Measuring Muslim "extremism" in the Far East

Category: Asia, World Affairs Topics: Indonesia, Malaysia, Terrorism Views: 10309

Kuala Kangsar Ubadiah Mosque

KUALA LUMPUR - To travel through South East Asia is to re-examine one's North American perceptions.

I came here with three notions about this region: It's crawling with Muslim terrorists, given the bombings in Bali and elsewhere; it's experiencing a rise in Islamism - meaning, religious radicalism; and it's becoming less tolerant of the Chinese and Indian minorities in Malaysia and Indonesia.

What I found, instead, was that not only have there been no terrorist incidents for a long time, touch wood, but that security experts feel the situation is under control; that while religiosity is on the rise - as it is among Christians, Jews, Hindus etc. elsewhere - it does not necessarily mean more militancy; and that it is Muslim minorities in the region who are under stress.

In Singapore, where they do enjoy religious freedom, Muslims must live in political subservience. They dare not question the state's racist notion of Chinese demographic, political and cultural dominance. 

In south Thailand, Muslims are embroiled in an increasingly vicious insurgency born of long-term grievances but made worse by recent oppression.

Non-Muslims in Indonesia and Malaysia do face discrimination, as outlined in my last two columns, but not of the magnitude that the media or the Western embassies in the region make it out to be. The journalists and the diplomats seem fixated on the clich that all Muslim societies are intolerant.

Neither the religion nor the culture of the Chinese and Indian minorities is under threat. In fact, the situation for the Indonesian Chinese has improved.

Most tellingly, the Indonesian and Malaysian Chinese, constituting 4 per cent and 30 per cent of the populations, respectively, continue to dominate the economies of both nations.

There's no Chinese exodus in the making, as there was from Hong Kong when China took over. The Malaysian and Indonesian Chinese are not about to pack up, say, for Canada. 

As for Islamic resurgence, there are more hijabs, more people in mosques and more Qur'an on TV. And some clerics are indeed making outrageous statements. But it's difficult to tell whether their rhetroic represents a spike in extremism. 

It may merely reflect the post-9/11 reality that any crazy thought by any silly Muslim anywhere is guaranteed front-page treatment.

Or, it could be a function of greater democracy here: "Views of all kinds are coming out; people are more confident there'll be no midnight knock on the door," says Malaysian writer Imran Yacob.

What is measurable is the Muslim intolerance of Muslims.

In Indonesia, there was an ugly spasm of violence against the Ahamadis, deemed by some to be non-Muslims. And throughout the region, there's a debate over who is a real Muslim, an Arabized one or the one who stays visibly and culturally Malay.

"Indonesians feel under attack not just from the West but also from the Arabs," says Ahmad Suaedy, an Islamic activist.

Some private Saudi money is coming but so is American and British funding for madrassas, notes Endy Bayuni, editor of the Jakarta Post. "The Wahhabi money and the American money can battle it out!"

In the trends that do count, the popular vote for the Islamist party in Malaysia has gone down in the last four years.

In Indonesia, a poll showed 60 per cent want democracy. About the same number also wants sharia, but without the stoning and amptutating of hands.

"They want an Islam compatible with democracy," says professor Jamhari Ma'ruf, an editor of the Journal for Islamic Studies, Jakarta. "They are attached to Islam as their identity."

Inter-marraiges are up; Muslim-Hindu in Malaysia, and Muslim-Christian in Indonesia.

"Multiculturalism in terms of lifestyle is irreversible," says Shad Faruqi, a professor of law in Kuala Lumpur.

Moderate voices are challenging the extremists. "Some years ago, the media would not have touched them but now these voices get space and air time," says editor Bayuni.

Astora Jabat, an Islamic scholar with a blog, argues that Malaysians "are now less conservative. We couldn't talk before. Now we do, about all sorts of subjects. I can take on the illiterate clerics."

Bayuni notes that some of the Islamic zealotry is phony.

"Some people exploit religious symbols for profits or politics. One group of radicals went and smashed a bar, having invited the TV cameras along, but they left all the other bars alone. Next day, they went around collecting protection money. It's a racket. " 

The public is catching on.

