The fallacy of the ‘liberalist threat’ and the assumption of morality

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The truly moral are those with an un-severable connection to other human beings, via the ability to empathise with another’s sufferings, writes Douglas Teoh.

The Comango team denies that its report undermines Islam - Photograph: Malaysiakini
The Comango team denies that its report undermines Islam – Photograph: Malaysiakini

Recently, there was news of a group of Muslim NGOs opposing the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs (Comango) report meant for the UN Human Rights Council.

Some parties have categorised this coalition as an “ancaman liberalisme’”(translation: liberalist threat), in order to situate it within the overused “secular vs religious” arguments. Of course, their intention is to display the ‘immoral’ aspects of religious differences (including atheism), as well as sexual deviance.

In fact, Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) vice-president Aminuddin Yahya said, “If this demand (of Comango) is met, the country will be met with the wrath of God because of the widespread vices.”

Indeed, by some twisted form of logic, the argument does make sense. After all, the atheists denounce God, the other religions worship the wrong entity, the other races are trespassing on their natural birth-rights, and the ‘sexually deviant’ are valourising perversity.

Framed that way, it certainly sounds as though our country is about to be totally consumed by fire and brimstone in a Sodom and Gomorrah-esque (i.e. utterly horrible and hellish) punishment.

Of course, what these “Muslim NGOs” don’t tell you (or rather, have internalised through their speeches and movement) is that this type of argument is only ‘sensible’ because of the belief that they, as a group, are naturally more ethical and superior than these others.

I will not delve into arguments of God and Truth here, but suffice to say that what seems like justified defence (of protecting the country, our people and more importantly, the offenders’ souls) is in actual fact a purely baseless attack on marginalised groups in order to assert authority and maintain dominance.

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I am not an anti-religious person; on the contrary, I see the value of religion in changing people’s lives, and am not particularly against alternative forms of government to secularism. But I am against the repressive and ideological marginalisation of groups (designated loosely as threats called the “Other”) that fall outside the boundaries of these Muslim NGOs.

As such, I have tremendous difficulty appreciating statements such as those made by a blogger known as Karim on Buddhist and Christians “supporting” LGBT rights. He finds it odd that despite the ‘fact’ that “no religion allows same sex marriage”, those Buddhist and Christian associations still ask for “the freedom (for the queer) to practise their mental disability (kecacatan mental)”.

We don’t need to be secular (or in this case, sinful) to be able to see the ludicrosity of these statements. There are two arguments we can use to counter those statements:

  1. homosexuality is not classified as a mental disability, and has not been for 40 years (since 1973), and
  2. one does not need to share the same belief in order to fight for someone else’s rights, e.g. one does not need to be homosexual, or be a supporter of homosexuality in order to advocate their right to same-sex marriage. In my opinion, this advocacy of human rights delves into something deeper and far more fundamental than petty and unnecessary conflicts, which arise purely from the paranoiac misperception of the threat of the Other.

It is, I think, an overall concern for the well-being of a human being. I won’t be so bold as to suggest that all of us deserve our own happiness in our own forms (at the risk of falling into a typical hedonist trap) but I think we all can, despite our differences, agree on a certain common point: that suffering is something all human beings experience, and to the best of our abilities, we should never knowingly inflict pain and hurt on others, whether directly, or as an indirect consequence (e.g. through racism and sexism).

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The report by Comango illustrates examples of this happening: The persecution of the LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Intersex) communities, a principal asking Chinese students to ‘balik China’ etc. These are instances that cause harm (whether physically or psychologically or worse, both) to a fellow human being.

No given group of people is naturally more ethical (and as such, more powerful and correct) than others. The assumption of morality does not lie within any group, but rather the individual. There are bad apples who are coincidentally atheists or religious or agnostics – but there are as many wise and moral individuals within each group.

The truly moral are those with an un-severable connection to other human beings, via the ability to empathise with another’s sufferings. We are all equipped with the ability to ‘put ourselves in another’s shoes’, and this shapes my response to those anti-human rights organisations; knowing that we can indirectly inflict tremendous pain to these marginalised groups by means of repression, there can be no justification for these counter-movements that they advocate. One need only imagine what others are going through in order to know what the right course of action is.

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Ed G
Ed G
23 Oct 2013 4.50pm

This group of Muslim NGO has all the rights to send their version of report to the UNHRC as they are as much entitled to their opinion as the Comango. I believed that this is a better proposition as they would have their views and line of arguments (and of course their stance) made known on the same international platform which the Comango report is designated to. Also, I am sure our wise PM would be able to shed some light on our governments position vis-à-vis the contents of the 2 reports on the same international platform.