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Making Progress

Published: Thursday November 26, 2015 MYT 10:30:00 AM
Updated: Thursday November 26, 2015 MYT 12:17:00 PM

Lessons from Paris

On November 13 2015, as I landed in Tokyo’s Narita International Airport news started to trickle in that Paris suffered a series of attacks against the historic Bataclan Theater and the northern hub of Saint Dennis.

130 innocent lives have been lost but that is a fraction of the lives lost to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as a whole. ISIS with its murderous ideology and iconoclastic tendencies presents the greatest threat to global security.

Globally Muslims too gave expressed their revulsion at the attacks. Abdullah Ahmed An Na’im writing in The Conversation had this to say, “The media coverage of the terrorist atrocities of Friday November 13 in Paris would seem to promote an almost mythical image of the Islamic State (ISIS). What humanity needs, however, is to demystify ISIS as a criminal organization.

And that need is particularly important in my community – the Muslim community … The vast majority of Muslims almost certainly feel moral revulsion and outrage about the violence perpetrated by ISIS. Indeed, Egypt’s top Sunni cleric, to name just one example, was quick to denounce the perpetrators of Friday’s “hideous and hateful” attacks.”

An Na’im argues that the best way to counter ISIS’ ideology is for Muslims to take a progressive view of Islam and Islamic law and to understand religious scripture and teaching in its totality.

Malaysia’s ISIS challenge

Malaysia has not been insulated by turmoil engendered by ISIS with a number of Malaysians leaving their families and friends to fight for ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Furthermore, in a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Centre in the United States found that 11% of Malaysians support ISIS and 15% of Malaysians said they did not know.

This is indeed troubling as 26% of Malaysians have some degree of affinity towards ISIS and this does not augur well for a multi-faceted nation such as ours and the urgency for moderation to be practiced and entrenched in Malaysia cannot be understated.

Malaysia has always embraced a moderate and progressive form of Islam in comparison to other Muslim or Muslim majority countries in Asia and Africa. To quote the Prime Minister, Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak when he addressed the 70th United Nations General Assembly recently, “Malaysia stands ready to share its experience; of upholding Islam and marginalising extremism; of implementing the objectives of Shariah while practicing democracy; of maintaining a multi-ethnic society where different faiths coexist and prosper; and showing that Islam can not only succeed, but drive progress and successful economic development.”

The Prime Minister also asserted in the same speech that, “Islam unequivocally prohibits killing civilians during war. It explicitly protects minorities and respects those of other faiths. It urges the pursuit of knowledge, and stresses both justice and compassion. As the Prophet Muhammad said: "You will not enter Paradise until you have faith; and you will not complete your faith, till you love for one another what you love for yourselves."

While there have been some challenges to our moderate brand of Islam that has always been practiced in Malaysia especially the calls for segregation between Muslims and non-Muslims, the pursuit of implementing Islamic Criminal Law in Kelantan, debates over the use of certain common religious terminologies and others but Malaysia remains a society that embraces diversity with all religions able to pray, preach and manage their own religious affairs with minimal state interference or regulations. The bells of Churches and Hindu temples ring freely complemented by the sound of the Azan and this is Malaysia we must seek to protect and defend at all costs.

Furthermore, the Prime Minister has clearly asserted that Malaysia practices inclusivity and acceptance and all corollary to this, it is important for us to collectively defend and protect our way of life. It is also important moderates to stand up and be counted. Moderation is not about being weak or prevaricating but it is about strength and resilience, synthesizing between conflicting views and beliefs and coming up with a position that is inclusive and all encompassing.

Responding to ISIS

To those who have suffered at the hands of ISIS brutality from Yazidi men women and children, the passengers on Russia’s Metrojet Flight 9268, citizens of Turkey and Beirut and the 130 who lost their lives in the Paris attacks; the world owes them robust action to degrade and defeat ISIS and ensure justice is served against all those who have taken innocent lives in the name of a warped and twisted ideology.

But beyond that, the world must also come to grips with what is causing the rise of such movements that thrive on hate and murder and also European societies must undertake serious introspection on how minority Muslim communities are treated. The fact that so many young Muslims, born in Europe with minimal connection to the Middle East, have been driven by ISIS’ puritanical and exclusive form of Islam and have started to maim and kill dictates are long process of understanding and soul searching.

To those have been driven to join the cult and fight in its name ISIS has become an idea to many of them and ideas are the hardest to kill, to quote V for Vendetta, “ideas are bullet proof” even though how wrong it may seem (my emphasis).

Closer to home, Malaysia’s Islamic authorities must step up its fight against religious extremism and ensure that the ISIS’ influence is curtailed and ultimately destroyed in Malaysia. The police must also continue its fight against terrorism and the public support is fundamentally important.

Most importantly, all Malaysians must take a step back and reflect about a world that is in turmoil and count our blessings that the horrors of ISIS have not reached us and we must do all that we can ensure that it does not.

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