Monday, June 12, 2017

A Flawed Proposal: Infusing Racial Politics into Pakatan Harapan

1.           The proposal for Tun Mahathir to take over leadership of the opposition and for Bersatu to become the dominant party in Pakatan Harapan to win Malay votes, instead of securing victory will end in disaster.

2.           It is indeed critical for the opposition to win the Malay-majority constituencies, especially the rural Malay areas. There are 114 Malay-majority constituencies in peninsula Malaysia alone. In 2013, BN won 77, PAS 20 and PKR 17. Najib can retain power by winning these 114 parliament constituencies without drawing on his Sabah and Sarawak BN save deposit vote banks. A way must be found for the opposition coalition to win these constituencies but it has to be based on principles, respect for all interests and consensus. The proposal fails in these respects.

3.           The proposal in essence is infusing racial politics into Pakatan Harapan. This will not sell. The proposal to win office, is to attract Malay voters by turning Pakatan Harapan into a BN and the continuation of UMNO’s racial policies minus Najib. This proposal has serious flaws, three of which are set out below.

Betrayal of the Reform Agenda

4.           Firstly, the assumption that by adopting a racial supremacy policy, Pakatan can hold on to the 52% who voted for the Reform Agenda in 2013 is false.

5.           If Pakatan Harapan trade Ketuanan Rakyat for Ketuanan Melayu-Minus-Najib in exchange for power, it will be a betrayal of principles, a selling out of core beliefs. Pakatan Harapan cannot argue they are acting as statesmen or being pragmatic. The argument that such a compromise is justified by the higher objective of Pakatan Harapan forming the government cannot hold water. It is disingenuous to say gaining power is better than remaining in the opposition when the deal requires Pakatan Harapan to give up the very core reason to gain power - to institute change through implementation of the Reform Agenda.  It is not a compromise. It is not even a rotten compromise. It is a capitulation. Power without principles is simply greed. Winning office without the power to implement the reform promised is a betrayal of the 20 years of struggle and the cause so many have sacrificed so much for.  

6.           Mahathir cannot hope to hold onto Pakatan Harapan supporters with such a proposal. Even though they will not vote BN they will prefer not to vote at all. This will reduce Pakatan Harapan’s vote share.  

7.           A recent example of the significance of a reduced vote share is the US elections. Hillary Clinton just could not hold onto the support given to the Obama coalition. This proved to be her fatal undoing. Hillary obtained 88% of African-Americans compared to 93% for Obama, 65% of the Latinos to Obama’s 71%, 54% of the younger voters to Obama’s 60%. Although, Trump’s 58% of the white votes was less than Romney’s 59% in 2012. Distaste for Trump was not sufficient to overcome their apathy for Hillary. Democrats stayed at home and handed victory to Donald Trump. If the proposal is implemented, Pakatan Harapan will suffer a similar fate. 

Leadership of the Reform Movement

8.           Secondly, the assumption that by taking over the leadership of Pakatan Harapan, Mahathir will take over the leadership of the opposition is false.

9.           The opposition is not Pakatan Harapan. Pakatan Harapan is only a vehicle for the real opposition, the masses who arose from the Reform Movement. The opposition are the reformists, activists, civil society, the 62 NGOs that formed BERSIH, the thousands who with their own money, time and energy went to the towns, villages, estates, FELDA settlements and long houses to spread the word for change, the hundreds of thousands that came out to the streets, and the millions that voted against BN.  

10.        There are no elections in the Reform Movement. Anwar Ibrahim holds no official position in Parti Keadilan Rakyat. He is the de facto leader of the Reform Movement because he inspired commitment, built consensus, mobilized resources, recognised opportunities, devised strategies, framed demands and influenced outcomes. He appealed to the various races, religious groups and diverse interests by being inclusive. More importantly it is his courage of conviction for the Reform Agenda in choosing imprisonment over freedom that the masses accept his leadership.

11.        The Reform Movement is an assertion of popular leadership by the people themselves. Democracy does not come from the government, from high, it comes from people getting together and struggling for freedom and justice. Politicians are elected and selected but mass movements do not elect officials or seek blessings or legitimacy from anyone. Mass movements transform society, they aim to persuade the courts, politicians and other actors to fall behind them, not the other way round. Mass movements accomplish this through appeals to shared sets of deep and widely held convictions among the people they aim to mobilize.[1]

12.        Bersatu cannot demand and Pakatan Harapan leaders cannot give to Mahathir the de facto leadership of the opposition movement. Even if Pakatan Harapan yields the leadership to Mahathir the masses will not necessarily accept his authority. The masses by their courage, conviction and commitment for change had withstood tear gas, water cannons, police brutality, beatings, arrests, detention without trial, selective prosecution, imprisonment, repression and ostracism. They will not accept the very policies they have been fighting for so long and so hard to abolish, even if this is proposed by the new de jure leadership of the vehicle. Without the mass support, the vehicle is but an empty shell.  

