Debate Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi

December 25, 2017

Debate Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi

by S.Thayaparan

COMMENT | “Iksim propounds the view that Islam does not come under the jurisdiction of any political power. According to it, religious enforcement authorities come under the patronage of the Sultans, not state governments. This is a remarkable vision of an autonomous, almost all-powerful, religious elite that is like a state within a state.” – Shad Saleem Faruqi

I have often referenced Pprofessor Shad Saleem Faruqi’s articles in my articles, sometimes agreeing; sometimes disagreeing with what he writes.

If someone were to tell me that Shad’s intention in anything he ever wrote was to insult or breach the peace, I would burst out in hysterical laughter. This academic (unlike this writer) has never written a polemic, as far as I can tell. In addition, I have probably read everything this man has written.

If you have not read the article, that has got Iksim all in a rage, I suggest that you read it and determine if anything in that article warrants the state security apparatus “probing” this academic under section 504 of the Penal code.

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Instead of engaging intellectually with Shad, Iksim resorted to the Islamists playbook and issued a public statement claiming that Faruqi and the G25 (Noor Farida Ariffin specifically) were attempting to cause racial disharmony and subverting the Islamic agenda as enshrined in the Federal Constitution. You can read the full statement here but the relevant passage is this:

“Tohmahan-tohmahan liar berkenaan termasuk oleh Prof Emeritus Shad Saleem Faruqi dan Datuk Noor Faridah Ariffin dari puak G25 dilihat sebagai satu cubaan untuk mencetuskan perasaan permusuhan antara kaum dan agama di negara ini. Kedua-dua mereka jelas menentang pemikiranpemikiran ke arah mendaulatkan Islam sebagai agama Negara sekalipun ia jelas termaktub dalam Perkara 3(1) dan sumpah Yang di-Pertuan Agong di bawah perkara 37(1) Perlembagaan Persekutuan.” 

In the quote that begins this piece, the good professor, questions Iksim’s perspective that Islam does not come under the purview of any political power likening such a perspective to a “state within a state.”

If you read the press statement and consider Iksim’s rationale for going after Shad and the G25, you would come to the realisation that their “unique” interpretation of the Malaysian constitution and of Islam in general, is exactly the “state within a state” idea that Shad alludes to in the quote I referenced.

Have you noticed that Islamists always claim that the people they target are attempting to cause tension amongst the various ethnic groups here in Malaysia? Is there any evidence of this? Are non-Muslims threatened or provoked by what people targeted by groups like Iksim say and do? I would argue that the only people threatened or provoked are the Islamist and the reason why they are threatened is that their views or beliefs are challenged.

Furthermore, Iksim has not rebutted the points raised in Shad’s article. They have not claimed that what he wrote was false or fallacious. They have not denied the agenda he attributes to them. What they have done, is use the state to sanction the professor and intimidate any others who subscribe to his views.

Indeed by their own admission (as quoted by Shad referencing their March 28 booklet), – “secularism, liberalism and cultural diversity are elements that will undermine the Islamic agenda and destroy the country’s sovereignty”.

In other words, according to Iksim, everything that non-Muslims value and probably a majority of Muslims are detrimental to the Islamic agenda in this country. Therefore, when Umno potentates talk of cultural diversity and protecting the faiths of non-Muslims, this is detrimental to the Islamic agenda of this country.

When UMNO potentates talk about the rich cultural diversity and the need to respect different cultures as envisioned by the founders of this country and which is great for tourism, this is detrimental to the Islamic agenda of the country.

When “liberalism” redefined as “moderation” – Islamic or otherwise – is bandied about as the foundation for economic, social and religious success by the establishment, this undermines the Islamic agenda in this country.

And you know what, they are correct. If you believe in the kind of Islam they believe in and the kind of Islam that the House of Saud, is slowly and painfully attempting to reject, all these concepts are detrimental to turning this country into an Islamic state.

An Islamic state where the primacy of syariah law and the submission of Muslims and non-Muslims to a theocratic hegemon is the natural order of things which is the desired state – and state of being – of Islamists like Iksim.

‘Islamists not interested in debate’

A couple of months ago, the crypto-fascists got their knickers in a twist when I wrote that, liberalism is only a threat to the kind of Islam tyrants preach – “Those people who fear ‘liberalism’ however they define it, in reality, fear the loss of power when empowered societies choose alternatives. So yes, liberalism is a threat to the kind of Islam they preach. Mind you they may actually win in a ‘fair’ democratic contest because that is one of the perils of democracy. Beyond institutional safeguards, democracy is a risky endeavour, but I would take it to anything these Islamists have to offer.”

