Chinese Factor and Peaceful Co-existence in Malaysia
Malaysia is frequently hailed as a showcase of peaceful co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims created under the benevolent dictatorship of Mohathir Muhammad. The nation is a middle income hi-tech oriented economy. Not a South Korea, yet prosperous and advanced enough to be touted by many as an example of what the rest of the Muslim nations can potentially be. That's why I found a new article by The Economist hard to believe.
The article is a stark warning for those who think that a hefty doze of democracy and economic development can pacify and bring some sanity into the world of Islam. If anything it just shows what may be waiting for us around the corner. At least when it comes to ethnic/religious tensions in Muslim nations, we have not even started. In fact, it's precisely the increased access to education and media, coupled with the socio economic uncertanties brought by globalization, that seems to be awakening the sleeping beast of ethnic/religious conflicts everywhere across the land of Islam.
Nov 30th 2006 | KUALA LUMPUR
As the country approaches its 50th birthday, racial and religious tensions are jeopardising its economic and social success
UPROAR is still raging in Malaysia over inflammatory speeches at the annual congress of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in mid-November. One delegate talked of being ready to “bathe in blood” to defend the race and religion of the Malay Muslim majority against the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities. The education minister, no less, brandished a keris (traditional dagger), only to be urged by another delegate to start using it.
. . . Continue Reading The affair has brought into focus Malaysians' worries that, as their country nears its 50th birthday next year, its remarkable economic and social success is at risk from the increasingly separate lives its three main races are living.
Last weekend these anxieties were voiced by the crown prince of Perak, one of the country's constituent states. He recalled that in his boyhood the races mixed far more freely; nowadays most children go to single-race schools. The prince regretted that some Malay-majority schools have made girls wear headscarves and even told pupils to avoid non-Malays' homes. Malaysians' spirit of give-and-take, he lamented, had been replaced by the idea that progress was a zero-sum game among the races.
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. . . UMNO itself, having led the country's development for decades, has become perhaps its greatest handicap. The Malay chauvinism and economic nationalism in its ranks are hobbling progress towards reforming and privatising the big government-linked companies, thereby discouraging both domestic and foreign private investment. . .
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. . . Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, a Muslim lawyer and leader of Article 11, says that UMNO leaders feel compelled to emit fiery religious rhetoric to outflank PAS, an Islamist opposition party.
Mohamed Jawhar Hassan, the head of ISIS, a think-tank, says that Malays' desire for more overt expression of their Islamic faith, and Chinese and Indian parents' desire to educate their children separately, are “social forces, much more powerful than any government”. Passing laws may not be enough to stem the drifting apart of the races. But there are few other ideas on how to preserve social harmony and prosperity, two huge achievements of which any country turning 50 could be proud.
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