13.        The relationship between the leader and the masses is dialectical, it takes the agreement of both to work together: “the leader cannot take the people where they do not want to go and he cannot operate outside the possibilities that were already part of the existing social structure and cultural heritage of the original movement.”[2] They will not want go back to a future, substituting Najib for Mahathir without a return to the rule of law, restoration of the institutions and the guaranteed implementation of the Reform Agenda. Weber’s analysis of charismatic authority still holds true: the charismatic leader has to be recognised by his followers in order to achieve the degree of legitimacy required, it cannot be demanded nor given.[3]   

Policy-Oriented Coalition

14.        Thirdly, the assumption that an opposition coalition founded on the removal of Najib from office and not a policy-oriented coalition is sufficient to win the election and sustainable to govern is false.

15.        Coalitions formed for the purpose of securing enough votes or combining a sufficient number of parliamentary seats to govern through power-sharing arrangements without an agreement on the policies and their implementation are referred to as “office-seeking coalitions.” Office-seeking coalitions are coalitions whose main goal is access to power. Cabinet portfolios are the payoffs. Office-seeking coalitions have been accused of being “unprincipled” because their members were ideologically remote and therefore perceived as political opportunists interested in short-term gains rather than long-term policy goals.[4]

16          Policy-oriented coalitions are party coalitions justified by policy goals. For opposition alliances which sole aim is to defeat the incumbent to form a new government, there is no place for ideological affinity and the common-post election strategy in the case of defeat is to join the winner. Such alliances usually collapses as quickly as they are formed because they are, themselves, essentially an office-seeking strategy used by politicians to position themselves in such a way as to make themselves attractive to the governing party or coalition. The lack of ideology and the absence of a post-election strategy make office-seeking opposition coalitions difficult to sustain. In a study of five African countries, Kenya, Mauritius, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa, it was found that it has been easy for the government of the day to buy off opposition leaders of office-seeking coalitions after their electoral defeat.[5]

17.        The case of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) of Kenya is illustrative of the pitfalls of an office-seeking coalition. Daniel Arap Moi of the Kenyan African National Union (“KANU”) won Kenya’s 1992 and 1997 presidential election with 36.8% and 40.51% of the vote respectively. Combined the opposition garnered far more votes than the eventual winner. However, by splitting the votes, they failed to secure the presidency and gain a majority in parliament. In 2002, 14 opposition parties formed a coalition, the National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK) with the Liberal Democratic Party (“LDP”). LDP consisted of a splinter group of disgruntled KANU leaders following Moi’s choice of Uhuru Kenyatta as presidential candidate. The coalition of NAK and LDP was called the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). NARC put up Mwai Kibaki to contest the presidency against Uhuru Kenyatta of KANU. NARC won a landslide victory. NARC began to face problems within days after winning the election when Kibaki did not honour the agreement on cabinet posts to the coalition partners. In 2005, President Kibaki dissolved the cabinet, dismissed all the LDP ministers, allocating ministries to KANU, the party NARC had united against. In the 2007 elections Raila Odinga, formerly of the LDP ran against President Kibaki, formerly of NAK. Absence of a common ideology for political reform is one of the main reasons for the rapid disintegration of NARC.

18.        South Korea has shown the sustainability of coalitions bonded by the common goal to implement democratic reforms. In 1987, the formation of a pro-democracy coalition and an unprecedented level of mass mobilization pressured the authoritarian regime to accommodate democratic reform. However neither of the two civilian candidates, Kim Dae Jung nor Kim Young Sam was willing to yield in their quests to become president causing civil society to be divided in supporting them, clearing the way for the regime candidate Roh Tae Woo to win the election with only 36% of the vote. In the 1997 elections, for the first time in South Korean history, an opposition candidate, Kim Dae Jung was elected president. Civil society and its mobilization were crucial in the democratic transition and consolidation. It was the resurrection and remobilization of various civil society groups and their grand-democracy coalition with the opposition party that ultimately induced the authoritarian ruling coalition to agree on a set of democratic reforms.[6]   

19.        By focusing efforts on making South Korea’s democracy deeper and more substantive they provided the foundation for the empowerment of civil society that has allowed South Korea’s Constitutional Court to rule unanimously on March 10 2017 to remove President Park Geun-Hye from office backing the National Assembly’s impeachment of the president. This was a historic incident for the reaffirmation of South Korean democracy and confirmation of the rule of law.[7] The first candle was lit at a protest in Seoul’s downtown plaza on October 29, 2016, about 20,000 people joined to protest Park’s inadequate apology. The next Saturday, the protest had grown tenfold; a week later, on November 12, the protest drew a turnout of 1 million. The series of peaceful Saturday protests pushed a segment of the ruling-party members of parliament to break ranks to vote for impeachment of the president.

