Interview with Khalid Samad, Shah Alam MP

(NST) Q: What do you think is the psychology behind this intolerance towards other religions and the opposition to something as basic as a house of worship?

A: Fifty-two years of BN rule has left an impression on the Malaysian psyche, particularly the Malays. Umno been able to develop this prejudice in the Malay mindset. They (those who oppose the temple) feel that it is their right to reject the temple but we (Selangor Government) are seen as being unjust because we want to build a temple there. They don’t feel that they are being unjust to minorities.

Q: Is this bigotry the result of the ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) doctrine?

A: Ketuanan Melayu is high-handed and the other races are not on an equal footing. I don’t think our independence fathers had it in mind when built this country. I think that they wanted the rights of other races to be protected and not denied. At the same time, they wanted the position of the Malays to be in the constitution and that they not be sidelined. So it is both, that minority rights are protected and that Malays are not sidelined.

This is not synonymous with making Malays the master race in Malaysia. Ensuring that Malays are not sidelined and that they are protected in the constitution is not synonymous with ketuanan Melayu.

Ketuanan Melayu is a latter inclusion. Malay rights, bumiputera rights and ketuanan Melayu are different things.

Even in the New Economic Policy there is no ketuanan Melayu. The NEP was an affirmative action policy to eradicate poverty and address income inequality. It was to ensure that Malays are not sidelined.

Ketuanan Melayu is not a good attitude that promotes unity. I don’t think that (former Prime Ministers) Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak Hussein or Tun Hussein Onn had this in mind when they were Prime Ministers.

Q: But apparently, Malay moderates are increasingly being taken in by these intolerant attitudes and you can see it rising by the large number of people who turned up at the town hall meeting to oppose the Hindu temple.

A: I think it is a result of Umno being increasingly rejected by the Malaysian population and because they have nothing else to fall back on, like a history of responsible administration, that they can only fall back on inciting semi-fascist and extremist sentiments like this.
I think that we have to stand up to them. To say that they are rising is to say that they are becoming important. Malays have to stand up to them and they have to return to Islamic principles. What these people are doing is not Islamic, it’s prejudiced.

I’ve explained it to the residents why their opposition to the temple is un-Islamic.

There is a story of (revered Islamic caliph) Umar Al-Khattab who was in a meeting with a priest in a church in Palestine. Umar told the priest that he wanted to take a break to pray and the priest offered him a space in the church for him to do so. But Umar declined the offer and told the priest that if he were to do so, his followers and other Muslims would demand to build a mosque on that site and this would be bad for the church. So Umar prayed on an open space outside the church’s walls and later on, Muslims went and built a mosque on that exact spot. That mosque exists to this day right next to the church.

This is an example of how tolerant, understanding and respectful Islam is to other faiths.

Q: And you have told this to the Section 23 residents and yet they still reject the temple?

A: What Umno preaches is that it’s Islamic to reject the temple. I have explained that it is Islamic to just and to consider the rights of minorities. The number of Hindus in Section 19, 20 and 23 are about 1,000.

It would be Islamic to acknowledge the right of Hindus and trust that the State Government find a suitable site to relocate the temple. If it was a BN administration, they would just have gone ahead and done it and restrained any protest.

Here, you have a Home Minister (Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein) who sides with the (cow’s head) protestors. So it shows that the Federal Government had condoned these actions.

If you allow extremism to rear its ugly head then those who would otherwise be reasonable can choose not to be. They have to evaluate whether these extremists will take over and force their opinions on them.

Q: Some say that this episode, the protest, the town hall meeting, was another example of Malaysia’s failure to effectively deal with inter-racial concerns such as building houses of worship.

A: The meeting was chaotic and whenever we wanted to explained, these people shouted at us. This was just the final process after we had an official proposal to put forward to the residents. They thought that the temple was about to be constructed already.

The Federal Government wants to capitalise on the issue by saying that Pakatan is not sensitive to Muslim sentiments.

Section 16 has a temple 300 metres away from the mosque and this was done in the era of the former BN state government. There is another temple site in Section 18 that is about 250 metres from a mosque.

Both cases are in Malay majority areas. Why were these temples not opposed to in the past? Because at that time (the parties that made up) Pakatan were a responsible opposition. We did not incite religious sentiments and we acknowledged the rights of non-Muslims.

We now have an irresponsible opposition that goes around inflaming sensitivities by saying that Malays are sidelined and that the Selangor Government does not respect Islamic sentiments.

Q: Like you pointed its been 52 years and we still are not able to resolve things are basic as this. It’s just the latest in a series of flare-ups over racial and religious issues in this country. It will probably happen again. Do you think the majority of Malays out there agree with what is going on?

A: People are watching with great concern but I believe that the majority of Muslims have better sense and will not fall for this extremism. But it’s a running battle that we fight and we must win the Muslims over. It is difficult. I know there were some residents who objected to the extremists’ approach and they were told to shut up. If you keep quiet, there will be a price to pay in the end.

Q: They’ve called you and some of your fellow Malay state assemblymen traitors to the Malays over this issue and several others in the past.

A: I find it odd these people can stand up and say they respect their Hindu neighbours, they go to their neighbour’s Deepavali open house but they reject the temple. Then they blame us for supposedly creating disunity. They should look at themselves in the mirror.

It is they who are destroying the Malays by expressing these fascist tendencies. Its not going to develop the Malays, its dragging the country back to an age of tribalism whereas we should be moving towards an age of justice.

There is a verse in the Quran that says, We have sent down our Prophets with clear proof and we have sent down with them the Book and the scales of justice, so that man can establish justice in the world.