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Malaysia - new frontier of Islamism

Reader comment on item: New Frontiers in Islamism

Submitted by Vijay (United Kingdom), Aug 21, 2009 at 03:07

http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2009\08\21\story_21-8-2009_pg3_3

VIEW: Down a thorny path —Farish A Noor

Over the past few weeks, Malaysians have been waiting to see how the Islamic courts of the country will deal with the issue of a young Muslim woman, Kartika Sari Dewi, will be dealt with. The woman was found guilty of consuming alcohol in public in a bar at a hotel in the eastern state of Pahang, and subsequently arrested for breaking Islamic law in public. Though married to a Singaporean, Kartika nonetheless comes under Malaysian Islamic law. In the past, cases such as these have been handled with a fine and a caution, though for reasons that are not entirely clear, Kartika was given the higher sentence of being caned six times, so that she would regret her 'crime' and that this would serve as a deterrent for other Muslims.

Not surprisingly, the case of Kartika Sari Dewi has attracted the attention of the regional and international media, and once again Malaysia is in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. But what has become clear above all is that the reaction of all the politicians and political parties in the country has been based more on political realities than on objective universal norms and standards of human rights.

While some 'moderate' Muslim politicians initially expressed their concern about the sentence and the nature of the punishment itself — which they regarded as being too severe in the case of the caning of a woman — they later retracted their comments after coming under political pressure from their own parties.

Malaysia, like Pakistan, Bangladesh and many other Muslim countries where Islam and political Islamism have come to the fore to dominate the political landscape, is now a country where the Islamisation process that began in the 1970s has come full circle. The policing of private morality, the banning of books, the laws on censorship, and other modes of social policing that have come to be equated with religious politics per se is now a normalised phenomenon in a country where at one point cars were seen brandishing Osama bin Laden stickers and banners.

What has happened to that model Muslim nation which was meant to be an example to the rest of the Muslim world?

Well, the answer to the question lies in the delusion that Malaysia was a moderate Muslim state in the first place. Though the spectre of religious militancy and terrorism were not so apparent in the country, those who have been following Malaysian politics closely over the past three decades will note that the brand of moderate Islamism that has been promoted by the ruling UMNO party as well as the Islamic opposition party PAS are hardly different in terms of the modalities of Muslim life they propose: both sides see the Islamic state as the final solution and the ultimate destination of Malaysia's twisted history, and on issues such as shariah law and the implementation of hudud punishments, both sides agree on the necessity but may disagree on the timing. In short, the eventual caning of Kartika Sari Dewi is just a sign of what is to come.

In the midst of this, the governments of the West do not really know what to do. Unlike the case of Iraq or Afghanistan, Malaysia is not a failed state with an economy teetering on collapse. Malaysia's main trading partners remain the same: the United States, Europe, Japan, and increasingly China and India. As an economy that is more or less intact, it remains a destination for foreign capital (that has dwindled lately thanks to the global crisis) and is seen and cast by the West as a model Muslim state for others to follow.

But the governments of the United States, Europe and Japan have said little about the rising tide of communitarian religious politics in the country, and despite the few muted objections that might be raised about the case of a young Muslim woman to be caned for drinking a beer, it is known to all that economic and diplomatic relations with Malaysia are not set to change anytime soon.

The moral of this story?

Well, it would suggest that for aspiring Muslim states that wish to walk down the thorny path of Islamism and conservative Islamisation, it would be good to keep your economic and diplomatic options open. Unlike many other failed Muslim states elsewhere, the relative economic success and political stability of a country like Malaysia means that it remains low on the priority list as far as human rights abuses are concerned. This then is the ideal place to be for authoritarian regimes worldwide: for as long as the cash keeps flowing and the contracts are signed on a regular basis, the whipping and caning of a few citizens here and there will not alter the landscape of international relations an iota. And that, sadly, is what realpolitik is all about.

Submitting....

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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