Year of the Dog exposes growth of Islamic conservatism in Malaysia – CNN

More on Malaysia and Islamic fundamentalism and the impact on the Chinese minority:

With the Lunar New Year round the corner, Chinese around the world are preparing to welcome the Year of the Dog.

But in Malaysia, where people of ethnic Chinese descent make up almost a quarter of the population, images of the dog have been omitted from Lunar New Year decorations and merchandise for fear of offending the country’s Muslim majority.
The omission has raised hackles in the Chinese community and caused concern among Malaysians of all faiths, who see it as yet another symptom of the country’s growing Islamic conservatism, driven by the government’s flirtation with hardline Islamist policies and a cultural shift by religious students returning from the Middle East.


Sunway Pyramid decided not to display dogs because they wanted to be respectful to what they perceive as Muslim sensitivities, but it suffered for its decision.
Sarah Chew, a communications officer for the mall, said her company has been the target of a backlash on social media for its decision not to display “contentious” cultural emblems, with calls for a boycott of its mall.
Ms Tan, a 40-year-old Malaysian-Chinese shopkeeper in the mall, who declined to give her full name, said: “This is a multiracial country, when they do something like that it shows disrespect to the Chinese race here.”
“If this is the case they should just make this only an Islamic country, but we have Buddhists, Hindus and other… (religions) as well here,” she added.
Several shops selling the customary red and gold new year decorations in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown have kept those featuring dogs inside rather than on display out front.
Last month, Reuters reported that Pavillion Mall, a shopping mall in the heart of Kuala Lumpur which gets about 3 million monthly visitors, also chose not to depict dogs in its decorations, citing religious and cultural sensitivities as a factor in their decision.
Earlier this year, a hypermarket chain around the country was embroiled in controversy when it emerged that Lunar New Year t-shirts being sold there depicted 10 animals in the Chinese zodiac, but not the dog or the pig.
The 2018 Lunar New Year isn’t the only time that animals considered taboo in Islam have caused public furor. There were outcries when Malaysia in 2016 ordered eateries and fast food chains such as Auntie Anne’s and A&W to change the name of dishes such as ‘Pretzel Dog’ and ‘Coney Dog’ to ‘Pretzel Sausage’ and ‘Beef Coney’ or ‘Chicken Coney’.
The reason? The country’s Islamic department said ‘dog’ would confuse Muslims.
Malaysia’s 30-million population is estimated to be 60% Malay Muslim, with prominent Chinese, Indian and other minorities.
Though Islam is Malaysia’s official religion and the country has Sharia courts for civil cases for Muslims, it is constitutionally secular.

Secularism disappearing

Maria Chin Abdullah, a prominent pro-democracy activist, says what’s happening with the Lunar New Year decorations are “just small signs” of growing Islamic conservatism.
“The secularism in our system that we enjoyed seems to be disappearing.”
As evidence, Chin pointed to the increasing frequency with which Malay women now wear the tudung, (headscarf), the Arabisation of Malay vocabulary — for example the word “Eid” being used for the Islamic religious holiday instead of the Malay “Hari Raya Puasa”, and books being banned for espousing moderate forms of Islam.
Other contentious recent issues include a beer festival in Kuala Lumpur that was canceled last year on security grounds, dress codes being imposed on international performers at pop concerts and Christians being prevented from erecting crosses on buildings.
“Schools have become less multi-racial and things are becoming scary,” said Chin.
“My own son will come back from school and tell me we can’t touch dogs and ask why I’m not wearing a headscarf.”
Other critics have pointed to the presence in Malaysia of hardline Indian Muslim televangelist Zakir Naik. He is banned in the UK and his views have sparked a criminal investigation in his native India.
Last year, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government confirmed it had given Naik permanent residency, a decision to which activists have mounted a legal challenge.
Najib’s support for more Islamist policies has grown since his ruling coalition lost the popular vote in the 2013 general election – its worst ever electoral performance – as he seeks to strengthen his hold on the ethnic Malay Muslim vote.
Malaysia’s evolution has raised alarm bells at the UN, which has urged the country to protect its tradition of tolerance from the rise of fundamentalism.
“I have heard worrying reports of attempts at Islamization spreading in many areas of society which could lead to cultural engineering,” said UN human rights expert Karima Bennoune last year following a 10-day fact-finding mission to the country.

