Why are Malaysia’s Muslims so cross about a cross?

April 29, 2015 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

CrossMalaysia, April 22, 2015: Over the last few years, we have seen an increase in incidents where pockets of protesters demonstrate against places of worship in Malaysia. Almost all of these protests are about non-Muslim places of worship. Of particular offense to people recently, seems to be the humble cross. It’s amazing that two simple bars, placed diagonally from each other, can cause this much rage.

A cross is used nearly universally as a multipurpose symbol: mathematical, scientific, architectural and biological. It is used to symbolize safety and health. It is used in half the flags and crests of European countries, sports clubs and royal houses. Everywhere else, people just see it as it is — a symbol. But somehow, somewhere along the line, some Malaysians have been taught to believe that the mere presence of the cross is enough shake their faith.

I am sorry, but even vampire movies have moved on from that premise. Have you seen Twilight? Modern vampires love garlic and have church weddings.

There seems to be a pattern every time an insensitive thing like this happens. A group of people who look like redneck hillbillies will draw badly spelt English slogans on mono-colored posters with marker pens and manila cards, rage for a few minutes in front of a building while shouting slogans and then move off, presumably to pat each other’s backs and enjoy a well-earned cup of teh tarik (milk tea).

Social media will be abuzz with “cross” jokes, comments about the protesters’ fashion sense, and a deluge of write-ups decrying the sad state of affairs that is now Malaysia. Politically inclined commentators would, of course, blame the other party for this state of affairs.

In the coming days, the media will be abuzz with comments about the demonstration. Typically there will be three types of comments by both politicians and non-governmental organizations (NGO).

The first would be the ambivalent, government-style answer:

“It’s an isolated incident.”

“This does not reflect the real state of affairs in Malaysia.”

“This is not the government’s stand.”

“Malaysia masih aman (still peaceful).”

The second would be the slightly more assertive, but still cautious type of requests for action:

“Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak should say something.”

“The police should investigate.”

“Action should be taken against the protesters.”

The third would be the downplaying type of comments:

“They mean no harm.”

“No one was hurt.”

“We have explained the issue.”

Then, depending on the backlash, there would be harmonious images of local leaders and representatives of religious bodies shaking hands and making up.

Crisis averted. Problem solved.


How many times must this scenario be played out before some assertive action is taken to ensure it does not repeat? Is it too much for law abiding, tax paying citizens to ask for the right to worship freely without the fear of people crucifying them to their own religious symbol?

Truth is Malaysians have become so desensitized to sensitive issues that tact and thoughtfulness now goes out the window. More sadly, it has been replaced with a crude form of crassness we call “dialogue”.

The danger of this trend is, with the moderates being pushed out of the conversation, and the mainstream discussion becoming increasingly radical, the day will come where the roles are reversed — what once was radical will be moderate and vice versa.

Then we really will have crossed a line.

Emmanuel Joseph works with IT projects in a Malaysian GLC. In his free time he juggles between NGOs and his part time law degree.

– the malaysian insider

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