In Malaysia, fake news about citizenship for Chinese stokes racial tensions

Stoking some of the underlying ethnic tensions in Malaysia:

Malaysia’s National Registration Department (NRD) on Monday lodged a police report against several social media users for falsely accusing the department of indiscriminately granting citizenship to Chinese nationals.

Fake news that mainland Chinese were being granted Malaysian identification cards has been circulating on social media for the past month, the latest in a series of attempts to stoke racial tensions at a time when the relations between ethnic Chinese Malaysians and indigenous Malays “are at their lowest ebb”, according to an expert.

“The information spread through social media is false, and the report is to enable the police to conduct a thorough investigation,” NRD director general Ruslin Jusoh told reporters at a press conference to announce the police report.

He dismissed claims that the NRD discriminates by granting Malaysian citizenship to certain foreign nationals.

“This is not true and for the record, we do not choose applicants based on their ancestry or nationality in granting them Malaysian citizenship,” Ruslin said.

The social media posts, spread mainly via Facebook and Twitter, featured pictures of alleged Chinese nationals on a blue Malaysian identification card. The blue card, known as MyKad, is only issued to Malaysian citizens.

A mainland Chinese woman, who has been married to a Malaysian for almost 20 years and was granted citizenship in the Southeast Asian nation, was the subject of one of the posts.

“The person is a spouse to a Malaysian national and has fulfilled all the requirements to be a citizen based on … the Federal Constitution and that qualified her application for the citizenship,” Ruslin said, adding that it is not easy to obtain Malaysian citizenship.

He said Indonesians made up the largest group of foreign wives who were granted Malaysian citizenship.

Political analyst Azmi Hassan warned that the viral posts were intended to create the perception that it was the current government’s plan to grant citizenship to foreigners, a move that would create distrust toward the ruling Pakatan Harapan government among Malays.

“When news regarding foreigners getting citizenship are circulated as if it is true, the strategy is to create a perception that it is the policy of the current government … and no doubt to create uneasiness since the relationship between Malaysian Chinese and the indigenous Malays are at their lowest ebb right now,” Azmi said.

“The end result is that the Malays will not trust the government … and the Malays’ [feeling] that they are losing the country to foreigners is becoming real.”

Ethnic Chinese comprise an estimated 22 per cent of the country’s 32 million people, while Malay-Muslims make up more than 60 per cent of the population.

Political analyst Azmi said the mainland Chinese citizenship hoax had been cleverly done to look real.

“This strategy of foreigners getting MyKad or citizenship has been used numerous times … but no doubt it is very effective when foreigners and sovereignty are lumped together,” he said.

MP Lim Lip Eng from the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which is part of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, has found himself a victim of the fake social media posts.

A WhatsApp message that appeared months earlier, accusing him of registering mainland Chinese for citizenship in his constituency in Kepong district in the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, recently went viral again.

“That WhatsApp [message] is a fake. It resurfaced a month ago,” Lim told the South China Morning Post. “The current atmosphere of fear and tension of racial and religious divides in Malaysia is at the tipping point. Any incident can be twisted into a racial or religious issue, no matter how fake it is.”

The DAP has of late faced a barrage of fake news depicting the party as unpatriotic, anti-Malay and anti-Muslim.

“DAP, a predominantly Chinese-based party, is and will always be targeted by the opposition, the racists and religious extremists when they plot to stoke racial and religious issues,” Lim said.

DAP’s secretary general Lim Guan Eng was in 2018 appointed the country’s first ethnic Chinese Finance Minister in 44 years after Pakatan Harapan staged an upset to win the general elections.

The appointment of ethnic Chinese to strategic positions in the government has caused unease with certain segments of the Malay-Muslim populace, according to political analyst Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani of BowerGroupAsia.

“There is still distrust among the Malay community with Chinese leaders in Pakatan Harapan. The fake [identification] issue will only validate their racial narratives,” Asrul said. “This is an attempt to stoke racial sentiment and legitimise the narrative that the Chinese are pendatangs [foreigners or immigrants] in this country.”