While Shad Faruqi has invited them to debate and challenge his views, the reality is that Islamists are not interested in debate or discussion. Their only interest is submission. This is why they have no need for freedom of speech and expression.

There is enough empirical evidence to demonstrate that such concepts are anathema to the kind of Islam they wish to promulgate.

In many of my articles where I discuss the numerous provocations of the state-sanctioned Islam in the private and public lives of non-Muslims in Malaysia, I have always made it clear that the people feeling the brunt of a state-sanctioned religion is the majority, Malay Muslim population.

I have also made it clear, that Malay Muslim public intellectuals, academics and writers, are at the mercy of the state conspiring with various Islamists groups – sub rosa and overt – who sanction behaviour that they and they alone determine to be a threat to the state sanctioned religion.

Ultimately, Siti Kassim (will someone elect her already) has the right of it, when in her Facebook page, she wrote: “We must stand with Professor Shad Faruqi. We should never allow these extremists group taking over our country. Never. Never. Never.”

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy

Malaysia tackles the Jihadi Mess with its “best in the world” deradicalization progamme

December 4, 2017

Malaysia tackles the Jihadi Mess with its  “best in the world” deradicalization progamme

by Mariam

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On November 24, a 26-year-old woman named Nur Afiqah Farhanah Che Samsudim was sentenced to eight years in prison in a Malaysian high court for attempting to enter Syria in a bid to die a martyr’s death.

Although she was on her way to the Middle East, Nur’s story has achieved disturbing relevance with the collapse of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as jihadis flee on their way back for sanctuaries in Southeast Asia.  How many Nurs there are – or their male counterparts – is unknown. But according to Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, regional groups such as Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, Jemaah Islamiyah and others serve as what he called a “home away from home” for those fleeing the deteriorating situation in Mosul and other Middle Eastern cities.  Malaysia faces accumulating its own share of the fleeing returnees and what to do about them.

Nur’s father died when she was 17. She became a mistress until her lover died in 2014. Stricken by grief, she married her lover’s younger brother, a drug addict, but the marriage only lasted two months. She then resumed her studies in medicine before being befriended by a man on social media who agreed to marry her on condition she travel to Syria.

Having sold her car to fund her ticket to Turkey, Nur entered Istanbul on August. 30, 2016 and was finally caught trying to cross the border into Syria in February of this year, to be deported back to Malaysia.

Nur’s loneliness, the change in her personal circumstances and her vulnerability, made her easy prey for ISIS propagandists. Had she been persuaded by her internet lover that going to Syria would give new meaning to her life, help her overcome grief and her daily frustrations? What prompted her to tell her mother that she was migrating to Syria to have a martyr’s death? And can Nur and her fellow victims be turned around?

The Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi says yes, that his Home Ministry’s program to deradicalize former prisoners, is “the best in the world.”  The results, he told a crowd in Kuching in February of 2016, are encouraging and recognized internationally.

“We are not praising ourselves, this is a recognition by the United Nations, Interpol and others,” Zahid said, “which is why Malaysia hosted the International Deradicalization Conference last month.”

The Principal Consultant of JK Associates, Khen Han Ming, works in close collaboration with the media and law enforcement agencies on global security issues, intelligence and terrorism.  He is a skeptic.

The prevention of radicalization in prisons is all about damage control. Khen said, “Inmates jailed for non-terror related offences meet other inmates who may have become radicalized, either as sympathizers or members of a wider terror network, prior to their detention.  Harsh conditions of confinement, overcrowding, racial divisions and isolation of inmates are to blame for radicalization.

“In a recent exposé by The Straits Times, a 53-year-old former ISA detainee was shown to have been actively recruiting inmates in Tapah Prison after he was arrested in February 2013, for terror offences.”

Radicalization in prison, isn’t just a Malaysian problem. It is a worldwide phenomenon. Khen lists those who were radicalized whilst in prison.

“Guantanamo Bay once housed Said Ali al-Shiri, the late al-Qaeda leader who masterminded the 2008 attack on the US embassy in Yemen,” he said. “The current al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was radicalized in Egyptian prisons, while the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi attempted to recruit fellow inmates to help him overthrow the government in Jordan.”

Richard Reid, the 2001 “shoe bomber” who attempted to blow up an airliner on a flight between Paris and Miami with explosives in his shoes, was radicalized while imprisoned in the United Kingdom.

