Monday, March 19, 2007

More on Malaysian Racism pt2

This article from discusses the intersection of racism, religion and politics in Malaysia today. The focus is again on racist government policies to advance the majority ethnic group with attention to the religious aspects as well.

Adrian Morgan examines how the racial and religious policies of Malaysia's UMNO party are leading the country into meltdown

HishKeris.jpgOn Wednesday November 15 the ruling party in Malaysia, UMNO ((United Malays National Organization), began its 57th three-day-long annual conference at the Putra Center, Kuala Lumpur. Issues brought up at the conference served to reinforce the racial apartheid which has been a bedrock of Malaysia's politics since its independence from Britain on August 31, 1957.

UMNO was founded on May 11, 1946. Its core belief is that of the "ketuanan Melayu" an ideology which states that the Malay people, who are all regarded as "Muslim" are the original and defining populace of Malaya, and thus should have special status and privileges. This is in defiance of logic, as native peoples, the "Orang Asli", have lived in the peninsula of Western Malaysia, particularly in Kelantan State, long before the Malay Muslims arrived in the 14th century.

UMNO cannot rule on its own. Despite its bias towards Malays and Islam, it has to share power in a coalition, called the Barisan Nasional or "National Front". This includes the MIC, the Malaysia Indian Congress, which has been in existence since 1946, and also MCA, the Malaysian Chinese Association, which has been the second largest partner in the Barisan Nasional coalition since 1996. There are ten other smaller parties in the Barisan Nasional (BN).

UMNO has ruled uninterrupted since independence, in association with other parties. Any political problems which beset Malaysia can therefore be laid at the door of UMNO.

Demographically, Malays comprise 50.8% of the population of 26 million, followed by Chinese 23.8%, Indigenous 10.9%, Indian 7.1%, and non-Malaysian citizens 6.8 %. In religious terms, 60% of the population is Muslim, with Buddhists comprising 19.2%, Christians 9.1%, Hindus 6.3%, and Confucians (Taoists) 2.6%. The other faiths comprise only 2.8% of the demographic.

Because of the bizarre apartheid of Malaysia, all citizens are given an identity card, called MyKad, at the age of 12. This card states the holder's race and religious status, details which are then held at the National Registration Department (NRD). All Malays are automatically classed as Muslims.

No Muslim is legally allowed to convert from Islam. The Islamic courts (Syariah Courts) control issues such as apostasy and issues of marriage and other issues. The NRD will not allow recognition of a person's conversion out of Islam, unless such a process has been authorized by the Syariah Courts. And so far, these courts have refused to allow any Muslims to apostasize.

Famous converts such as Lina Joy and Kamariah Ali are still battling with the courts for their rights to be acknowledged as "non-Muslims". Such rights do not exist in Malaysia. Article 11 of the country's constitution states that anyone can follow any religion of their choosing. However in 1988, an amendment (1A) was made to Article 121, which stated that the civil courts have no no jurisdiction over "any matter" which falls under the jurisdiction of the Islamic Courts.

The 13 states of Malaysia have mostly adopted the Control and Restriction Bill, which gives a fine of 10,000 ringit ($2,653) or imprisonment for up to one year for "persuading, influencing a Muslim to leave Islam for another religion." On August 23, a week before independence, Mohamed Nazri Aziz, the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, ordered that the "constitutional law" which forbids others to spread religions other than Islam to the Muslims must be streamlined nationwide.

Aziz said that the states of Sarawak, Sabah, Federal Territory and Penang had not yet adopted the legislation, saying: "There is no reason for these states to delay adopting the law. The Federal Constitution must be fully adhered to but religion is a state matter which is under the purview of the respective state governments. Therefore, to enforce the Federal Constitution on religion would require all the government of the states to amend their constitutions and adopt the law first." He added: "Why (do we have) to interpret (the constitution) when it is clearly said that (non-Muslims) are not allowed to spread religions other than Islam to the Muslims?"

In March, Aziz had said that anyone who criticised Islam would be tried under the Sedition Act, a legacy of British colonial rule, which existed in Malaysia before its independence in 1957. The penalty for transgressing against the Sedition Act can be three years in prison, with an additional fine of up to 5,000 ringit or $1,350.

Article 3(1) of the constitution states that "other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation". For those of other religions, there is little sense of harmony, and many feel under attack both from politicians and Islamists.

On August 26, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is head of UMNO and also is Minister of Internal Security said people should not even question the contradictions of the constitution. "My advice to everyone is to stop (raising such issues). Do not create a situation that can lead to difficulties. Difficulties will make everyone apprehensive," he said.

