Liberalism and Secularism

11 10 2007

How wonderful to revisit the International Academy for Leadership in Gummersbach, Germany after two years? But what was the role of my role as a guest facilitator? It was the first time I was offered to co-facilitate at the International Academy for Leadership or popularly known as the IAF. The subject itself was quite new and it was the first time the academy has a seminar on the subject.

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I remember I asked the moderator when we met in Bangkok prior to our departure to Gummersbach: how liberalism and secularism linked to one another? Why the topic was arranged in such a way? My understanding is that, as a liberal, you tend to support the concept of secularism – the separation of state and religion, as the basis of general understanding. Religion is a personal matter and should be separate from the governance part. However, religion in certain part of the world tends to be politicised by the political power. For example, in Malaysia the main ruling political party United Malay National Organisation has lately, at least verbally, inclined towards the acceptance of Malaysia as an Islamic state. Their election strategies and campaigns to win the heart of the majority Malay who are mostly Muslims cause concern among the other religious minorities. The Malaysian constitution does not explicitly state that the country is a secular state. What was written was that Islam is an official religion. When taking a stand that the country is an Islamic state, it implies a major change in the legal system – the supremacy of the Syariah law over the civil law. If that would happen, it would be very difficult for the minorities to practice their religious freedom as freely as they wish.

 

 

Another positive nature of secularism discussed at the seminar was that sometimes and in some cases it could prevent a religious conflict from happening. An example would be the case of Thailand when thousand Buddhist monks took a street protest in their demand for the new constitution to write Buddhism as a state religion. In normal circumstances, it should not be an issue as Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country. However, with the continuing violence in its southern provinces which Islam has been considered as one of the factors contributed to the rise of such conflict, writing Buddhism as a national religion would only exacerbate further the conflict in the already divided society. An example used at the seminar was the case of India. India chose to become a secular state at the time of their Independence in 1947 in order to accommodate the minority Muslims. In contrast, Pakistan adopted an Islamic state to accommodate the majority Muslims.

 

 

 

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Apart from the serious content of the seminar topic, I have many fond memories of the people whom I met and the places I visited. The best of the best was the visit of my former director Rainer Huefers together with the director to be Dr. Rainer Adam. It was a pleasant surprise really. The next best thing was the new relationship I developed with a few new friends from all around, especially India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and many more.

 

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The below photo is the best of the trip. It is difficult to explain why but yet it would very much remind me of my great time in Germany in the autumn of 2007.

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When I was walking around Frankfurt, I saw a lot of Muslims and I asked myself why they are different from many Muslims I met in Asia, in particularly in Malaysia. My guess is: may be they have freedom to do things they wish to with no social pressure what to do and what not to. I also saw the growing concern in Germany in regards to Islam. Information on Islam is distributed right at centre of the city.

 

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Lastly, my fond memory in Germany ended nicely when I spent my last two days in Frankfurt with a friend whom I rarely meet as she has been in Germany for the past 15 years and has rarely returned to Thailand. It was so wonderful!

 

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