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Stirring the 'Militant Islam' Bugbear Again? Jun 28, 2007

Posted by ummahonline in Islam Bi La Hudud, Kolum.
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By: Farish A NoorWe know that a government is in trouble when it starts running out of excuses to explain and justify its incompetence. And we know that a government is in trouble when it picks fights when it doesn’t need to, and ends up recycling old slogans and narratives that were stale and worn-out the first time they were used.

This seems to be happening in Malaysia at the moment, where for reasons known only to himself the State Assemblyman Hashim Safin of the ruling UMNO party raised the question of the alleged ‘militant training’ being offered at the religious seminaries (madrasahs) run by the country’s opposition Islamic Party PAS. Hashim was debating the proposed supplementary budget to improve the standards of the religious schools in the state of Kelantan, the only state in the Malaysian Federation currently under the control of the Islamic party PAS. Out of nowhere came the question of what was being taught at the Muslim schools run by the Islamic party, and the rather backhanded allusion to PAS propagating a militant interpretation of Islam. 

Not surprisingly, the leaders and members of the Islamic party of Malaysia were somewhat upset by this claim. In the words of PAS’s Secretary-General Nashruddin Mat Isa: “PAS has always contested elections in Malaysia according to the law of the land and the rules of the democratic process. For more than fifty years we have been playing according to the rules of the game and so why should we support any non-democratic means? We have never, and will never, resort to the use of violence to achieve our goals and we will remain a party that abides by the constitution. Where is the proof that we have been doing otherwise?”

Where indeed? It is odd that the bugbear of Islamic militancy is being conjured up at the moment, when Malaysia has other things to worry about.

Since the 1980s attempts have been made to tarnish the Malaysian Islamic party with the claim that it supports a militant brand of Islam. Yet when we look back to the incidents of the 1980s and 1990s, during which numerous state-led security operations like Operation Lalang and Operation Kenari were held, most of the victims were members of the Islamic party themselves. Then the Islamic party was being linked to all sorts of underground movements, both real and imagined, in the desperate attempt to make PAS look like some militant outfit about to take over the country at the point of a gun. But in the end, none of the allegations proved to be of any substance and the only ones who were arrested were the members of the Islamic party themselves.

Public hysteria aside, it has to be remembered that the real threat to democracy in Malaysia today does not come from PAS or any of the opposition parties for that matter, but rather from un-democratic (some would say anti-democratic) laws and regulations such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), Official Secrets Act (OSA), Sedition Act, and others that were left as remnants from the era of British colonial rule. Furthermore it was not PAS that kept these draconian colonial laws but rather the ruling coalition that governed Malaysia from 1957. It was not PAS but the ruling party that has placed hundreds of Malaysians under detention without trial, banned or restricted their movement, closed down their publications and demonised them in the media. So who are the real militants who have threatened the slow development of Malaysia’s feeble and enfeebled democratic process?

One also has to question the timing of this latest wave of scare-mongering in the country. To label PAS a party that promotes militancy rings hollow in the ears of most Malaysians for most of them regard the party as being somewhat conservative in its interpretation and implementation of Islam at worst. But PAS is not the one that is rocking the country with the current host of scandals that have made the headlines.

In the same week that the bugbear of Militant Islam was revived, the country witnessed the acquittal of Eric Chia, one-time Malaysian multimillionaire who was accused of one of the biggest cases of Criminal Breach of Trust in Malaysian corporate history. The acquittal of the former head of Malaysia’s Perwaja Steel company strikes many an observer as yet another case of the weakening of the Badawi administration and its stated commitment to stamp out corruption and abuse of power in the country. At the same time another high-profile case involving the gruesome murder of a Mongolian model, Altantuya, is grabbing the headlines and dragging many an important name into the public domain.

While all this is going on, surely the Malaysian public has more to worry about than allegations of militancy that have come with not a shred of tangible evidence? Or has Malaysia come to the point where accusations of militancy can be made without proof any more? What a let-down for a country that is about to celebrate its 50th independence anniversary soon.

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