20.        Civil society and the mass movement in Malaysia will not buy into an office-seeking coalition. Bersatu and the component parties in Pakatan Harapan have to weave the policies for winning the Malay votes into the Reform Agenda while maintaining and extending support from all races, religious groups and diverse interests in Malaysia. UMNO’s racial politics have spawned corruption, cronyism, patronage and rent-seeking activities. Malaysians want policies that will liberate the Malay mind, induce empowerment and self-reliance, not continuation of policies that chained the Malays economically and socially to UMNO, enslaving them politically. The proposal is only providing a change of political master not social-economic and political freedom.   

Coalition Building and Consensus

21.        Elections in Malaysia are not democratic, not free and not fair. Opposition leaders and government critics suffer harassment, arrest, detention, imprisonment and abuse of state resources skewed the playing field heavily in favour of the incumbents. Coercive and unfair means are used to disadvantage the opposition. Civil liberty violations, patronage, gerrymandering, malapportionment, media bias, manipulation, co-optation and repression are relied upon to guarantee incumbent re-election. The application of a divide and rule policy has caused deep cleavages in the society according to ethnicity, religion, rural and urban divide.

22.        Many opposition movements have been challenging authoritarian governments but only a few have succeeded. The opposition forces in South Africa voted out an apartheid regime, people power in the Philippines ousted a dictator, popular unrest in Indonesia forced President Suharto to resign, a broad coalition in Chile won a plebiscite that led to the removal of Augusto Pinochet and Solidarity defeated the Polish communist. Bersatu and Pakatan Harapan can learn, draw strength and inspiration on how these opposition ended repressive regimes[8]:

·       They were able to achieve their goals through broad support, coherence and legitimacy;
·       They were able to bridge deep disagreements about aims, strategies and leadership among the opposition and convince diverse opposition groups to work out their major differences;
·       They were able to encourage convergence, forge consensus and built coalitions among the opposition;
·       They were able to connect the opposition to social movements, workers, students, women, human rights and religious groups;
·       They were able to connect with the wider public to provide a sense that the movements were democratic, truly inclusive and not vehicles for particular individuals or groups;
·       They focused sharply on what united the people rather than on what divided them;
·       But they also made the difficult decisions to exclude groups that refused to renounce violence or insisted on uncompromising demands for regional, ethnic or sectarian autonomy;

23.        Bersatu and Pakatan Harapan leaders can apply these lessons by adopting the 4 C’s of coalition building - communications, consultations, consensus and compromise to forge the broad coalition amongst the parties, civil society, the different ethnic and re
ligious groups and the Malaysian public on an inclusive basis. There are no simple solutions, the Gordian knot of cleavages in Malaysian society cannot be solved by one stroke of the sword. It requires patience, tolerance, mutual respect and goodwill. The proposal has to be send back to the drawing board.

William Leong Jee KeenMember of Parliament Selayang12 June 2017

[1] Bruce Dixon, “It’s Time to Build a Mass Movement”
[2] Raby, Democracy and Revolution: Latin America and Socialism Today 253.
[3] Max Weber, Max Weber on Charisma and Institution Building-Selected Papers (1968), 49-50.
[4] Wolfgang C. Muller, Kaare Strom, “Policy, Office or Votes? How Political Parties in Western Europe Make Hard Decisions”
[5] Denis Kadima, “The Politics of Party Coalitions in Africa” EISA and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
[6] Sunhyuk Kim “Civil society and democratization in South Kor ea”
[7] Sook Jong Lee, “A Democratic Breakthrough in South Korea?” Carnegie Endowment For International Peace”
[8] Abraham F. Lownthal and Sergio Bilar “From authoritarian rule toward democratic governance: Learning from political leaders” International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance 2015. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Trump: Making ISIS’s Threat in Malaysia Great Again

Trump’s immigration ban
Should Malaysians be concerned with the internal immigration policy of a foreign country? This was a comment post to my face book page in response to Pakatan Harapan’s protest before the American embassy. Malaysians should be concerned because Trump’s Muslim refugee ban coupled with UMNO’s politicization of Islam is making the ISIS’s threat in Malaysia great again.

Trump’s populist Islamophobia driven approach to deal with terrorism will induce many young Malaysian Muslim youth rendered susceptible to Jihadist-Salafism by the decades-old UMNO/PAS politicization of Islam and Najib’s recent co-option of conservative Salafist-influenced Islam, to join ISIS ranks bent on converting Malaysia into an Islamic theocratic state not through the ballot but by the bullet.

