News / Asia

In Malaysia, Increasing Religious Tension May Be Linked to Economic Concerns

Multimedia

Audio

Recently, a series of attacks on Christian churches and a Sikh temple in Malaysia focused attention on growing ethnic tension in the country. The Malaysian government, which has been promoting a "1Malaysia" campaign stressing racial and religious harmony, condemned the attacks. But, some critics say it may also be contributing to religious and racial divisions to solidify its political base.

A legal dispute over the word "Allah" divides Muslims and Catholics in Malaysia. The controversy started on December 31, when the Malaysian High Court allowed Roman Catholics to use "Allah" to refer to God. The government has appealed the verdict.

Although many Muslims attending prayer service at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur believe the word "Allah" is exclusive to Islam, few endorsed the violent attacks on nine churches and a Sikh temple that followed the court ruling.

"We think it could be created, you know, to make people believe there are violence in religions here but, in fact it is not," said a Muslim man.

At Saint Ann's Church, Father Lawrence Andrew says the government's swift response to protect churches has been reassuring but the experience has left Malaysia's Catholic community concerned. "We are not really upset about it, but what is psychologically disturbing is that people can be annoyed or feel insecure at the slightest differences that appear," he said.

Although the attacks appear religious in nature, political analysts here say they are more symptomatic of conflicting economic and political pressures on the leading government party, the United Malays United Malays National Organization.

Charles Santiago is an opposition member of parliament with the Democratic Action Party. He says UMNO maintained power for years by giving special treatment to its core constituency - ethnic Muslim Malays, who make up 60 percent of the population.

"I am UMNO, the protector, and I will give you the money.  I will give you all development and all you have to do is every once in five years make sure you come and vote for me, and this thing will go on," said Santiago.

However, to become more competitive in the global economy, the government is trying to rollback its system of ethnic preferences, which requires companies to reserve 30 percent of their shares for Malays.

The government public relations campaign, called "1Malaysia," which advocates the values of tolerance and equality, was designed, in part, to push public acceptance of these economic changes.

But after the 2008 elections, in which many Malays voted for the opposition, UMNO had to change its tactics.

Zakaria Ahmad is a professor of politics with Help University in Kuala Lumpur. He says, to shore up its support within the Muslim Malay community, the government now has to support or at least tolerate more hardline actions on issues of race and religion. "I think there is a breakdown of law and order, but it is not lawlessness.  It is just the government seems to be unable to cope - doesn't seem to have the political will to enforce laws as before," said Ahmad.

In addition to the controversy about the use of the word Allah, the judicial system has put new emphasis on enforcing Sharia law among Muslims.  In recent months, three Muslim women have been caned for sexual misconduct.

In Malaysia, Muslims are subject to Sharia courts for violating religious law and for family issues such as divorce.  A separate secular court system exists for other issues and for non-Muslims.

Marina Mahathir, a women's rights advocate and daughter of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, says there are more instances of police monitoring personal behavior. "There was a recent story about wanting to, on Valentine's Day, raid people having romantic candlelit dinners, Muslim couples having romantic candlelit, I mean, what business of it is theirs and really don't they have better things to do?  And, that is what our leadership should be saying, 'Don't you have better things to do," she said.

Law Professor Yusri Mohammad, with the International University in Malaysia, says the Muslim community is not becoming more conservative, but it is trying to hold on to its values and way of life. "You can't have non-Malay things that you may feel some people in countries are having that you would also like to have;  but if you inject that within a Malaysian setting it becomes disruptive. It becomes - it disturbs the balance we have," he said.

He says, although some politicians may think that conflict can help them win votes, most Malaysians still embrace moderation and respect for all races and religions.

You May Like

Kurdish Party Pushes Political Gamble to Run in Turkey Poll

HDP announces it will run as political party instead of fielding independent candidates in June election, but faces tough 10 percent threshold More

Twitter Targets Islamic State

New research shows suspending Twitter accounts of Islamic State, its supporters has been effective; group, its backers are facing 'significant pressure,' says terrorism expert More

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

Majur Juac made the leap from being a refugee in Africa to a master chess champion in US, where he shares his expertise with students More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Spacei
X
Rosanne Skirble
January 27, 2015 5:05 PM
The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.
Video

Video Weekly Protests in Korea Keep Japanese WWII Atrocities Alive

Every week in Seoul protesters gather in front of the Japanese Embassy to demand an apology and reparations from Tokyo for the thousands of South Korean women who were forced into prostitution during World War II. Although this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, these protestors have helped keep the issue of comfort women alive and made it difficult for Japan to move beyond its past wartime atrocities. VOA's Brian Padden reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Exercise: New Prescription for Parkinsons Disease

Exercise could be the new prescription for Parkinson's Disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. More than six million people worldwide suffer from Parkinsons and they're traditionally treated with medication and surgery. Shelley Schlender has more.
Video

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Greece’s youngest-ever prime minister, 40-year-old Alexis Tsipras, was sworn in Monday after his victorious far-left Syriza party entered a coalition with far right rivals. Tsipras says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts. So begins a new chapter for the country at the epicenter of Europe’s economic crisis - a change that has sent tremors across the continent, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Oil Price Drop Troubles Texas Producers

As oil prices have fallen over the past several months, drilling operations have slowed in some parts of the United States - including Texas, the state that surpasses all others in energy production. The Lone Star State’s energy output has been boosted in recent years by development of resources trapped deep below ground in the Eagle Ford shale deposit, which stretches across south central Texas. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Karnes City, Texas, the drop in oil prices has created concerns,
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid