By: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal
For a long, long time, progressive Malaysians have been content with the
status quo, believing the only alternative was the instant Islamisation
advocated by PAS (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia). What they did not realise however
was that the status quo meant creeping Islamisation.
For background see WEA RLC News & Analysis
"The Islamisation of Malaysia", by Elizabeth Kendal, 7 June 2007,
< http://www.worldevangelicals.org/commissions/rlc/reports/articles.htm?id=1166 >.
Malaysians are becoming aware of the degree to which decades of creeping
Islamisation is now threatening their whole society. A showdown is brewing
between the Islamists and the libertarians who want global engagement,
modernisation and liberty. This group includes liberal Malays, Hindus (ethnic
Indians), ethnic Chinese and Christians. (Some 80 percent of Malaysia's
Christians are ethnic Chinese). While Muslim hardliners are agitating for more
Sharia, libertarian forces are desperately trying to head off disaster.
Multitudes of Malaysians are coming to believe that the status quo is no
longer acceptable, and for them the Saturday 8 March general elections are an
opportunity not to be missed.
The general elections being held on 8 March will doubtless not unseat the
ruling United Malay National Organisation (UMNO)-led Barisan Nasional (BN) --
the coalition of communal parties that has ruled Malaysia as a political
hegemon since independence. The BN presently has a 90 percent majority,
holding 200 of the 219 seats in the outgoing national legislature. These
elections however could see the rise of serious political opposition built on
a platform of non-communalism, religious liberty and a commitment to
Malaysia's secular constitution.
RELIGION AND RACE
On 3 March, South China Morning Post (SCMP) ran an article entitled
"Malaysia's PM braced for religious backlash". This article, the first in a
three-part series on Malaysia's forthcoming general elections, examined the
disenchantment felt by Malaysian Christians and Hindus and their resolve to
voice their concerns at the ballot box.
As SCMP reports: "Racial and religious discrimination against Malaysia's
minority Chinese and Indian voters has become a key plank of the opposition
campaign in the March 8 polls.
"In the past four years the country had been wracked by disputes between
majority Malays -- who are almost all Muslims -- and minority Christians and
Hindus. The disputes have covered issues including the right to convert,
custody of children, burial and freedom of religion."
Motivated by a growing awareness that their liberty is seriously under threat
-- an awareness fed by recent events such as Lina Joy's apostasy trial, book
bans and Bible seizures -- Malaysia's churches are calling on Christians to
examine the platforms of the candidates, and vote for those who champion
Associated Press (AP) reported on 21 February: "The call illustrates growing
concern among religious minorities who feel their rights are being eroded by a
rise in Islamic fervour, which many blame on overzealous Muslim bureaucrats in
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's government.
"Churches have begun handing out brochures urging Christians to examine the
platforms and records of political parties on 'freedom of religion, conscience
and speech' before casting their ballots in March 8 national elections." (Link 1)
Hermen Shastri, executive secretary of the Christian Federation of Malaysia,
told AP that while the churches remain totally non-partisan they are concerned
by "the trend of Islamisation and how that is affecting other religious
communities". He told SCMP, "We can't vote blindly any more . . . we need
lawmakers to defend our secular constitution and religious freedom."
While non-Muslims and progressives are agitating for liberty, Islamists are
pressing for what is essentially talibanisation. AP reports: "Some 100 Islamic
groups in Malaysia called Wednesday [20 Feb] for wider powers for Shariah
courts and stricter enforcement of religious and moral doctrines ahead of
general elections next month.
"In a list of election demands, the groups said the government should declare
Malaysia an Islamic-majority nation and reject any attempt to make it a
secular state. The demands were made by the Defenders of Islam, a loose
coalition of about 100 mostly conservative Islamic organisations representing
students, professionals and others.
"The groups' statement called for asserting 'the significant role of Islam in
the state'. It also called for the power of Islamic Shariah courts to be
strengthened and new laws to block the propagation of other religions among
Muslims, especially in states with large minority populations.
"The groups sought more Islamic studies in schools, increased scholarships for
Muslims and the implementation of Islamic practices, such as prayers during
school assemblies. They also said television stations should ban Western
entertainment." (Link 2)
According to Yusri Mohamad, president of the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia
which leads the coalition, Malaysia's racial and religious tensions are the
fault of certain groups which challenge Islam's role in the multiracial
country. He told AP that the Defenders of Islam's demands, which will be
distributed to all candidates and political parties, were aimed at
highlighting Muslim needs, not countering the Christian campaign.
Sensing the discontent, PM Abdullah Badawi is busy being all things to all
men, promising elections "goodies" as needed. In the Malay PAS stronghold of
Kelantan he promises more mosques and development. In Chinese-majority Penang
he promises more schools, land and University places for the Chinese. He is
promising Muslims there will be more Islamic law, while promising non-Muslims
there will be liberty, consensus and solidarity. (Link 3)
In a 4 March SCMP article entitled "Malaysian parties desperate to woo Chinese
electors" -- the second in its three part series -- social activist
Ramakrishnan Ponnusamy asks, "In Terengganu, Abdullah said he will defend
Islamic sharia. He comes to Penang and says he will defend secular rights. How
is he going to do it?"
One very interesting and encouraging revelation from this SCMP article is that
the Chinese are realising that, because their birth rate is so much lower than
the Malay birth rate, Chinese political influence can only decline into the
future. For this reason, they are seeing they must advocate on a non-communal
basis and secure rights for all, not just for the Chinese.
"The changing demographics mean Chinese-based parties are competing for a
smaller pool of voters, and more constituencies are becoming mixed-race. 'As
the Chinese numbers shrink, their political clout will also shrink,' Mr Wong
said. 'Playing on the fears of Chinese to win votes will not work in the
future. The solution is to form meaningful alliances with the Malay opposition
and struggle for the interest of all Malaysian people, not just Chinese.' "
(SCMP, 4 March)
If a serious, credible, non-communal, rights-affirming opposition committed to
Malaysia's secular constitution can be consolidated, then the 8 March general
elections may prove to be a watershed moment for Malaysian politics. It would
however be only the beginning of a long struggle that would require strength,
courage and commitment. For as the forces of liberty resist creeping
Islamisation, Islamists will doubtless do everything in their power to resist
the forces of liberty.
1) Concerned about religious freedoms, Malaysian churches step into political
sphere. (AP) 21 Feb 2008
2) Malaysian Groups Want Islam Bolstered. (AP) 21 Feb 2008
3) Government Committed To Islamic Law, Won't Affect Other Faiths – PM
KUALA TERENGGANU, 1 March 2008
Religion to Win Malaysian Vote. 25 Feb 2008
Malaysia polls turn into fight for moral high ground
Malaysian voters wooed with Islam
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