Trump’s ban is a lifeline to ISIS
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (“ISIS”) are facing setbacks in Iraq and Syria, all indications point to the group crumbling. A senior military official of the US-led coalition said an estimated 50,000 ISIS fighters have been killed since August 2014. The coalition’s spokesman in Iraq said ISIS are losing fighters at an “unsustainable rate.”[1] The only thing keeping ISIS from imploding are new recruits which makes winning the propaganda war critical.  Trump’s Muslim ban has thrown a life-line to the ISIS recruitment drive. Such recruits particularly Malaysian Muslims have serious ramifications for Malaysia’s security.  

Validates ISIS narrative: West out to destroy Islam
Some Malaysians ask what is wrong for Trump delivering on his campaign promises to make America safe from terrorism. Terrorism is a crime, it is wrong. There can be no justification for the killing of innocents or attacks on civilians and public institutions. The violence of the Jihadist-Salafist must be condemned. Each government is of course entitled to maintain the security of its own country but not by endangering the security of others. Trump’s Muslim refugee ban is a disingenuous ploy to pander to his populist supporters, but it does not deal with the root causes of terrorism. Instead of making America safe it makes America and the rest of the world a more dangerous place.  

Trump’s executive order validates the ISIS-Jihadist terrorists’ narrative that “the West and its allies are out to destroy Islam and it is each Muslim’s sacred duty to carry out a jihad to save it.”[2] The ban will give impetus for fresh recruits to replace ISIS’s dwindling number of fighters.

Trump’s ban is inhumane, bigoted and shameful but it is the hypocrisy behind it that will resonate with young Muslims because it authenticates ISIS’s message that “our Caliphate is the only effective means of defending Islam from both the near-enemy and the far-enemy.”

The “far-enemy” is the United States. The “near-enemy” are the repressive regimes in the Muslim world. Trump’s purported rationale to protect US against terrorists from the countries listed in the ban, cannot withstand scrutiny. No terrorist from these seven countries: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Iran, Sudan and Yemen have carried out attacks on US soil. On the other hand, the countries that produced and supported the greatest number of anti-US terrorists: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Lebanon are excluded from the ban.[3] Of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, 2 from UAE, 1 from Lebanon and 1 was Egyptian. Osama bin Laden was a Saudi Arabia citizen and the current al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri is Egyptian.

The countries excluded from the ban are dictatorial, autocratic and repressive regimes. These regimes which have persistently denied and violated the democratic and human rights of their own citizens and neglected their social, political and economic development are maintained and supported by the US. The US have declared the oil reserves in these countries are of strategic interests and an important reason for US support for these regimes.

Trump in excluding these regimes reveals his lack of bona fides. There is no political will to deal with the root causes of terrorism. Support for ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Jihadist terrorist is rooted in opposition to US Middle East policy in respect of the US invasion of Iraq, the protection of Israel and the plight of the Palestinians, inaction in Syria and support for corrupt repressive dictators in the Muslim world. Trump’s ban driven by US geostrategic, economic and populist interests, risk the US and its allies paying a heavy human price in response to the injustice and humiliation provoked.

Validates ISIS Narrative: Atrocities against Muslim civilians is Collateral Damage
Trump’s pledge over a Christian broadcasting network to give priority to Christian refugees over others serves to confirm a second ISIS-Jihadist narrative that the US and the West are indifferent to the atrocities committed against Muslims and carry out policies that actively harm Muslims. This narrative has been a centrepiece of their recruitment policy. What motivates many to join the ISIS-Jihadist terrorists is the idea of responding to defend Muslim communities under threat from the West. An example of this narrative is found in Dabiq, the ISIS online magazine, justification for the execution of James Foley:

The US has killed women, children and the elderly, during its direct occupation of Iraq prior to its withdrawal. There are countless accounts of American soldiers executing families and raping women under the sanctity of the US military and Blackwater. Muslim families were killed under the broad definition of ‘collateral damage,’ which the US grants itself alone the right to apply. Therefore, if a mujahid kills a single man with a knife, it is the barbaric killing of the ‘innocent.’ However, if Americans kill thousands of Muslim families all over the world by pressing missile fire buttons, it is merely ‘collateral damage’.”[4]   

Trump’s ban on Muslims fits this ISIS-Jihadist narrative precisely. Trump is banning refugees fleeing from the horrors caused by the US which played a key role in destabilizing and destroying these seven and other Muslim countries. Violence, terror and death have become commonplace in these countries where civilian casualties and deaths is denoted as a footnote under collateral damage.