‘Conservatism is becoming worse’

The government, which is widely expected to win elections due before August, drew criticism last year for allowing the opposition Pan Malaysian Islamic Party to put forward a parliamentary bill calling for harsher punishments — including more flogging – for moral “crimes”.
Malaysia’s nine sultans, the official guardians of Islam in Malaysia, last year issued a call for religious harmony after what they described as excessive actions.
Ahmad Farouk Musa, founder of a moderate think-tank, Islamic Renaissance Front, is yet another who says Islamic conservatism is worsening.
“One of the reasons is that Malaysia sends thousands of students to Saudi Arabia, where they are indoctrinated with hardline intolerant forms of Islam like Salafism and Wahhabism.”
“They bring back intolerant ideas, for example, a hatred of Shias. That never existed in Malaysia before,” he added.
But there’s another fundamental problem that dates back to the birth of the country – its race-based political system.
Parties set up on ethnic lines originated under the country’s former colonial rulers, the British, who imported Chinese and Indian labor to Malaysia, largely keeping Malays in impoverished rural areas.
After Malaysia won independence in 1957, its new leaders granted privileges to Malays, including cheaper land, easier access to tertiary education and preference for civil service jobs, to try to help them reach economic parity with the Chinese community.
This policy was strengthened in 1969 after Malay animosity over increasing Chinese economic and political power boiled over into a race riot in Kuala Lumpur in which scores of people, mostly Chinese, were killed.
Reformists argue the system has made Malays dependent on handouts and has bred demagoguery that thrives on religious and ethnic tension.

via Year of the Dog exposes growth of Islamic conservatism in Malaysia – CNN

How Religion Can Lead to Violence – The New York Times

Gary Gutting on religion and violence:

You may object that moral considerations should limit our opposition to nonbelief. Don’t people have a human right to follow their conscience and worship as they think they should? Here we reach a crux for those who adhere to a revealed religion. They can either accept ordinary human standards of morality as a limit on how they interpret divine teachings, or they can insist on total fidelity to what they see as God’s revelation, even when it contradicts ordinary human standards. Those who follow the second view insist that divine truth utterly exceeds human understanding, which is in no position to judge it. God reveals things to us precisely because they are truths we would never arrive at by our natural lights. When the omniscient God has spoken, we can only obey.

For those holding this view, no secular considerations, not even appeals to conventional morality or to practical common sense, can overturn a religious conviction that false beliefs are intolerable. Christianity itself has a long history of such intolerance, including persecution of Jews, crusades against Muslims, and the Thirty Years’ War, in which religious and nationalist rivalries combined to devastate Central Europe. This devastation initiated a move toward tolerance among nations that came to see the folly of trying to impose their religions on foreigners. But intolerance of internal dissidents — Catholics, Jews, rival Protestant sects — continued even into the 19th century. (It’s worth noting that in this period the Muslim Ottoman Empire was in many ways more tolerant than most Christian countries.) But Christians eventually embraced tolerance through a long and complex historical process.

Critiques of Christian revelation by Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Rousseau and Hume raised serious questions that made non-Christian religions — and eventually even rejections of religion — intellectually respectable. Social and economic changes — including capitalist economies, technological innovations, and democratic political movements — undermined the social structures that had sustained traditional religion.

The eventual result was a widespread attitude of religious toleration in Europe and the United States. This attitude represented ethical progress, but it implied that religious truth was not so important that its denial was intolerable. Religious beliefs and practices came to be regarded as only expressions of personal convictions, not to be endorsed or enforced by state authority. This in effect subordinated the value of religious faith to the value of peace in a secular society. Today, almost all Christians are reconciled to this revision, and many would even claim that it better reflects the true meaning of their religion.

