27 January, 2010

God row spells change ahead in Malaysia


Good Can't exist without Evil or The absence of Good is Evil ?


Two pig's heads were found at a Malaysian mosque close to a neighborhood hit by an ethnic clash nine years ago following a series of arson and firebomb attacks on churches.

The discovery of the pig heads -- an animal considered offensive to Muslims and whose consumption is prohibited -- could further inflame tensions in the mainly Muslim country, prompting police to issue a stern warning against stirring up emotions.

Eleven churches, a Catholic school, a Sikh temple, two mosques and two Muslim prayer rooms so far have been hit by arson and vandalism attacks in recent weeks over the use of the word "Allah" by Christians.

The mosque is located near a neighborhood which in 2001 was hit by an ethnic clash that reportedly left six people dead.

It seemed to come out of nowhere, it ran its course within a fortnight and the damage inflicted was mild compared with religious conflicts in other parts of the world.

The attacks were provoked by a simmering and, to many outsiders, absurd controversy about the use of the word Allah. Below that, they suggest deep and long-running tensions in a country that has successfully bottled them up for 40 years.

The row over whether Christians should have the right to use the word Allah to refer to their god in Malaysian-language bibles and liturgy is just the latest in a series of manifestations of a rising current of conservative Islam.

In other incidents last year, a 32-year-old mother was convicted for drinking a can of beer, and Muslim demonstrators outraged Hindu opinion by marching with the head of a dead cow, an animal sacred to Hinduism, to oppose construction of a temple.

But these are symptoms of deeper fissures in Malaysian society that are not religious so much as ethnic.

Malaysia's success since its independence from Britain in 1963 has been to neutralise the rivalry and mutual dislike between its small majority of Malays (who by law are Muslim) and its Chinese and Indian minorities (who are Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh). Relations between Malays and Chinese have been marked by outbreaks of mutual antipathy rooted in racial dislike.

The Malay view sees Chinese as clannish, patronising, greedy, dishonest and opportunistic.

While BN's UMNO is not a party of fundamentalist Islam, but as its racial base erodes it has attempted to curry favour with ultra-conservative Muslims in the hope religion may fill the ideological gap left by Malay nationalism. A shrewder leader, such as Mahathir, would not have let the Allah row assume the dimensions it has.

But his successor as prime minister, Najib Razak, has stoked it. When a court ruled on December 31 that the ban on the use of Allah by Christians was unconstitutional, he had an opportunity to drop the whole thing.

Instead, his government appealed against the decision, and the attacks followed. The physical damage that the attacks have caused may have been minimal, but the damage to the cause of racial harmony in Malaysia is impossible to calculate.

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