While the country’s Penal Code has provisions to deal with insults delivered with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, it does not have specific legislation against racism – something Lim from the DAP wants to see changed.

“I have told the Pakatan Harapan government to rein in fake news by the freewheeling social and printed media with tougher penalties before Malaysia is out of order and the economy plummets,” he said. “The cabinet must come out with plans to criminalise racism and religious hatred.”

Azmi, the political analyst, said Malaysia’s 62-year existence as a multiracial nation has been held together by mutual trust and co-operation between the different races.

“It does concern me … with all the fake news circulating, I’m afraid that the bond that binds us together will be broken and if this happens, it is going to take a long time to mend it and Malaysia will be at the losing end,” he said.

Source: In Malaysia, fake news about citizenship for Chinese stokes racial tensions

Unequal citizenship rights for women and equality in law — Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship

Of interest:

The Campaign for Equal Citizenship led by the Foreign Spouses Support Group welcomes the recent announcement by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and the Ministry of Home Affairs to draw up a new standard operating procedure (SOP) for citizenship applications. This would presumably ensure that citizenship applications are considered more fairly and promptly.

However, this is inadequate for the thousands of Malaysian mothers who wish to confer citizenship to their children born overseas. The government must fix the law, so that Malaysian women enjoy equal citizenship rights compared to Malaysian men.

Of course, a Malaysian mother married to a foreign man who gives birth in Malaysia can confer citizenship to their children but the discrimination is stark when these mothers for various valid reasons give birth overseas.

Reasons for giving birth overseas range from holding overseas jobs, unable to afford flights, premature births or risking medical complications. There are also many reasons such as aging parents, why women choose to return to Malaysia with their families and have their children grow up here as citizens.

Whilst a Malaysian father can simply notify and register at the nearest embassy of the country where his foreign wife has given birth, whereupon Malaysian citizenship papers will be issued within a time period from 3 days two months, however the Malaysian mother has to apply for citizenship for her children

Based on experiences of these Malaysian mothers, they are often misinformed by authorities abroad and at home, given inconsistent information and experience inconsistent practices. While there have been success stories, we are looking at an average waiting time of one to seven years or more to get an approval, often after multiple rejections and re-applications. Allegedly rejections are part of the SOPS to test to see if these Malaysian mothers are truly sincere and loyal to Malaysia a test not accorded to Malaysian fathers.

So, while developing a new SOP may be a temporary solution, there is a dire need for a permanent solution.

To do so, we must address first the root of the discrimination. In principle, Malaysia does not recognise mothers as equal parents by law, as the Federal Constitution expressly provides that children born overseas to married Malaysian fathers are entitled to citizenship by operation of law (Article 14(1)(b) but is silent on children born overseas to Malaysian mothers.  Consequently, the process for registering children born overseas as Malaysian citizens is far more arduous for Malaysian women making them feel like second-class citizens.

This law is deeply rooted in patriarchy which allows for sexist attitudes that influence the applications processes. These women are expected to follow the husband’s citizenship, live overseas and not enjoy the option for their children to choose their nationality. Not to be labour a point, the children born overseas to Malaysian fathers enjoy this choice.

Malaysia is currently one of only twenty-five countries globally, and one of four countries in the Asia Pacific region, which has discriminatory citizenship laws.

Amend Schedule II of Federal Constitution to explicitly allow both men and women to confer citizenship on their children born outside of Malaysia through the same process. and make it equal and right for Malaysian women, we make up half of Malaysia and we count.

Source: Unequal citizenship rights for women and equality in law — Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship

Move to introduce Arabic script in Malaysian schools upsets non-Malay groups

Of interest:
Malaysia’s move to introduce Arabic script in the Malay language syllabus for primary school has upset non-Malay groups and stirred fears of creeping Islamisation in the racially diverse country.

Malaysia’s government spots a vote-winner: ‘defending’ Islam

Not encouraging:
As Malaysia’s ruling Pakatan Harapan government contends with a marriage of convenience between the two largest opposition parties, pressure is mounting on it to show it can defend the interests of Malay-Muslims, who make up 75 per cent of voters.

