Tuesday, August 14, 2007

DPM Najib's Declaration: Malaysia An Islamic State

Horror of Horrors... what do the minorities do now? Everyone, be it Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist or Christian was always under the impression that PAS was the party that intended on setting up the much feared Islamic State. Now, it seems that UMNO has deemed Malaysia to have always been an Islamic State. When did this come about? In every past election that I can recall, UMNO always stressed on the fact that PAS was extremist and in that same breath commented negatively of PAS intentions to set up an Islamic state in Kelantan, let alone the whole of Malaysia.

This was the tactic employed to woo voters to a more moderate Barisan Nasional with a moderate Muslim-Malay party, UMNO. The deterring factor for a majority of Malaysian voters in voting the opposition has always been the fear of PAS and their Islamic State ideology.

But recently, our DPM Najib has declared Malaysia as never being secular (contrary to our understanding) and always being an Islamic State. Shock and awe, the whole country was in uproar, especially the minority races. We didn't vote for this, we didn't agree to this!

Even though the Constitution does not state that we are an Islamic State and specifies Islam as the main religion of the country, people like DPM Najib and Former PM Mahathir, who obviously do not understand the nation's constitution they were meant to uphold, or has never read it. This may be believable in Najib's case, but not likely in Mahathir's, as he is known to be an avert reader - so what was his objective?

It seems that UMNO politicians love to play the racial and religious card in their attempt to win over PAS voters. For most Malays and Muslims these days, the more religious you appear to be, the stronger a candidate you become. A very narrow and shallow reason for choosing a country's leadership. Nonetheless, this is the rural Malay voter, unfortunately the urban Malay is .

Not caring for the impact that their statements have on all Malaysians, and forgetting that it is the Malay, Chinese, Indians and "Lain Lain" (Others) who make up this country and what it is today, they make statements that undoubtedly make everyone nervous.

The Nation's leaders in UMNO seem to think that just because they have been given a firm mandate by the majority of Malaysians, they can say what they like and make things like "Islamic State" policy overnight. Since when?

Furthermore, and more upsetting, people like Najib can insist that their statements are correct and not bother addressing the public's concern. Additionally, a media blackout on the subject had been established, only to allow statements by DPM Najib and PM Badawi to be publicised. Basically saying that "It's our right to say these things, what you believe or feel doesn't matter".

How dare you! Malaysia is made up of many people from many different races. We built this country together. Don't think you can make such sweeping statements and then arrogantly not attend to the public's outcry.

To think that UMNO practically begged for the Chinese vote in 1997 when Anuar Ibrahim formed PKR and went to the elections. BN won by a margin afforded to them by the Chinese vote. It could have easily gone the other way. And this is how you say thank you? Najib should not forget that during that election, he nearly lost his parliamentary seat by a few hundred votes.

If I recall correctly, during that time, UMNO was making remarks against voting for either DAP or PKR on the basis that they are tied up with the extremist PAS, which had the intention of setting up an Islamic State that UMNO knew DAP will never agree to.

So I suppose UMNO has a short memory... perhaps it's time to refresh it and to establish the impermanance of UMNO and BN's role in leading the people.

So, years after that episode, and now that UMNO feels that it's clout with the people is secure, it can say whatever it likes for the benefit of the Malays and Islam.

I am surprised that after all that, UMNO can make an about turn and declare that Malaysia is an Islamic State.

What does this mean to the people? Simple, UMNO and BN are now expendable. We tried to avoid becoming an Islamic State and were led to believe that by voting for BN we would be safe from such fundamentalist ideologies. However, since it has been declared that we now are, what difference will it make if we choose to vote for PAS or the opposition?

Some may say, it's Najib's words against all the nation. But I think that there are many in UMNO who support this, and these people are key players in the party and government. In which case, it is a matter of time before UMNO becomes a fundamentalist Islamic party. Slowly but surely, the minorities feel that their rights are being encroached upon. Slowly, but surely, UMNO is becoming more Islamic. It is a matter of time before everyone feels the full force of this change.

Voters can make the change now, if they wanted. A message can be sent to the likes of UMNO that this will not be accepted. Besides, with the many votes that UMNO will receive from either loyalists or those who are afraid to chance their vote to the opposition, perhaps for the many of us who are patriotic enough to attempt to preserve the balance of power and sanctity of our nation, we should vote opposition over UMNO candidates where possible. Perhaps by reducing the number of UMNO seats in parliament, we can eliminate rhetoric by people like Najib, Khairi, Nasir, "blog-hater" Zam and a number of others.

