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International Muslim-Christian dialogue “postponed” – strange, stranger and strangest


by Lim Kit Siang  


(Ipoh, Sunday) : The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said yesterday that the international Muslim-Christian dialogue – the Building Bridges seminar – organized by the London office of the Archbishop of Canterbury has not been cancelled but postponed. 

He said it was postponed because he had to attend to some urgent matters that coincided with the seminar which was scheduled for May 7-11, 2007. 

Abdullah said he did not want the inter-religious conference to proceed without him. 

He said: “I have an important role to play in the conference and I don’t want it to be held when I am not around.”  The government would have to find another suitable date for the international  inter-religious dialogue. 

The events and circumstances surrounding the “postponement’ had been strange, stranger and strangest. 

Strange because when news first broke in London Times on Thursday that there had been a “last-minute cancellation” of the international Muslim-Christian dialogue in Malaysia, nobody knew its reason despite numerous attempts by various persons and bodies responsible for organizing it to seek explanation from the authorities. The Building Bridges conference was cancelled with just a short two-week notice although it was mooted a year ago causing great disruptions as many international participants had finalized their flight arrangements. 

For instance, in the Malaysiakini report on Friday, 11th May 2007, “'Confusion' reigns in interfaith meet ban”, the general secretary of Council of Churches of Malaysia, Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri said that “we are as much confused as the organisers of the London office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as to the sudden withdrawal of the endorsement and support by the Malaysian authorities for holding the Building Bridges seminar in Kuala Lumpur.”

Professor Emeritus Dr Osman Bakar, who had been appointed to be among the prime movers in Malaysia of the inter-faith conference, said that the authorities were  passing the buck on the cancellation of the Building Bridges conference with nobody willing to take responsibility, with him being  passed from one office to another in his search for answers behind the cancellation.

Osman Bakar was pushed from pillar to post, from the Prime Minister’s Department to the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM), without anybody able to give him an official reason. 

This is strange because if the inability of the Prime Minister to attend the conference was the cause of the “postponement” of the interfaith conference, the question is why no one who had been involved in organizing the Building Bridges Conference had been informed of the  perfectly legitimate reason. 

Furthermore, why wasn’t the organizers informed beforehand instead of having the conference cancelled in the last-minute with only two weeks’ notice. 

Stranger because when I raised the issue of the last-minute cancellation of the international Muslim-Christian Conference  in Parliament on Thursday night, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Maximus Ongkili had nothing to say as clearly he knew nothing about it although he is a member of the Cabinet. 

Strangest because no date has yet  been fixed for the “postponed” international Muslim-Christian dialogue. This is really unthinkable, raising questions about the Prime Minister’s seriousness in “walking the talk” to promote inter-religious dialogue in international forums.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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