Ethnic divide, not extremism is the problem

  • Letters
  • Monday, 12 Jan 2015

WHATEVER your intention may have been, the effect of your Voices of Moderation Campaign, energised by the open letter of the 25 “eminent moderate Malays”, has been to cast the Malay-Muslim community in a bad light as condoning extremism and intolerance.

In a three-page interview conducted by Sunday Star journalist Hariati Azizan, Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, one of the 25 “eminent moderate Malays”, stated that young Malaysians were welcoming their open letter “because they didn’t know if there were any moderate Malays left in the country.” She further stated that “what we wanted to show was that there are moderate rational-thinking Muslims in this country.”

What a dismal picture she paints of the Malay-Muslim community, morally paralysed and not responding to alleged extremism and intolerance until the emergence of the 25 “eminent moderate Malays”.

Malay-Muslims are among the most tolerant and accommodating people in the world with a culture of acceptance of diversity rooted in Islam. There is no need to preach moderation and tolerance to them. After independence, they were prepared to share power with the other communities and give citizenship to over a million immigrants leading to the erosion of their political power.

Chinese, Indians and others were allowed to engage in trade and business, practise their religion and culture to a degree where they became economically dominant.

Compare this with what happened to the Indians in Burma after independence. Three hundred thousand Burmese Indians who had been living in the country for generations were driven out and their businesses and assets expropriated. In Thailand and Indonesia immigrant minorities have been forced to assimilate.

Your campaign, regrettably, has grossly exaggerated the problem of extremism and intolerance in Malaysia.

Datuk Farida’s statement that “we want to rescue the country from the abyss that it is running headlong into before it is too late” is highly alarmist and unsupported by evidence.

The foreign media, influenced by certain local human rights and religious groups, project Malaysia as an intolerant country, suppressing the religious and cultural rights of the minorities. This is patently false.

Just look at the number of temples, churches and shrines here. Almost every month there are Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, and Taoist religious celebrations. The Government allows and supports Chinese and Tamil medium schools in response to the demands of these communities to use their languages as medium of instruction and learning.

Missionary schools of the colonial period are still there with no change of names and supported by the Government. Malaysia is so tolerant and liberal that certain evangelical churches affiliated to Islamophobic evangelical churches in the United States are allowed to function freely.

Compare this with what is happening in other parts of the world. In Myanmar, Rohingya Muslims are being ethnically cleansed and over 100,000 are living in refugee camps. Mobs led by Buddhist monks have been attacking and killing Muslims and setting fire to their businesses in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. In India, Hindu extremists from RSS and VHP are conducting pogroms against Muslims, Christians, and other minorities.

Recently, they induced Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism by promising material benefits. In Sweden, extremists torched mosques and, in Germany, there have been anti-Muslim demonstrations. In the United States there is racial profiling of Muslims, public burning of the Quran, and closing down of Muslim charities. Thank God we are living in Malaysia.

Your CEO Wong Chun Wai wrote in the Sunday Star, under the heading “Moderates unite”, that a small group of individuals and organisations, with no credible record, have been emboldened to make endless racist and seditious statements, apparently with the approval of the authorities.

He did not identify the organisations or individuals involved, perhaps to avoid another lawsuit, but Datuk Farida did, naming Isma and Perkasa.

He wrote that the biggest challenge for the moderates is “their ability and willingness to point out, even criticise, the flaws of their own communities and religion.” What are the flaws in the Malay-Muslim community and Islam? Please clarify.

If organisations and individuals are making racist and seditious statements, then, go after them and prosecute, regardless of their ethnic or religious background.

If the authorities are conniving, as suggested by Wong, then, move for an order of mandamus against them in the High Court. There are legal avenues available in our country to deal with those who preach racism and extremism.

You cannot hold a community responsible for the irresponsible actions of individuals and organisations. You cannot talk of national unity and, at the same time, create ethnic compartments to deal with extremism.