Why do we want to have leaders who go out there, shooting off their mouths without caring about how what they say affects all of us? They should be removed from power and hopefully silenced. Well, at least we are not giving them a pedestal to stand on!

Here's an article extracted from the Today paper, a Singapore publication. The writer has certainly made an accurate analysis worthy of reading - you'll find that it's what you have been thinking, but never verbalised.

14 August 2007
News Comment Section
Malaysia's State of Ambiguity

A TACTIC used by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, in his fight against the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) in 2001, was to declare Malaysia an Islamic state. This, he figured, would take the windsout of the sails of the PAS, whose stated aim is to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state.

While the opposition Democratic ActionParty (DAP) made noise, the general public was hardly up in arms over the matter. The issue was soon forgotten although Dr Mahathir never retracted his declaration.

Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak reiterated the former Prime Minister’s stance, stating that not only was Malaysia an Islamic state, the country had never been secular in the first place.

Mr Najib got support from Dr Mahathir and drew expected criticism from the likes ofthe DAP, lawyers and rights groups.But something else happened: The Information Ministry took the unusual step of telling newspapers not to publish any articles on the issue, on grounds that this could cause“tension” among the public. Only commentsby Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his deputy were allowed for print.This move reflects how much the situation has changed. The bulk of the voting public during much of Dr Mahathir’s era was more compliant, less vocal and, perhaps crucially, did not have the Internet.

Today, Web-savvy, younger voters are more willing to stand up for their rights. Several issues, not just the Islamic-state controversy, have illustrated this point.

Earlier this year, Malaysia’s biggest bank came up with a policy that required its panel of lawyers to have at least three partners, one of whom must be a bumiputera holding a minimum of 50 per cent equity in the partnership. Maybank came under intense fire from the non-Malay community, which led to a quick withdrawal of the policy.

I am of the Internet generation, but I remember a time when both government agencies and private corporations could implement discriminatory (dubbed “affirmative action”) policies with impunity, such as the one Maybank tried to push.

Not today.

Last year, the annual general assembly ofthe United Malays National Organisation (Umno), saw speaker after speaker make fiery speeches. One delegate said they were willing to“risk lives” and “bathe in blood”. Another asked when Umno Youth chief Hishamuddin Hussein was going to use the keris he had brandished at the event.

The backlash from the televised and well-blogged event took Umno by surprise. Shortly after that, the government decided future general assemblies would not be televised, and began to take reconciliatory steps to assuage non-Malay outrage.

Mr Hishamuddin, who is also Education Minister, within months, announced the construction of a new Chinese school and some RM2.1 million ($918,000) in grants for Chinese schools. He also assured the Chinese community that the government would not close down Chinese schools, had no objections to building more and would resolve the shortage of Chinese school teachers as well as raise the standard of Chinese primary schools.

Even Mr Khairy Jamaluddin, the Prime Minister’s fiery son-in-law, has mellowed in his rhethoric. Last year, he called for the government to increase the affirmative action quota for Malays if the Chinese were not happy with the 30 per cent set aside. He made similar outrageous comments throughout much of last year and refused to apologise for them.

This past weekend, however, he denied that Umno was racist. “How can we be racist, when we are defending equality?” he said. He cited the power-sharing agreement Umno has with other component parties as an example.

Mr Badawi, who had kept silent on Mr Najib’s Islamic-state comment, recently came out to say that Malaysia was “not a secular state” but neither was it “a theocratic state like Iran and Pakistan” — his typical “neither here nor there” comment.

It’s also reminiscent of the government’s “strategic ambiguity” approach on the issue of whether Muslims are allowed to leave their religion. While the issue of apostasy is not something that non-Muslims are particularly concerned about, as it doesn’t directly affect them, an Islamic state is something that doesn’t sit well with them.

Lawyers say the Federal Constitution is unambiguous about Malaysia being a secular state — Article 3 (1) states it clearly— but the apostasy cases have shown how murky these things can be in practice. And while it’s true that non-Muslims have freedom of religion and can lead very secular lifestyles, there’s always the danger of the slippery slope.

This is probably why Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Bernard Dompok risked angering his Umno colleagues by saying at a public forum: “I will not agree that we are an Islamic state.” He understands full well that today’s non-Muslim public will not accept any ambiguity on this matter. But does Mr Badawi?

Oon Yeoh is a writer and commentator based in Kuala Lumpur.

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