I haven’t posted anything on this because I’ve already vented about it on discussion forums and as comments on the blogs of other people. This means this is mostly just a recap of opinions I’ve written elsewhere. Basically I think that both parties are right. The Roman Catholics should have the right to use the “Allah” name for their deity. On the other hand, I think that the Muslims in the country are justified in fearing that this is a move that’s meant to confuse Muslims and to proselytize Christianity to Malays by stealth.
I realize that while there are non-Malay groups who primarily speak the Malay language, particularly in the more remote parts of Sabah and Sarawak, I think it’s also worth pointing out they represent a tiny minority of the population. By far, the vast majority of those who use the Malay language as their mother tongue are Malays and according to Article 160 of the constitution of Malaysia, Malays are Muslim by definition. Generally speaking, it is impossible in Malaysia for Muslims to convert to another religion. At the same time, deliberately conflating two religions to confuse people is an accepted part of the missionary’s playbook. This is for example how Buddhism spread in China, by taking on the names and characteristics of the existing Confucian and Taoist beliefs and appropriating them into itself.
Naturally the Christians in the country don’t claim to want to spread Christianity to Malays but I don’t see how they can reconcile this with their wish to use “Allah” as the name of their deity and the wish to import and distribute Bibles in a language that Malays can easily understand. 15,000 Bibles in the Indonesian language is a pretty impressive number. This is the 500-pound elephant in the room that everyone involved in the debate is shying about from. Of course it is unfair that non-Muslims can convert to Islam but Muslims can’t convert out of it. I can’t see how you can call it religious freedom while such restrictions exist. But this is the accepted reality and challenging this really would tear the country apart, which is why I think that pushing the issue in such a sly way is a really obnoxious move on the part of the Roman Catholics.
As a libertarian I’m all for true freedom of speech and true freedom of religion but unless the Roman Catholics are willing to come out and really state out what they want without avoiding the main issue, and face the inevitable consequences, all of this is just a distracting sideshow.