February 2, 2016
Time for Malay Rulers act to stop Racism and Islamic Extremism
by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee
“Kepada pihak berkuasa, berkas mereka yang menghasut Bangsa Johor untuk membenci dan mempromosikan perkauman. Jangan pilih kasih, cari jalan penyelesaianya ke akar umbi,” – HRH Sultan Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar
In the last few months, HRH The Sultan of Johor and HRH The Sultan of Perak have spoken out publicly to share their concerns about the dangers of racial and religious extremism taking root in the country.
The first was HRH Sultan of Johor who in a Facebook posting in both English and Malay languages on September 15, 2015 warned:
“Let me reiterate, there is no place for hatred and racism here in Johor Darul Ta’zim. It was never welcomed, nor will I ever welcome haters and racists here in Johor. If anyone who wants to practice hatred and racism in Johor Darul Ta’zim, the home of the Malays, Chinese and Indians- Bangsa Johor, please leave Johor immediately. That is an order!”
At last view, the posting had received 81,000 Likes; 6.900 Comments and 36,000 Shares.
Last week, the Sultan of Perak, opening a religious meeting, spoke in a similar but more urgent tone. Speaking, perhaps with his mind on the recent Islamic State-inspired Jakarta attacks which has raised fears of an expanded presence and activity by the terrorist movement in Malaysia, he warned that religion is like a time bomb which can explode, triggering chaos and catastrophe if it is sensationalized for political purposes.
He also noted that “[j]ustice must be implemented, human dignity must be respected, while the king is responsible for fulfilling the role of an arbitrator in a fair and equitable manner and willing to give space to listen and scrutinise.” Finally, in recognition of our multi-racial and multi-religious society, he emphasized that impartiality required rulers to offer the ‘shade of their umbrellas’ equally to all, irrespective of their religious affiliations.
Authorities Abetting or Discouraging Extremism
At the end of his post HRH Johor Sultan ordered: “To the authorities, do not take [the] soft approach against haters and racists, do not be bias[ed], get to the root of the problem, and apprehend those who create racial disharmony problems here in Johor Darul Ta’zim,”
Who are the haters and racists, and those planting the time bombs and laying the minefields of racial and religious discord? And what are the authorities doing about it?
This question, posed by numerous quarters many times in the past ten years especially after the 2008 elections, has not received the serious attention it requires.
Now that two of the country’s Rulers have come out openly, it is time for the rest of the country to have a frank and open public discourse on it.
For a start we can ask some pertinent questions. We know that politics and politicians provide much of the breeding ground for religious and racial xenophobia and hate. We also have irresponsible media outlets and rabid columnists stoking racial and religious fury and shutting the scope for moderate voices. Let’s flush them out into the open and have them explain their positions to a non-partisan independent monitoring body that is not tied to the ruling government which has a vested interest in playing politics on it. And start taking firm action against repeat offenders as demanded by HRH Sultan of Johor.
But what of our religious leaders and agencies? Are they helping to douse or fan the flames of religious fires? HRH Sultan of Perak has argued that Islamic scholars and leaders entrusted with managing the affairs of Islam must carry out their responsibilities with wisdom and justice. He has also called on them to respect the feelings of others and understand the realities of our time and place.
Is this what is taking place and are our Islamic leaders and agencies up to this challenge of being role models for our society and our time? Because Najib Razak-led UMNO-Barisan Nasional government and authorities are remiss in pursuing these questions and countering extremist racial and religious sentiment, it has been left to civil society groups and concerned individuals to take on this onerous task.
Why Shoot the Messenger
Among the most prominent of the groups expressing concern on the worsening racial and religious discord in the country is the G-25 Group of prominent Malay civil servants set up in late 2014. Since its formation, G-25 has repeatedly pushed for a rational and informed public discussion on how Islamic laws should apply in a constitutional and multi-religious democracy.
Despite receiving little encouragement from the authorities, the Group has persisted in its efforts to examine the way in which Islam is used or misused as a source of public law and policy and how this is impacting on race relations and political stability.
As part of its public scrutiny, G25 has criticized JAKIM, the federal Islamic development agency, for exercising authority beyond their appropriate jurisdiction in possible violation of the Federal Constitution and thwarting the democratic process.
For its pains, the G-25 group has been accused of being anti-Islam, anti-monarchy and anti-Malay. Most recently, threats of physical violence have been directed at the group’s spokesperson, Noor Farida Ariffin, by supporters of the status quo.
It is a concern that there has been little or no effort made by the authorities, including religious, to explain that the accusations made against the G-25 are baseless. There also appears to be no attempt made to defend G-25 members from threats of harm or in reminding the public that extremist positions against those holding contrarian views are unacceptable and punishable when they break the law. Instead various key members of G-25 are being investigated by the Police for allegedly violating the sedition law.
Royalty to the rescue?
The response to G-25 indicates that our Rulers – as heads of Islam in their respective states – may have to be the last defense against racial and religious extremism, besides being the last bastion of our moderate and liberal democracy. But even they must not leave it too late to contain the religious and racial extremism. It is time for their Royal Highness to call Prime Minister Najib Razak to account for his divisive policies
Urdu novelist, Saadar Hasan Manto, writing of the defining event in the modern history of the Indian sub-continent – the tragedy and horror of Partition in 1947 which resulted in one of the greatest forced movements of people and which continues to shape the present and future of the peoples of South Asia – has described the unleashing of religious fires in this way:
“[H]uman beings were … slaves, slaves of bigotry … slaves of religious passions…slaves of animal instincts and barbarity.”
We will be descending into our own version of partition should we fail to check religious and racial intolerance and extremism, and the horrors that come with it when communities turn against each other and Malaysia hurtles down the precipice of self destruction.