The same is not true of Muslims. A minority of Muslim nations have a high level of religious toleration; for example Albania, Kosovo, Senegal and Sierra Leone. But a majority — including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Malaysia — maintain strong restrictions on non-Muslim (and in some cases certain “heretical” Muslim) beliefs and practices. Although many Muslims think God’s will requires tolerance of false religious views, many do not.

A Pew Research Center poll in 2013 found that in Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan and other nations in which Islam is officially favored, a large majority of Muslims think some form of Islamic law should be the law of the land. The poll also found that 76 percent of such Muslims in South Asia and 56 percent in the Middle East and North Africa favored executing Muslims who gave up their religion, and that in 10 Muslim counties at least 40 percent favored applying Islamic law to non-Muslims. This shows that, for many Muslims, the revealed truths of Islam are not only a matter of personal conviction but must also have a central place in the public sphere of a well-ordered society.

Does this mean that Islam is evil? No, but it does mean that it has not yet tamed, to the extent that Christianity has, the danger implicit in any religion that claims to be God’s own truth. To put it bluntly, Islam as a whole has not made the concessions to secular values that Christianity has. As President Obama recently said, “Some currents of Islam have not gone through a reformation that would help people adapt their religious doctrines to modernity.” This adaptation will be long and difficult and require many intellectual and socio-economic changes, some produced by outside forces, others arising from the increasing power of Islamic teachings on tolerance and love. But until such a transformation is achieved, it will be misleading to say that intolerance and violence are “a pure betrayal” of Islam.
There is no central religious authority or overwhelming consensus that excludes such Muslims from Islam. Intolerance need not lead to violence against nonbelievers; but, as we have seen, the logic of revelation readily moves in that direction unless interpretations of sacred texts are subject to nonreligious constraints. Islamic thinkers like Ibn-Sina accepted such constraints, and during the Middle Ages Muslims were often far more tolerant than Christians. But the path of modern tolerance has proved more difficult for Islam than for Christianity, and many Muslims still do not accept the ethical constraints that require religious tolerance, and a significant minority see violence against unbelievers as a divinely ordained duty. We may find it hard to believe that religious beliefs could motivate murders and insist that extreme violence is always due to mental instability or political fanaticism. But the logic (and the history) of religions tells against this view.

Source: How Religion Can Lead to Violence – The New York Times

Denmark may strip radical imams of citizenship

Charging them with hate speech would be appropriate:
Denmark might soon be able to strip radicalized imams of citizenship. The proposal is expected to be supported by a majority in parliament.

The initiative comes from the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, and has received backing from the ruling Liberal Party, the opposition Social Democrats and the Conservative party.

“The Constitution says that one must practice his faith as long as it is not contrary to morals or disturbing to the public order,” Martin Henriksen, Danish People’s Party’s spokesman told the Berlingske newspaper on Monday.

“When imams endorse or recommend stoning or when an imam tells a woman subjected to violence by her husband, that that’s okay, then it [may be considered] subversive speech that disturbs the public order. Some of these imams are Danish citizens, and we think we should deprive them of their citizenship,” he said.

The proposal was made in particular to withdraw citizenship from Abu Bilal, a leading imam at the Grimhoj mosque in the city of Aarhus. A recent documentary, ‘Mosques behind the Veil,’ revealed that the imam advocated the stoning of adulterous women and the killing of apostates.

Danish Prime Minister Lokke Rasmussen urged MPs to come up with measures to counter the growth of radical Islam after the documentary exposed the activities of such radical mosques.

The Danish People’s Party is set to make two new proposals in the upcoming set of negotiations with the Danish PM. The party is to present a draft resolution on stripping Abu Bilal of his Danish citizenship and then to review the Constitution’s clause on religious freedom.

Rasmussen said that he will be willing to “push the limits” of the interpretation of the Danish Constitution when reviewing the proposals, the Local reported.

