Extremists are turning “moderation” into a dirty word in Malaysia

By Lim Kit Siang, MP for Gelang Patah

lks moderationIt is the supreme irony of ironies.

While the government continues to propagate the Prime Minister, Najib Razak’s initiative of a Global Movement of Moderates, this time at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) Summit currently being held in Beijing, Najib had never been so weak and impotent at home to check the forces of hatred, intolerance and extremism rearing their ugly heads.

On the day that Bernama reported that the Prime Minister’s Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) proposal had received praise from the APEC foreign ministers meeting in Beijing before the 22nd APEC Summit, an ex-UMNO Minister had opened fire on Najib’s GMM initiative, claiming that Christian fanatics in Malaysia had seized on Najib’s concept of moderation and exploited it for their own interests.

Former Information Minister Tan Sri Zainuddin Maiddin claimed that the Malays and Islam were under pressure due to the concept of moderation, asserting that there were signs the concept was on the wrong track.

He cited with approval a recent statement by Johor Umno youth vice-chief Khairul Anwar Rahmat, who said that moderation was unsuitable for certain issues, claiming that it reflected the thoughts and opinions of the Umno grassroots.

Khairul said the concept of moderation must be placed in the right place and used at the right time – and is not suitable to be used when it involves religious struggle and the upholding of shariah law.

Zainuddin said brave and courageous voices to defend the character and pride of the Malays were no longer coming from Umno, but from non-governmental organisations.

Zainuddin said Khairul was right in saying it was better to fight till the bitter end as being too engrossed in moderation would result in average, instead of devout, Muslims.

He blogged: “While Najib has succeeded in his efforts to promote Malaysia as a moderate Muslim country to the global community, it has had a negative impact internally.”

I do not want to get involved in a religious polemic, but the thesis of the former UMNO Minister which he claims represents the thoughts and opinions of the Umno grassroots, is most disturbing as he seems to suggest that Islam is not a religion of moderation.

This is a great disservice to Malaysia and to Islam, especially at a time which is seeing the rise of bigotry and extremism all over the world – like the self-styled born-again “Caliphate” , “Islamic State”, which has carried out a systematic campaign of sectarian brutalities, beheadings and massacres, recruiting between 20,000 to 30,000 foreign fighters, including from Malaysia through the social media to entice those between 14 and 30, using the well-scripted texts on why ‘jihad’ (martyrdom) is an obligation in Islam.

Let there be no mistake. Malays and Islam are not under attack in Malaysia. It is multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural Malaysia which is under siege by intolerant and extremist forces which are trying to turn moderation into a dirty word in Malaysia.

When Najib made his first speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2010, where he first set out his Global Movement of Moderates proposal, Najib publicly commended United States President Barack Obama for the latter’s “courageous public position” in dealing with Islamophobia in condemning the proposed burning of the Quran by a Florida pastor and urged Obama “to galvanise the moderates, bring in the non-governmental organizations and social movements so that more people could see the importance of taking a moderate stance”.

As for himself, up to now, Najib is not prepared to do what he commended Obama of doing – condemning Ibrahim Ali for his threat to burn the Bible.

At the United Nations General Assembly and international forums, Najib called for a coalition of moderates.

In his recent speech at the UN General Assembly, Najib set out for the third time the world agenda for moderation when he said:

“The fight against extremism is not about Christians versus Muslims, or Muslims versus Jews, but moderates versus extremists of all religions. We therefore need to rally a coalition of moderates; those willing to reclaim their religion, and pursue the path to peace.”

It is pathetic and shocking that after preaching the moderation agenda at world forums for the past four years, Najib has yet mobilise a coalition of moderates in Umno and Barisan Nasional to reclaim their religion and pursue the path to peace and moderation.

As often been rightly pointed out, if we can see the nature of religion through the prism of moderation, we will be able to identify common values shared by all religions. The values are peace, harmony and true happiness which will materialize when the followers of every religion avoid excessiveness in religious practices and in the conduct of worldly life.

Malaysians are entitled to ask why UMNO and Barisan Nasional leaders and MPs have refused to sign in a coalition of moderates against extremists of all religions, both nationally and internationally, to build a future based on peace, harmony and security for all, regardless of faith?

