04 August, 2007

Malaysia risks racial, religious polarization

Racial and religious disputes are threatening to unravel decades of efforts to nurture multicultural unity in Malaysia, one of Southeast Asia's most politically stable nations, leading non government groups warned.

DISTRESSED by a recent spate of racial and religious disputes in the country, 42 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Malaysia have jointly issued an eight-point declaration calling for concerted efforts to keep the peace.

"Recently the state of unity has been fraying at the edges," the statement said. "Ethnic, linguistic and religious divides have deepened, causing genuine pain and hurt to many in our nation."

Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin criticized the statement Friday, saying it "ignores the reality."

"It is a clever attempt to disunite the people in the country," the national news agency Bernama quoted Zainuddin as saying. "To strengthen and improve national unity, the government will accede to the people's wishes and not the wishes of this group."

The groups urged the government to establish an independent panel to review laws and policies that might undermine harmony and investigate complaints of ethnic and religious discrimination.

The call came ahead of Malaysia's 50th anniversary of independence from Britain on Aug. 31.

Ethnic Malay Muslims form about 60 percent of Malaysia's 26 million people, with ethnic Chinese and Indians of Christian, Buddhist and Hindu faiths forming most of the remainder.

Concerns about religious rights have mounted over a recent string of court verdicts in inter-religious disputes that favored Muslims.

The statement also contained what the NGOs called 'a wish list' for racial unity. Combating graft, introducing educational reform and making Malaysia more competitive globally were among the wishes on the list.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi today(August 4th) emphasised that Malaysia is not a secular nor a theocratic state but a country that practises parliamentary democracy, reports Bernama.

He said the government in this country practised elements of government that reflected the composition of its population which was made up of various races and religion.

"We are not a secular state. We are also not a theocratic state like Iran and Pakistan which PAS wants us to be, but we are a government that is based on parliamentary democracy,"

He said the existing government was a responsible one whether to the people or country and administered together by leaders from all races and religions under the Barisan Nasional coalition.

"We (the government) consist of leaders from the various religions -- Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity -- and everyone is involved in discussions to reach a consensus on national development policies," he said.

The Prime Minister said the formula adopted had been proven to be capable of driving the country towards development for the past 50 years.

"That is our country that has developed according to our own formula which has been tested for the past 50 years and has already succeeded today," he said.

Abdullah said he failed to see how such a government could not continue to progress in future, that is up to its 100th independence anniversary.

For a long time, the debate on whether Malaysia is an Islamic state or a secular state has been raging on with no end in sight. There have been definition after definition by both lay and scholarly Muslims about what an Islamic state entails and these have been rebutted by the non-Muslims using the Federal Constitution as their basis.

"If Malaysia is an Islamic state, what about Sabah? When they agreed to become part of the federation, it was stated in the 20-point Agreement that Islam was not to be a state religion:

Point 1: Religion - ‘While there was no objection to Islam being the national religion of Malaysia, there should be no state religion in North Borneo, and the provisions relating to Islam in the present Constitution of Malaya should not apply to North Borneo.’

If they are secular, then Malaysia cannot be an Islamic state because you cannot have some states which are and some which are not. An Islamic state comprises of all states that constitute a nation."

- excerpts from Malaysiakini, 'Letters to the Editor', by A Secular Malaysian.

Is Malaysia ready to live with the reality of the internet and the parallel universe of cyberspace? In the words of Jeff Ooi, another prominent Malaysian blogger who has himself come under attack for the postings on his site: "No, they are not ready and they don't care !

Read " Malaysia and cyberspace " —By Farish A Noor



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe the PM is being honest. He neither want a secular not theocratic state and believe that is what those who elected him want too. There is one teeny weeny problem.


This issue has been debated for centuries already especially the Christian-Judeo based nations. If there was a way to do it, they would have done it already.

Its intellectual mediocrity, arrogance, and apathy to think he there is.

August 05, 2007 10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am surprised your blog site could detect viewer from Singapore. As a close neighbour of Malaysia, I share your concern that Malaysia risks racial and religious polarization with dissenting views arising from all other component races on the irresponsible statement from your DPM on Malaysia being an Islamic state.

August 05, 2007 12:28 PM  

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