Although the British, European Union and American governments have yet to find an effective strategy, in Malaysia, Zahid is all praise for his own program. Implemented under the Malaysian Prisons Department blue ocean strategy, steps so far used on 130 convicts were outlined by Zahid.

Convicts were separated during detention to stop their influence on other convicts, and 97 percent of those who have been rehabilitated, haven’t returned to their activities, he said. The department has close cooperation with the Malaysia Islamic Affairs Department (known by its Malay-language acronym JAKIM), psychology experts and NGOs.

“As a result, it makes Malaysia an example of the most successful country in the de-radicalization program, the best example in the world,” Zahid said.

However, Khen dismisses Zahid’s claim. “Zahid also said, in his entry in The Journal of Public Security and Safety, that “there is no formula by which one can measure the effectiveness of a given law, or in this context, the rehabilitation program. An effective de-radicalization program can be gauged by its rate of recidivism.”

Recidivism rates, he said, “can be very misleading because they reflect only what is known to intelligence services, which is limited to public knowledge. The 2004 Saudi de-radicalization program, also known as “PRAC” (Prevention, Rehabilitation, After-Care) was also described as one of the “best rehabilitation programs in the world,” and a role model for many countries.

It was considered a complete success until five years later, Khen said, when 11 former Guantanamo inmates and program graduates “were discovered to have returned to al-Qaeda.”

Another method for tackling radicalization is via community outreach programs involving both the private sector and NGOs. The aim is to take away the appeal of extremist groups like ISIS by disrupting radical and extremist narratives.

“We need a systematic program, which emphasizes inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness, and which delegitimizes extremist ideologies such as the “them against us” mentality,” Khen said. Citing the approach adopted from The Ministry of Home Affairs of Singapore, he added, “Community outreach clinics, or hotlines which offer help to people-at-risk, or individuals with information, widen the channels of communication and accessibility to information, which would otherwise be difficult.”

He strongly believes that local celebrities can help counter extremist views: “Malaysian Sultans and members of the Royal Household are increasingly getting involved, by speaking up against the encroaching Talibanization of our country. Celebrities have a huge following and are sometimes considered more reliable than politicians. They also have the capability to break the barrier of political distrust. They are often the symbol of solidarity and unity, when we see a terror attack, overseas.”

Many in the field agree that terrorism and violent extremism is a battle of ideology that must be addressed at many levels, using a multilateral approach. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

Badrul Hisham Ismail, the Program Director for IMAN, an organization which conducts research on society, religion and perception, told local media that to achieve successful rehabilitation and reintegration  into society, “we need to regain or rebuild trust and confidence, not only in society, but also between governments, civil societies and communities, to ensure strong collaboration and cohesion across all levels.”

Badrul added: “It is not only the responsibility of government or authorities. Each of us must play a crucial role in maintaining and promoting social cohesion and inclusivity – the remedy for any form of extremism.”

Khen, who has been involved in the provision of security services for over a decade, agreed and said, “Private sector involvement helps to address these issues, which affect everyone. Radicalization is not limited to religious indoctrination, but includes socio-political groups and similar groups.  We need to combat radicalization and violent extremism by disengaging them at their source, by advocating moderation and activism, to disrupt the spread of radical ideologies.

“Unless and until the main source of the problem is addressed, we are doomed to repeat the cycle.” The state, he said, shouldn’t waste its time and resources on de-radicalization programs but instead focus on addressing the root cause of extremism.

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Despite this, the authorities can appear to contradict themselves. In September, the Turkish moderate writer and journalist Mustafa Akyol, who was invited to give a series of talks in KL, was detained, while the Indian fugitive ‘terror-mentor’ Zakir Naik was given a safe-haven in Malaysia and made a Permanent Resident.

A controversial preacher, Zamihan Mat Zin, who outraged Malaysians and the Malaysian Royalty with his radical views on separate launderette facilities for “unclean” non-Muslims and his intolerance in race and religious matters, was found to be part of the deradicalization program.

Mariam Mokhtar is a Malaysian journalist and a longtime contributor to Asia Sentinel

Saudia Arabia puts itself in the bull’s eye

December 3, 2017

Targeting Islamic scholars from Malaysia to Tunisia, Saudia Arabia puts itself in the bull’s eye

By James M. Dorsey

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Hamad I Mohammed / Reuters file

By declaring the Qatar-based International Union of Islamic Scholars (ILUM) a terrorist organization, Saudi Arabia is confronting some of the world’s foremost Islamic political parties and religious personalities, opening itself up to criticism for its overtures to Israel, and fuelling controversy in countries like Malaysia and Tunisia.