“We are open to all solutions that can stop the radicalized imams,” said Trine Bramsen, the Social Democrats’ spokesman, according to the Berlingske newspaper.

Travailler avec un intégriste: la ministre Weil se ravise

Reminds me of a discussion I had with some of my former staff during 2008 Quebec niqab and related debates, and I challenged my staff, who argued for accommodation, would they feel comfortable having a co-worker wearing a niqab? The body language discomfort was palpable:

Kathleen Weil a marché dans les mêmes traces mercredi, lorsqu’elle commentait la conception de son plan d’action pour la lutte au radicalisme, et le projet de loi péquiste sur un observatoire de l’intégrisme. Elle affirmait qu’il y avait de l’intégrisme qui pouvait être soit inoffensif ou soit dangereux, quand les échanges ont alors glissé, à savoir si elle aurait un problème à travailler avec un intégriste dans son propre cabinet.

«Intégriste, ça dépend jusqu’où (sur le plan) religieux, a-t-elle d’abord répondu au cours d’un point de presse en matinée. S’il est rigoriste, mais ne fait pas de mal à personne… C’est ça l’inquiétude pour une société démocratique, c’est la sécurité des gens.»

Elle a alors été appelée par un journaliste à préciser sa pensée, avec un exemple hypothétique d’un collègue qu’elle côtoierait au quotidien, un intégriste rigoriste qui respecte strictement ses préceptes religieux en privé.

«On n’a pas de jugement à porter sur cette personne en autant que la sécurité publique est protégée», a-t-elle confirmé.

Elle a soutenu que l’intégrisme en soi n’est pas dangereux et qu’elle ne connaît pas de pays disposant de plans d’action contre l’intégrisme. Toutefois, à la sortie du conseil des ministres en après-midi, son discours avait changé.

«Ce serait impossible que quelqu’un comme ça se retrouve dans mon cabinet, vraiment impossible», a martelé Mme Weil.

Sa définition de l’intégrisme s’était soudainement étoffée, pour justifier son rejet, et il ne s’agissait plus simplement d’un rigoriste et de ses pratiques religieuses en privé: un intégriste est devenu quelqu’un qui ne partage pas les valeurs démocratiques, qui ne croit pas en l’égalité entre les hommes et les femmes et qui fait la promotion de l’homophobie.

«C’est plus que de la rigueur (sic), a-t-elle justifié. C’est quelqu’un qui conteste la démocratie. C’est ce qui est ahurissant dans ce qu’on entend ces temps-ci. Je réagis fortement à ça.»

L’intégriste est «extrêmement conservateur», a-t-elle poursuivi, et n’a pas une «mentalité moderne». À la première entrevue d’embauche on verrait que cette personne n’a pas une «mentalité ouverte, progressiste».

Selon elle, il y a des gradations jusqu’au fondamentalisme, mais le lexique est «complexe» et elle veut rester simple pour être comprise. «C’est plus important de parler des vraies choses, c’est ce que les gens comprennent, je pense qu’il faut parler un langage simple», a-t-elle dit.

Travailler avec un intégriste: la ministre Weil se ravise | Patrice Bergeron | Politique québécoise.

L’intégrisme est un choix personnel, juge le premier ministre | Le Devoir

Sensible voices in Quebec:

Philippe Couillard n’a aucune intention de limiter le droit des intégristes de pratiquer une version radicale de leur religion, un choix personnel, selon lui, dans la mesure où ils respectent la loi.

« L’intégrisme, c’est une pratique religieuse poussée à l’extrême qui, tant qu’elle n’enfreint pas les droits des autres — des autres, exemple, les femmes —, bien sûr fait partie des choix personnels de chacun », a déclaré lundi Philippe Couillard, avant de participer au caucus présessionnel de ses députés.

