The Allah Controversy: Damage Done, What Now?

On Friday, Malaysia sent a strong message to the world. It showed that, after 52 years of living together, nation building and national unity is in tatters.  The church attacks shattered notions of Malaysia as a model secular Muslim nation in the eyes of the international community.

The cowardly arsonists depicted Malaysia’s reality on the ground, which stinks of a gross lack of respect for other religions. It sings a tune of institutionalized racial and religious intolerance and discrimination.

When you chat with the old timers who sit in teh tarik stalls, early Friday’s incidences bring tears to their eyes. To them, this is not the Malaysia they grew up in. Neither is it to me.

Although the fire-bombing of churches alarmed Malaysians, it underscored the magnitude of the real problem. The truth which is staring at us in the face caricatures years of wariness and suspicion and siege mentality.

The problem is far from over. This is evident in the seething anger demonstrated by the protesters who rallied at the Masjid Negara compound in Kuala Lumpur and the Shah Alam Mosque in Selangor, denouncing the High Court decision to allow the Catholic weekly Herald to use the word Allah to refer to God.

Allah is a common word used to describe the Christian God in Arabic-speaking countries like Egypt and Syria and in Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim nation. But instead of working to iron out the insecurities faced by both the Muslims and Christians including people of other faith, UMNO has used the issue to create fear among the public.

And to further avoid further global embarrassment and local criticism over the way the controversy was managed by the UMNO/BN government, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has issued a gag order on the public. The police have also warned people not to speculate.

This, unfortunately would not solve the real problem which is threatening to divide the social fabric of the society. Malaysians are now living in fear of a racial clash following the church attacks and rising orthodox Islamic tones in the country.

But, where do we go now from here? How do we, as Malaysians, forge the trust between us once again and find a consensus to move forward as one nation?

The nation is confronted with an unprecedented crisis requiring various stake holders to create an enabling environment towards reconciliation and compassion, a necessary component in reclaiming the nation for its people. 

Various calls have been made to Najib to act swiftly in order to resolve the crisis but to no avail.

Therefore, I call upon my colleagues in the Pakatan Rakyat governments of Selangor, Penang, Kedah and Kelantan to demonstrate leadership by forming a common task force to urgently convene nation-wide consultations among stake holders with a view to developing  strategies in resolving this national crisis, consistent with the dictates of the Federal constitution and equal citizenship.

The role of civil society and academia is critical in helping to shape a resolution to this unprecedented crisis, as well.

I, once again, request Malaysians from all walks of life to come together and work towards reconciliation for the future of the nation and to bring an end to the politics of hate that has consumed the country.

Charles Santiago

Member of Parliament, Klang