In a statement earlier this week, Saudi Arabia charged that ILUM was “using Islamic rhetoric as a cover to facilitate terrorist activities.” The banning of ILUM goes to the heart of the Gulf crisis that pits a UAE-Saudi-led alliance against Qatar and is driven by United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed’s visceral opposition to any expression of political Islam.

The UAE for several years has sought with little evident success to counter ILUM’s influence by establishing groups like the Muslim Council of Elders and the Global Forum for Prompting Peace in Muslim Societies as well as the Sawab and Hedayah Centres’ anti-extremism messaging initiatives in collaboration with the United States and the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum.

The ban appears to have been designed to position Saudi Arabia as the arbiter of what constitutes true Islam and marks a next phase in a four-decade long, $100 billion campaign waged by the kingdom to counter Iran by spreading for the longest period of time Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, that often served as an ideological inspiration for jihadist philosophy – an iteration ultra-conservatives have condemned.

ILUM “worked on destroying major religious institutions in the Muslim world, like the Council of Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia and Al-Azhar in Egypt,” one of the foremost institutions of Islamic learning, charged Abdulrahman al-Rashed, a prominent Saudi journalist and columnist for Al Arabiya.

Al Arabiya’s owner, Waleed bin Ibrahim al-Ibrahim, was among the kingdom’s top media barons arrested in Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent purge of members of the ruling family, senior officials, and businessmen under the mum of anti-corruption.

“The terrorism project hiding under Islam launched its work around the same time organizations which issue extremist fatwas (religious legal opinions) were founded. Like al-Qaeda and ISIS (an acronym for the Islamic State), these jurisprudential groups said they refuse to be local as they view themselves as global organizations that cross borders. The most dangerous aspect of terrorism is extremist ideology. We realize this well now,” Mr Al-Rashed said.

The Council of Senior Scholars, despite having endorsed Prince Mohammed’s reforms in a bid to salvage what it can of the power sharing agreement that from the kingdom’s founding granted his ruling Al Saud family legitimacy, is a body of ultra-conservative Islamic scholars.

Various statements by the council and its members critical of aspects of Prince Mohammed’s economic and social reform since his rise in 2015 suggest that support among its scholars is not deep-seated.

Prince Mohammed recently vowed to move the kingdom away from its embrace of ultra-conservatism and towards what he described as a more “moderate” form of Islam.

Speaking to The New York Times, Prince Mohammed argued that at the time of the Prophet Mohammed  there were musical theatres, an absence of segregation of men and women, and respect for Christians and Jews, who were anointed People of the Book in the Qur’an. “The first commercial judge in Medina was a woman! Do you mean the Prophet was not a Muslim?” Prince Mohammed asked.

Authorities days later banned pilgrims from taking photos and videos in Mecca’s Grand Mosque and the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina in line with an ultra-conservative precept that forbids human images. The ban was imposed after Israeli blogger Ben Tzion posted a selfie in Mecca on social media. Authorities bar non-Muslims from entering the two holy cities.

In a statement, authorities said the ban was intended to protect and preserve Islam’s holiest sites, prevent the disturbance of worshippers, and ensure tranquillity while performing acts of worship.

Founded by controversial Egyptian-born scholar Yousef al-Qaradawi, one of Islam’s most prominent living clerics and believed to be a spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, ILUM members include Rachid al-Ghannouchi, the co-founder and intellectual leader of Tunisia’s Brotherhood-inspired Ennahada Party, and Malaysian member of parliament and Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) head Abdul Hadi bin Awang.

Mr. Al-Qaradawi, a naturalized Qatari citizen who in the past justified suicide bombings in Israel but has since condemned them,  was labelled a terrorist by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt in June as part of their diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar. The UAE-Saudi-led alliance demanded that Qatar act against Mr. El-Qaradawi and scores of others as a condition for lifting the six-month-old boycott.

Mr. El-Ghannouchi was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012 and Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers in 2011. He was also awarded the prestigious Chatham House Prize. Mr. El-Ghannouchi is widely credited for ensuring that Tunisia became the only Arab country to have successfully emerged from the 2011 Arab popular revolts as a democracy.

The banning of ILUM has, moreover, sparked political controversy in Malaysia. Karima Bennoune, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for cultural rights, recently noted a deepening involvement of Malaysia’s religious authorities in policy decisions, developments she said were influenced by “a hegemonic version of Islam imported from the Arabian Peninsula” that was “at odds with local forms of practice.”