Enter a new initiative to crack down on insults against Islam. On March 7, the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim), the country’s most powerful Islamic affairs agency, set up a special unit to police insults against Islam on social media and other platforms.

Each complaint would be scrutinised and legitimate ones reported to the police or the communications regulator, said Deputy Minister Fuziah Salleh, who is overseeing the unit.

In just a week, the complaints body received 10,000 reports and as of Wednesday, it had 13,498 reports.

In Mahathir’s new Malaysia, a perfect storm for Pakatan Harapan?

The agency’s creation came soon after a 22-year-old Malaysian, whose details were withheld by the authorities, was given an unprecedented sentence of 10 years for posting content online that insulted Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, a decision that lawyers said went against the rule of law.

And police are investigating the organisers of the International Women’s Day March under the colonial-era Sedition Act, on the back of public accusations that the presence of LGBT activists at a Women’s Day parade on March 9 glorified behaviour not in accordance with Islamic teachings.

In Muslim-majority Malaysia, same-sex relations are banned, and sedition laws have been used against those who express dissent or excite disaffection against state institutions.

Observers such as Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs have pointed out the irony of these developments. Pakatan Harapan, led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, won office on promises of legal reform and improved human rights for all Malaysians.
But it is now moving to stem the growing appeal of an alliance between former ruling party the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) – the former championing Malay rights and the latter milking pro-Muslim sentiments.
Umno-PAS’ attractiveness to voters has been heightened by the government’s struggle to realise its election pledges of higher salaries and a lower cost of living.

“The Malay parties in Pakatan Harapan have to pander to the conservatives by regressing to religio-racial supremacy in order to maintain a foothold in the Malay vote bank, especially in view of their successive crushing defeats in recent by-elections,” Oh said.

Political economist Terence Gomez, along with prominent local activists, also criticised this political “trend” of political parties capitalising on perceived insults to religion to gain popularity.

“In the application of laws prohibiting insulting religion, we must strive for a rational and liberal balance with the protection of the freedom of expression while being mindful of the religious sensitivities of our multi-religious communities. Hence open mindedness and moderation should be the norm in the interpretation and application of the existing laws,” the group said.

It added that criticising issues such as child marriage or female circumcision – permitted under Malaysia’s sharia laws – was “perfectly defensible”.

Fuziah said the complaints received by the unit regarded insults to Islam and the Prophet.

“One touches on insulting the Agong,” she said, referring to Malaysia’s ruler and head of state. She did not comment on whether any police reports had been filed.

Where does Malaysia stand on gay rights? Nobody knows

But so far only 28 links had been sent to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, which is supposed to take them down. Another 15 complaints were being investigated, Fuziah said.

The commission told the South China Morning Post it had not received any reports as of Wednesday, but would “provide assistance to Jakim as required”.

When the new Jakim unit was launched, Fuziah told local media she was aware some insults online were published by those with fake accounts. Some were also “unhealthy retaliations”, she said, sparked by comments by opposition politicians against non-Muslims.

Source: Malaysia’s government spots a vote-winner: ‘defending’ Islam

Ethnic Chinese in Malaysia are celebrating China’s rise – but as multicultural Malaysians, not Chinese

Interesting:

In 2015, China’s then ambassador to Malaysia, Huang Huikang, visited Kuala Lumpur Chinatown just ahead of a planned pro-Malay rally. Huang’s walkabout, during which he spoke out against racism and extremism, defused a potential ethnic showdown. But it earned the ambassador a summoning to the foreign ministry to explain his perceived meddling in Malaysia’s domestic affairs.

The Kuala Lumpur incident is a portent of things to come as China steps up efforts to connect as well as protect overseas Chinese communities. During the 19th Communist Party congress, last year, President Xi Jinping reaffirmed China’s strategic policy of co-opting the Chinese diaspora into Beijing’s grand push to internationalise the “Chinese dream”.

Xi’s overture is hitting some wrong notes. In the United States, lawmakers have complained that mainland Chinese students there have come under pressure from Beijing after criticising China. In Australia, Canberra is proposing countermeasures for alleged interference by the Communist Party in the country’s internal affairs and in the Chinese Australian communities.

