Malay Provocation

New York Times
January 20, 2010

HONG KONG — One ought to be able to laugh at the absurdity of it. But the message is one of ignorance, religious and racial prejudice and political opportunism.

Last week, the Malaysian government declared that Christians in one part of the country could use “Allah” as the word for God when speaking Malay, but that those in most of the country could not. This is the same government that is currently running a public relations campaign called One Malaysia emphasizing the common identity of the nation’s racial and religious mix.

In reality, a government dominated by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) is using spurious religious/linguistic arguments to shore up its support among a majority Malay electorate, which has been fed for years with preferences and privileges. Meanwhile, non-Malay money and talent exits the country.

The government had earlier tried to stop the use of the word Allah by all Christians. This was successfully challenged in the High Court. But instead of letting the matter rest, the government declined to back down, setting the scene for the fire bombing of churches. While these could not be laid directly at the door of UMNO, hotheads in the party may well have taken their cue from what non-Muslims see as a deliberate attempt to stir up ethnic/religious issues for political gain. Last year it was Hindus who were the target of Malay provocation.

UMNO political calculation demands that the organization sticks to its demands about the use of the word Allah in peninsular Malaysia, where all Malays are deemed Muslims and where Christians are ethnic Chinese or Indian, but not in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak where there are large communities of Malay-speaking Christians. The UMNO-led coalition needs the support of the multi-ethnic parties in those states.

The word Allah has always been used without Muslim objection by Christians in the Arab world, as well as those in Malay-speaking Indonesia, where there are 10 times as many Muslims as in Malaysia. The word is itself derived from pre-Islamic Semitic language roots. Even Malaysia’s strictly Islamist opposition party, Parti Islam (PAS), agrees that all Abrahamic faiths are entitled to use the word Allah.

But such facts are of little relevance to UMNO politicians determined to drum up any issue that can be used to show their commitment to defending Malay and Muslim privileges and thus retain the support of a Malay majority against the appeal both of PAS and the multi-ethnic Keadilan party of the former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

UMNO cannot claim to be a party of the pious. Half a century in power has turned it into a vast patronage machine that enriches the Malay elite, providing support for luxurious lifestyles. Its insistence that all Malays are Muslims (and cannot convert) is an attempt to give religious backing to the message of Malay racial preference. That is barely in accord with the universalist notions of global Islam but keeps the loyalty of many Malays otherwise resentful of growing income gaps.

However, the racial and religious divides among the opposition still make an UMNO-led government seem a better choice than the alternatives — most likely ones in which the fundamentalism of PAS would replace the opportunism of UMNO. So despite the deterioration of communal relations in peninsular Malaysia, no major changes are in sight.

This carries two main dangers. The first is the continuing large scale exodus of capital and of talented non-Malays. Five years of generally good prices for its main commodity exports, oil, gas and palm oil, have delivered huge trade surpluses and a current account surplus of more than 10 percent of gross domestic product. But economic growth has been slow due to very weak private investment, only partly offset by large government deficit spending. Once a major recipient of foreign capital, Malaysia is now a source of flight capital. This is only sustainable while commodity prices remain at double levels of five years ago and three times those in 2002.

A longer term danger, at least as perceived by some leading Malays, such as the former Finance Minister Tunku Razaleigh, is that a combination of religious intolerance and resentment of federal exploitation of their natural resources will generate secessionism in the Borneo states. They joined Malaysia in 1963 without much enthusiasm but as the best option open to them as the British withdrew from empire. They do not want their traditions of racial and religious diversity to be poisoned by peninsular prejudices. Their separate treatment on the Allah issue will have some immediate benefits for Kuala Lumpur, but can only underscore just how different they are.

In short, the episode is sad commentary on a nation whose mix of races, its fine infrastructure and wealth of resources has held such promise. If only there really were One Malaysia.

  1. #1 by monsterball on Wednesday, 20 January 2010 - 11:15 pm

    The three will always remain three….never a One Malaysia.
    The twisting and turning on the Allah issue…is trying luck to win votes by Najib…..failed miserably……and now finding ways to get out of the mess.
    Yes…even Malays are defending churches from being torched up..and Malaysians are calm…praying for forgiveness.
    This makes Najib look like a fool too… better get rid of the ruse…and plan another one.
    The more he plans..he is digging UMNO’s own graves.
    God does work in mysterious ways..and let no man try to mock God..for personal benefits.

  2. #2 by vsp on Wednesday, 20 January 2010 - 11:21 pm

    … and next, during the Puasa month all non-Muslims also cannot eat lest they will tempt the Muslims to eat and drink and defile themselves during the holy month.

    When the adhan prayers are called, all non-Muslim must stop whatever they are doing five times a day lest Muslim sensitivities might be provoked against insults to “Allxh” and they might lose control of their mind and go on a rampage.

    Pork and liquor to be totally banned wherever there is a Muslim living nearby lest Muslims might get confused and think that pork is mutton and beer is a soft drink.

    All other places of worship will not be allowed lest Muslims might be converted and become Christians, Hindus, Taoists, Sikhs and Baha’is.

    And so on …

    Since now “Allxh” has lost his monopoly powers to UMNO; whatever UMNO says supersedes the laws of nature and the Koran.

