Questionmark on Malaysia’s stability after church attacks, protests

In the aftermath of one of the worst outburst of religious bigotry in plural Malaysia’s history, society leaders and analysts are still shaking their heads in shock but their prognosis about what it means for the country, in terms of its stability and its economy, is not good.

By Wong Choon Mei (Harakah)

Firstly, the sense of betrayal among non-Muslims is hardening that Prime Minister Najib Razak failed to protect their rights. This is an ominous development and can be borne out by a quick check on the mountain of comments posted on blogs over the incident. The feedback shows that most blame him for not even trying.

“How could a PM say he is powerless when the buck stops with him” was one comment. Others include “We were not on his radar at all” and “He completely ignored our rights and shut us out”.

Pressuring the Church, spooking investors

Secondly, there is also fear that pressure will now be piled on Catholic magazine, the Herald, to back off from a landmark court ruling that allowed it to use the word Allah, so that Najib and his Umno party can save face. They have been blamed for instigating the Black Friday incident, where churches were attacked, with their inflammatory rhetoric over the Allah ruling.

If the Church opted not to stand down to them, the tussle would be prolonged and public unrest may continue. This would not be good for the economy although civil society leaders warn any approach that is not seen as being completely transparent, fair and above-the-belt would anger Malaysians even more.

“Certainly, the incident will spook investors. Stability is a key pillar in investment considerations and Malaysia is a multi-racial country. After this incident, it may hard for anyone to take for granted that we have a stable business environment because for that you need peace and harmony amongst the people,” Azrul Azwa, economist at Bank Islam told Harakahdaily.

“Until the PM takes firm action, 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,” said Ramon Navaratnam, chairman of the Centre for Public Policies.

“DAP and Pakatan Rakyat had right from beginning advocated that the Allah controversy should be resolved through an inter-religious conference. Malaysians, both Muslim and non-Muslims, should remain cool, calm and collected, stay steadfast on their fundamental rights to help resolve differences in our plural society by dialogue and discourse and should not be provoked into any rash or irrational responses,” said DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang.

When you don’t do the right thing

After prayers on Friday, Muslim extremists – angered by the court ruling because they believe the word Allah should be exclusive to them – attacked five churches. One was badly gutted, Molotov cocktails were hurled at two, while the others received phone threats.

Protests were also held at 10 mosques. But although these were poorly attended, those who did carried huge placards bearing hate-filled words like “Do No Test Our Patience”, “Don’t Challenge Islam” and “Allah Is Only For Us”.

Images of them, frenzied and hollering on loud hailers, along with pictures of the gutted churches were flashed across the world by foreign TV networks such as CNN and Al-Jazeera.

Asked Kit Siang : “Why is this happening in Malaysia when we have always held ourselves as the exemplar of multi-religious living and inter-religious understanding, goodwill and harmony for the world?

“The answer must be found in the failure of leadership by the Prime Minister and Home Minister and the exploitation and manipulation of the issue by extremist and irresponsible elements to serve their political ends.”

Said Tian Chua, PKR strategic director : “The fact that Umno could not bring more than a few hundred people to support their call shows that the majority of Muslims in Malaysia do not share Umno’s provocative approach. PM Najib failed to demonstrate moral courage and leadership to do the right thing.”