The Chinese diaspora is a global phenomenon unlike others because immigrants from China have, over the centuries, planted roots in almost every continent. More crucially, the crisis-stricken homeland they left behind generations ago is today a rejuvenated, self-confident modern nation-state. And this re-emerging superpower is eager to re-enter the world stage and shape the existing international order.

For this reason, Beijing’s harnessing of the overseas Chinese population could have far-reaching global ramifications.

In Malaysia, the complexion of the Chinese diaspora bears certain distinct features. Numbering about 7 million, Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese community is one of the largest concentrations of overseas Chinese in any country. And nearing 25 per cent of the population, they exert considerable economic sway and, to a lesser extent, political leverage.

Perhaps what is unique is the pristine preservation of the Chinese heritage, a legacy of Malaysia’s acclaimed multiculturalism. One example is the national vernacular school system, where ethnic minorities can learn and sustain their mother tongues. This has enabled the Chinese communities to keep alive their culture and beliefs in a manner unmatched anywhere else – even to the envy of mainland Chinese whose traditional way of life was decimated during the Cultural Revolution.

Yet Malaysia’s celebrated diversity is a double-edged sword, as it has slowed assimilation. The country is trapped in a race paradigm where racial dynamics dictate public policy and colour national discourse. Intended to protect the rights of the Malay majority, the bumiputera policies continue to draw a wedge between the races.

Discontented, some have chosen to leave, precipitating a brain drain, chiefly to Australia and neighbouring Singapore. In fact, Malaysians are the biggest group of overseas Chinese to re-migrate.

Fortunately, these setbacks do not round up the Malaysia story. There are alternative narratives, where the aspired “1Malaysia” is a lived reality. Malaysians do come together as one, especially when engaging the world at large. Successes by international sports stars, such as diver Pandelela Rinong, badminton player Lee Chong Wei and squash player Nicol David, have fired up patriotic displays of emotions that transcend race.

One way to explain this seeming anomaly is that most Malaysians at the personal level do experience genuine friendship across racial lines. Interpersonal contacts such as these have slowly but steadily fostered mutual respect and goodwill.

There are alternative narratives, where the aspired ‘1Malaysia’ is a lived reality

Regrettably, this grass-roots bonding is often undermined and overshadowed by racialised national politics. Even so, under certain favourable conditions, these contained but enduring feelings of kinship do break to the surface, showcasing to the world the true 1Malaysia spirit.

It is within this broader context that we see the Chinese in Malaysia wrestle with their own conflicted devotion to past memories and present realities.

Firstly, like Irish Australians’ love for all things Ireland, Chinese Malaysians, too, follow with keen interest China-related developments. The miraculous turnaround of the People’s Republic in recent decades, for example, has thrilled overseas Chinese.

At the same time, Chinese in Malaysia are unreservedly Malaysian, just as the Irish in Australia are true-blue Aussies. And there is no better demonstration of this than the Chinese Malaysians’ impassioned support for Lee Chong Wei, even when he faces off against his arch-rival, Lin Dan of China.

Powered by its ambitious “Belt and Road Initiative”, China’s inroads into Malaysia are expanding by the day. And this is inducing some shocks to the country’s rich yet fragile social landscape.

Indeed, when ambassador Huang stepped into the Chinatown fray, he also waded into a long-standing controversy surrounding insinuations of Chinese Malaysians’ divided loyalty. The ambassador’s intervention was manipulated by some as proof of China acting as a protector of the Chinese minority in Malaysia, casting further aspersions on these Malaysians’ national allegiance.

To Chinese Malaysians, this was a most unfair and unjustified accusation.

True, the Chinese still embody the civilisational inheritance of their ancestral land. But these multigenerational Malaysians have also been indelibly transformed by the land of their birth. Like descendants of immigrants everywhere, they are turning into cultural hybrids, metamorphosing from a mono-cultural Chinese towards a more pronounced multicultural Malaysian. To use an agricultural metaphor, the born-and-bred-in-Malaysia ethnic Chinese are now the fruit of the land – sprouting and flourishing with textures and flavours unique to the Malaysian ecology. With time, these Chinese have become truly Malaysian, exuding the cultural DNA of their new homeland.

