On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Keeping Malaysia moderate

A group of Special Branch arrived at the blast scene in Movida club lounge in Puchong. – Filepic

In light of the IS attack in Puchong, we cannot keep silent or look the other way any longer. Let moderation prevail.

WE all know that an attack by the terrorist group Islamic State in Malaysia was just a matter of time. The police have, in fact, been telling the people, and the politicians in particular, to take their warnings very seriously.

The attack on a club in Puchong was the first but we know it won’t be the last. Let’s not bluff ourselves that we did not see this coming. In many ways, this country has allowed religious intolerance to manifest for a while now, without many of us realising it.

Yes, Malaysia is among the most outspoken Muslim country against IS and our commitment to moderation on the international stage is well known.

But at home, we have seen how a stronger push for a more conservative and puritanical brand of political-religious culture has taken shape.

It is disturbing to most moderate Malaysians who feel that our leaders are allowing these powerful forces to exert their influence without stopping them because of political expediency, or that they are simply not in a position to do anything.

As far back as 2013, the Pew Global Attitudes Survey had revealed that “in Malaysia, a quarter of Muslims (27%) were of the view that attacks on civilians are sometimes or often justified.” In another study, on the World’s Muslims In Religion, Politics and Society, a mere 8% of Malaysians expressed concern about Muslim extremism while 31% were more concerned about Christian extremism.

These figures were obtained in an article written by Joseph Chinyong Liow, a senior fellow from the Brookings Center for East Asia Studies.

Last week, it was reported that a survey conducted in higher institutions of learning revealed that there was a sizeable number of IS sympathisers among our students.

Universiti Utara Malaysia academician Prof Dr Kamarulnizam Abdullah, who conducted the survey, revealed that 10% to 20% of the respondents were sympathetic towards IS, a figure he considered “worrying”.

It may appear comforting that 80% did not support IS and that the findings do not indicate that the minority would flee to Syria or Iraq, but it is nevertheless something that the security authorities need to look into seriously.

The police certainly need our fullest support in the fight against terrorism but they, alone, cannot do the job effectively if our political and religious culture does not change.

There are politicians and certain individuals who continue to spew inappropriate racist and religious remarks and thrive on the publicity oxygen that they get.

While some of these recalcitrants have been put under remand, none has been charged for sedition. Worse, because they hold positions in the ruling party, they give the impression, rightly or wrongly, that they are protected.

They speak first, and try and explain their remarks later when a controversy is generated, by which time the damage has been done.

Religion has also become more entrenched in Malay politics with theologians playing politicians and politicians wanting to play theologians.

Those who can show their credentials in Islam seem to gain more importance than ever before in this country.

The push by PAS for the hudud laws in Parliament is one example – and no one has asked the party president why was it that when PAS was in Pakatan Rakyat, with the DAP, it wasn’t a matter of great urgency but suddenly it is now.

Malay politicians have found it almost compulsory to display to their electorate their faith, even if it merely means their dressing and appearances.

Some religious-political personalities have, in recent years, openly showed their intolerance of pluralism. Never before in our nation’s history has liberalism become unacceptable, when it is in the preamble of the Rukunegara – which has almost disappeared, if not, discarded.

It doesn’t help when a highly-placed religious figure such as Pahang Mufti Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Osman can use terms like kafir harbi without much thought to its implications, even if it’s a personal opinion.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamad aptly described the remark as “dangerous in the wake of the first successful terror strike by IS”.

He reportedly said such remarks can contribute to the self-radicalisation of Malaysian sympathisers to the global terror group.

“The Pahang mufti’s remarks has unintended consequences as an opinion from someone of his stature can lead to many different interpretations,” said Nur Jazlan.

“I view his statement as political, but many people will view it literally because he embodies the goodness in Islam, therefore his statement will have unintended consequences for people to do bad things.”

We shouldn’t tolerate controversial religious figures, of any faiths, who pour scorn on other religions. It is wrong as it causes unnecessary strain to race and religious relations.

There is no need to emphasise on differences. Let’s just focus on talking about common values. There is little to gain from putting down other faiths and claiming superiority.

It is worrying that now, any response to the interpretations by religious figures is quickly dismissed as a challenge to Islam.

Worse, those who dare speak out are branded as “enemies of Islam”, a label which seems to be loosely used these days. For many, this is how narrow the religious-politico discourse has gone.

All these conditions do have a pull factor to the display of sympathy to IS.

It will be naïve to suggest that the foreign policies of the United States in Palestine, Israel, Iraq and Syria are the only reasons for the influence.

For example, it must have shaken many of us to read of Malaysians using social media to condemn the victims of the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that left 50 people dead.

The victims were called sinners with one posting, “I hope the 53 injured will not be saved. And anyone who tries to shoot down my statement, you will be censured too!” The comment received more than 250 likes.

While most of us do not condone their practices, we find it atrocious that there are some of us who would actually support killing.

Narrow religious and confrontational ideology has no place in Malaysia.

Our leaders cannot allow hard-line religious figures to carry out, if not, impose their thoughts in our schools, universities and even in government offices.

A combination of ultra right wingers and hard core religious clerics extending their influence in these circles would be disastrous for this country.

We need to have the courage and belief that we can keep Malaysia sane.

We cannot afford to look the other way nor keep silent. Let the moderates prevail with rational and balanced discourse.