Malaysia: Clear and present danger from the Islamic State


July 8, 2016

Malaysia: Clear and present danger from the Islamic State

by James Chin

http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2015/12/16-malaysia-danger-from-islamic-state-chin

The use of political Islam is a deliberate move by a group of committed Islamists hidden in the highest level of the Malaysian state and bureaucracy to create a Malay-Islamic state, not a mere theocratic state. This ideology is unique and separate from the caliphate project pursued by IS.

In the Malaysian version of the Malay-Islamic state, Sunni Islam’s supremacy is indivisible from ethnicity, i.e. the Malay race. In other words, the unique Malaysian brand of Sunni Islamic supremacy is fused with intolerant Malay nationalism. This highly committed group is trying to build the world’s only Islamic state where Islam and one particular ethnic group are one and the same.–James Chin

In early December 2015, an internal Malaysian Police memo was leaked to the media. The leak came after Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he and several other Malaysian leaders were on the IS hit list. The memo gave details of a November 15 meeting between the militant groups Abu Sayyaf, the Islamic State (IS), and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), in Sulu, the southern Muslim-majority part of the Philippines. Attendees passed several resolutions at the meeting, including regarding mounting attacks in Malaysia, in particular Kuala Lumpur and Sabah in eastern Malaysia. The report mentioned that eight Abu Sayyaf and IS suicide bombers were already on the ground in Sabah, while another ten were in Kuala Lumpur.

While the news shocked many Malaysians and foreigners living in Malaysia, for Malaysia watchers, it was nothing new. There is general consensus in Malaysian security and intelligence circles that IS and home-grown Islamic radicals are planning a terrorist attack in Malaysia. For the past two years, in fact, Malaysia’s security services managed to disrupt at least four major bombing attempts. Their targets are mainly symbolic, such as beer factories and government buildings. Others were senior political figures and tycoons to be held for ransom and propaganda. IS regards the Malaysian government (and neighboring Indonesia) as un-Islamic and a pawn of the West.

While the Malaysian government is lucky that its intelligence services are on top of the situation, there are recent signs that they may be overwhelmed by the scale of the threat and the number of operatives involved.

Malaysia has a population of about 31 million, and 60 percent are Sunni Muslims. There are approximately 200-250 IS fighters from Malaysia in the Middle East. Contrast this with Indonesia, with a Muslim population of 300 million, and yet there are less than 400 IS fighters from Indonesia. This imbalance alone gives a clear indication of the scale of the problem Malaysia faces.

Even so, at the top of the Malaysian government, other than occasional statements condemning IS terrorism, officials do not seem to be able or willing to confront the root causes of the rise of IS in Malaysia.

In an influential essay published in April this year, Brookings scholar Joseph Liow laid out clearly the reasons for the rise of IS in Malaysia: the politicization of Islam by the state. In particular, both the ruling UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) party and its main opponent, PAS (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia) use political Islam as their weapon of choice.

The use of political Islam is a deliberate move by a group of committed Islamists hidden in the highest level of the Malaysian state and bureaucracy to create a Malay-Islamic state, not a mere theocratic state. This ideology is unique and separate from the caliphate project pursued by IS.

In the Malaysian version of the Malay-Islamic state, Sunni Islam’s supremacy is indivisible from ethnicity, i.e. the Malay race. In other words, the unique Malaysian brand of Sunni Islamic supremacy is fused with intolerant Malay nationalism. This highly committed group is trying to build the world’s only Islamic state where Islam and one particular ethnic group are one and the same.

Outsiders, including Muslims from other parts of the Sunni world, will find this development hard to understand as orthodox Islam rejects the notion of race or racism. In Malaysia, according to the proponents of ethno-religious nationalism, the Malaysian brand of Sunni Islam is unique.

An example of these exclusion tactics is the issue over the usage of ‘Allah’. Despite clear and unequivocal evidence that the word ‘Allah’ can be used freely by all, the Malaysian religious establishment has claimed exclusive copyright over the word ‘Allah’ and codified into law a proscription that only Muslims can use ‘Allah’ and another half-a-dozen words.

Who are members of this group pushing for the Malay-Islamic state? The obvious candidates are JAKIM (Malaysian Islamic Development Department), a department under the prime minister’s office, and its state-level version. JAKIM is a government department tasked with defining, to the minuscule detail, what being a Sunni Muslim means in Malaysia, not only in theological terms but also in practical terms, like how to dress and what types of behavior are halal (permissible) or haram.

JAKIM, established during the era of Mahathir, prime minister from 1981 to 2003, is so powerful now that even senior UMNO leaders do not dare to confront it. Anyone who questions JAKIM is threatened with sedition. JAKIM threatened a former MP from UMNO with sedition. The son of a deputy prime minister, he had called for the departmental group to be disbanded. Police investigated a well-known lawyer for sedition after he tweeted, “Jakim is promoting extremism every Friday. Govt needs to address that if serious about extremism in Malaysia.” JAKIM writes all Friday sermons for delivery nationwide, and in recent years these sermons have tried to demonize Shiites, Christians and Jews.

JAKIM’s annual budget is about RM 1 billion, paid for by Muslim and non-Muslim taxpayers. Yet JAKIM is largely unaccountable to anyone. Progressive Malaysian Muslims fear the label of being branded anti-Islamic for questioning the work of JAKIM. Others shy away from criticizing JAKIM for fear of being charged with sedition.

5 thoughts on “Malaysia: Clear and present danger from the Islamic State

  1. UMNO pushes the Islamic state agenda as a means of power. PAS was also but was not racist before but now revealed otherwise. Whereas PAS and religo class is one and the same, UMNO do not have full control ultimately. It’s why Najib and Hadi can get along despite the obvious clash of ambition for power between the two. Najib does not care how he holds power and Hadi think ultimately, Najib or his successors will lose to his kind.

  2. Using mangled Islamic theology / ideology as the “software” and program it into the “hardware” of UMNO / PAS as a means for political control and survival is one thing because ultimately the UMNO / PAS hardware can be switched off at any convenient time of the programmers’ choosing.

    Not so with ISIS. If the programmers think they could do the same with ISIS, then it is literally playing with Hell Fire. ISIS plays for keeps with ambitions of global domination, not just to get over and silence the local daily embarrassment of corrupt exposures.

    When Malaysia gets poorer, as it will the way tings are going, it actually provides rich fertile ground for extremist Islamic groups, local and foreign, to take root and grow and flourish. History has already taught us that many times over. When it happens, I can assure you, “Melayu akan hilang di dunia” As for the non-Malays, they will “hilang di Malaysia” as had been told to do by generations of UMNO politicians to “balik tongsan”, “balik India”, “balik UK”

    But I do see the problem here. It is a question of Malays fighting other Malays which is emotionally a lot harder than fighting non-Malays. This is quite understandable. But at the moment it is still Malays fighting the Arabs only. There is still a chance to really really save Malaysia before it becomes another Bangladesh.

    Do what needs to be done before it is too late, or is it already too late?

  3. We will learn our lessons only when we’re burnt. So we are going that direction, period.

  4. All things in this world is like sugar it tastes good until it becomes insulin resistant.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s