Seeking moderation in a troubled Malaysia

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Cartoonist Zunar speaking at the Aliran office recently

Many Malaysians sighed in relief when a group of 25 prominent Malays recently issued a public statement that called for rational dialogue, observes Mustafa K Anuar.

Cartoonist Zunar speaking at the Aliran office recently
Cartoonist Zunar speaking at the Aliran office recently

In recent years, as many of us are aware, ethnic bigotry and religious extremism have permeated various strata of our society to the point that ethno-religious relations have reached an all-time low.

This is bad news as it is something that our founding fathers (and mothers) did not plan for or foresee when Malaya achieved its independence from colonial rule in 1957.

Nerves were frayed as tension escalated over the years – from the cow-head incident in Shah Alam to pig heads left in the premises or near mosques to Molotov cocktails thrown into church grounds to body snatches to the seizure of Bibles in Selangor. Differences and diversity have been frowned upon while what we have in common is given less prominence or appreciation.

As if the above incidents are not enough to drive a wedge between the ethnic and religious communities in the country, the Malay community often have been warned about the purported threat from the Other, the primary objective being to create a siege mentality among them.

At times, these shrill and disconcerted voices came to a crescendo as if to justify the retention of the controversial Sedition Act, which was eventually not only retained but is to be strengthened, despite Najib’s earlier commitment to its repeal. But alas, these noisy voices are still heard, the retained law notwithstanding.

It doesn’t help to allay the fears of many concerned Malaysians when the country’s leadership appears to have no political will to put a stop to the ugly antics and threatening utterances of the bigoted fringe. The few calls for these unhealthy developments to be stemmed appear to have fallen on deaf ears or are drowned out by the noisy voices of the bigoted.

This is why many Malaysians sighed in relief when a group of 25 prominent Malays recently issued a public statement that called for rational dialogue on the position of Islam in a constitutional democracy. Consisting of mostly former high-ranking government officials, the group expressed dismay over the vitriolic rhetoric that was spewed by extremist quarters in our society.

For Aliran executive committee member P Ramakrishnan, the outrage expressed by the 25 prominent Malays is an indicator that moderate and sober Malaysians, both Malays and non-Malays, have had enough of the wild ranting of the people from Perkasa and Isma. In fact, he applauded these two groups for having driven many Malaysians away from Umno-BN.

In this regard, reader Abdul Rashid Hanafi feels that groups such as Perkasa and Isma should learn to appreciate differences of opinion as this only reflects social reality in that we are part of a diverse humanity. In short, diversity is to be celebrated, not controlled, let alone demolished.

Such troubled times are a bane to many of us, which also include the celebrated cartoonist Zunar. But unlike many of us, Zunar gets ideas from these unsavoury developments and turns them into gems of cartoons. He shares his deep social concerns with us through his cartoons that are posted on websites and located in other places.

Recently, the cartoonist paid Aliran a visit and gave a talk as well as a demonstration of how he draws his cartoons. He told the audience at Aliran that he’s thankful to Rosmah, the wife of the current prime minister, for being an inspiration to his cartooning binge. Indeed, there’s a ring of truth to it.

Incidentally, Zunar’s still faces a problem in selling his cartoon books. While he is being investigated under three different laws, the authorities have requested a list of his online buyers, presumably for investigation, which is a form of harassment as well as a violation of privacy.

While we are troubled by and concerned about the raging and the ranting of the loud and vocal fringe, we should not also lose sight of what’s happening outside the country. The fear of some is that the antics of these bigoted groups may well serve as a useful diversion from the pressing socio-economic issues of the day.

One such issue is the on-going controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotations between Malaysia and the United States, which surely must be of concern to us all, as it would eventually affect our livelihood and well-being as well as our freedom as an independent nation. This is why Aliran member and MP Jeyakumar Devaraj calls on the Malaysian government to reject the lop-sided TPPA.

Mustafa K Anuar

Co-editor, e-Newsletter

12 December 2014

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