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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 11, March 2, 2013

Is Malaysia turning into a Theocratic State?

Wednesday 6 March 2013, by S.K. Dutta

Malaysia, a very important country in South-East Asia and a vital member of the ASEAN, is facing a huge turmoil in the last couple of years with the hard-core Islamist fundamentalists hell-bent upon the turning the country into a hard-core Islamist state based on the Shariat with Islam as the state religion. Already there are several provinces in Malaysia which follow the Shariat like Selangor, Penang and others; it is also an accepted reality that Malaysia turned Islamic way back in the 1960s when Islam became the state religion with 60 per cent of the country’s population following one or other form of Islam. However, the Constitution of Malaysia guarantees equal freedom and rights to the 40 per cent minority population which consist mainly Chinese, Indian and others who follow and practise Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity. Malaysia does guarantee freedom of religion to all.

However, all this might not survive for too long. Malaysia does have a brutal history of ethnic riots; the country reeled under huge ethnic riots against the ethnic Chinese minority in the 1960s and 1970s and more recently against the Indians two years back wherein many Indian minority people were targeted with hundreds injured and several deaths. The danger of such a transformation looms large with Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the main Opposition People’s Alliance (which is a rainbow coalition of many parties including the hard-core Islamist Party whose sole motto and attempt is to convert Malaysia into a hard-core Islamic state based on the Wahhabi form of Islam as is practised in Saudi Arabia), being an active supporter of this form of Islam. Though he tries to project a liberal democratic Western-educated face for himself, in reality Anwar has a different face altogether. The kind of connections which he keeps and maintains with the hard-core elements of the Arab world portrays a distinctly opposite picture of Anwar.

At first glance people, who don’t know Anwar’s brand of politics, would greet him for the kind of political thoughts he preaches in public with advocacy of liberalism on many issues like freedom of expression and religion in the Malaysian society. At the same time the kind of friendly equation he has with noted liberal Americans like Paul Wolfowitz and other powerful Democrats as well as the former US Vice-President, Al Gore, would at face value make him the darling of the Western world and US. With the elections due in the near future in Malaysia and the gap between the ruling party and the Opposition narrowing down with every passing day, the recent activities of Anwar Ibrahim have raised many an eyebrow.

Anwar’s recent travel in early 2012 to Arab states like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar and meetings with leading Muslim figures there like Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, an eminent Islamic theologian, and visiting his personal house in Doha, Qatar, raises disturbing questions. Qaradawi is the unofficial Muslim leader of the Islamic world and he supports suicide bombings against Israel as well as female circumcisions. At the Qaradawi house Anwar Ibrahim also met Khalid Mashaal as per unofficial reports. Mashaal has taken responsibility for numerous suicide bom-bings, killing and wounding innocent civilians, including helpless women and children. The trip, as many have claimed, could be a part of damage control on the part of Anwar Ibrahim after his open support to Israel’s defence of national security; such a comment was not appreciated in his own country, Malaysia.

Not only this. Many say Anwar Ibrahim has close and personal contact with the Specially Designated Global Terrorists. SDGT sources say Anwar had personal contacts with Youssef Al Nada until at least 2011. Reports claim Nada personally visited Anwar when the latter was on a visit to the USA in 2011. Nada, an Egyptian banker, has been charged by the US, UN and Switzerland of having financed terrorism through an extensive financial network providing support for terrorist-related activities, including those undertaken by Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda. Nada founded the Bank Al Taqwa, the financial institution known to have provided cash transfers and investment advice to the Al-Qaeda in preparation for September 11, 2001. Other close friends of Anwar include Hisham Al-Talib, former Director of one of Al Nada’s companies and now with Ibrahim’s IIIT in the US; as well as Dr. Mohammed Manzoor Alam, co-founder with Al Nada of the Al Taqwa Bank. Anwar has also served in the board of the Al-Baraka Bank that has a questionable history; and the US insists it to be one of the main conduits for funding the Al-Qaeda and other terror outfits. Further, Anwar is one of the founding members of the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT) in the USA, and this is under investigation by the US Federal law enforcement agencies since the late nineties for the suspected financing of terrorist organisations such as the Al-Qaeda.

Ibrahim’s party’s coalition partner, the PAS, has been advocating the passing of Hudud laws, based on the Islamic penal code, if voted to power, Anwar has been quiet on this. With Islamic fundamentalism ruling the roost in neighbouring Indonesia and the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono taking no steps to prevent it, such dangerous changes in Malaysia, if they happen, would be suicidal for the security of the Asia-Pacific region as also the US, China and India. And it could be highly ominous for a multi-cultural state like Malaysia and its large Indian minority. The Government of India should therefore not remain a mute spectator to the internal developments in South-East Asia.

ο€ The author is a noted political commentator, and foreign policy and economic expert as well as a TV personality.

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