A popular TV priest, with several businesses, lost all credibility - and endorsements - the moment it was revealed that he had taken a second wife.

Is anti-Americanism up?

Yes, says Bayuni, but "it's no different than the one in Europe. In fact, it is less so here. 

"We still see American movies, eat MacDonald's and KFC, and drink Coke. And American companies are still making good profits here."

Haroon Siddiqui is editorial page editor emeritus at Toronto Star. He can be reached at [email protected].

  Category: Asia, World Affairs
  Topics: Indonesia, Malaysia, Terrorism
Views: 10309

Related Suggestions

The opinions expressed herein, through this post or comments, contain positions and viewpoints that are not necessarily those of IslamiCity. These are offered as a means for IslamiCity to stimulate dialogue and discussion in our continuing mission of being an educational organization. The IslamiCity site may occasionally contain copyrighted material the use of which may not always have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. IslamiCity is making such material available in its effort to advance understanding of humanitarian, education, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and such (and all) material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Older Comments:
Haroon Siddiqui, you spoke to soon. On 8 Mar 2008, the pent-up feeling of non-Muslims i.e. Chinese and Indians in Malaysia exploded in the country's General Elections. They voted out Barisan Nasional (the ruling party led and controlled by Islamic UMNO)in the states where they predominate because of its continued excesses in favour of Muslims over the years. Check it out.

My good friend Mr Joshua Little, a native of Israel, whom I served with in the same unit, did complain about the Israeli Settlers. The aims of the so-called Jewish Lobby in the USA are not the same as the aims of the Israeli people. According to Mr. Little the Settlers, during the early days of the Israeli state, were brain--washed into believing that the buffer zone and their presence in the buffer zone is necessary for continued existence of Israeli state. According to Mr. Little, their presence was necessary during the 1960's and 1970's, but not at present.
When the media show the suicide bombers in the Occupied Areas, they do not show, as often (they did it only twice) the Settlers coming out and shooting the Palestinians and running away before the Israeli security forces will show up.
I do agree with Mr. Little: the Israelis with war--time propaganda created a monster both around Israel and across the Ocean that was supposed to protect and help the Israeli cause, but at present, it only makes things worse.
The above is not to say that Islamic extremism does not exist, or that there is no Polish anti-Semitism; however, it is to state that only Israeli representative (a General of the Israeli Army) that anti--Polonism exists amongst the Israelis and Jews.
Yes--there are Islamic extremists.
Yes--there are Polish anti-Semites (there must be some amongst 40% of the population that dislikes Jews).
However, any sensible argument cannot be made with either the Settlers, not the so-called Pro-Israeli Lobby in the USA.
If one wants to find sensible, flexible politicians, one must talk directly to the source: the Israeli government.
Robert Kolakowksi son of Stanislaw son of Jozef born 28 DEC 1973 out of Eugenia Kolakowska

Salam to All,

The article does not include the Philippines which in fact part of the Far East >>> making it slightly not so sound/substantive. Does no one on Earth ever heard of the Abu Sayaff Group or the MNLF or MILF (too many eh?)...

There are some words in here that are not properly defined, and to some extent not politically correct...DISCRIMINATION is such a big word and this article has to stretch more for cover,

There should have been some brief history of the countries involved at least those that are related & significant to/for the topic, it sometimes is misleading and dangerous...
How many % knows that Singapore was a part of Malaysia before? And why the independence...



Salam, in regards to your article, as a practicing Muslim in Malaysia I felt compelled to point out that indeed, there is no animosity or oppression against the non-Muslims in this country. Though i cannot speak for other countries in this region, I can confidently express that in Malaysia at least, peace and tolerance between people of different race and religion is the majority. And, Insya-Allah, it will remain this way. I fully agree with your point that the rise in religiosity does not spell the rise in militancy. Furthermore, despite play ups by the media, we are in accord with the opinion that it is in fact the Muslim minorities in this region that are under stress.

there is no a muslim-hindu marriages in malaysia. there is only muslim-muslim marriages. for hindus, they have to embraces islam before they could marry any muslims. please put your point right