“Arab culture is spreading, and I would lay the blame completely on Saudi Arabia,” added Marina Mahathir, the daughter of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad

Critics of PAS  demanded that Mr. Bin Awang, President of the group, “come clean that he does not preach hatred” in the words of former PAS leader Mujahid Yusof Rawa, and called on the government to ask Saudi Arabia for information to back up its charges against the union.

Mr Bin Awang, referring to Saudi King Salman, asserted last week that he relied on the “Qur’an (for guidance) although the ruler who is the servant of the Two Holy Cities has forged intimate ties with Israel and the United States, because my faith is not with the Kaaba but with Allah.” One of the most sacred sites in Mecca, Muslims turn to the Kaaba when praying.

“Just like Qatar, PAS had tried to ingratiate itself with Iran in an attempt to cover both bases, along with Saudi. Now the chicken has come home to roost, and just like Qatar, global minnows like PAS find themselves caught in the middle between the two Muslim world influencers,” said Malaysian columnist Zurairi Ar.

Among other members of ILUM is controversial Saudi scholar Salman al-Odah, who was among clerics, intellectuals, judges and activists arrested in the kingdom weeks before the most recent purge.

With millions of followers on social media, Mr. Al-Odah, a once militant scholar, turned a decade ago against jihadis like Osama bin Laden and played a key role in the kingdom’s program to rehabilitate militants, but retained his opposition to the monarchy.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and  Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.

Apatheism beats Atheism

November 26, 2017

 Apatheism beats Atheism

by Dean

COMMENT | As hard as I try to avoid reading or writing about the eternally contentious and utterly tedious topic of religion, it keeps rearing its ugly head.

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Especially in Malaysia, where some senior members of the kleptocratic UMNO-BN regime consistently claim to be divinely-appointed to their positions, and the UMNO party as a unit perennially poses as the ‘protector’ of Islam.

And to support and hopefully perpetuate this ‘protection’ racket, selected UMNO spokespeople regularly make more or less ludicrous ‘religious’ pronouncements.

The most notorious of these that I recall was the claim six years back by some hack named Hasan Ali that the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) had discovered that Christians were covertly trying to convert Muslims by means of ‘solar-powered hand-held talking bibles.’

In Malaysia, the UMNO-BN regime still persists in its years if not decades-long campaign to ban the use of the generic Arabic word for God, Allah, in Bahasa Malaysia translations of the Bible.

However, the latest shot in UMNO’s self-styled “struggle” to “protect” the “faith” of Malaysia’s vast Muslim majority involves not just copyright of the word “Allah” or threats from other religions, but the spectre of anti-religion, or atheism.

This latest controversy was started last week in Parliament, when MP Siti Mariah Mahmud (Amanah-Kota Raja) complained that a group calling itself the Atheist Republic Consulate of Kuala Lumpur was leading Malay youths astray with its nefarious activities, which include criticising Islam and other religions on Facebook.

This alleged group sounds to me to be as vivid a figment of the fevered imaginations of UMNO’s “religious” authorities, or in other words as bad a joke, as the above-mentioned solar-powered hand-held talking bibles so obviously were.

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But Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki took Siti Mariah’s complaint seriously, and pronounced atheism to be “unconstitutional” and “an offence under the Sedition Act 1948”.

“In the context of Malaysia,” he claimed, “freedom of religion (as) stated in our Federal Constitution does not mean freedom not to have a religion.”

And he followed this barefaced falsehood with a series of lame attempts to demonise atheism as a “dangerous” contravention of public order and morality laws, and of the “principle of belief in God” as enshrined in the Rukunegara.

As for Siti Mariah’s lament that the Atheist Republic Consulate of Kuala Lumpur is allegedly using social media to undermine the sanctity of Malaysian society, Asyraf was quoted as stating that the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) had sought to block the group’s Facebook page, but failed.

“Jakim, in cooperation with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), had reported it to Facebook,” he elaborated, “but unfortunately Facebook responded that it did not violate their policy.”

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“If (the) MCMC were to block it, they can’t just block the page,” he lamented, “but will need to block the whole of Facebook.”

Faithbook, Fakebook or Flakebook

For my part, I can’t for the life of me see why the UMNO-BN regime doesn’t simply block the whole of Facebook. Jakim is funded to the tune of well over a billion ringgit a year, and the MCMC and the Prime Minister’s Department countless – and unaccountable – billions more, so between them all they can well afford to fund their own regime-friendly substitutes for Facebook.

