By Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff bin Mohd Kassim
Historians have noted that it took only a few evil men to use the ideology of hate and the promise of eternal glory to justify the atrocities that killed millions of people in Europe and in Asia during the last world war. The majority of the population were good people and totally innocent of the crimes but by their silence, they allowed the atrocities to happen on such an unprecedented scale.
Years after the war, and even today, people are still asking how such state – sponsored terror could have happened in the twentieth century. The young of today feel ashamed and disgusted that the previous generation did not do anything to stop the madness before their countries were plunged into war, with disastrous consequences. The lesson learned from what happened not so long ago is that it takes only a few to do terrible damage to the country if the majority who are good people are complacent and do not care about defending the values that make us a united Malaysian nation.
Muslim countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and in this region are seeing the same ambivalence among the moderate majority in the population, allowing the few who claim they know about religion to use it as an ideology in their violent crusade to change society and eventually the country, from secularism and democracy to Islamism and theocracy. In many of these countries, the poor, the angry unemployed youths and the social misfits are easily attracted to the call for jihad, especially those who have been indoctrinated from young in their religious education to hate everything that originates from the West, like human rights, constitutional freedoms, music, pop culture, art exhibitions, statues and sculptures, St Valentine’s Day, Christmas celebration, yoga etc. These values and artistic pleasures are denounced by extremists as liberal ideas and alien cultures which have no place in the Islamic state. The chaos and internal instability which follow the rise of religious extremism to change the value system towards religiosity create so much gloom and despair that many of the best people in Muslim countries simply give up and migrate to western countries.
In Malaysia, we have a relatively socially advanced society as a result of the country’s economic modernisation and its exposure to external influences. Further, its racial and cultural diversity, the higher level of urbanisation and the bigger size of the middle class compared to other Muslim countries make Malaysians feel at ease with modern lifestyles and social interactions among the races. Its education system is basically secular in content and there is no hate ideology in it. The young can find jobs and absolute poverty is practically non-existent. The government’s caring policies have shielded the poorer population from the difficulties of daily life. All these factors help to insulate the country from extremism.
Nevertheless, the growing tide of religious excesses and intolerance for diversity is a cause for worry especially with the close alliance between race, religion and politics, which is creating suspicion that the national leaders are knowingly allowing the conservative ulama to dictate their strict interpretation of Islam and their social values on us Muslims. The silent majority among Malaysians are watching with concern at the Arabisation of Malay – Muslim society because if this trend accelerates, it will create divisions among the Malays, with the extremists calling themselves true followers of Islam and labelling others as infidels. When Muslims are divided along sectarian lines, the potential for conflict is very great.
As we are seeing in the Middle East today, when Muslims fight each other in their sectarian wars, they will find somebody to be the scapegoats for their failures. Usually, it’s the Jews and the Christians who get blamed. We are seeing that in Malaysia too. When a Muslim is seen in the compound of a church, the whole Christian community is accused of conspiring to subvert Islam. States compete with each other to issue fatwas to ban everything that is associated with western values, not realising that Christianity or imperialism has nothing to do with these values. Those who criticise the religious bullying are threatened with the Sedition Act. If the critics are Chinese or Indians, they are called ungrateful pendatang as an insult.
We must not allow sectarianism and intolerance to grow their tentacles in our country and therefore we must speak up for moderation in Islam and mutual respect in our race relations, as loudly as we can. We the moderates must speak up now before it’s too late. Let it not be said by the future generation that the majority who are moderates and liberal have allowed the few who are extremists and narrow minded to destroy the country.
Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff bin Mohd Kassim is the former Secretary-General of the Treasury, Ministry of Finance and a member of the civil society group G25.
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