Your labeling of the Muslims who support your campaign as moderates, implying that the others are extremists, must be seen in the global context of the Imperialist-Zionist strategy of sowing division in the Muslim community by labeling them as “moderate”, “extremist”, “fundamentalist”, “terrorist”.

Hamas which is resisting Israeli occupation is considered terrorist while the Palestinian Authority which has abandoned resistance and acting as policeman for Israel in the West Bank is considered moderate. Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive cars, is considered moderate while Iran which supports the Palestinian Resistance is maligned as extremist and supporter of terrorism.

In 2007 the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers warned Muslims that “seeds of divisiveness are being sown between the Muslims by the enemies of Islam and Muslims through diverse strategies, policies and plans.” We hope you will reconsider your campaign in the light of the Imperialist-Zionist strategy of divide and rule.

Datuk Farida’s sweeping accusation that Malays “...are greedy and... want to deny the other races their right...” is insulting to the Malay-Muslims and baseless. Coming from a beneficiary of the NEP and the affirmative action policies, it is the unkindest act of all.

The average household income of the “greedy” Malay-Muslims and the indigenous people is RM4,457 compared to, for the Chinese RM6,360 and for the Indians RM5,233. The greedy Malay-Muslims, a small minority, come from the elite class and have collaborated with the elites from the other communities to hijack the affirmative action policies and deprive the Malay masses of the intended benefits.

The agenda behind your campaign appears to be to roll back the policy initiated in the 1980s for Muslims to live according to the Syariah; continue the colonial policy of marginalsing the Syariah legal system, and deprive Muslims their right and religious obligation to live under Syariah law.

It is revealing that Hariati, during her interview with Datuk Farida, claimed that “religious (Islamic) extremism has been creeping into Malaysian society since the early 1980s”. Thus, Islam is being blamed for the alleged extremism. How ridiculous!

A campaign with these aims is bound to instigate those supporting Syariah to respond and this would produce deep divisions within our society. We cannot wish away the desire of most Muslims to live under Syariah law. That is why we had suggested that the Government should set up a high-powered committee to review our Federal Constitution and to recommend amendments to incorporate the needs of the Muslims and entrench the rights of minorities.

The “moderates” cannot accept this suggestion and keep shouting “uphold the constitution” which means marginalising Syariah law.

Your campaign is misdirected. It is not religious extremism that is threatening the unity and stability of our nation but the growing ethnic gap in politics, economy, education and human habitat.

Prof Dr Noraini M. Noor of the International Islamic University warns of increasing ethnic polarisation, indicating a pre-conflict situation. She writes:

“...there has been a rise in polarisation between the Malays and the Chinese in terms of education, job opportunities and housing. In the current educational system, most Malays send their children to Government and/or religious schools, while the majority of Chinese educate their children in Chinese schools. Malays tend to study in public/Government universities where the language of instruction is Bahasa Malaysia while most Chinese study in private universities where English is used. Most Malays work in the Government sector while most Chinese in the private sector. And because the private sector is more competitive and pays better than the Government sector, there is a substantial earning differential between the groups amplifying perceptions of power inequalities.

“In many instances, members of each group live in housing areas that are predominantly either Malay or Chinese. Thus, many do not know, nor do they interact with, members of the other group.”

Just Faaland and his two co-authors warn in the 2003 edition of their book Growth and Ethnic Inequality: “Today, as in 1969/70, massive inequality of income and of levels of poverty coincide with ethnic, social and religious divides. In such a situation – if it is not seen to be remedied – political and social instability and even violent turmoil as in 1969 may recur. This has been the fate of other countries who have failed to address such problems, some have disintegrated in the face of persistent and deepening racial segregation and antagonism.

“For Malaysia, the main question is how to find a solution at minimal cost and as quickly as possible, so as to create a level playing field which does not require particular policies of affirmative action on an ethnic basis.”

Let us create a movement to address these serious problems and not be distracted by the phantom issue of religious extremism.

We are committed to a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural Malaysia based on justice for all and free from Western hegemony.

We hold no brief for the corrupt elements in the Malay-Muslim community who have abused their position and power to enrich themselves, their families and cronies; indulge in ostentatious life styles; and promote a culture of dependence among the masses.