Badawi continued: "Adhering to the articles will not create any problem. Discussing these articles again.... this will cause a storm if left unchecked. I have stated that there is no necessity to amend Article 121 ... there is no necessity to amend Article 11. These cause problems between one side and the other." Badawi condemned the Article 11 Forum, a multi-faith grouping of eleven organizations, which had campaigned to change the Islamo-supremacist aspects of the constitution.

The issue of UMNO's adherence to the apartheid ideology of "ketuanan Melayu", despite its union with the Chinese MCA and the Hindu MIC, were bound to be exploited in its 57th annual conference.

The elderly head of the Youth Movement of UMNO (ABIM) made the biggest gesture of racial/religious supremacy. Last year, he waved a ceremonial sword, or keris at the conference. And this year he did the same (pictured). On the eve of the conference, Hishammuddin Tun Hussein pledged to defend the sovereignty of Islam and the rights of Malays. Hussein is also the Education Minister. Hussein condemned a proposal which had been made, to form an Inter-Faith Commission.

The president of ABIM, Yusri Mohamad, confirmed at the conference that UMNO Youth would "defend the sovereignty of Islam" as specified in the Federal Constitution's Article 11 and 121 (1A). Mohamad said: "His (Hishammuddin) caution to the Article 11 Group, and groups who are actively stirring religious and sensitive issues should have raised awareness that the Malay-Muslim community's status is constantly under threat."

Mohamad said that demand for freedoms, such as the right to change faiths and the formation of an Inter-Faith Commission showed no respect for Muslims' "sensitivity".

Another speaker on the first day of the conference, UMNO veteran Tan Sri Mohamed Rahmat, secretary-general of the party, also spelled out the racism and Islamofascism of UMNO. He warned the other affiliates within the Barisan Nasional to avoid testing the Malays' patience, and even invoked the threat of "amuk" - a Malay tradition of ritual insanity and killing.

He said: "Please, don't test the Malays; in another word that they know 'amuk'. We don't want to reach that level. In the present situation, the Malays can still take it but efforts to enhance the Malays' economy need to be intensified."

He said that members of other races and religions had to make sacrifices, until Malay Muslims were compensated for their (imagined sacrifices). The reference was a dig at the Chinese, who hold most of the wealth.

Rahmat said: "If the Malays' economic power cannot be balanced out, we will face worrying situations....Don't let it reach a situation where the Malays start questioning 'with the sacrifices we have made, what have we got?'. That's also the question that is very important to be answered."

He advised the other Barisan Nasional parties not to question the "Malay Agenda" or "ketuanan Melayu". He said: "We hope MCA and Gerakan (another Chinese party) adopt the BN spirit. There is no need for us to champion racial interests and be extremely racist, because they will not bring profits."

Rahmat said that meetings had resolved previous contentious issues. He said; "We didn't discuss sensitive matters outside, used the media and press. It would have appeared we were quarrelling. It's something not right."

The Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, also said that he would take strict action against any group which dared to question the status of Islam in Malaysia. He warned against any attempts to use Islam to promote intolerance, but also said that he would protect the Islamic (Syariah) courts from being undermined.

Badawi supports a notion of Islam which is called "Islam Hadhari", or "civilizational Islam", which believes that a quasi-moderate Islam can be used to promote culture and development in Malaysia, and could be exported as an example to other nations.

He said on Wednesday, November 15: "Unfortunately, some parties had misinterpreted Islam Hadhari as an excuse to become more conservative and more radical. Long-accepted cultural practices like wishing (well) other Malaysians of different religions in conjunction with their festivals had now been deemed taboo."

"Have we reached such a level of intolerance? Joint open houses are now condemned. When did we become ultra-conservative? This is not Islam Hadhari. Such an outlook threatens the unique tolerance for which Malaysian Muslims are renowned for and this should not be allowed to happen."

Badawi spoke of the issue of SMS messages which had recently been circulated, which had falsely alleged that mass Christian baptisms of Muslims had taken place. He said that "of late, we see increased polemics on issues related to race and religion. And it has reached a level where it is now worrying."

The following day, Badawi tried to reassure people that there was not a "worrying" level regarding race and religion. He told reporters on Thursday, November 16: "Not a worrying level as far as I am concerned but it is time to remind the people and to lay down the ground rule and that is exactly I have said (at the conference)."

"If it has come to such a level as has been described, it will be even more difficult to control at that time."