Thus, as China rises, like most overseas Chinese communities, ethnic Chinese in Malaysia are revelling in spontaneous flushes of cultural pride. But they do so not as Chinese, but as Malaysians. Or, to put it in the phraseology familiar to Beijing: as proud “Malaysians with Chinese characteristics”.

Source: Ethnic Chinese in Malaysia are celebrating China’s rise – but as multicultural Malaysians, not Chinese

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.

Backlash

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

Mixed marriage kids face citizenship woes | Malaysia.

Not unique to Malaysia:

Thousands of families of mixed marriages in Sabah are faced with complexity in obtaining citizenship status for their children, according to Sabah People’s Basic Rights Association President Lee Pun Yee.

He said in most cases, the problem arises when local residents marry foreigners without the status of a legal marriage.

The future of their children will then be affected due to their (parents) shortcomings and negligence.

“Over the past two years since 2015, we personally received 50 such cases from local residents who marry foreigners from Indonesia, China and the Philippines,” he said here, Tuesday.

“Most of them legalise their marriage only after their children are born, but so far none have been able to get citizenship status for their children despite numerous applications to the relevant agency,” he said.

Lee, who was accompanied by his Secretary Tan Cheng Hwee and committee member, Chen Hing Hiong, said the association had tried to assist by sending letters three times to the Home Affairs Ministry over the past two years to consider the plight of these families.

“We sent the letters to the ministry’s secretary-general, we don’t know if the minister has received the letters or just too busy to be bothered.

“The children are innocent but aren’t able to enjoy the privilege of being Malaysians due to their non-citizenship status.

“We therefore hope the ministry will consider granting them citizenship as stipulated under Section 15A of the Federal Constitution which states that the Federal Government may, in such special circumstances as it thinks fit, cause any person under the age of 21 years to be registered as a citizen,” he said.

He said they will be sending another letter to the ministry, this time directly to Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamid, who is also Home Minister, soon.

“I plan to go there by end of February and hope to receive a response from the ministry,” he said.

He also said citizenship status should be granted to the children, citing 92 similar cases in Sarawak where citizenship under Section 15A of the Federal Constitution was granted.

“Why they can do it for Sarawak, but not for Sabahans?,” he questioned.

He also apologised to the 50 families for not being able to help them soonest when they approached the association for help two years ago.

“Most of them are businessman, some working in companies, some are farmers, while their wives are housewives.

“This problem will not only affect their children, but the future of their children’s kids and the generations to come if not addressed,” he said.

The issue have also been raised in May last year, with National Registration Department Sabah Director Dato Ismail Ahmad quoting as advising and reminding locals that marriage without valid registration can bring complexity to their children in terms of citizenship status, education and employment opportunity. – Sherell Jeffrey

via Mixed marriage kids face citizenship woes | Daily Express Newspaper Online, Sabah, Malaysia.

Worries about Malaysia’s ‘Arabisation’ grow as Saudi ties strengthen

Of note in Malaysia as elsewhere in Southeast Asia:

Malaysia’s growing ties to Saudi Arabia – and its puritan Salafi-Wahhabi Islamic doctrines –  are coming under new scrutiny as concerns grow over an erosion of traditional religious practices and culture in the multi-ethnic nation.

A string of recent events has fueled the concern. Hostility toward atheists, non-believers and the gay community has risen. Two annual beer festivals were canceled after Islamic leaders objected. A hardline preacher, accused of spreading hatred in India, has received official patronage.

The government has backed a parliamentary bill that would allow harsh sharia punishments, such as amputations for theft and stoning for adultery. And after religious officials supported a Muslim-only laundromat, Malaysia’s mostly ceremonial royalty made a rare public intervention, calling for religious harmony.

Marina Mahathir, the daughter of Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, publicly lashed out at the government for allowing the “Arabisation” of Malaysia.

