28 August, 2007

Fifty Years And Still Going 'wrong'

Dubbed the "melting pot" of Asia for its potpourri of cultures, Malaysia has long been held up as a model of peaceful co-existence among its races and religions.

That may no longer hold true.

"Views of increasing intolerance and religious polarisation have negatively impacted how Malaysia has been perceived," said Bridget Welsh, a political scientist at John Hopkins University.

"Malaysia has benefited from a largesse of resources, which, if depleted, will lead to greater racial tensions," said Welsh, a specialist on Malaysia.

Malaysia's economy, which relied heavily on rubber and tin during British colonial rule, has since been transformed into one based on manufacturing and services, and is now the region's biggest after Indonesia and Singapore.

But while it has made progress on the economic front, race and inter-faith relations are lagging and efforts to mesh the races into a single Malaysian identity are far from reality.

The reasons for that are deep-rooted.

Malaysia's political, education and economic structures, as well as faith, continue to be entrenched along racial lines...more here.

Malaysia marks the 50th anniversary of its independence later this week at a time when it is increasingly questioning its own identity amid rising Islamisation and racial polarisation.

Excerpt from Malaysiakini:

Yet as the country prepares to mark a half-century of nationhood on Friday, many are struggling to agree on what it means to be Malaysian, and how much your religion and culture counts.

P. Ramasamy, a political scientist and former professor with the National University of Malaysia, is worried about a rising influence of Islam, and the racial and religious divisions it could spark.

"If this is the indicator after 50 years, I do not want to look forward to the next 50 years as the situation may become worse,"

Freedom of religion is enshrined in the constitution but a number of recent events -- such as a court's decision not to recognise a woman's conversion to Christianity and a row over whether Sharia law should be incorporated into the legal system -- have highlighted long-standing divisions.

Malaysia experienced deadly race riots between Malays and Chinese in 1969 sparked by political rivalries and anger over the wealth of the Chinese, and today ethnic Malays dominate politics.

Former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was sacked and jailed in 1998, told AFP that Islam in Malaysia had been "hijacked" for political reasons by the ruling party, and urged caution against creeping extreme Islamic tendencies.

He pointed to a recent decision by the Federal Court rejecting a women's bid to be legally recognised as a Christian after converting from Islam.

Lina Joy waged a decade-long battle to have the word "Islam" removed from her national identity card, but the court threw out her case and said only the Sharia court can legally certify her conversion.

Anwar decries not just the religious divisions, but the economy, which he says is being battered by corruption.

"Foreign investments are heading elsewhere. This is due to incompetency, poor governance and refusal to change. So we are losing out to Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, India and China," he said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad has strongly defended the unity of the country as it marks 50 years as a nation this week, accusing critics of wrongly painting a bleak picture.

"There are many naysayers and detractors both within and outside Malaysia. They seek to paint a dark and bleak picture of Malaysia," he said.

"A Malaysia that is supposedly inefficient and lacking in integrity. A Malaysia supposedly torn at the seams and a Malaysia that is increasingly disunited and in decline."

Abdullah acknowledged Malaysia was "not a perfect country," and said that promoting unity should remain a goal, but insisted the nation had come a long way.

Religious freedom is guaranteed in the constitution, but a series of court challenges and political statements have raised fears that minority groups are being pushed aside by creeping conservatism and Islamisation.

Abdullah earlier Monday accused opposition groups of taking advantage of free speech to create division in society, warning that the government would not hesitate to act.

Early this month, when Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Malaysia is neither secular nor theocratic state, in contrast to what his deputy Najib Tun Razak said

But, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has today for the first time said that Malaysia was an Islamic state and not a secular state.Read more here, here and here.



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