And given the multitude of religious and other such maniacs, there evidently are in not just Malaysia but everywhere else around the world, an UMNO-BN sponsored Faithbook, Fakebook or Flakebook could be a monster success.

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The only downside being, of course, that those accursed atheists might sneakily insinuate themselves into these sites too. Not that atheism is anywhere near as threatening to the UMNO-BN’s hold on the hearts, minds and souls of the majority of its subjects as the regime’s members and propagandists appear to fear.

As I see all around me, and discern in myself, the most serious threat these days to not only religions but also anti-religions like atheism may well be what anthropologist Kate Fox calls in the latest edition of her classic book “Watching the English”, apatheism.

In other words, people are abandoning religion, at least in England and much of the West, not so much out of antagonism or active disbelief, but sheer indifference or absolute apathy.

And if there is any nation on earth with a bigger proportion of its populace capable of total apathy about anything much besides eating, shopping and of course sex, it’s Malaysia.

Millions of people are too apathetic to bother to vote; or too apathetic to speak out or otherwise openly protest against the robbery, rape and misrule of their country by a corrupt, repressive, lawless, lying and above all hypocritical regime; or to otherwise care so much as a damn for even a semblance of self-respecting citizenship.

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Only UMNO and PAS members are true to Islam, other Malaysian Muslims are deviants

If only this world-beating capacity for apathy could be extended to apatheism and thus render any and all religion irrelevant, it would prove infinitely more powerful against the fake pieties of UMNO-BN than any amount of atheism.

And, who knows, from there more people might progress towards apathy for apathy itself, or, in other words, actual action or even activism in the cause of decent and truly democratic self-government.


The cancer of Islamist extremism spreads around the world

November 3, 2017

The cancer of Islamist extremism spreads around the world

by Fareed Zakaria


This week’s tragic terrorist attack in New York was the kind of isolated incident by one troubled man that should not lead to generalizations. In the 16 years since 9/11, the city has proved astonishingly safe from jihadist groups and individuals. And yet, speaking about it to officials in this major global hub 10,000 miles away, the conclusions they reach are worrying. “The New York attack might be a way to remind us all that while ISIS is being defeated militarily, the ideological threat from radical Islam is spreading,” says Singaporean Home Minister K. Shanmugam. “The trend line is moving in the wrong direction.”

The military battle against Islamist extremist groups in places such as Syria and Afghanistan is a tough struggle, but it has always been one that favored the United States and its allies. After all, the combined military forces of some of the world’s most powerful governments are up against a tiny band of guerrillas. On the other hand, the ideological challenge from the Islamic State has proved far more intractable. The terrorist group and ones like it have been able to spread their ideas, recruit disaffected young men and women, and infiltrate countries across the globe. Western countries remain susceptible to the occasional lone wolf, but the new breeding grounds of radicalism are once-moderate Muslim societies in Central, South and Southeast Asia.

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Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama after the sentencing in his blasphemy trial in Jakarta on May 9, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

Consider Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, long seen as a moderate bulwark. This year, the governor of Jakarta, the country’s capital and largest city, lost his bid for reelection after he was painted by Muslim hard-liners as unfit for office because he is Christian. Worse, he was then jailed after being convicted on a dubious and unfair blasphemy charge. Amid a rising tide of Islamist politics, Indonesia’s “moderate” president and its mainstream “moderate” Islamic organizations have failed to stand up for the country’s traditions of tolerance and multiculturalism.

Or look at Bangladesh, another country with a staunchly secular past, where nearly 150 million Muslims live. Founded as a breakaway from Pakistan on explicitly nonreligious grounds, Bangladesh’s culture and politics have become increasingly extreme over the past decade. Atheists, secularists and intellectuals have been targeted and even killed, blasphemy laws have been enforced, and a spate of terrorist attacks have left hundreds dead.

Why is this happening? There are many explanations. Poverty, economic hardship and change produce anxieties. “People are disgusted by the corruption and incompetence of politicians. They are easily seduced by the idea that Islam is the answer, even though they don’t know what that means,” a Singaporean politician explained to me. And then, the local leaders make alliances with the clerics and give platforms to the extremists, all in search of easy votes. That political pandering has helped nurture a cancer of Islamist extremism.