The US has repeatedly attacked civilian facilities such as hospitals and schools in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. A US airstrike in Afghanistan on 6 July 2008 killed civilians in a wedding party including the bride. On October 9 2016, US-armed Saudi coalition bombed a Yemen funeral killing 140 and wounding 525. The 2014 Israeli military operations in Gaza to stop Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel resulted in the deaths of thousands, the vast majority were Gaza residents. Various human right groups contended both sides violated international laws and committed war crimes but US stood by Israel with its veto rights in the UN. The US Congress expressed vigorous support for Israel and passed legislation providing Israel with an additional USD 225 million in military aid and missile defence. Bush declared the War on Terror and invaded Iraq based on non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Obama has bombed five of these seven countries and two (Iran and Sudan) were punished by heavy sanctions.

In executing the presidential order, every Muslim family unfairly detained at an airport, every Muslim who worked for the US and forced to return to face certain persecution and death and every statement that privileges Christians over Muslims will inspire ISIS-Jihadists terrorism. Trump’s ban provides the reality that gives ISIS-Jihadist propaganda teeth.

Islamophobia: “Us” against “Them”
Trump’s ban is the very response the ISIS-Jihadists want from their terrorist attacks. ISIS’s goal is to divide the world into two camps: “the crusaders” and “the caliphate.” No Christians living in Muslim lands. No Muslims living in Christian countries. Its message to Western Muslims is that they do not belong there. “Come to the caliphate where you can live as a true Muslim.” ISIS argues that Muslims in the West are living in a “grey zone.” “Grey zones” are areas where Muslims practice their religion peacefully in non-Muslim countries. ISIS wants to eliminate these zones, in part by turning non-Muslims against their Muslim neighbours. Each terrorist attack chips away the grey zones as Westerners marginalize Muslims, pushing them, ISIS hopes, into the Caliphate’s open arms.

The objective of the ISIS-Jihadists in carrying out the terror attacks is to drive a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is about provoking fractures between Muslims and the citizens of the West. It is about making Muslims feel they will never be welcomed in European, American or Western society. Their goal is to feed a fear of and hatred for Islam, for the West to associate Islam with danger and violence. It is to spread insecurity and social instability along religious fault lines. It is to ferment Islamophobia.

In responding to the terror attacks, it is important to keep in mind that the jihadists and extremists do not represent Muslims and Islam. Knowing that ISIS and terrorist groups want to instil fear and deepen divisions at the international level, it is important to guard against a natural reaction to define oneself as Muslims and non-Muslims, “Us” against “Them.” Hate and anger add blindness to an emotional reaction stoked by fear. When we turn to populism without grappling with the root causes, we succumb to politics of fear and prejudice giving rise to Islamophobia, precisely ISIS’s goals.      
Trump’s Muslim refugee ban is institutionalized Islamophobia. It will become the tipping-point for many Muslim youths turning to ISIS-Jihadists groups and the world will become a more dangerous place. Malaysian Muslims have shown to be particularly susceptible to the lure of the ISIS-Jihadists group therefore Trump’s Muslim ban will increase the risks of ISIS attacks in Malaysia.       

Malaysia’s terrorist groups have direct links to ISIS-Jihadist groups
Malaysia’s jihadist terror groups are directly linked to Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Jemaah Islamiya (“JI”) formed in January 1993 became the leader among militant Islamic groups seeking to establish a “caliphate” in Southeast Asia. JI went on to serve as a platform for international terrorist groups.   

JI’s Malaysia cell has international links to Al-Qaeda through its associations with Al-Qaeda in Pakistan as well as splinter groups within Southeast Asia such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (“MILF”), the Moro National Liberation Front (“MNLF”), the Abu Sayyaf Group (“ASG”), the Free Acheh Movement (“GAM”) and the Southern Thailand Patani groups. International recruitment and operations were conducted in Malaysia for more than a decade. It may be noteworthy that some 9/11 terrorists were in Petaling Jaya prior to the attacks and the original planning of 9/11 took place in Petaling Jaya before the attackers transferred their base to Germany.[5]

During the early years of the War on Terror Malaysian authorities with US assistance have achieved operational success in diminishing the threat posed by JI but efforts to clamp down on JI and its ideology have been hampered by a lack of political will. This deficiency appears to stem mainly from the politicians’ desire to accommodate the perceived religious sensibilities of the country’s majority Muslim population. The complacency of political powers within the country allowed the radical and extremist elements to survive as “sleeper cells” waiting for the right moment to emerge.

Al-Qaeda and ISIS have tapped into JI’s organisation structure to increase their influence in Southeast Asia. JI have put itself at the disposal of ISIS in return for funding, training and cooperation. The JI sleeper cells have now been reactivated. ISIS supporters in Malaysia are largely former JI members. ISIS’ recruitment in Malaysia targeting Muslim youths is similar to JI’s except with the additional and very potent element of social media.

