To stay in power, will Najib push Malaysia into terrorism?

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 8: Prime Minister Najib Razak and his Umno-BN government received a shelling on Friday for precipitating religious tensions in the country, resulting in three churches being attacked and set to fire by Muslim extremists angered over a court ruling that allowed Christians to use the word Allah.

By Wong Choon Mei (Harakah)

““We condemn in the strongest way the attacks on the churches.This sort of action contradicts the teachings of Islam. It can only be done by people who do not understand their own religion,” said Abdul Hadi Awang, president of PAS, the largest Islamic-based political party in Malaysia.

“We had previously warned Umno against politicisng the Allah issue just to gain mileage with the Malay voters and we are now saddened to see the outcome,” he added.

“At this testing time, the government needs to show leadership. Prime Minister Najib needs to show he will put the country first and not his party. He must not bow down to the extremists within his party,” said Ramon Navaratnam, chairman of Centre for Public Policy Studies.

Indeed, while Najib – who is also Umno president – has been quick to condemn the Molotov-cocktail attacks, he has refused to acknowledge that leaders within his party, including himself and his cousin Hishammuddin Hussein, had lit the fuse with their inflammatory racial rhetoric over the past few days.

“Don’t point the fingers at Umno or anyone else. We have always been very responsible. Don’t say this attack is motivated by Umno,” Najib snapped out at reporters.

Opening the door to terrorism

In fact, even as he spoke, Umno-backed protests were carried on at main mosques around Kuala Lumpur, including the government-funded National Mosque.

Huge banners flashing words like ‘Don’t challenge Islam’ & ‘Allah is only for us’ were prominently placed, while NGOs and Muslim activists taking part shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’.

Concern is growing that despite the torching of the churches, more religious politicking and consequently public unrest is set to take place.

Said Ramon : “Until the PM takes firm action in nipping all this in the bud by ensuring that the culprits are quickly captured and brought to justice, until Najib sets in motion dialogue between the various religious groups and makes it clear that this is the way forward for everyone including Umno, the Allah row will not just continue, but it may even escalate.

“We have to be careful now. Is our government opening the door to religious extremism and extremist acts? Are we going to deteriorate into a terrorism country? Not only are Malaysians watching but the world is curious to see how we handle this. Not just the West but the Islamic Middle East as well. Our country’s good name is on the line and all eyes are on Najib and how he steers us out of this situation.”

Violence may spread to other parts

The Allah row flared up after top Umno leaders, including Women’s Minister Shahrizat Jalil and Trade Minister Mukhriz Mahathir, openly condemned last week’s court ruling. Hardline Muslim activists and groups were angered as they believe the word Allah is exclusive to their community.

But after in-depth study and debate, PAS’s council of religious experts have reiterated their stand that the Quran allows Allah to be used by non-Muslims. The council also urged dialogue with leaders of other faiths so that guidelines could be drawn to prevent unscrupulous parties from misusing the word and creating situations like what has just happened.

“Umno has to take full responsibility for the worsening of relations between people of different faiths in this country in its handling of the use of the word Allah,” said Zaid Ibrahim, PKR leader and a prominent lawyer.

“The irresponsible conduct of fanning the emotions by Umno leaders has brought about this dangerous situation. What we see today confirms that this country is being governed not by engagement consultation, sophistication or persuasion but by brute and mob force,” he said in a press statement.”

The Metro Tabernacle church in Kuala Lumpur was firebombed at just past midnight and its 1st floor office completely gutted. Molotov cocktails were hurled The Live Chapel and the Church of Assumption in Petaling Jaya, damaging the facilities. There were no reports of injuries.

Although the police have tried to play down the attacks, saying they were perpetuated by amateurs, there is growing worry that the over-zealousness will spread to other parts of the country. In particular, the mood is gloomy in East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, where there are strong Christian followings.

“This sort of violence reflects low mentality. Even though Umno is in denial mode, they have lost all credibility with the people. They should just stop trying to hoodwink us. Just imagine if anyone should dare to do this in Sabah or Sarawak, there will be thunder and lightning,” said Ronnie Klassen, a Sabah PKR leader.