In Southeast Asia, almost all observers whom I have spoken with believe that there is another crucial cause — exported money and ideology from the Middle East, chiefly Saudi Arabia. A Singaporean official told me, “Travel around Asia and you will see so many new mosques and madrassas built in the last 30 years that have had funding from the Gulf. They are modern, clean, air-conditioned, well-equipped — and Wahhabi [Saudi Arabia’s puritanical version of Islam].” Recently, it was reported that Saudi Arabia plans to contribute almost $1 billion to build 560 mosques in Bangladesh. The Saudi government has denied this, but sources in Bangladesh tell me there’s some truth to the report.

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How to turn this trend around? Singapore’s Shanmugam says that the city-state’s population (15 percent of which is Muslim) has stayed relatively moderate because state and society work very hard at integration. “We have zero tolerance for any kind of militancy, but we also try to make sure Muslims don’t feel marginalized,” he explained. Singapore routinely gets high marks in global rankings for its transparency, low levels of corruption and the rule of law. Its economy provides opportunities for most.

Asia continues to rise, but so does Islamist radicalism there. This trend can be reversed only by better governance and better politics — by leaders who are less corrupt, more competent and, crucially, more willing to stand up to the clerics and extremists. Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince spoke last week of turning his kingdom to “moderate Islam.” Many have mocked this as a public-relations strategy, pointing to the continued dominance of the kingdom’s ultra-orthodox religious establishment. A better approach would be to encourage the crown prince, hold him to his words and urge him to follow up with concrete actions. This is the prize. Were Saudi Arabia to begin religious reform at home, it would be a far larger victory against radical Islam than all the advances on the battlefield so far.


Beware of Religious Zealots of All Stripes–Not The Christian Threat

September 29, 2017

Beware of Religious Zealots of All Stripes–Not  Christian Threat

I have retitled Ambassador Dennis Ignatius’ article . The reason is that the subject of his article is not only of the perceived threat of Christianity (and Christmas) but also of religion and politics. It is about the present state of relations between Malaysians of the Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and  others, and Malaysian Muslims.

Hannah Yeoh is not the only one to be brutalised. We have just read about the treatment of Mustafa Akyol, a scholar, author and researcher who is a Muslim, by JAWI (read my post on this blog).

Image result for Najib Razak and Zakir Naik

Ambassador Ignatius is right to point the finger at our Prime Minister who has been playing the religion card for his political advantage. His tacit endorsement of Islamic zealots and open endorsement of Indian preacher Zakir Naik has produced a reaction from members of other faiths. As a result,  he created a climate of fear of the other. He has, of course, done a lot more so that we have become a nation divided along racial and religious lines. He should stop stoking the flames of bigotry and racism before he loses control and bring irreparable harm to the soul of our country. Our Prime Minister should emulate HRH Sultan of Johor.–Din Merican


By Dennis Ignatius

Yet again, a Muslim group is raising the specter of a Christian threat to the security of the nation and the position of Islam in Malaysia.

A group of NGOs led by Jaringan Muslimin Pulau Pinang (JMPP) is demanding that the police investigate a “seditious” video by a foreign pastor which they claim would incite local Christians to start their own jihad to take over the country. The group also claims that references to “building the Kingdom of God” were somehow a sinister plot against Islam.

Image result for Hannah Yeoh

In addition, the group gormlessly regurgitated baseless allegations that Hannah Yeoh, the Speaker of the Selangor State Assembly and arguably Malaysia’s most prominent Christian, is using her book Becoming Hannah to spread Christianity and cause confusion among Muslims.

I wouldn’t be surprised if her book makes it to the Guinness Book of Records for having attracted the most number of police reports in the world.

Lost in translation

Admittedly, Christian phraseology does not often translate well in non-church settings and can give rise to misunderstanding.

“Invading” a country with the presence of God or building the “Kingdom of God”, for example, might sound ominous even though it simply means to pray that God’s presence and godly values will fill the land. It has nothing whatsoever to do with a physical invasion or a call to wage war against non-Christians. Similarly, the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with acquiring political sovereignty.

Christians certainly need to be more sensitive about how their phraseology might be perceived in a pluralistic culture, particularly when everything these days quickly ends up on social media. It might help, as well, if Christians are more judicious in what they put out on social media; not everything needs to be broadcast to the whole world.

Notwithstanding this, however, only the most delusional, irrational or obtuse would actually believe that Christians are planning an armed invasion or plotting to overthrow the government.

Becoming confused

As for Hannah’s book, as far as I know, Hannah has not encouraged Muslims to read her book and neither has she promoted it among Muslims. In fact, the vast majority of Muslims in the country would never have even heard about Hannah’s book if extremist groups had not created a fuss about it.

