Getting to the root of religious extremism in Malaysia

The article in Sunday Star July 7 by Zainah Anwar of Sisters of Islam, titled Ripe for the plucking, tackles the real issue behind how and why young Malaysian men become indoctrinated into extremist ideology.

Jul 17, 2014

Dear Editor,
The article in Sunday Star July 7 by Zainah Anwar of Sisters of Islam, titled Ripe for the plucking, tackles the real issue behind how and why young Malaysian men become indoctrinated into extremist ideology, establishes a clear link between the appeasement of bigots by the domestic Political Elites and how it influences young men who are willing to lay down their lives for a cause such as the Syrian conflict. While there is concern among political authorities of certain Malay Muslim young men turning into sectarian militants, there is lack of action to stop the anti-Shite and anti-Christian propaganda in the country. Is it not true that there is similar anti-Shite and anti-Christian sentiment among militants in Syria that has resulted in the displacement and pogrom of minority communities in that country? The author has pulled the bull by its horns by addressing the state of religious bigotry in Malaysia.

Malaysia today is going through a very delicate situation where fellow citizens who are Christians and Shite Muslims are portrayed as enemies who are bent in usurping the supremacy of Islam in this country. One of the major characteristics of religious type bigots is that they see the world in a black and white fashion. For example, they like to make a black and white distinction between religion and secularism without understanding that there are elements of similarity between both, especially on values of equality, social justice and compassion. There are secularists who are religious but do not support the dominance of any religion in the public domain. This shows that goodness can be seen in complexity which does not harm religion. For religious bigots, anyone who does not share their religious ideology and identity is regarded as an enemy. They hide behind emotional slogans of protecting religion when the actual fact is that they have placed religion in an ideolegalistic cocoon where liberating religion has become a great necessity.

It is vital for politicians, Muslim intellectuals and religious authorities to get to the root cause of why such thinking is emerging in moderate Malaysia. Is it due to close ideological ties between Malaysia and Saudi Arabian religious and political elites who have strong influence on religious leaders in this country? International commentators of global politics have pointed out the role that Saudi Arabia has played in supporting rebels in Syria besides the role of reinforcing the divide between Sunni and Shite communities. Are the current religious bodies influenced by the religious and ideological orientation of this particular state? Is religion deliberately distorted and manipulated to create scenarios where there could be rallying cries to support a particular political party whose support among unban electorate has been reduced since the 2008 general election? Is religious education and indoctrination in schools and universities based on the link between faith and reason or is it based on ideological construct which aims for religious supremacy where there is no room for reasoned discourse?

Blaming fellow citizens of different ethnic and religious orientation, secularism or the West for the ills plaguing a community will not solve problems because it is based on a reactive emotional behaviour rather than on a proactive behaviour that is rooted in values and willing to understand and to be understood in a reasoned manner. It is time that Political Leadership and intellectuals who support a progressive Malaysia start to take action and play a critical role to bring back Malaysia to a middle path before the country is destroyed by ethno-religious bigots. This could be done by dialogue and reasoning on the complexity of identity based on Islam and how it is affecting inter-ethnic and religious ties in the country. Such discourse should be held in the public domain, universities and in the media. The clock is ticking and it is time for the Political Leadership to be proactive, to prevent a distorted understanding of religion that could cause a situation where there is no turning back. The involvement of young Malaysian men in the sectarian conflict on Syrian soil portrays this reality.

Ronald Benjamin

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