Marina, who heads the civil rights group Sisters in Islam, told Reuters Saudi influence on Islam in Malaysia “has come at the expense of traditional Malay culture”. Her father, 93, now heads the opposition alliance.

Saudi Arabia’s fundamentalist Wahhabi beliefs have strongly influenced Malaysia – and neighboring Indonesia – for decades, but have strengthened considerably since Najib became prime minister in 2009 and began cozying up to the kingdom.

The relationship came under a harsh spotlight when nearly $700 million wound up in Najib’s bank account in 2013. Najib said it was a donation from the Saudi Royal family, rebutting allegations it was money siphoned from the 1MDB state investment fund he had founded and overseen. Malaysia’s attorney-general cleared him of any wrongdoing.

The trend toward a politicized brand of Islam in Malaysia, a middle-income emerging market, has alarmed Malaysia’s non-Muslims, including ethnic Chinese who comprise a quarter of the population and dominate private sector commerce. It is also a concern for foreign investors, who account for nearly half the local bond market and have invested $8.95 billion in project investments in the first nine months of this year.

The government denies actively promoting Wahhabi-style Islamic conservatism.

Najib has been largely silent about the recent religious controversies. Critics have accused the prime minister, whose governing coalition lost the popular vote in the last general election but retained a simple majority in parliament, of playing on fears that Islam and Malay political power will be eroded should the opposition win. An election is due by mid-2018.

ELECTION CALCULATIONS

Militancy has also been on the rise in Malaysia, which from 2013 to 2016 had arrested more than 250 people with alleged ties to Islamic State, many of whom were indoctrinated with hardline interpretations of Islam.

After the visit of the Saudi monarch this year, Malaysia announced plans to build the King Salman Centre for International Peace to bring together Islamic scholars and intelligence agencies in an effort to counter extremist interpretations of Islam.

The center, which is being built on a 16-hectare (40-acre) plot in the administrative capital of Putrajaya, will draw on the resources of the Saudi-financed Islamic Science University of Malaysia, and the Muslim World League, a Wahhabi Saudi religious body.

Saudi Arabia has long been funding mosques and schools in Malaysia, while providing scholarships for Malaysians to study in the kingdom. Many of them find employment in Malaysia’s multitude of Islamic agencies, said Farouk Musa, chairman and director of the moderate think-tank, Islamic Renaissance Front.

One of the most worrisome doctrines they preach in multi-cultural Malaysia is ‘al-w ala’ wa-al-bara’ or ”allegiance and disavowal“, Farouk said. ”This doctrine basically means do not befriend the non-believers (al-kuffar), even if they are among the closest relatives.

”We have never heard of Islamic scholars forbidding Muslims to wish Merry Christmas before, for example. Now, this is a common phenomenon,” he said.

The adoption of Arab culture and interpretations of Islam is a result of greater exposure to Middle Eastern people and universities, said Abdul Aziz Kaprawi, a member of the Supreme Council of Najib’s political party, the United Malay National Organisation.

“The extensive usage of social media also accelerated the external influence on the locals,” he told Reuters.

The government is not promoting Wahhabism but rather the doctrine of “wasatiyyah”, or moderation and balance, to accommodate Malaysia’s multi-cultural society, said Abdul Aziz, who is also a federal deputy minister.

CROWN PRINCE‘S REFORMS?

Karima Bennoune, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for cultural rights, expressed concern in a report after her September visit to Malaysia about the deepening involvement of religious authorities in policy decisions. She said this was influenced by “a hegemonic version of Islam imported from the Arabian Peninsula” that was “at odds with local forms of practice.”

She also expressed concern about “the banning of books, including some about moderate and progressive Islam, in the country when the government extols these very concepts abroad”.

Marina Mahathir said religious departments, staffed with Saudi graduates, “are now consulted on absolutely everything, from movies to health and medicine to insurance, all sorts of things that they do not necessarily have any expertise in”.

The kingdom also exerts leverage over Muslim-majority countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia through the quotas it gives to countries for the number of pilgrims they can send on the Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam that all capable Muslims must perform at least once in their lives.

