“I am an extremist”

By Wong Chin Huat (The Nut Graph)

I AM an extremist because I am a friend of Jemaah Islah Malaysia (JIM).

In his capacity as the chief of staff for Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, DAP's Jelutong Member of Parliament Jeff Ooi had called for Parti Keadilan Rakyat member Mohd Razali Abdullah to be sacked from the Pulau Pinang Municipal Council (MPPP).

Ooi made this call on the grounds that Razali was a JIM member, which Ooi termed an extreme group because it aims to implement syariah law in Malaysia.

Under Zaid Kamaruddin's leadership, JIM has co-initiated civil society statements demanding political democratisation, and justice for Teoh Beng Hock and other casualties of custodial deaths. I know we can always call on JIM to speak against injustice against human beings, whether or not it involves Muslims.

Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, vice-president of JIM, also leads the Abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA) Movement, (GMI). GMI has managed to make abolition of the ISA a national concern and the Barisan Nasional (BN) federal government look like a bunch of recalcitrant "extremists" insisting on detention without trial.

Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh

So, if Razali is an extremist because of his JIM membership, how can I not be one, too, being a friend of JIM leaders?

Upon Lim's advice, Ooi has since retracted his statement. He has not apologised to JIM for making such allegations, but has instead threatened to sue others for alleging he is anti-Islam. He remains adamant that Razali should quit.

I don't have any personal qualms about Ooi, whose contribution as a pioneer blogger I deeply respect, and whom I consider a friend. Nor do I want to inflict more damage to the Lim government, which has performed impressively in various areas, but whose image is now seriously tainted by missteps in Kampung Buah Pala.

The issue is, however, is far from over with Ooi's retraction. It is a symptom of a greater syndrome that deserves reflection.

The status quo speaks

I don't know Razali, and I don't have any problem with state governments sacking their local councillors; after all, they are political appointees, not elected representatives. I don't think Ooi or the DAP is anti-Islam. Razali supporters have naturally spun the issue as an attack on Islam or Muslims, but it is not.

It is a reinforcement of the authoritarian version of Malaysia 1.0, under which I, too, was once called an extremist by association. I take offence with that because I believe both Ooi and I are fighting for a new and liberal Malaysia. As Ooi's colleague once laughingly said to me, "I don't need to be in JIM to be an extremist."

In 2000, I was the executive secretary of a lobby group called the Malaysian Chinese Organisation Election Appeal Committee (Suqiu). The Suqiu document, which both the BN and Barisan Alternatif had in principle accepted before the 1999 elections, was attacked by Umno Youth in July 2000, which saw red in some of our 83 demands.

Umno Youth demonstrated in Kuala Lumpur and the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall where the Suqiu secretariat was hosted. They threatened to burn down the building if we did not retract the Suqiu demand partially, if not entirely.

On National Day that year, then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad attacked us in his National Day address as if we were an enemy of the state. He compared us with communist and Al-Maunah insurgents.

What was Suqiu's crime?

We called for abolition of bumiputera and non-bumiputera distinction; introduction of needs-based affirmative action; replacement of race quotas by a means-tested sliding scale; and a repeal of race quotas in university admissions, among others. These are things the BN is already pledging or considering now anyway.

Read more at: http://www.thenutgraph.com/i-am-an-extremist