Il ne faut pas confondre intégrisme et terrorisme. « Il y a beaucoup d’amalgames qui sont faits sur des concepts qui sont très distincts », a soutenu le premier ministre. Le terrorisme est « l’expression des extrémismes de tout type, bien sûr celui de l’islam radical, mais il y a d’autres extrémismes sur la planète. Mais celui-là est bien sûr celui dont on est préoccupé. »

Les propos de Philippe Couillard rejoignent ceux qu’a exprimés dans La Presse samedi Gérard Bouchard. « Il y a manifestement un lien entre intégrisme et terrorisme, mais l’un ne conduit pas nécessairement à l’autre. D’où la question : la prévention de la radicalisation religieuse conduira-t-elle à surveiller tous les intégristes et à restreindre leurs droits ? Ce serait inadmissible », juge l’historien et sociologue.

L’intégrisme est un choix personnel, juge le premier ministre | Le Devoir.

My radicalized son chose the other Islam

Powerful statement from an obviously distraught mother:

My son embraced the harsh, isolating view of the Wahhabis. He was encouraged to reject any information from non-Saudi sources. He scorned moderate imams and his parents. He learned to speak Arabic, read the Koran and form his own legal rulings. But since he’d never lived under a totalitarian regime, he broadcast their teachings openly. You mix a few ounces of religious fervour with a pound of a dogmatic, irrational ideology and you end up with extremists and terrorists. That’s the concoction ultraconservatism offers. His teachers and friends criticized him and withdrew. Now they claim they don’t know him.

They offer no guidance to men who take Wahhabism to its inevitable extreme. There is no authority among them who can rein in people who let their emotions or lusts inform their religion. No one among them takes responsibility for what they teach. If a follower becomes mentally ill, he will be scorned, perhaps accused of demonic possession.

Wahhabism or Salafism is the same Dr. Frankenstein that created the monstrous Islamic State, Boko Haram and al-Qaeda. It’s a politically motivated, pseudo-religious cult designed to extinguish the free-thinking liberality of moderate, traditional Islam. Salafism, fed by petro-dollars, teaches political obedience to Muslim rulers as a religious obligation.

Wahhabism is one of the vehicles by which ignorance is spread. Ignorance of Islamic history, Islamic law and modern politics fuel that vehicle. Ignorance should not be spread by religious leaders.

Here in Canada, religious teachers should be held responsible for what they teach and how their students interpret their teachings, especially when those teachings have led to the kind of chaos, strife and destruction Wahhabism has caused. Men like my son have taken sail on the ship of ultraconservatism, and his mentors have abandoned him and set him adrift. He was not a radical until he was radicalized.

And even when it does not lead to violence, extreme fundamentalism, in any religion, means living apart from society, with little or no integration.

My radicalized son chose the other Islam – The Globe and Mail.

UK: Islamist terror threat to west blown out of proportion – former MI6 chief

Sensible and refreshing comments:

He made it clear he believed the way the British government and the media were giving the extremists the “oxygen of publicity” was counter-productive. The media were making monsters of “misguided young men, rather pathetic figures” who were getting coverage “more than their wildest dreams”, said Dearlove, adding: “It is surely better to ignore them.” …..

Dearlove said he was concerned about the influence of the media on the government’s security policy. It was time to take what he called a “more proportionate approach to terrorism”.

MI5, MI6, and GCHQ devoted a greater share of their resources to countering Islamist fundamentalism than they did to the Soviet Union during the cold war, or to Irish terrorism that had cost the lives of more UK citizens and British soldiers than al-Qaida had done, Dearlove noted.

A massive reaction after the 9/11 attacks was inevitable, he said, but it was not inevitable the 2001 attacks would continue to “dominate our way of thinking about national security”. There had been a “fundamental change” in the nature of the threat posed by Islamist extremists. Al-Qaida had largely failed to mount the kind of attacks in the US and UK it had threatened after 9/11.

It was time, he said to move away from the “distortion” of the post-9/11 mindset, make “realistic risk assessments” and think rationally about the causes of the crisis in the Middle East.

The al-Qaida franchises that had emerged since had largely “fallen back” on other Muslim countries, Dearlove said. What was happening now was a long-awaited war between Sunni and Shia Muslims that would have only a ripple effect on Britain, he suggested.