  3. #3 by taiking on Thursday, 21 January 2010 - 9:01 am

    Umno police on duty:
    “Oi u mari”
    “Dari mana?”
    Police got hold of his wallet and frisked out an ic. After a brief inspection the umno police continued:
    “U bukan islam?”
    “Bukan tuan.”
    “Bangsa apa?”
    “Siapa tuhan u”
    “U sudah lakukan satu kesalahan di sisi undang2.”
    And the man was promptly arrested and brought to the police station.

    … umno gobermen in collaboration with Pascal Savage commenced a large scale arrest.

  4. #4 by wanderer on Thursday, 21 January 2010 - 11:14 am

    Najib’s 1Malaysia ….Bo Liao!!! More likely, Najib’s 1Big Mess!!

    Boss, you can fool some people sometime but, you cannot fool all the people all the time….

  5. #5 by mcy0077 on Thursday, 21 January 2010 - 12:01 pm

    Good day my dear Friends and please take note. The issue here is not only on the name of Allah. To make things simple for you, here is an example.

    You can call DOG to a DOG with four legs and dog always barking, auk,auk,aukkkkk, you know la some of a dog characters.

    BUT if you say DOG is something like crocodile leaving in the river of SARAWAK eating fish surely that’s not DOG. and that’s where the issue comes. To make thing worse is even more than just a dog and a Croc. It is about FAITH!!

    We the Muslim should agree and are always agreed if you say ALLAH is the One and the ONLY GOD, Allah the creator and lord of the Universe, the Evolver, the Bestower of Forms (and Colors) and nothing like him. Kindly be informed that what we the Muslim believe and any one is most welcome to be one of us.

    BUT if the Christian say Allah is the god which means God the Mother, Son and Holly Ghost. God having son the Jesus. We don’t believe Allah having a son, that is not Allah!!. AND sincerely… of course we will put a strong objection. Simply because obviously it will damage the faith of a Muslim . Same things If the Hindus say Allah is having four hand with red eyes and things like that. We’re surely very sad with and will also put a strong objection.



  6. #6 by changeforum on Thursday, 21 January 2010 - 12:32 pm

    The real 1Malaysia has long been achieved, it’s called Sabah and Sarawak. It’s the one in Peninsula that’s fake.

  7. #7 by taiking on Thursday, 21 January 2010 - 12:55 pm

    Hey hey hey changeforum. I can detect a real cynicism coded in your remark there. Najib’s 1malaysia is a malaysia sans sabah sarawak – i.e. only peninsular. And you are right. The peninsular does look like the numeral “1” albeit one with a generously endowed mid-section (just like those overfed umnoputras).

  8. #8 by DCLXVI on Thursday, 21 January 2010 - 1:03 pm

    Sabahan & Sarawakians had already been quietly cursing the Malayans from the Peninsula for interfering with their long time social & religious norms.

  9. #9 by DCLXVI on Thursday, 21 January 2010 - 1:26 pm

    mcy0077, you said, “We the Muslim should agree and are always agreed if you say ALLAH is the One and the ONLY GOD, Allah the creator and lord of the Universe, the Evolver, the Bestower of Forms (and Colors) and nothing like him. Kindly be informed that what we the Muslim believe and any one is most welcome to be one of us.”

    OK, right, that is what you believe as Muslims.

    You also said, “BUT if the Christian say Allah is the god which means God the Mother, Son and Holly Ghost. God having son the Jesus. We don’t believe Allah having a son, that is not Allah!!.”

    OK, right, that is what you don’t believe as Muslims, but that is what the Christians believe.

    And you also said, “AND sincerely… of course we will put a strong objection. Simply because obviously it will damage the faith of a Muslim .”

    However, Arab Muslims and Arab Christians do share the same word and they do not have problems distinguishing which is the Muslim belief and which is the Christian belief, do they?

  10. #10 by good coolie on Thursday, 21 January 2010 - 2:02 pm

    The nature of Allah as revealed to Christians is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We Christians know that Muslims and Jews do not believe in this, that to Muslims and Jews, this looks like polytheism! BUT THROUGHOUT HISTORY, MUSLIMS HAVE LIVED WITH THE FACT THAT CHRISTIANS USE ALLAH IN THEIR SENSE OF THE WORD, THE ONE TRINITARIAN GOD.

    As long as Christians confine their use of “Allah” to their communities and their publications only, this should not excite anger of Peninsular Muslims, as the experience of East Malaysian muslims and muslims throughout the rest of the world shows!

    I think many Peninsular muslims are un-informed, and ought to be properly informed by their own religious leaders. It is simply a matter of getting used to things, so long as their own constitutional rights are not affected.

  11. #11 by DCLXVI on Thursday, 21 January 2010 - 2:27 pm

    It does not matter what religion, as long as one has faith in one’s belief, one cannot be easily swayed or confused by other religions. It is those holier-than-thou politicians who are trying to cause confusion and creating unnecessary anxiety.

  12. #12 by johnnypok on Thursday, 21 January 2010 - 9:18 pm

    It is good to defend something, including your religion. Unfortunately, many of them can’t even defend themselves from being misled into doing something bad, including corruption.

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