ISIS Threat in Malaysia
In August 2014, Special Branch assistant director-general Datuk Ayub Khan Mydin Pitchay said that suspected militants arrested from April to June were formulating plans to bomb hotels, discotheques and a Malaysian brewery of Danish beer, Carlsberg.

In October 2014, Malaysian authorities have warned that ISIS constitutes a major threat to Malaysia and that non-Muslims in Malaysia are likely to be targeted by militants returning from Syria and home grown “lone wolf” attacks. ISIS have praised lone wolf attackers such as Man Haron Monis who held 18 people hostage in a Sydney café before being gunned down by the police in December 2014 and have claimed credit for the attack.

Since the terrorist attack in Jakarta on 14 January 2015, Southeast Asian authorities have come to realize that ISIS inspired attacks on home soil, however uncoordinated or by different factions vying to boost their legitimacy with the parent Middle Eastern organization or even “lone wolf” attacks pose a real threat.

In February 2015, Home Minister Zahid Hamidi warned of intelligence that militants planned to kidnap tycoons and rob banks in Malaysia to finance their activities.[6] In early September 2015 both Indonesia and Malaysia are listed as targets in the IS publication Dabiq. In January 2016, a 16 year-old school boy launched a “lone cub” attack in the name of ISIS when he tried to kidnap a sales assistant at a shopping complex in Sungai Petani, Kedah. He viewed non-Muslims as “kafir harbi” (those who are at war with Islam and can be justifiably killed)

On 21 June 2016, ISIS released a video, featuring Malaysian, Muhamad Wanddy Mohamed Jedi, urging ISIS supporters to kill non-Muslims in Malaysia. On the same night there was a grenade attack wounding seven persons in an entertainment outlet in Puchong which ISIS have claimed responsibility.[7]

The police announced on 1st February 2017 they have arrested three men suspected of having ISIS links and face charges of suspected involvement in terrorism. At least three Malaysian women are reported to have travelled to the Middle East to offer themselves as sexual comfort women to ISIS fighters. The so-called Jihad al-nikah, permitting extramarital sexual relations is considered by them as a legitimate form of holy war.

In 2015, an estimated 91 Malaysians were serving as foreign fighters in Syria, 7 had been killed and 2 conducted suicide bomb attacks killing 33 people in Raqqa and Baghdad. Malaysians formed a core component of the Islamic State’s Southeast Asian unit called “Katibah Nusantara” which has reportedly grown to 200 fighters by 2016.

Returning Katibah Nusantara fighters and home grown ISIS links established a Malaysian presence operating in Selangor and Perak sharing the vision and mission of JI and ISIS to establish a regional super caliphate, the “Daulah Islamiah Nusantara” that would include all the predominant Muslim states in Southeast Asia encompassing Malaysia, Indonesia, Southern Thailand, Southern Philippines and Singapore.

These incidents demonstrate ISIS poses real security concerns for Malaysians of minority races and religions, moderate Muslims who do not subscribe to their deadly ideology and threatens the country’s multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious identity.

The Scale of the Problem
Several prominent scholars have voiced concerns that a disproportionately large number of Malaysian Muslims have been radicalised and attracted to this virulent and brutal ISIS form of Jihadist-Salafism ideology which poses a clear and present danger to Malaysia. The growing appeal of Jihadist-Salafism is reflected in several surveys.  

James Chin points out that Malaysia with a population of about 31 million and 60 percent Sunni Muslims has about 200-250 ISIS fighters in the Middle-East while Indonesia with a Muslim population of 300 million has less than 400 ISIS fighters. It is estimated that the rates of ISIS recruitment equates to 1.4 people per million Muslim citizens for Indonesia while for Malaysia the figure is 8.5 per million. Malaysians seem to be joining ISIS at a higher rate than Indonesians. This imbalance alone gives a clear indication of the scale of the problem Malaysia faces.[8]

Joseph Chinyong Liow in his article “Malaysia’s ISIS conundrum” noted a 2013 Pew Global Attitudes Survey that in Malaysia 27 percent of the Muslims takes the view that attacks on civilians in defence of Islam are “sometimes justified” or “often justified” while a further 12 percent take the view that violence is “rarely justified” as opposed to “never justified.” Essentially 39 percent of Malaysian Muslims surveyed believed that violence can be justified against enemies of Islam. Significantly, Indonesians polled only 18 percent on the same question (1 percent “often”, 5 percent “sometimes” and 12 percent “rarely”)[9] More Malaysian Muslims (11 percent) express a favourable view of ISIS than do Indonesian Muslims (4 percent). Proportionately more Indonesian Muslims (53 percent) express worry about Muslim extremist groups than do Malaysian Muslims (8 percent) who are more worried at 31 percent about Christian extremism.  

