aliran logo
   Home   Aliran Monthly    Statements   Human Rights    NGOs   Links   Join Us   About Us

Public Response to the "Islamic State" Poser

Prime Minister Mahathir’s recent declaration that Malaysia is an Islamic state was expected to have caused some degree of concern, anxiety and interest particularly among non-Muslims as well as certain quarters in the Muslim community. Dr Mustafa K Anuar took a cursory look at the letters’ columns of a number of mainstream English and Malay language newspapers and concludes that the general public seem indifferent, uninterested or simply acquiescent.

praying If there’s such a concern for an imposed Islamic rule, the response tended to be critical of Pas rather than directly commenting on, if not criticizing, Mahathir’s announcement. For example, in a letter headlined “Moderation a good practice” in The Sun on 8 Oct. 2001, the non-Muslim writer expressed his gladness that “we practise moderation in whatever we do in Malaysia.” It was here that he lambasted Pas: “If Pas continues to insist on the creation of an Islamic state if it comes to power, without taking into consideration the feeling of non-Muslims, it will never be able to get their votes. All I can say is that its dream of an Islamic state will forever be a dream.”

Mindful of the recent arrests of so-called militant groups and individuals, the writer thanked the government “for controlling extremist elements in the country by invoking the ISA against them.” It is indeed disturbing that certain sections of our society have easily “bought” the “ISA relevance” argument of the powers that be, as if oblivious of the political and social significance of the rule of law. .

In the Utusan Malaysia on 9 Oct. 2001, a letter headlined “Memang wajar cabaran Pas tidak dilayan” (It’s appropriate that the Pas challenge be ignored), questioned Pas President Datuk Fadzil Noor’s call to Mahathir to declare officially in Parliament that Malaysia is an Islamic state. The writer argued that the Pas challenge be ignored because the party hasn’t responded to Mahathir’s challenge to Pas to categorically state the features of an Islamic state.

The questions that the writer raised — “Do we need Pas’ declaration of an Islamic state? Does Pas have higher standing than the world’s ulama who had already acknowledged Malaysia as an Islamic state?” — indicated his concurrence with the government’s notion of an “Islamic state” that was supposed to have received the blessings of the world’s Islamic religious leaders. In other words, this letter was a clear stamp of approval of Mahathir’s recent declaration.

Two letters in the New Straits Times, however, were essentially debating the “right model” of an Islamic nation. On 18 Oct. 2001, a letter headlined “Right model of Islamic nation that should have been used”, was responding to an earlier letter dated 15 Oct. 2001 that offered two models: “fundamentalist Taliban model” and “one that is strictly based on Syariah principles”.

The present writer concurred with the earlier one in that the Taliban model is a no-no. But he disagreed with the earlier one for having expressed a sense of “futility of a pure Islamic nation”. The present writer felt that there was a model to follow, that is the one during the days of “the Attarturks and the Ottoman Empire, the days of the Emperor Salehuddin, the days of the Caliphate Usman and Omar, the days when the Islamic empire was so vast that it even reached the borders of Europe into Turkey and Spain”. That, he concluded, is the true model of the Islamic nation.

While these two writers, both Muslim, disagreed over what constitute an “Islamic nation”, they nonetheless were in agreement over the need to have an “Islamic nation” in the country.

It is also noteworthy that while there weren’t many letters in the Malay newspapers over this contentious and controversial issue, there were, however, a number of articles written in a way largely framed to support Mahathir’s claim of an Islamic nation, and at the same time to slam Pas’ insistence of what it considers an Islamic state. Many of these articles appeared to try to appease especially those groups that are envisaged to be easily influenced by the Pas argument for an Islamic state. Or at the very least, these articles were couched in a language that seemed to make the “Islamic state” claim more presentable especially to the non-Muslims.

One may argue that the number of letters in the mainstream press discussing the Islamic state was relatively lower because the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington had overtaken events. However, as alluded to above, there were attempts to draw a parallel, although obliquely, between the Taliban and Pas in those letters that commented on the barbaric and atrocious attacks, hence reinforcing the feeling that some quarters had taken advantage of this situation to run down Pas in whatever way possible particularly in the context of the Islamic state controversy.

In contrast, there were a number of letters expressing concern over the Islamic state claim by the government in alternative media such as malaysiakini, thereby fuelling suspicion that certain “highly inquisitive” letters had either been spiked or heavily censored by the editorial board of the print media concerned. If this is true, then the mainstream press and the authorities concerned have lost an invaluable channel of public feedback on an issue of such importance as the Islamic state issue.

Now tell us what you think. E-mail us.