Barack Obama’s statement deeply offensive and insensitive

Press Statement 22 November 2015

The Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (CENTHRA), iPeguam and Young Professionals (YP) are shocked, outraged and perturbed reading news reports quoting US President Barack Obama as saying that the state should respect Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights as part of human rights and that government policy on marriage should be the same for both opposite sex and same sex couples.

Such a statement, purportedly made in response to a query by Dara, one bisexual youth from Thailand, at the US Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) in Kuala Lumpur is clearly an affront to the status of Malaysia, and indeed other nations within the south east Asian region, as sovereign national entities with their own values, based on their own cultural and religious make up.

Malaysia for one, although a nation of multiple ethnicities and faiths, is a nation clearly defined by a Malay Muslim narrative underscored by its history and Constitution. This includes marriage, which is governed by the various state legislative enactments in force throughout Malaysia for Muslims, and by a federal civil law for non-Muslims. The basis for such legislation is Sharia, based on Islam for Muslims and the various teachings of non-Muslim faiths such as Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism for the non-Muslims. Further, Islam is a fundamental element of Malaysia’s existence, as Article 3(1) of the Constitution makes clear. The teachings of Islam as well as the various other religions practised within Malaysia clearly prohibit any notion of same sex relationships, what more marriage. Belief in God is also stated in the Rukun Negara and the citizenry of Malaysia obey the commandment of God in respect of such relationships which are to be condemned as being against what has been proscribed by Him for humanity.

We believe the statement by US President Barack Obama has been made in full cognisance of this, which makes the same all the more vile and repulsive. His statement, regardless of the context it may have been made, is offensive and insensitive as it ignores these fundamental characteristics of this region that is fully known to him. Whist we take note of the recent developments in the United States in particular the recent Supreme Court decision making same sex marriage legal throughout that nation, such a development must be solely confined to that nation alone, and must not in any circumstance be taken as a basis to suggest that similar measures be enacted here. President Barack Obama would do well to pay head to the principle of non-interference in the affairs of other nations as underlined by the United Nations Charter and refrain from meddling in the affairs of other sovereign entities such as Malaysia on the basis of spreading incorrect notions of human rights and universal values here.

We further believe that Barack Obama has no basis to police the world with respect to rights considering the alarming deterioration of the same within the nation he leads, with one recent online report by a British media organisation, namely The Guardian, quoting American Muslims as fearing for their safety after vicious inflammatory rhetoric spewed by the likes of Republican presidential contenders such as Donald Trump and who supports a national database for the registration of all Muslims and Ben Carson’s recent description of Syrian refugees as “rabid dogs”, a situation described as beyond terrifying by Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and harks back to the time of the Holocaust with respect to the similarity thereof with Nazi Germany’s treatment of European Jews.

Also of concern to us is the meeting of Mr. Obama with representatives of Malaysian groups such as the Maria Chin Abdullah of Bersih 2.0, Steven Thiru of the Bar Council, Ambiga Sreenevasan of Negara-Ku, Cynthia Gabriel of C4 and Nisha Ayub of Justice for Sisters on the sidelines of the Asean Summit recently. It boggles the mind that while Mr. Obama meets with representatives of so-called civil society organisations that do not represent the views of even one percent of the Malaysian population, the views of other more credible Malaysian Muslim organisations in particular with respect to their opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) are simply disregarded. Such a move by the US President speaks volumes about the intention of the United States in this region, which is clearly calculated to bolster the standing of groups suited to its own interests, and ignore the true concerns of the regions’ inhabitants.

We demand Mr. Obama immediately withdraw his inflammatory statement made above and make an unreserved apology to the people of Malaysia in respect thereof, as well as disavow his support for the organisations he has met immediately. We also demand to know the steps taken to ensure the safety and security of Muslims following the alarming trend of Islamophobia taking root in the US mainstream.

First published in the Malay Mail Online and Merdeka-Online on 22 November 2015.

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