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IHT: Mixed Repercussions in Malaysia
By Philip Bowring
5/11/2001 3:09 pm Mon
[Suasana nampaknya menyebelahi Mahathir kali ini. Lagipun pembangkang gagal
memperjuangkan isu sebaiknya bila Mahathir bertindak sesuka hati membunuh
demokrasi. Mereka seperti terikut rentak Mahathir padahal itulah yang akan
Isu Afghanistan dijangka akan menyebabkan kemarahan umat Islam di negara ini
kepada UMNO jika Mahathir gagal menekan Amerika. Ini menyebabkan Mahathir
serba-salah kerana dia amat memerlukan hubungan baik dengan Amerika kerana
ekonomi Malaysia sudahpun merana. Peniaga dan kroni koperat Umno akan demam
jika krisis berlanjutan lama.
The International Herald Tribune
KUALA LUMPUR The aftermath of Sept. 11 is having a profound impact
on prosperous, predominantly Muslim Malaysia. The results augur well
for the country's internal stability in the short term and its ability
to keep religious radicalism marginalized.
The position of Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, who is 76,
has been strengthened. Six months ago his future was in doubt.
His unpopularity within the ruling United Malays National
Organization was stark. Hostility to crony capitalism was rife.
Opposition parties were maintaining an improbable alliance. And the
jailing of opponents, notably former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar
Ibrahim, was earning Mr. Mahathir the distrust of many Malays and
Before Sept. 11 he had already begun to recover his poise with
housecleaning and repositioning. Now support among non-Malays,
who have always seen him as a bulwark against Islamists, is
stronger than ever.
Moderate Malays, frustrated by corruption and UMNO's autocratic
tendencies, had been supporting the Islamic Party of Malaysia or
Keadilan, the multiethnic party formed after Mr. Anwar's arrest and
headed by his wife. But they have been drifting back to UMNO.
Keadilan is losing focus. The alliance between the Islamic Party and
the mainly Chinese Democratic Action Party has broken down.
The eruption of extremism elsewhere has enabled the government to
cast in a better light its arrests of Muslim (and non-Muslim)
opposition figures, and its crackdown on local Muslim cults that
were not connected to Osama bin Laden but whose existence
appeared to support the official contention that extremist dangers
The government's revived popularity has been seen in state
elections in Sarawak.
Internationally, Mr. Mahathir has kept his balance, exhibiting his
credentials as an opponent of religious extremism.
This consolidation around the political center does not mean that
there are no negative effects from Sept. 11. The bombing has raised
Muslim consciousness. The Malay press is full of denunciations of
Only a handful of Malays are likely to want to move from rhetoric to
action, but any sustained increase in Malay self-awareness of
Muslim as opposed to Malaysian identity cannot be good for
relations with non-Muslims. The non-Muslims may not like
American policies, but they fear that the solidarity Muslims feel
required to exhibit will damage relations with the West and hurt the
economy. For years Mr. Mahathir has pursued full-steam-ahead
economic modernization driven by foreign investment but has
balanced this with mosque building and social concessions to vocal
Islamists and with periodic anti-Western rhetoric.
Compare Malaysia now with when he came to power 20 years ago
and one sees a more prosperous and urbanized society but one with
more outward signs of Muslim formalism and, consequently, a new
divide between urban Malays and non-Malays.
Many modernist Malays close to Mr. Mahathir now feel that it was a
mistake to have responded to the surge in Islamic consciousness
which followed the Iranian revolution by giving freer rein to religious
authorities. These have sought to impose their own restrictive
interpretations of Islam on a Malay community that traditionally took
a relaxed view of dress codes, alcohol and so on.
Lack of freedom of Malays to make their own judgments about
religion and social mores is a blot on the nation's record of
modernization and pluralism. The issue now is whether Malaysia
goes further down this road of using political power to further Islam,
as is happening in the states controlled by the Islamic Party of
Alternatively, Malays may consider that they are better served by
reasserting their commitment to a secular Malay-led state in which
Muslims can choose their own ways of relating to God. The Malay
elite represented by UMNO favors this course but has been divided
by the treatment of Mr. Anwar and damaged by the party's
get-rich-quick image. Afghanistan is increasing the emotional
pressure on Malays for religious identification at a time when
Malaysia needs to cultivate domestic harmony and good relations
with non-Muslim Asian neighbors as well as the West. A
30-year-old policy has given economic and educational
advantages to the mostly Malay Muslim majority. Affirmative action
has brought Malays into the modern economy. But, contrary to the
usual impact of urbanization, religious commitment may have
Has religious authority supplanted the feudal relationships of rural
Malaysia? Or has affirmative action institutionalized dependency
and a sense of inability to compete equally in the modern world?
Re-examination of this policy is due. For now, it is important for
Malaysians to appreciate the plural underpinnings, political and
ethnic, of their success.