Pointing the finger at Sunni Saudi Arabia, Dearlove said the Isis surge in Iraq had to be the consequence of “sustained funding”.

Islamist terror threat to west blown out of proportion – former MI6 chief | UK news | The Guardian.

How Buddhist fundamentalism became an international threat

Interesting piece by Doug Saunders on the rise of Buddhist fundamentalism:

This simultaneous explosion of fundamentalism in three Buddhist nations does not appear to be coincidental: Extremist monks from Myanmar formerly known as Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand have held meetings in recent months to share ideas and form a movement. Mr. Arora notes “a common thread among the three groups: a portrayal of a threat to the majority religion, and linking of Buddhism to the national identity.”

This politicization of Buddhism – and the violence that sometimes accompanies it – appears to contradict traditional Buddhist principles and teachings, which are strenuously apolitical and non-violent. But the same could be said for the rise of Christian fundamentalism in the nineteenth century and the Muslim and Hindu-fundamentalist movements it inspired: religions that are theoretically devoted to peace have, one after another, inspired sometimes violent political movements in the name of their faith.

How Buddhist fundamentalism became an international threat – The Globe and Mail.

Intégrisme: la «montée» imaginaire – et les Janettes

Pretty damning indictment of those warning of a rapid increase in fundamentalism in Quebec. Interesting, most requests for religious accommodation come from Christians.

Dernier indicateur : l’avis des chercheurs qui étudient les minorités religieuses du Québec ou les côtoient. Ceux qu’a interviewés Le Soleil – soit, hormis M. Rousseau, Pauline Côté, de l’Université Laval, et Micheline Milot, de l’UdeM – sont unanimes : il n’y a pas le moindre signe d’une montée de l’intégrisme musulman au Québec. Et les termes qu’ils emploient laissent peu de place au doute : «bonhomme 7 heures», «scandaleux», «propos alarmistes et exorbitants», «création étatique de la peur de l’autre», etc.

Intégrisme: la «montée» imaginaire | Jean-François Cliche | Élections québécoises.

Shame on the PQ for not dissociating themselves from the comments of Janette Bertrand (background here):

La cofondatrice du mouvement pro charte « Les Janette » y est allée d’un exemple pour illustrer la nécessité, selon elle, de se doter de cette législation, qui prévoit notamment un encadrement des demandes d’accommodements raisonnables.

Imaginons, a-t-elle dit, que « deux hommes » arrivent à la piscine de son édifice à logements montréalais, et que la vue de femmes dans l’eau leur déplaît.

« Bon, imaginons qu’ils partent, qu’ils vont voir le propriétaire, qui est très heureux d’avoir beaucoup de, de… c’est les étudiants de McGill riches qui sont là, et puis, ils demandent ‘Bon, on va avoir une journée’, bon, alors ils payent », a-t-elle suggéré.

« Et là dans quelques mois, c’est eux qui ont la piscine tout le temps. Ben c’est ça, le ‘grugeage, c’est ça dont on a peur et c’est ça qui va arriver s’il n’y a pas de charte », a lancé Mme Bertrand.

Khadir cautionne la ségrégation des sexes, accuse le SPQ-Libre | Charte de la laïcité

Interesting story about Amir Khadir attending a meeting of Muslim Canadians where the women were seated on one side, the men on the other, and the resulting criticism. I liked the way he handled it:

« J’aimerais que ceux qui prétendent lutter contre l’intégrisme descendent de leur zone de confort et viennent fréquenter ces jeunes qui sont en questionnement, attirés par des gens qui leur offrent un refuge, alors que nous, avec une certaine démonisation des communautés immigrantes, on les repousse dans les bras des intégristes », a répliqué le député de Québec solidaire.

Better to debate and discuss, than pontificate.

Khadir cautionne la ségrégation des sexes, accuse le SPQ-Libre | Paul Journet et Hugo Pilon-Larose | Charte de la laïcité.