Recently, the cacophony from the intolerant and extremist strains in our society have become louder and more insistent, and new rhetorics of hatred, intolerance and extremism are becoming quite commonplace, including:
Opposition to building of a church in Petaling Jaya although the land was set aside by the BN government for a church 13 years ago in 2001;
Strident demands for the closure of Chinese primary schools on the spurious ground that they cause racial conflict;
Furore to incite inter-racial and inter-religious tensions over “halal” mineral water bottles to promote tourism with the large Lord Murugan status at the Batu Caves temple.
Seizure of Christian books and CDs brought in from Indonesia and on transit to Sabah; and
Refusal to prosecute Perkasa’s Ibrahim Ali for his threat to burn the Malay-language Biblle on the ground he was defending the sanctity of Islam and is protected by the Malaysian Constitution while the Attorney-General launches a bitzkrieg of arrests and prosecutions under the Sedition Act.

Yesterday, the UMNO Wanita leader Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil joined forces with those opposed to the repeal of the Sedition Act and promised one million signatures in the campaign although she has nothing to say about the double standards of the Attornery-General in the selective and malicious prosecution of Pakatan Rakyat leaders, activists and intellectuals as well as total silence about the RM250 million National Feedlot Corporation scandal, involving her family members.

Malays and Islam are not under siege in Malaysia. But UMNO is under siege and there is a desperate attempt to equate UMNO under siege as equal to Malays and Islam under siege, which is a great fallacy.

Are we going down the path of Talibanisation just so UMNO can keep grip of power in Malaysia?

Although this question was posed by The Malaysian Insider two days ago, it must have already troubled many Malaysians.

As The Malaysian Insider commentary put it:

“Just like what happened in Afghanistan after the fight to rid of Soviet occupiers, those without political power used religion and race to win over and control the population. It happened there and it appears to be an emerging tactic here.”

This is what Najib’s Global Movement of Moderates is meant to prevent – the lurch towards Talibanisation.

During my speech on the 2015 Budget, I had asked about the outcome of the promise by the Attorney-General, Tan Sri Gani Patail, to review the sedition charges against Dr. Azmi Sharom and others but no answer has been forthcoming from Nancy Shukri, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible to Parliament on this issue.

More than two months have passed since the AG’s promise of a review of the sedition blitzkrieg and charges. Has this been done, who carried out the review – or is Nancy just totally ignorant about it?

The explanation by the Attorney-General on why Perkasa President Ibrahim Ali had not been prosecuted for his threat to burn the Malay-language Bible had added salt to the wound, as it failed not only to win over doubters but have been received with scorn and rejected outright by majority of the critics.

What is worse, it reinforced the perception that the AG’s arguments that Ibrahim Ali should enjoy immunity and impunity from legal sanctions because he was defending the sanctity of Islam and was protected by Article 11(4) of the Constitution were not only shallow, superficial and cock-eyed but reflects a Public Prosecutor who has failed in his duties to be a responsible and trustworthy upholder of the rule of law and the protector of inter-racial and inter-religious unity and harmony in a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation.

The AGC had said that “After the context had been studied as a whole, Ibrahim Ali’s statement does not fall into the category of having seditious tendencies”.

Does this mean that there are certain “context” where it is fully permissible to threaten the burning of the Bible?

Furthermore, are there also certain “contexts” where it is permissible to threaten the burning of holy books of other religions, for instance, Tripitaka for Buddhism, Vedas for Hinduism, Torah for Judaism, Guru Granth Sahib for Sikhism and Tao Te Ching for Taoism?

Are there also “contextual” justifications to justify the threat to burn the Holy Quran?

Surely not, there can be no justification in any context to justify the threat to burn any holy book of any religion in multi-religious Malaysia if we want to maintain inter-religious understanding, harmony and peace and to quote Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, to go beyond just “tolerate” but to “accept” and even celebrate Malaysia’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural diversity.

Just as there should be zero tolerance for corruption, there should be zero tolerance for any threat to burn the holy books of any religion in Malaysia.

Is Najib prepared to announce a zero tolerance policy in Malaysia for any threat to burn any holy books of any religion so as to be a role model of moderation for other countries?

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