This could all start to change if Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman succeeds in returning the Saudi kingdom to “a moderate Islam,” which he says was practiced before 1979.

He has already scaled back the role of religious police, permitted public concerts and announced women will be allowed to drive.

The kingdom has also set up an authority to scrutinize uses of the “hadith” – accounts of the sayings, actions or habits of the Prophet – to prevent them being used to justify violence or terrorism.

Source: Worries about Malaysia’s ‘Arabisation’ grow as Saudi ties strengthen

A Turkish writer’s detention sends a sombre message about Islam

Further to the Mustafa Aykol op-ed posted not long ago (From My Detention in Malaysia, Thoughts on Islam and Tolerance – Mustafa Aykol):

NOT long ago, Turkey and Malaysia were often bracketed together as countries that inspired optimism about the Muslim world. In both lands, Islam is the most popular religion. In both, democracy has been vigorously if imperfectly practised. And both have enjoyed bursts of rapid, extrovert economic growth.

In their early days in office, people in Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) party always found plenty of friends in Malaysia: allies who shared their belief that governance with a pious Muslim flavour was compatible with modernising, business-friendly policies and a broadly pro-Western orientation.

All that makes doubly depressing a recent incident in Malaysia involving a prominent writer from Turkey. Mustafa Akyol is an exponent, in snappy English as well as his mother-tongue, of a liberal interpretation of Islam. In his book “Islam Without Extremes” he argues that his faith should never use coercion either to win converts or to keep those who are already Muslim in order. In other words, he takes at face value the Koranic verse which says, “There is no compulsion in religion.”

Last month Mr Akyol was invited to Kuala Lumpur by a reform-minded Muslim group and asked to give three lectures. In his second talk, he warmed to the non-coercion theme. As he insisted, people who fall away from Islam or “apostasise” should not be threatened with death, as happens under the harshest Islamist regimes, or even sent for re-education, as can happen in Malaysia. (For its all terrible human-rights abuses, nothing of that kind happens in Turkey.)

Afterwards, Mr Akyol was approached by members of Malaysia’s religious-affairs authority and told that he had done wrong by lecturing on Islam without their approval. Mr Akyol’s hosts reluctantly decided to cancel his third and final lecture. This would have highlighted Mr Akyol’s latest book, which is about Jesus of Nazareth and the common features of the Abrahamic faiths. The religious enforcers made it clear that the subject matter was not to their taste.

Matters did not end there. As he was about fly back to the United States where he currently lives, Mr Akyol was detained at the behest of the religious-affairs authority and interrogated. His detention lasted a night and a morning. It could have been a lot longer, but for the intervention of Turkey’s former president, Abdullah Gul, who still has friends in high Malaysian places.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the story is that Malaysia’s authorities particularly objected to Mr Akyol’s views on coercion. As was noted by the late Patricia Crone, a professor of Islamic studies, that Koranic verse about “no compulsion” has been subject to many different interpretations, both in Islam’s early years and recently.

For example, it has often been interpreted to mean simply that converts to Islam must adopt the faith freely, if the act is to have any merit. That does not preclude the use of state power to keep Muslims in line, and for example, punish them if they fail to fast or cover themselves properly. The Koranic verse has even been read in ways that are compatible with a harsh regime of Islamic enforcement. For example, it can be asserted that only a voluntary turning of the heart to God has any spiritual merit, but the state still needs to impose outward conformity for reasons of public order.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603) seems to have thought something similar. She said she had no desire to “make windows into men’s souls”, but nonetheless, after a fairly tolerant start to her reign, ended up by persecuting Catholics who were seen as a threat to national security.

In modern times, too, the Koran’s non-compulsion verse has been read in a variety of ways: either as an appeal for full-blown religious freedom, of the sort which Mr Akyol advocates, or else as a much more limited statement, that people who embrace Islam must do so spontaneously and wholeheartedly.

This narrower reading is, apparently, the official line not only in full-blown theocracies like Saudi Arabia but somewhat milder places like Malaysia. And in Kuala Lumpur as well as Riyadh, other interpretations are excluded.

