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Islamic Freedom In ASEAN

Posted: 02 Jun 2013 12:44 PM PDT

In Malaysia Islam is mixed with politics which has brought out many skewed debates about Islam, such as the introduction of Hudud laws and who has the right to use the word Allah. This has inhibited informed national debate about important Islamic issues, and often projecting Islam in a narrow and intolerant light.

Murray Hunter, Eurasia Review 

Almost half of the 629 million people living within the ASEAN region are Muslims. Within the ten countries of ASEAN, three countries Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, and Malaysia have Muslim majorities, and the remaining seven countries host Muslim minorities, ranging from 0.1% in Vietnam to nearly 16% in Singapore. Due to the lack of any recent census data in many ASEAN countries, obtaining accurate figures of the Muslim population is extremely difficult, where estimates vary widely.

In the Muslim majority states of ASEAN, Islam provides a source of political legitimacy for government and its leaders. Within the Muslim minority states, there are increasing aspirations for an Islamic society which today is expressed through the demand for Shariah (Islamic law), Madrasas (Islamic schools), Halal practices (what is permitted under Islam), and most importantly religious and cultural recognition.

Centuries ago Islam promoted both an enlightened intellectual and socially progressive culture which brought many societies to the forefront of art, medicine, scientific discovery, philosophy, and creative civilization. However today we see a large proportion of the Ummah (Muslim community) living in poverty and isolated from the rest of the world community. Islam once the basis of a progressive society is now seen by many as backward and irrelevant. Most Islamic societies of today are struggling to keep pace with the rest of the world, creating a dangerously wide gap between Muslims and non-Muslims.

If we subscribe to Richard Florida's concepts of socially determined creativity, then religious freedom would have great influence upon the level of a society's innovation, and ability to solve the problems it faces as a community in a socially and spiritually wise manner. Within the Islamic world this would hinge upon;

  1. The freedom to practice Islam,
  2. The freedom to express Islam, and
  3. The freedom to produce new social intellectual output that will enable the evolution of a progressive Islamic society.

Thus Islamic freedom is an important determinant of how a society will fare intellectually, socially, and creatively in the future to enable that society to take a rightful place within the global community.

We must also assume here that the very nature of Islam itself encourages the Ummah to engage other societies as has been practiced through Islamic history by the prophets, including the Prophet Muhammad himself. Without engagement, Islam would have never come to the ASEAN region.

However, the idea of "social creativity" and the invention of new ideas for social imagination vis-a-vis Islam is a problematic area as the political-theological and strict fundamentalist interpretation of Islam is adverse to "innovations" and consider too much creativity as dangerous and even to be rendered forbidden. We saw that resistance in Malaysia with the Sisters of Islam, advocacy of gay rights, reinterpretation of Islam from feminist writers.

There is also much debate about the compatibility of Islam to concepts of democracy, usually defined in 'western ideological' terms. Islam is basically considered as a concept opposed to the principles of democracy when Islam is viewed from through the lens of 9/11 'Islamophobia'. Insurgency in Southern Thailand and Mindanao has added to the beliefs of many non-Muslims that Islam is an anti-democratic force.

However these 'radical extremist' stereotypes held by many non-Muslims ignore the true motivations behind the reassertion of Islamic identity within the ASEAN region, where there is an exploration to merge Islamic philosophy with modern economic development, with the accompanying tensions and stresses this process produces for any developing society. Non-Muslims also ignore other non-religious factors such as history, ethnicity, poverty, and repression when stereotyping Muslims as a homogeneous group.

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The real reason for the crackdown

Posted: 02 Jun 2013 12:35 PM PDT 

I believe it is not rallies Umno fears but a growing trend of historical revisionism. Should the spectre of May 13 be torn apart as an Umno-orchestrated plot, Barisan Nasional would lose its status as a bringer of "stability" and a preserver of "delicate race relations". 

The real fear of Umno is the revision of the "gospel truth" they have taught people as the history of the nation.

Ong Kar Jin, FMT

Adam Adli. Tian Chua. Haris Ibrahim. Tamrin Ghafar. Safwan Anang. And Hishammuddin Rais. One by one, these politicians and activists have been hauled up by the authorities in a crackdown reminiscent of 1988's Operation Lalang.

The real question of course, is why.

Now this may seem like an obvious answer to you, after all they all probably have played a part in calling on people to go to street rallies, or have had a hand or two in organising them. The simple logic now is that the authorities are simply clamping down to ensure no more rallies will take place.

I must disagree. Let us take the rally reason at face value. Tamrin Ghafar, Hishammuddin Rais and Tian Chua have had very little to do with organising rallies.

In terms of calling on people to rise and take to the streets to protest, they are only part of a growing chorus of NGO activists, politicians and ordinary citizens.

In any case, rallies have gone on for a very long time now, from Bersih 2007 all the way to the recent Suara Rakyat 505 Amcorp Mall rally. Barisan Nasional has managed to largely ignore them with the administration going on as normal, and have learnt valuable lessons that any crackdowns can only result in a terrible political backlash.

And if indeed there was to be a crackdown to prevent rallies, why the selective persecution? Why not hit out at the big players? Blogger Chegubard has made his stance and involvement in the Amcorp Mall rally very clear by his presence on the stage, yet has not been arrested.

Yet a crackdown still happened. And is still happening. Why? Has BN simply not learned? Have they grown a sudden fear to rallies?

I believe the situation needs a closer examination. Not all arrested so far called upon the rakyat to rise and take the fight to the streets. Not all were involved in organising rallies. Yet the Home Ministry went right ahead knowing full well there would be a huge political backlash in arresting the above names. Again, the crucial question is why?

All those arrested thus far do however, have something in common: they all spoke out against racism at a May 13 forum at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall.

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A Perak rerun?

Posted: 02 Jun 2013 12:11 PM PDT 

Such a situation is shaky for the BN and talk of  its assembly members crossing over can be "worrying" for the coalition. So back to the big question – is it true? 

Mohsin Abdullah, 

THE Perak PAS youth wing has some advice for Barisan Nasional (BN) state assembly members "angry" with their menteri besar - push for a vote of no-confidence against the MB and table a motion in the state assembly to pave the way for fresh state elections.
But the wing, through its deputy head Dr Raja Ahmad Iskandar Al Hiss, is double quick to stress, that is the option, if talk of the BN assembly members' "anger" towards the Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir is true. The key word being "if".
Political talk (call it rumours if you want) in Perak have it that some BN state reps are planning to "jump ship, cross over to Pakatan Rakyat and topple the BN state government".
If that happens it would be a repeat, albeit in reverse, of what happened in 2009 when the Pakatan government was toppled by the BN following the crossover of three of its assembly members.

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