Malaysia’s moderate image taking a hammering, says report

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KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s image as a moderate, tolerant, and secular society has been increasingly tainted, says a report in The Diplomat.

The Muslim-majority country’s constitution guarantees the protection of religious freedoms of the sizable minorities.

However, the report says, hardline Islamists have challenged this ideal through the courts, bureaucracy, government, and “even in the streets in an attempt to impose their own brand of sharia law on the rest of the country”.

It noted that Umno MP Shabudin Yahya recently sparked outrage when he appeared to suggest in Parliament that there was nothing wrong with a rape victim marrying her rapist because her future would not be so bleak.

Shabudin later claimed his words had been taken out of context by the media.

He said: “In their reports and headlines, both the local and international media had given the perception that I had condoned rapists being allowed to marry underage victims to avoid punishment.

This is inaccurate and misleading and borders on fake news.”

In his debate on the Sexual Offences against Children 2017 Bill, Shabudin had referred to Islamic principles.

The report says: “Irrespective of what Shabudin actually said and meant, to some, his comments fit into a broader trend in Malaysia where politicians increasingly hide behind the Quran to justify their erosion of democracy and basic decency.”

Concerns, it adds, have been mounting over the years, with sporadic incidents including the firebombing of churches, a ban on non-Muslims using the word Allah, and the occasional banning of rock concerts and entertainment acts considered too risqué for hardline Muslim groups.

“But arguably more worrying than these individual incidents has been the fact that the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak has far too often not stood up to – and has at times even acquiesced to – this growing intolerance in its bid to secure votes.”

The Diplomat report says the “forecast for tolerance” in Malaysia generally is far from sunny.

Malaysian unity, it adds, is being “ferociously” tested.