Source: A Turkish writer’s detention sends a sombre message about Islam

Malaysia’s Slide Toward More Conservative Islam | The Diplomat

Another example of the negative influence of Saudi Arabia on moderates within Muslim majority countries:

Saudi Arabia has long seen Malaysia, along with Indonesia, as regional bastions of Islam, and has consistently tied its investment in both countries to Wahhabism – the brand of conservative Islam initially embraced by Muhammad Ibn Saud in 1744 through a pact with Abd al-Wahhab to expand the former’s empire. The pact resulted in support for Wahhabism gaining legitimacy and followers representing themselves as defenders of the true teaching of Islam. This position today is prevalent in Malaysia and Indonesia as a majority of Muslims in both countries conflate conservative Arab culture and practices with Islam, although historically, Southeast Asia has always been more inclined towards a more moderate version of Islam. A “good” Muslim to many in Malaysia is a person who adheres to Arab culture, and practices the literal version of Islam exported by Saudi Arabia. While Islam has been written into the country’s constitution as the religion of the federation, the constitution’s drafters saw only a ceremonial role for the religion. Shortly after independence, Malaysia’s first prime minister, Rahman, informed parliament that Malaya “is not an Islamic state as it is generally understood.”

The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) has dominated politics in Malaysia since independence in 1957, but has found it increasingly difficult to maintain its stronghold on government during the past two election cycles. Although initially rolled out as a strategy to curb the opposition Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS)’s, influence on young middle class Malays, UMNO has come to rely more and more on political campaigning focused on Islam to attract and retain the Malay vote. Many urbanites today worry that this shift will lead Malaysia down the rabbit hole of a stricter, more literal version of Islam instead of the more moderate and tolerant version upon which the nation was founded. In June 2014 while celebrating the 20th anniversary of one of UMNO’s branches, Party President and Prime Minister Najib Razak called on members to emulate ISIS to ensure the survival of UMNO. Quoting an example where ISIS defeated the Iraqi army despite being outnumbered, the prime minister said, “when someone dares to fight to their death, they can even defeat a much bigger team.” The statement was at odds with his support, made clear at various international fora, of a moderate Islam.

Economic inequalities, the government’s pandering to Muslim hardliners, and its silence on racially divisive politics have created a perfect storm – youths unable to compete in an urban setting find purpose in fundamentalist teachings. In the mid-1980s, radical Indonesian preachers Abu Bakar Bashir and Hambali set up a regional network of extremists in Malaysia. Today, the government invites the likes of Zakir Naik, a hate preacher banned in India, and the UK for talks in Malaysia, while it arrests moderates such as Turkey’s Mustafa Akyol.

The ease with which youths have access to fundamentalist thought is cause for concern. According to the Associated Press in spring 2016, authorities in Malaysia have arrested more than 160 for suspected ties to ISIS over the previous two years. Malaysian intelligence reports that about 60 Malaysian youths have been entrenched in ISIS’ ranks in Syria although former Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar has stated that about 50 Malaysians are looking to return home. If and when they do return, they will find large swathes of rural Malaysia eager to listen to tales of their jihad. Malaysia will inevitably continue down a less tolerant, more conservative path, unfriendly to unbelievers and suspicious of everyone not conforming to a fundamentalist way of life.

The reliance of successive governments on race-based policies to address the long-standing socio-economic inequalities has resulted in more racial and religious tension, thus rendering conservative Islam an attractive vehicle for change. Many are eager to look to Saudi Arabia for paternalistic assistance without much thought for the strings attached to the assistance. The closer Malaysia inches to the Kingdom, the wider the door opens for conservative values which criticize a gold-medal winning gymnast’s attire, call for a ban on a beer festival, and deny social justice and women’s rights. To contextualize how acute the problem is for Malaysia, Pew Research Center’s Spring 2015 Global Attitudes Survey found that only 26 percent of Malaysians were very concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in the country. The same question yielded 48 percent in Pakistan, 67 percent in Lebanon, and 20 percent in Indonesia.

Source: Malaysia’s Slide Toward More Conservative Islam | The Diplomat