism as a system is not compatible with Islam, unless one submits to the other. But I won’t go through that and I believe the panel session last year already had discussed this issue with Ustaz Abdullah Zaik, the president of Isma, as one of the panellists.
To address the question of this forum: “Liberalism and multiculturalism: Does freedom unite or divide?”, I think by now you can expect what Isma’s answer to that question is. But the question itself needs some re-addressing, because freedom itself is not exclusive to liberalism. Islam has its own set of freedom too. So I won’t be using the word freedom per se and equate it with liberalism. So the question should be Can liberalism promote multiculturalism or Can liberalism unite people of different culture, race and religion such as those found in Malaysia?
The short answer to that question is NO, it cannot. And I’ll explain as to why shortly.
But before that I would like to make it clear that to want to live in peace and harmony exist naturally in most if not all of us. You and I are no different in wanting to have stability and peace in our homes and surroundings, we want the best environment for our families, free from harm, persecution or wars so that our children can thrive. And as Malaysians, I think the majority of us do not want to cause any harm, grievance or injustice to anyone regardless of their race, religion or culture. We all want peace. We may have differences in how to achieve peace, but the want and need are still the same. So let’s just set that objective very clear.
However as the society gets larger and larger, and more diverse, like Malaysia as a whole, to achieve and maintain harmony gets more difficult. We need a system that can provide a balance between the needs of individuals and the needs of a society. This is where liberalism, which favours freedom of action for individuals over anything else, is problematic for a multicultural country like Malaysia.
One example: the case of Alvin Tan. Provocations upon provocations were made by him towards Muslims in the name of free speech and free expression. I believe many non-Muslims are against his actions but what I want to highlight is that his actions are basically allowed in the name of freedom of speech and expression promoted by liberalism. This tells you that if you are liberal, and you go by liberal principles, you cannot prevent someone from doing something that they want even though it is at the expense of other people. So long you don’t harm them physically, you can basically do whatever you want, including offending.
In the name of upholding human rights, some are calling against laws such as the Sedition Act, and not that we are completely rooting for it either, but it is used to charge Alvin Tan for his actions and insane provocations. Rather than protecting individuals like Ali Abd Jalil, who insulted the Sultan maliciously, which already going against the spirit of Rukunegara, why not instead push the government to amend the Sedition Act or come up with better laws pertaining to this matter?
The effect of this so called freedom of speech is that the muslims, and this is only natural for someone to be so maliciously provoked, were hurt, upset, angered, anxious, and more terribly causes a friction, disunity and distrust among muslims and non-muslims. Liberalism gives protection to such individuals to do what they want but again at the expense of the harmony of a society. So no, on that account, liberalism does not promote unity because it places the individual, including a trouble-making individual, over the societal needs, which in this case harmony.
Islam, on the other hand, guarantees its citizens individual freedom but unlike liberalism, it balances that with the societal needs, i.e. maslahah ummah or in other words reaching common good/public interest/welfare, and that includes harmony. Islam is not opposed to freedoms as long as those freedoms do not impose on others or insult the integrity of the religion. Therefore in the context of Malaysia, such laws like The Sedition Act 1948, although far from perfect, are deemed necessary to provide some sort of balance between individual and society.
Another contradiction between liberalism and multiculturalism is in the example by France, a liberal state, that banned the burqa and niqab and the latest, burkini. The ban not only strips off the value and identity of that person, and her freedom of religion and expression that liberalism preaches, but it also causes more segregation and prejudice against French muslims who have been French all their lives, speak French fluently, eat French food, are educated, but only because they do not share the same liberal values that the liberal French do. How did the French state action contradict so much to their motto liberte, egalite and fraternite? And how is this promoting multiculturalism? It’s not. In fact, it is causing more segregation and isolation of minorities.
But is this really an exception? I don’t think so, because in many liberal states and not just France, they struggle with uniting people of different values, different identities, different ideologies other than liberalism. It seems to me that unity can be only achieved if or when all of the people under the liberal governance are liberal or submit to the liberal way of thinking. If you are not liberal, or a secularised Muslim, Christian, Bhuddist, Jew, then forget it- it’s not going to work. France shows that they had enough of this struggle and wants to use coercion and force, ironically, to submit everyone into the liberal way of life, justifying that it makes everyone happy, when it doesn’t.
I’m not the only one who has this opinion, but Christian Joppke, a renowned political sociologist, a critic of multiculturalism and a liberal himself, has published numerous articles on liberalism and multiculturalism, such as this one. He cited the growing retreat/withdrawal of liberal states to commit to multiculturalism. Meaning liberal states such as the Netherlands, Britain and Australia, are now getting more tired and start to adopt more aggressive approach to assimilate people to accept liberal societal norms, values and principles. This is the problem that we see from mature models of liberalism today that shows liberalism and multiculturalism just do not go together.
Therefore, to apply this system to Malaysia, who are much more multicultural, and still much more conservative, is not going to work. You cannot expect Malaysia, that has its own unique identities as already laid out in the Constitution and Rukunegara, and people that have had generations upon generations of unique identities and values, to submit to the liberal system. It is not going to work. I’m sorry to be such an omen or a bubble burster, but there you go.
What does Islam say about multiculturalism? Under the Islamic rule, and we have seen this from the past where Islam was at the top of civilisation, people of different cultures, races and religion could live under one big society WITHOUT sacrificing their unique values, practices and ideologies. In other words, you don’t have to be a Muslim to live prosperously under Islam, but there are state laws for you to adhere to, just like any other country. The simplest analogy to that is Islam is the owner of an apartment, and has set common rules for the apartment dwellers to adhere to, but each apartment can have their own rules and regulations so long that they do not go against the common house rules.
Under the Islamic system, people can thrive in their own community, living their own cultures and ways of life, have their own food and languages, their own education system, access to their own legal courts and so on. It was possible that at one point, Christians and Jews were living side by side with Muslims, without having to compromise their beliefs and traditions and ideologies, but still respects the common rules Islam has set for everyone. Liberalism cannot do this without having people leaving at least some if not all of their identity, values and beliefs to submit to the liberal principles.
My conclusion is this: While liberalism looks very ideal, and fancy in theory, the reality is, as a system, it does not promote multiculturalism and unity. The only unity it provides is among people who are liberal. Other people having different ideologies must forego their identities and submit to the liberal way of life, or risk being ostracised or even penalised as shown in France.
Islam, when implemented at its truest and most complete form, promotes multiculturalism, as we have seen from past systems. People do not have to leave their identities but at the same time respect the common state laws that are laid out. Therefore, for Malaysia to thrive as a country of multi culture, religion and race, liberalism is not the answer; Islam is.