An American scholar says the country has regressed in its democratic practice.
BANGI: A US-based scholar has lamented Malaysia’s failure to live up to its potential to become an example of a Muslim country in which democracy thrives.
Nader Hashemi, the Director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, said Malaysia was once a “beacon of hope” for the Muslim world and could have played an important role in the war against radical Islam if it had developed on that attribute.
Speaking at a seminar entitled “The ISIS Crisis and the Spread of Radical Islam” at UKM today, Hashemi paid tribute to the Malaysia of the 1990s, saying it was then a country that seemed to be on the way to becoming an example of how democracy could be realised in a Muslim nation, particularly with its recognition of minority rights.
“Now people are looking at Malaysia and are wondering where is the hope that was once there?” he said.
In countering the narrative of radical and extremist Islam, he said, it was “extremely important” for the world to see examples of Muslim countries with working democracies.
“We need these exemplary Muslim nations,” he said. “Malaysia has the potential to become this example once again but it has to get its democratic house in order first.”
Speaking of the Islamic State terrorist group, Hashemi said its policies closely resembled those of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi regime.
“The difference is that Wahhabism preaches respect of monarchies whereas IS doesn’t believe in monarchies,” he said. “But in terms of the degradation of women, human rights and minorities, it is exactly the same.”
He said the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam began spreading after the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia.
“This interpretation is directly attributable to why young people in other parts of the world, including Malaysia, are listening to IS because they realise that what IS is preaching is similar to what they have learned about Islam from Saudi textbooks.”
He said the Wahhabi interpretation was “louder” than other interpretations of Islam because Saudi Arabia had invested large amounts of money to make it accessible.
“During the period of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia spent around 100 billion dollars to spread this interpretation,” he added.