Anti-Extremism Begins at Home

by Kee Thuan Chye, Malaysian Digest

I TOTALLY agree with most of what Prime Minister Najib Razak recently said at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, especially about the attempts in some parts of the world to demonize Islam and spread Islamophobia.

I find it alarming to see so many e-mails and videos being circulated warning people of the dangers of Islam and propagating the fear that, with the Muslims multiplying at the current rate, they would one day outnumber people of other faiths and take over the world.

This kind of fear propagation reminds me of that practiced by Mahathir Mohamad when he warned Malays that they would lose power to the non-Malays, especially if Pakatan Rakyat takes over the government. It’s destructive.

It appalls me that even Malaysians are instrumental in spreading Islamophobia by forwarding these e-mails. When I get one, I often reply to the sender to tell them not to disseminate such hatred. I tell them this problem has arisen because of misunderstanding of history, and that these e-mails don’t tell the other side of the story, which is the plight of Muslims who have suffered because of the historical events fashioned by imperialists.

Some of the e-mails reek of ignorance and bigotry. One that irked me no end was of an American serviceman answering questions about whether a Muslim could be a real American. These are just some of his answers:

Religiously – no. Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam.

Socially – no. Because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make friends with Christians or Jews.

Philosophically – no. Because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.

These answers are so distorted, blinkered and untruthful that they are not worth rebutting. The danger lies in e-mails such as this being received and accepted as the truth by millions of people who don’t know what Islam is about.

I am not a subscriber of organized religion, but I believe in the right of all religions to exist. I also believe no religion should throw mud at another and claim to be truer than any other.

The only way to resolve the differences in the world today is to get all sides to sit down at the table and discuss. Perhaps the US should even sit down with al-Qaeda and thrash it out, peacefully. Why not? These two are the major causes of the mess the world is in today. If they can talk, instead of fight, we might get some peace.

This is the same line taken by Najib at the UN when he said: “We must choose negotiations over confrontation. We must choose to work together and not against each other.”

He also said, “We must choose moderation over extremism” which I readily agree with. But then why doesn’t he deal with the racial extremists that exist in his own country?

Nothing has been done about the school principals in Johor and Kedah who allegedly made racist remarks despite the calls from several quarters, including the MCA, for action to be taken immediately. Hasn’t the lack of action dragged on for too long?

Ironically, as Najib was calling for moderation at the UN, a Biro Tata Negara (BTN) assistant director named Hamim Husin was reported to have made racist remarks at a meeting with Puteri Umno members.

He now claims he did nothing wrong because it was a closed-door meeting, but any sensible mind would figure out that this is not an excuse. He was not talking to friends. He was talking in an official capacity in an official situation. In any case, it’s not a matter of closed-door or public. He has to be responsible for what he says. Racism is racism, whether it is in the public sphere or over the dinner table with your family members. So, what action will be taken on this matter?

Of course, we know that Najib was talking about religious extremism at the UN, but, outside that, and to be consistent, he should hold the same standard for racial extremism. Especially those in his own country.

He said we should “work together to combat and marginalize extremists who have held the world hostage with their bigotry and bias”. So why doesn’t he apply this to the extremists who hold Malaysia hostage with their bigotry and bias? Why does he let an NGO like Perkasa oppose what needs to be done for his New Economic Model (NEM) and Economic Transformation Program (ETP)? Why does he accommodate their objections even when he knows that they stand in the way of a brighter Malaysian future?

At the UN, he also said the world had “allowed the ugly voices of the periphery to drown out the many voices of reason and common sense”. Isn’t that what is happening in Malaysia as well?