Monday, 14 May 2012

The Bar Council, churches and political integrity — Alwyn Lau

MAY 14 — The reproaching of the Bar Council’s report on Bersih by a group of lawyers (namely, Datuk Mohamad Hafarizam Harum and Roger Tan) strangely echoes the resistance of many churches towards speaking up against the ruling regime, especially from the pulpit.

The similarities are stark. The Bar Council publishes a report which condemns the government (especially the police brutality) but get blasted by some lawyers who claim that the council has lost its integrity given how it’s already leaned towards Bersih (or away from the government). Likewise, although churches and Christians know they are supposed to speak out against injustices and oppression in the country, some Christians (including theologians) still treat the pulpit as a politically demilitarised hallowed space, refusing to name names for fear of being tainted with the partisan.

In both cases, there is an obsession with the formal. For the Bar Council, there is the law and there are political parties and these are like ying and yang: they should never meet and there can’t be a “yaing”. In the Church, there is the eternal/sacred and there temporal/profane. And if these two wires short-circuit, then God help us, both heaven and earth could explode.

So we have our eye on getting the separations and appearances right but are blind to what forms are meant to accomplish.

Never mind the indiscriminate use of tear gas on innocent civilians, both the Bar Council and the pulpit need to remain mini-Genevas between pro- and not-so-pro-government. Never mind the denial of access to legal aid to those arrested, the Bar Council must be a paragon of disinterested integrity (with all other kinds of integrity brushed aside) and the church pulpit a space to talk only about Moses, David, Jesus, Paul and Peter but not Najib, Muhyiddin, Hishammuddin, Kit Siang or Anwar. Never mind that thousands of protesters had their constitutional and human rights gassed and pissed on (by metal — not biological — cannons), oh No Sirree, the Bar Council must look like a dirt-free Swiss bank and churches a brochure-friendly tourist attraction i.e. places of squeaky-clean “uprightness” where you do not point out the really bad guys within your national borders.

So lawyers in the council can talk only about “abstract” injustice and pastors should only complain about characters which are either dead, fictional or really far away?

It’s like the cake has to look a certain way and that’s the over-riding priority. Don’t matter if it tastes good or poisonous. Or how some people love the keychain over and above the key. Or how some shoppers get really upset if what they bought didn’t come with a super-cool bag…

What’s even weirder, of course, is how many Christians who would resist “naming names” on the pulpit will not hesitate condemning Tan and Harafizam’s comments, accusing them of tacitly supporting the government (of course, given that Hafarizam is an Umno legal adviser this is hardly an insult). But tell these same good folks that churches need to take a stand, and suddenly they claim the holy finger of God says they should watch their words (or else). Isn’t this like being fascinated with foreplay and nothing but foreplay?

Christians and lawyers should quit worrying about their oh-so-pure “sacred spaces” with their oh-so-careful rules about what to say and what not to say. Partisanship and the law? Politics and the pulpit? A short-circuit is way overdue.

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