“With the Establishment trapped in divisive discourses despite its own talk of a united Malaysia, more than piecemeal reforms are needed if the country is to reverse its sad fortunes” (An Attack On Unity, Mr. Ooi Kee Beng).
I refer to “An Attack On Unity” (January 16, 2010), by Mr. Ooi Kee Beng.
From the onset, it is important not to confound the two separate issues at hand: the premeditated attacks on churches throughout Malaysia, and the ongoing controversy over the use of “Allah”. It is in my opinion that the former stems from pure bigotry and thus reflects religious intolerance and discrimination on the part of the individual, cowardly arsonists; while the latter has erupted because of genuine misunderstanding on the ground proliferated by the absence of constructive efforts, and complicated by the lack of cohesive efforts on the part of the Establishment.
The attacks are irrational, deeply unsettling, and – as Mr. Ooi has mentioned – has cast a ominous shadow over Malaysia’s decades of nation-building and unity. These politicised communal sentiments are a clear overreaction, and it is of utmost importance that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak takes appropriate measures. Beyond the strong condemnations, the Establishment should provide a commitment to nab the respective culprits, and offer some form of financial assistance to the affected churches and institutions.
Regardless, the magnitude of the real problem – the “Allah” dispute – should not be underscored. Malaysian Muslims are genuinely concerned over the sovereignty of the usage of “Allah”. At the same time, however, they should be cognisant that the word “Allah” has not only been widely used by Christians in Indonesia – with the world’s largest population of Muslims – as well as the Arabic-speaking nations of the Middle East, it has been used for centuries by the Arabic-speakers of the Abrahamic faiths, primarily the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Therefore, open dialogue involving various stakeholders – especially religious leaders – should be the first step to prevent undesired ramifications. Members can take solace in the fact that tensions in the country have more often been catalysed by race and ethnicity; so religious differences- being considerably unprecedented – can be ironed out. The Establishment can ill-afford further apathy and inconsistency.
It is not too late; with decisive action and resolution, the Establishment can turn crisis into opportunity. Through the harmonisation of the administration, civil society, related religious establishments, and even academia, the path towards reconciliation and 1Malaysia may not be that far away. Problems may have deep roots, and more time may be desired; but this adversity may develop much-needed resilience for the future.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.