There are, in fact, thousands of Christian books, videos and articles available in Malaysia and, of course, millions more on the internet. That JMPP would single out the book by Hannah, who also happens to be a DAP politician, suggests that their motives are more political than religious.

In any case, it is simply asinine to blame Hannah, or any other author for that matter, if some confused and insecure person somewhere feels threatened by a book. Going by that kind of logic, we would have to close bookstores and shut down the internet just to ensure that no one gets confused. Or, perhaps, to let them remain confused and unable to think for themselves.

A spiritual matter

JMPP and its fellow travelers might also want to note that Malaysian Christians have always eschewed violence. We don’t go around threatening to attack those who don’t agree with us, burn down their places of worship or rowdily demonstrate against religious events we don’t like.We don’t resort to guns and swords because our struggle is purely spiritual. Our “weapons” are prayer and intercession, the kind you use on your knees before God rather than with your fists raised in anger.

Image result for Mustafa Akyol-- Islam without Extremes

Like other Malaysians, we love our nation and we want to see peace, justice, good governance, integrity and godly values prevail. We pray for the prosperity and success of our nation and for all its citizens. We pray constantly for our rulers, our prime minister, for the government and for the security forces too, because our Bible demands it of us.

And we try to reach out to all who are in need and defend the rights of the persecuted and marginalized irrespective of race or religion. Many Christians, including Pope Francis and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have, for example, spoken out forcefully against the persecution of the Rohingya. In Malaysia, churches and Christian NGOs are also in the forefront of caring for refugees and other disadvantaged groups.

Rising intolerance

Of late, our nation has witnessed increasing incidents of racial and religious intolerance that threaten our very existence as a plural society. Unfortunately, intolerance and extremism appear to enjoy the tacit approval of some politicians and officials.

Image result for Mustafa Akyol-- Islam without Extremes

Every time the lalang moves somewhere in the country, PAS, for example, immediately seems to conclude that it is part of some Christian conspiracy against Islam and jumps into exploiting it for maximum publicity and political mileage.

A few months ago, they went to town on a church event in Malacca. Using highly provocative and inflammatory language, they accused the church concerned of challenging the sensitivities of Muslims and of conspiring with Zionist interests to target Malaysia. They went so far as to call on the ummah “to rise before it’s too late” as if Malaysia was on the verge of being invaded.

Even Special Branch plays to this sort of anti-Christian messaging by participating in Muslim-only seminars that discuss the so-called Christian threat. And this at a time when real jihadists and terrorists are threatening our security and well-being.

Image result for Hadi Awang the Extremist
UMNO-PAS partnership will result in a talibanisation of a liberal, open and inclusive Malaysia


Whatever it is, those who make much of the Christian threat ignore the obvious reality: after nearly 500 years of Christianity in Malaysia, after decades of educating countless millions of Malaysians of all faiths and all walks of life in Christian schools, Malaysia remains as Muslim as ever.

Clearly, groups like JMPP do their fellow Muslims an enormous disservice when they make them out to be weak, vulnerable and frivolous in their faith. Let me suggest, if I may be permitted to, that Muslims in Malaysia are a lot more resilient than they are given credit for.

The only ones who appear to profit from all the scaremongering are the politicians and the extremists who cynically exploit religion for their own nefarious ends to the detriment of all Malaysians.

A leadership vacuum

Thankfully, Christians in Malaysia, unlike Christians in the Middle East, do not have to stand alone. It is heartening that several moderate Muslim NGOs and leaders are challenging the rising tide of extremism and intolerance in our land.

What’s missing, however, is leadership from the government itself. The Prime Minister, in particular, has allowed things to drift for too long. His silence, indifference even, on many of these sensitive issues has created a leadership vacuum which fringe groups and extremists, including some from his own party, are now rushing to fill. His abdication of responsibility only allows sensitive issues to fester and infect our society as a whole.

Each day, our values, culture, politics, and religion are being reshaped and redefined by extremists; the longer it goes on, the harder it will be to get back on track again.

HRH Sultan of Johor has shown what inspired leadership can do in curbing extremism and intolerance. By firmly and decisively taking a stand on intolerance in his state, overruling even his own religious officials, he quickly nipped a dangerous trend in the bud.

Little wonder why Johoreans, and a great many other Malaysians as well, look up to him. If only all our politicians would follow his courageous example.

Dennis Ignatius is a former ambassador.