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Asiaweek: The Malay Dilemma
By Arjuna Ranawana

18/10/2001 9:34 pm Thu

[Mahathir, Umno dan Farish Nor patut membaca rencana ini khususnya mengenai nama negara Islam dan sikap PAS yang sering mahu diterajang. Alangkah malunya penulis Asiaweek yang bukan Islam pun tahu Malaysia bukan sebuah negara Islam dalam artikata yang sebenarnya.

Sebelum ini FEER juga memetik kata-kata Farish Nor (yang sebenarnya diciplak sedikit dari tulisan HC FGR menegurnya satu ketika dulu). Farish Nor mungkin merasa hebat bila tulisannya dipetik merata tetapi sedarlah ia hanya menelanjangkan betapa hapraknya fikirannya. Islam bukan ugama yang perlu mengikut kita sebaliknya kitalah yang perlu berubah untuk mengikut ugama - walaupun kita mungkin tidak menyukainya. Jika tidak itu bermakna kita sebenarnya masih belum bertuhankan Allah dalam artikata yang sebenarnya tetapi masih bertuhankan keinginan sendiri yang keseronokkannya bakal merusakkan kita juga. 'Islam is a religion with the society in mind.' - Mutahari. - Editor] dateline/0,8782,180153,00.html

OCTOBER 26, 2001

The Malay Dilemma

The U.S. strikes are polarizing Malaysia, and sparking a return to the bad old politics of race


Norazina Mohamed Nor, 32-year-old mother of five, stands across the road from the U.S. embassy. She is wearing a black Osama bin Laden T-shirt and shouting slogans against the strikes on Afghanistan. Normally, Norazina would be doing housework back in her middle-class neighborhood. But on Friday Oct. 12, she joined nearly 3,000 other Muslims to vent their anger against what they feel are unjust American attacks not only on bin Laden but Islam as a whole. Says Norazina: "I support Osama because he is my Muslim brother."

The almost daily anti-American routine in Jakarta? No, a Kuala Lumpur demonstration noteworthy not only for its rarity but its vitriol. The angry demonstration was led by Malaysia's Islamic party Pas, the country's biggest opposition group, and joined by Muslim clerics and youths. Pas chief Fadzil Noor called on the U.S. to stop bombing Afghanistan, abandon "its ill-intent plan" to attack other countries to wipe out terrorism, and review its foreign policies. Mild and predictable stuff, but not so the leaflets distributed by the non-Pas participants who tagged along. They branded the U.S. "Great Satan" and urged "Death to America and Israel." Eventually, police scattered the protesters with water cannon laced with a chemical that irritates the eyes. Said elderly Malay demonstrator Syed Jafar: "This shows the government is obeying the Americans."

Malaysia's state religion is Islam, but it's no Islamic state. It has sizable ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities, tolerates other faiths and customs, and welcomes investment from the West. Plus, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad generally backs the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign. But now, like other Muslim-majority countries, Malaysia is witnessing the radicalization of some of its Muslims by the events in Afghanistan. The trend scares many Malaysians, irrespective of race or religion, not least because it could spark tensions between extremist and moderate Muslims as well as between Muslims and non-Muslims. "This rhetoric is threatening the fabric of our plural society," says Lim Kit Siang of the mainly Chinese Democratic Action Party. Adds prominent Malay academic Farish Noor: "The veil has fallen, and Malaysians can at last see the true face of Pas."

To be fair, Pas is not that radical. But its unwillingness to compromise on its goal of creating an Islamic state limits its appeal among Malaysians. Shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., Lim pulled his party out of a multiracial coalition with Pas. The move pretty much ended a brief experiment by the opposition to rise above the race-based politics that has long characterized Malaysia. Now expect political parties to return to parochial rather than national agendas. "The Malays will be trying to curb the Chinese, and the Chinese trying to fight the Malays," says human rights activist Wong Ching Huat. "We will be spending our energy blocking each other's progress."

All this is good news, however, for Mahathir. Because of disillusionment with his administration, the prime minister had seen support for him and his United Malays National Organization erode. The beneficiary was the opposition, including Pas. But now Mahathir's foes are falling out among themselves, and public sentiment is against anything perceived as Islamic and extremist. In recent months, his administration has tossed several Pas and other Muslim leaders in jail for, it claims, plotting to overthrow the government and establish a fundamentalist Islamic state. "Mahathir is just trying to smear our image," says Mustafa Ali, a Pas leader.

But like other governments cracking down on homegrown Islamic threats - China on the Uighurs, Russia on the Chechens - Malaysia has been given the benefit of the doubt, and there has been little international outcry against Mahathir's moves. Even the risk of being seen as an American lackey - ironic for someone given to criticizing the West - is minimal. Says Abdul Rahman Embong of the National University of Malaysia and normally a Mahathir critic: "He has positioned himself as rational and pragmatic." And a shrewd reader of the way the world's winds are blowing.