Race-religion rhetoric in Malaysia reaches new heights

Race-religion rhetoric in Malaysia reaches new heights

Sunday, February 2, 2014 – 06:00

Carolyn Hong

The Straits Times

MALAYSIA – A recent spate of vandalism targeting Christian sites has pushed the raging race-religion rhetoric to a new level, leaving Malaysians uncertain as to the direction the country is heading.

As the squabbling escalates, both Prime Minister Najib Razak and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim have called for national reconciliation. Neither side, however, has spelt out what this means.

On Wednesday, Mr Najib said this would not see the formation of a unity government, but his administration would be more inclusive, and look into possibly forming bipartisan committees to discuss issues relating to unity.

He said: “There is also a need to go back to the grassroots and re-engage with the people to build their commitment to our common vision of a peaceful, successful and harmonious Malaysia.”

On Sunday, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim called for a bipartisan dialogue to come to a national consensus on unity issues. Hours later, two Molotov cocktails were flung at a church in Penang, causing minor damage. On Wednesday, a Christian cemetery in Kuantan was vandalised.

Datuk Seri Anwar described tensions as having reached a “dangerous crescendo”, saying: “We have not seen this building up of tension since the events leading up to our national tragedy of May 13, 1969.”

Democratic Action Party leader Lim Kit Siang said in a statement on Wednesday that the crisis has “reached its worst level” in the country’s 56-year history.

On Thursday, Datuk Seri Najib met representatives from 40 Muslim non-governmental organisations in an effort to defuse tensions that began rising on Jan 2 when Selangor’s religious authorities seized more than 300 bibles with the word “Allah” in them.

Malaysians said they welcome steps to foster reconciliation even if some felt that tensions have been stoked deliberately for political gain.

Political analyst Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who runs think-tank Ideas, said the situation has reached a point where a small incident could easily flare up into a larger one.

He said it has become imperative for both sides to agree to avoid stoking racial feelings. And they have to start by quickly distancing themselves from groups that play the race card, and hold a genuine dialogue.

Mr Wan Saiful said “the Prime Minister, in particular, has to lead”, adding that some Malays really feel they are under siege.

“In big cities, we are used to a diversity of ideas but when I travel to smaller towns in Kedah, Perlis, Perak and Penang, the situation is quite different,” he said.

Political analyst Wong Chin Huat, a research fellow with the Penang Institute, said national reconciliation was imperative but that the recent vandalism was nothing new and fit the pattern of creating a crisis, then presenting a solution to it. The Molotov cocktail incident, for instance, was no different in tone from the firebombing of a church in 2010, he said, or protesters stepping on a cow’s head at a Hindu temple in 2009.

“It creates the impression that we are a fragile country, and need a strong government,” Mr Wong said, adding that this could take the form of an authoritarian government, or it could mean a political solution of a unity government.

“I am sure some in the opposition are looking towards that (unity government) too,” he said.

Mr Wong said widespread violence was unlikely because the middle ground is now much bigger than it was in 1969 and better organised into multi-ethnic political and social organisations. This will help prevent flare-ups.

Mr Najib has said the next few months will see some changes for the better. He and Mr Anwar will be closely watched by Malaysians, who want to see a genuine cooling of temperatures.

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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