The Causes of the Problem
The higher than usual susceptibility of Malaysian-Muslim youth to ISIS’s Jihadist-Salafism and Islamist radicalism are attributable to three main causes:

The first cause: According to Joseph Liow, Islam has unfortunately become heavily politicised in Malaysia. Malaysia’s dominant political party, UMNO is a Malay-Muslim party that was created with the main objective, at least in theory, of promoting and defending Malay-Muslim supremacy. According to the party’s narrative, this supremacy is coming under siege from various cultural (read: non-Malay vernacular education) and religious (read: non-Muslim) quarters and hence has to be staunchly defended. Given that Malaysia has a Malay-Muslim majority population it should come as no surprise that UMNO’s chief political opponents are also Malay-Muslim parties who equally brandish religious credentials as a source of legitimacy. To the extent that there is a political ideology at play in Malaysia today, it is Islam, and specifically Islamism that dominates.

Islam casts a pale shadow over Malaysia today not because it is Islam, or even Islamism, per se, but because its proponents and defenders are articulating a particularly exclusive brand of Islam that is divorced from the religion’s historically enlightened traditions, and which has no intention to encourage pluralism and compromise. The net effect of this is that non-Muslim Malaysians are marginalised as Islamist parties try to “out-Islam” each other. As UMNO struggles to cling to power by focusing on its religious credentials above all else, religion has become heavily politicised and is viewed as a zero sum game.

Rather than extol the virtues and conciliatory features of Islam’s rich traditions, many Malay-Muslim political leaders have instead chosen to use religion to amplify differences, to reinforce extreme interpretations of Malay-Muslim rights and to condemn the “other” (non-Muslims) as a threat to these rights. For fear of further erosion of legitimacy and political support, the Malay-Muslim leadership of the country have in their public statements circled the wagons, allowing vocal right-wing ethno-nationalist and religious groups to preach incendiary messages against Christians and Hindus with impunity. In extreme cases, they have even flippantly referred to fellow Malaysians who are adherents to other religious faiths as “enemies of Islam.” Even-state sanctioned Friday sermons have occasionally taken to referring to non-Muslim Malaysians as “enemies of Islam.” It is against this backdrop that the findings of the Pew surveys cited earlier take on greater, more disconcerting meaning.

The second cause: According to James Chin[10] the role of the Malaysian government in particular JAKIM (Malaysian Islamic Development Department) and Biro Tata Negara (National Civics Bureau or BTN) in its Islamization agenda set the stage for the acceptance of Islamist extremist elements into mainstream public discourse.

JAKIM a government department under the Prime minister’s office is tasked with defining to the minuscule detail what being a Sunni Muslim means in Malaysia, not only in theological terms but also practical terms, like how to dress and what type of behaviour are “halal (permissible) or “haram.”

BTN also under the PM’s office is supposed to nurture the spirit of patriotism but some of its program promotes racism towards non-Malays and filter their message to selected groups of Malay participants. BTN teaches these Malay participants that the Malaysian Chinese and non-Malays are like “Jews” and that Malays must be politically supreme at all times. An expose of BTN documents showed the BTN trainers were told to teach that “racism” is “good” if it promotes Malay unity.

 James Chin points out that Malaysia’s ethnocentric Islamic discourse, obsessed with the idea of “Ketuanan Melayu” (Malay supremacy) has now been given to a new brand of legitimacy, “Ketuanan Islam” (Islamic supremacy) aimed at creating a Malay-Islamic state fusing Islamic supremacy with intolerant Malay nationalism. James Chin says this discourse is one of the prime sources rendering Malaysian Muslims, particularly the youth, susceptible to radicalisation by Jihadist-Salafism.  
The third cause: According to Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman, assistant professor and Coordinator of the Malaysian programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, the growth of Salafism in Malaysia is another important factor that has an impact on the strong support ISIS has received from some Malaysian Muslims. Salafism is a religious orientation denoted by puritan and legalistic interpretation of the Quran. Salafist reject interpretations of classical Muslim scholars and seek to rid Islam of any cultural practices that are deemed innovations. The Salafis are particularly notorious for their fervent rejection of Sufi and Shite Muslims whom they deem as deviant. While most Salafis belong to the non-violent strand of Salafism, ISIS subscribe to the Jihadist-Salafism strand which legitimise the use of violence in the name of Islam. Jihadist-Salafism doctrine argues that given the fact that most of the regimes in the Muslim world are in a state of “Jahiliyyah” (ignorance or idolatrous condition), it is the duty of all Muslims to rebel using violence to uphold “Hakimiyyah” (God’s sovereignty). It must be added that the boundaries between the two Salafi ideologies are porous and Salafis can easily slide from one group to another.

