Americans can be proud of their President George W. Bush for taking 5O minutes on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to reassure the Malaysian Prime Minister that the Pope’s apology is sincere. And Malaysians can be proud of their Prime Minister Mr. Abdullah Badawi for accepting the President’s position and the olive branch he has extended.
I don’t want to come off sounding completely ingenuous but the concept of religious liberty in the United States of America has captured my imagination. I am studying it to understand why it is lacking in my country of origin and feared/resisted by Islamists. Still, there is hope – apparently Americans didn’t just all wake up one day and decide to all get along. Religious liberty is one of America’s prized freedoms and a concept relatively recent in mankind’s history. Like the Malaysian cartoonist Lat likes to have his characters say when accosted by the police for speeding or breaking a law, “Saya baru sampai” or I just got here. Perhaps in time…we will understand some of the great ideas that make America the open and tolerant society that it is today and apply it to our homelands with greater degrees of success and effectiveness.
I must admit I did not fully appreciate the concept of religious liberty or even note its ubiquitous presence when I was here as a Hindu International student in the early 1980s.’ I did notice that Americans bent over backwards to accommodate my then vegetarian diet, for example but beyond that, I had no reason to consider its’ absence or presence because like the air we breathe, it was present. It was and remains a ‘natural right’ here in the United States.