We strongly believe that only by internalising Islamic values and norms and applying them in their daily lives, ditching the dependence culture and developing self-reliance can the Malay-Muslims empower themselves and stand tall with the other communities.

Mohd Azmi Abdul Hamid, Coordinator Muslim Intellectual Network , Presiden Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organisation (MAPIM); Sohibus Samahah Tan Sri Dr Hj Harussani Hj Zakaria , Mufti of Perak; Sohibus Samahah Datuk Dr Wan Salim Mohd Nor, Mufti of Penang; Datuk Wan Mohamad Datuk Syeikh Aziz , Former Director General , JAKIM; Datuk Syeikh Mohd Nor Mansur Al Hafiz , former director of Islamic Department of Perak; Datuk Dr. Hj Awang Sariyan , Director General, Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka; Prof. Datuk Dr Ir Wan Ramli Wan Daud, Professor of Chemical Engineering UKM; Prof. Dr. Tengku Mohd Tengku Sembok , Computer Science, former deputy Vice-Chancellor UniversitI Pertahanan Malaysia; Prof Ismail Mohd, Profesor Mathematics, UniMaP; Prof. Emer Dr Shaharir Mohammad Zain , Professor of Mathematics, Former Dep. Vice Chancellor UKM; Datuk Hj Sulaiman Abdullah , former law lecturer Universiti Malaya; Datin Dr Mehrun Siraj, former law professor, former commissioner of Suhakam; Prof Dr Mohd Nor Nawawi, Professor in Political Sociology and Ethnic Relations, Unisel;

Prof Dr Wan Mokhtar Wan Yusof , Professor of Microbiology UKM; Prof Dr Khairuddin Omar, Professor of Computer Science UKM; Prof Dr Mohamed Aslam bin Mohamed Haneef , Professor of Economics UIM; Prof Dr Mohd Sahaid Khalil , Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, UKM;

Prof Dr Husna Azhari, Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, UKM; Prof Dr Mohd Nazari Ismail, Dean, Faculty of Business and Accounting UM;

Prof Madya Dr Ahmad Shahbari @ Sobri Salamon, chairman of Syariah Advisory Board , Bank Islam; Prof Madya Dr Latif Ibrahim, sociologist, UTM;

Prof Madya Dr Aidil Abd Hamid, Microbiochemistry UKM; Prof Madya Dr Zaini Hamzah, nuclear scientist, UiTM; Prof Madya Dr Mat Rofa Ismail, Professor in Etnomatematik, UPM; Dr Muhammad Nur Manuty, Vice-President 2 International Muslim Scholars Association, Malaysian Branch, Lecturer in Usuluddin, Contemporary Islamic Thought and Comparative Religion, UNISEL; Dr Mohammad Alinor Abdul Kadir, Mathematician , Felo INSPEM; Dr Mohd Roslan Mohd Nor, secretary Ulama Association of Malaysia, Deputy Director (Research & Development), Academy of Islamic Studies, UM; Dr Halim Muhammady, Vice Chair of WADAH, Chairman of Bairuni Research Consultant, former Head Of Quranic Studies Department, Faculty of Islamic Studies, UKM; Hj Ahmad Awang, former director of Islamic Centre, Prime Minister’s Department; Hj Abdul Ghani Samsudin, chairman of secretariat for the Assembly of Ulama Asia, Chair of International Muslim Scholars Association Malaysian Branch, former Head Department of Basic Social Studies, Faculty of Education, UM; Hj Wan Tarmizi Abdul Aziz, deputy president TERAS Pengupayaan Melayu;

Dinsman (Shamsuddin Osman) , president PAKSI; Datin Aminah Zakaria, Chair of Persatuan Persaudaraan Muslimah Malaysia, former principal of Kolej Islam Klang; Ir Hj Asari Daud, former assiatant director of DID, former chairman of District Engineer of Malaysia; and Ir Kassim Muhammad, former director DID, Perlis.

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