By Sunanda K Datta Ray
18th May, 2012
From Singapore to Malaysia to Indonesia, an intolerant breed of Islam is gaining ground. Governments there appear helpless in containing it.
I asked a woman of Indian-Pakistani origin who worked with me in Singapore why she now wears the hijab (headscarf). “It’s best to be like everyone else if you live here”, she replied. In the metro, the next day, I heard a stream of Bengali from under the hijabs that two saree-draped Bangladeshi women wore.
The Islamic revival also manifest in Malaysia, Indonesia and parts of the Philippines compelled Singapore some years ago to pass a law forcing every child to go to an ordinary school. It had been Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s pride until then that he would achieve full literacy without compulsion as in Britain where it entails elaborate bureaucratic, policing and legal mechanisms. The Singapore society he had created, Mr Lee boasted, highlighted the benefits of education while placing it within easy reach of every Singaporean. But schooling had to be made compulsory when it was found that Malay Singaporeans (14 per cent of the population) preferred madarsas.
Islam is gaining ground throughout the region. Malaysia’s clerics did not say anything very novel when they recently declared that “rioting, causing disturbances and damaging public property are all forbidden by Islam.” I doubt if any religion — Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism — sanctions “rioting, causing disturbances and damaging public property.” But the announcement by Mr Abdul Shukor Husin, chairman of Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council, highlighted Islam’s importance in statecraft.
The clerics spoke after a massive Opposition rally demanding clean elections ahead of a widely expected snap poll. No one knows who started the violence but with the police and demonstrators engaged in a confrontation, the Prime Minister, Mr Najib Razak, accused the demonstrators of trying to topple the Government. So did the former Prime Minister, Mr Mahathir Mohamad, recalling the uprisings that had effected regime change in Egypt and Tunisia. “When the Government does not fall, (the Opposition) can appeal to the foreign power to help and bring (it) down”, he said of the Syrian revolt, “even if it means using fire power.”
What we have in a nutshell then is that it’s haram to oppose the Government of the day. Many autocratic regimes would endorse that view but in South-east Asia it is part of a religious upsurge that deserves more notice. The conversions and forced marriages in Pakistan that causes Mr SM Krishna concern also occur in Malaysia whose 1.6 million Hindus (six per cent of the population) have always suffered discrimination. The Hindu Rights Action Force’s huge demonstration and class action suit filed in London some years ago to demand $4 trillion damages for “150 years of exploitation” didn’t end discriminatory laws and practice or the demolition of temples. Complaints of Hindu girls being forcibly married to Muslim men and converted to Islam also crop up regularly. Many of the approximately 400 annual converts are young men who have acted under official or social pressure.
Diplomatically speaking, this is an internal Malaysian matter. But China did not hesitate to voice displeasure when Indonesians were indulging in anti-Chinese rioting that later proved to be far milder than the lurid reports in circulation at the time. The Malaysian Foreign Ministry more pointedly summoned Myanmar’s Ambassador to complain of the eviction of Muslim Rohingyas to Bangladesh. I am not suggesting Mr Krishna should similarly summon the Malaysian High Commissioner in New Delhi, but ways can be devised to factor the plight of Hindus of Indian origin into bilateral economic and strategic relations. Sadly, the minority community’s official leadership, the Malaysian Indian Congress, is only too ready to keep silent in return for favours. I know a Tamil Malaysian High Commissioner who maintains that the demolished temples were all illegal shrines that obstructed traffic.
Malaysian mullahs object to Christians praying to “Allah” (the only word for god in their language) and denounce chopsticks (used by 6,960,000 Chinese or almost a quarter of the population) as unIslamic. The religious police are constantly watching for men and women guilty of ‘khalwat’ (close proximity) and made themselves a laughing stock by arresting an American husband and wife holding hands in a park. When I invited a Malaysian Army officer to my Kuala Lumpur hotel for a drink, he pleaded that the religious police often raided hotel rooms in civilian garb.
Indonesia, too, is witnessing a revival despite President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s efforts to ensure that the world’s most populous Muslim nation presents a secular front. Islamists, whether of the traditional kind in Sumatra’s Aceh district or militants rallying to the Jemaah Islamiyah organisation which is suspected of links with Al Qaeda (whose self-righteous meaning is ‘The Law’) oppose this. Driven to create a caliphate in Southeast Asia, the JI was accused of planning to bomb Singapore’s Changi airport. It was responsible for the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed 202 people, mainly young whites. A book by Imam Samudra, one of the culprits who was tried and executed, titled, I Fight Terrorists, became a regional bestseller. Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, who was also executed for his role in the massacre, spoke at his trial in Denpasar of the ‘positive aspects’ of his crime in the same tones that Norway’s mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, used in his 1,500-page manifesto.
Muslim fundamentalists attacked Indonesia’s former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the late President Sukarno’s daughter by his Balinese wife, as a Hindu even though her mother had converted to Islam. They opposed the pluralist policies of another President, Abdurrahman Wahid, who repealed many laws reducing Indonesian Christians to second-class citizens. But repealing bad laws is one thing, practising tolerance another. More than 1,100 churches — not stately steepled edifices as in India but simple huts surmounted by a cross — have been forcibly shut or destroyed in the Javanese town of Bogor in recent years. When Indonesia’s Supreme Court decreed that one church should be allowed to reopen, the local authorities insisted on building a mosque across the street.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines hasn’t given up its struggle for a separate Muslim state even though it no longer enjoys Muammar Gaddafi’s patronage. Perhaps the most obvious sign of Islamicisation is the sartorial change in secular Singapore I mentioned. More men wear caps, sarongs and beards; more women are draped in the hijab or even flowing burqa. There’s nothing any Government can do about this manifest fundamentalism.
Source: The Daily Pioneer, New Delhi