Badawi was asked about UMNO Youth's rejection of an Inter-Faith Commission. He replied that the cabinet had discussed the matter before. He said: "The word we used was we postpone. We've no plans to revive the matter. It is as good as not having it. To me, I will meet them, I also want to meet the (Islamic) religious groups. After that, I will meet the non-muslim groups. That's important."

On Saturday, November 19, the president of the Chinese MCA party, Ong Ka Ting, said that Badawi had given a "clear message that no one race can rule the country alone. The way we fought for Merdeka (independence) together, Umno, MCA and MIC, and the concept of kongsi kuasa (power sharing) as consented by our party veterans must be upheld."

Ong, who is the Housing and Local Government Minister, said: "The PM has again demonstrated the spirit of a leader for all Malaysians."

Despite such official support, the 57th annual conference on UMNO, which had been broadcast throughout Malaysia, has raised more questions than it has allayed fears.

Articles published by Reuters, Asia Times and Associated Press suggest that the issues of race and religion are creating more problems than UMNO and Barisan Nasional representatives will publicly admit.

Even Badawi's son-in-law has exploited racial divisions to subject the Chinese groups, already resented for their success in the economy, to further mistrust. 31year old Khairy Jamaluddin is deputy chief of UMNO's youth wing, ABID. In September, he said that Chinese political groups would exploit any splits within UMNO. When questioned about this, he had responded: "What is there to apologize for?...I am only defending my race."

The sight of Hishammudin Tun Hussein waving a keris in the air, broadcast through the nation, also raised concerns. One UMNO delegate at the conference, Hashim Suboh, had said: "Datuk Hisham has unsheathed his keris, waved his keris, kissed his keris. We want to ask Datuk Hisham, when is he going to use it?"

The threats made by Tan Sri Mohamed Rahmat to force the non-Muslims (Chinese) to make sacrifices financially to assist the Malay Muslims, who have failed to make economic progress, only highlights how destitute the ruling party's economic policies really are.

UMNO had formerly been led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad (Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003). He had been a hardliner who blamed Jews for Malaysia's problems, but still had encouraged economic development. This year Mahathir has been deliberately forced into the shadows by Badawi, seen as a liability with his rash statements and intrusions on matters of policy. Following a recent heart attack, Mahathir has become further marginalised.

In the face of rising Islamization, UMNO is failing to address the nation's problems realistically. Relying upon Hindus and Chinese to stay in power, its acceptance of the policies of destroying Hindu temples since April, and more recently the destruction of a Taoist temple in Bukit Mertajam, Penang, only serve to alienate the minorities in the so-called multi-racial state. The Nine Emperor Gods Taoist temple was relocated last year because its land had been sold to a property developer. It was demolished on Friday, November 18. Police fired shots at Chinese protesters as they supervised the destruction of the temple.

On Wednesday November 22 the cabinet questioned the wisdom of allowing the UMNO conference to be broadcast live. The Deputy Prime Minister, Najib Razak, said that at least three of the speeches from the conference could "be classified as extreme."

He told reporters: "The Cabinet has come to the opinion that there are more negative than positive implications in opening the proceedings to a live telecast. It paints an inaccurate picture of the general assembly."

On May 13, 1969, race riots between Chinese and Malays began in Kuala Lumpur. These only subsided in late July, after at least 196 people had been killed and many women had been raped. As a result of the riots, parliament was suspended until 1971.

The government had then blamed the introduction of the New Economic Policy, or NEP, for the conflict. This policy of affirmative action to promote Malay Muslims into jobs, at the expense of the Chinese, was intended to last for only 20 years, but has been indefinitely prolonged since then.

The speeches at the UMNO conference have only reminded the nation that the conditions which led to the 1969 racial situation are still in place.

Abdullah Badawi has asked for meetings with editors of Chinese-language and Malay editors of newspapers, where he is expected to ask them to "tone down" their reporting of religious and racial issues.

Lim Kit Siang, leader of the DAP (Democratic Action Party), the main opposition party, said on Friday, November 18: "If a Malaysian Chinese or Indian politician had warned of riots, being prepared to shed blood or even going amok, the Internal Security Act would have been invoked."

Malaysia's 49 years of independence have been marked by the Islamist and racist policies of UMNO. The Malay Muslims are given special rights in its policy of "ketuanan Melayu", the "Malay Agenda". It seems that only now is it starting to realize that such a racist agenda - when actual ethnic Malays only comprise 50.8% of the population - can only help to destroy a country, not to build it up.

By Adrian Morgan of Spero News

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