24 March 2011

A humanist, secularist, skeptic, free-thought group in Malaysia

My heart is gladdened by the recent discovery of a freethinking organisation in my country of birth. Unscientific Malaysia describes itself as a ‘Malaysian community that promotes science, scepticism & free-thought’ and covers ‘issues of science, religion, superstitions, civil rights, supernatural hogwash and other poppycock’.

In a country where Islam is the state religion, where all ethnic Malays are considered Muslims by default, and where sharia courts have jurisdiction over half the nation (Malay-Muslims constitute between 50 to 60 percent of the population), having a group standing up for secular values is both necessary and brave.

Importantly, groups like Unscientific Malaysia demonstrate that critical thinking isn’t just for Western liberals of pallid complexion. They also help to diversify the voices of rationality, and in the process dispel the impression that free-thought is exclusively a ‘white man’s club’. It should be obvious that values like intellectual curiosity and honesty, respect for evidence and reason, and appreciation for universal human rights are values that benefit all people, regardless of ethnicity and nationality.

Free-thought groups everywhere face challenges, the most pertinent being opposition from those who feel threatened by the ideas promoted by such groups. In Malaysia particularly, where religion, superstitious beliefs and poor reasoning skills (partly caused by a lacklustre education system) form a tenacious part of the social fabric, groups like Unscientific Malaysia have their work cut out for them.

One concern though is that these organisations may face legal action if the Malaysian government decides that their advocacy has crossed some imaginary line. In a far-from-secular country, this is a substantive risk. But this only highlights the need for groups like Unscientific Malaysia, and the worthy ideals they serve. I wish them all the best.


HT to Erna Mahyuni for bringing Unscientific Malaysia to my attention.

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