How Should We Respond to Ahmad Ismail?

There’s some buzz over at the Micah Mandate generated by my friend Alwyn Lau’s piece. Another friend Bob Kee has a more extended reaction with  Being Christian Sometimes Sucks and added a nice graphic

I thought it’s worth re-posting Alwyn’s thoughts and the comments over here for more conversation and reflection …

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How should we respond to Ahmad Ismail? by Alwyn Lau

Funny how it happened that soon after/during a lot of fire over Ahmad Ismail’s reference to Chinese as “orang tumpang” (i.e. migrants) I was asked to preach at the Nepalese migrant ministry – on loving one’s enemies.

1. Turn your left cheek.

Surprise your enemy (via your own vulnerability) by inviting him to punch you with his right fist, an act which confirms his equality with you. A back-hand slap means the slapped is inferior; and no one hits another with his left hand (it’s taboo).

Love your enemy by showing you are willing to suffer for the sake of an equal relationship.

2. Let him have your cloak too.

Surprise your enemy by giving him more than he forced you to. The world will see him for the oppressor he is.

Love your enemy by your sacrificial (and revealing) generosity.

3. Go with him two miles.

Surprise your enemy by serving him more than his exploitation desired. Show him that you’re willing to look past his predatory demands and be his willing servant.

Love your enemy by your self-giving service.

Surprise and love your enemy. You might just break his heart, and win his soul.

And so how should the Chinese respond to Ahmad Ismail and Penang UMNO’s reluctance to apologise?

By inviting them to a Chinese (halal) dinner and sharing with them the history of the Chinese migrants, thanking the Malays for whatever assistance and goodwill was offered to build up the Chinese community (to its now prosperous status) and assuring Ismail and UMNO that the Chinese will do their best to work with the Malays for a harmonious and peaceful Malaysia.

“Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44)

Alwyn Lau is a Researcher and Teacher at Fairview International School. Being an astute theological thinker, he is interested in theological methods, emerging theologies, as well as the relevance of the Christian faith to the emerging generation.


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5. azrael (09/11/2008 02:50:34)
Treating Him As Our Enemy Is A Categorical Error

Allow me my arguments, however rough around the edges they may be:
1. Ahmad Ismail is hardly a worthy enemy, if he is one at all. The attack was made on the Chinese community by a non-MP-nobody whose party suffered great defeat (state level) in the recent GE2008, and not an attack on Christians.
2. An enemy is someone whom we are conflicted with. There is no conflict between me and him because he’s basically shooting himself in the foot by making those remarks; if the Chinese left, much of the economy would leave with them, leaving him with a very vulnerable state.
3. The core question is more political rather than moral. The hard truth is that his remarks are just another one in a long line of remarks said over the decades. If decades of multi-racial and multi-religious exposure has not changed certain factions of UMNO, what will?
4. In Romans 13, Paul argues that "if you do what is evil, be afraid, for the government does not bear the sword for nothing, for it is the minister of God and avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil". Is not love sometimes tempered with discipline? Or is love the answer to everything?
5. Lastly, and quite simply put, your suggestion can apply to just about any transgression, thus negating the need for Christians to seek justice anyhow, anywhere, anytime.

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4. Alwyn (09/10/2008 09:01:13)

Hi Potts,
You’re right, when more detail is thrown in, more thinking is certainly required.
I believe as long as we’re on the same page regarding the *principle* of non-retaliation, non-violence, of *sacrificial love for one’s enemies*, then there can be numerous ways to manifest this.
And yes i think we *are* on the same page regarding building bridges(!), except I’d push that a little further to add the element of self-suffering and voluntary vulnerability *for the enemy’s sake* (which is a daring notch over and above bridge-building).

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3. potts (09/10/2008 08:07:15)

I like your point, Alwyn, and the response you propose. But doesn’t it break down at some point if you take what Jesus taught in detail? As Jeremiah asked, what if he demands that you give up some of your rights? Doesn’t it make more sense to look at Jesus’ teaching here as a whole and conclude that our primary response to an "enemy’s" aggression should not be adversarial, but where possible, to build bridges.

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2. Alwyn (09/09/2008 09:12:42)

Thanks for the feedback, Jeremiah.
However, I’m not sure how ‘concessions’ was brought into it (maybe I ought to read the blogs more).
But to clarify, I didn’t see this as a ‘cloak’ issue and more of ‘cheek’ issue i.e. the incident is an insult, not a demand for the Chinese to give up anything.
As with slapping someone on the right cheek, calling Chinese ‘migrants’ labels us ‘inferior’ to the non-migrants.
The response would be to ‘offer the left cheek’, in the form of making one self ‘vulnerable’ (i.e. sharing one’s history, one’s honest struggles, etc.) as a way of promoting equality and friendship.
And you’re absolutely right: Citizen rights are a win-win.

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1. Jeremiah Liang (09/09/2008 04:59:09)
Rights of citizens is not a zero sum situation

Yes, I agree that the Christian response to the person making provocations and hurling insults is to love and bless him. This works all the time: look at how Gandhi resisted the Birtish and how Mandela demolised Apartheid. We have already gained a moral victory by not being provoked into anger but praying for those who wish to be our enemies.
However, I disagree with Alwyn Lau that we should give him our cloak if this mean giving concessions. The first response is to show him love but we need to discern what this man really wants and be not misled into giving in to his demands or intimidation.
Apart from him expressing his view of history, the provocative element of Ahmad Ismail’s words is on the rights of non-Malay citizens, which is clearly motivated politically for a showdown. Let the law and the PM handle him. But all citizens should forgive him and show kindness to him. At the same time, ask him to explain what he wants to do with his beliefs and charge him if he breaks the law.
Rights of citizenship is never a zero sum game. It is a win-win situation. The only zero sum game in town is splitting the oil money and tax revenues between various vested interests.

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