In more recent times, UMNO itself has promoted the Salafi doctrine through the recruitment of a number of prominent Salafi scholars including Ustaz Fathul Bari, as part of its young ulama wing. These scholars have formed an organisation, “Pertubuhan Ilmuwan Malaysia” (ILMU). Sources report that several senior UMNO politicians proposed the inclusion of the Salafi ulama in an attempt to buttress UMNO’s Islamic image. It was argued that many PAS ulama are traditionalist subscribing to the Shafie mazhab or Sufi orientations, hence having a group of Salafis to counter their religious views can be beneficial to UMNO as it enhances the party’s Islamic credentials and improves its credibility with Malaysian Muslim voters.[11]
Among the issues ILMU have focused on were:-

(a)            ILMU discouraged Muslims from participating in the Bersih 2.0 rallies on the ground that such demonstrations were not in line with Islamic teachings and that the leader of Bersih is a non-Muslim woman and Islam has stipulated clearly that leadership must be in the hands of Muslim men;
(b)            ILMU was also instrumental in the rejection of the use of the word “Allah” in the Malay translations of the Bible. The ILMU ulama while acknowledging that the word has been used in the Arabic bible for many years in the Middle East, argued that the word has never been used in the Malay bible. This they argued is an act of disrespect against Muslims in Malaysia for the word Allah to describe God within the context of the Christian belief of the trinity;
(c)        These Salafi ulama are resolute in their defence of a Muslim-led government to remain in power. Ustaz Fathu Bari argued that Muslims in Malaysia cannot oppose the government since the current Prime Minister Najib Razak is a Muslim. Any act of opposition must thus be viewed as un-Islamic. Echoing Fathu Bari’s position, Rasul Dahri espoused that any attempt to challenge a Muslim ruler is treason;
(d)        Salafi scholars such as Al-Albani and Bin Baz have explicitly rejected democracy because it challenges the Oneness of God. Al-Albani had even prohibited his followers from voting or participating in elections. The view of Rasul Dahri, one of the Salafi scholars that joined UMNO, is that democracy is un-Islamic because it does not emanate from Islam. For him, ultimate sovereignty lies in God’s hands and not the hands of the people, a core concept of democracy. However, in the Malaysia context, Rasul Dahri argues that the democratic system ensures that the government remains in the hands of Muslims. He argues that to strengthen the position of the Muslim community, Muslims in Malaysia must vote UMNO. This is to ensure that political power is not divided within the Muslim community resulting in non-Muslims usurping power.

Malaysia’s highest religious authority, the National Fatwa Council Malaysia, did not gazette the Wahhabis as a deviant sect, but it has issued five different statements- in 1985, 1986, 1996, 1997 and 2003- declaring Wahhabism as a sect that must be curtailed due to its divisive nature. However, such statements did not deter UMNO from co-opting these Salafis scholars to form the young ulama wing within the party in 2010. The above show that the ILMU ulama dealt with contentious issues in favour of the UMNO/BN government from an Islamic standpoint thereby enhancing the Islamic credentials of Najib Tun Razak and UMNO. The Salafis ulama in return are able to gain a national platform to promote their ideology and to push the government for a stricter implementation of their puritan form of Islamic laws.

The vast majority of Salafis in Malaysia do not subscribe to the ISIS ideology. Nonetheless, the mind set created by Salafism is susceptible for recruitment by groups like ISIS.[12]

Trump is able to easily tap into a groundswell of anti-Muslim fears and bigotry to issue a profanely religiously discriminating presidential executive order because they have been cultivated for 16 years as the central fuel driving the war on terror. Factions from both the Republican and Democratic administrations have devoted themselves primarily to demonizing Muslims and Islam. A government can get away with bombing, invading and droning the same group only by constantly demonizing and dehumanising that group. Similarly in Malaysia, UMNO and Najib have in the course of the politicization of Islam and the co-option of Salafist influenced Islam in order to hold on to power have sought to demonize and dehumanised non-Malays and non-Muslims.

The end result is that although neither Trump nor Najib/UMNO may have intended it, they have rendered Malaysian Muslims susceptible to Jihadist-Salafism. As long as Islam is politicised and puritan understanding of the religion is promoted, Malaysia will see the radicalisation of more Muslims in the country.

We must not lose sight that ISIS and the Jihadist terrorists do not represent the values of Islam, their actions are anti-Islamic and must be condemned unreservedly. However, fear is a natural response to the threat of terrorism, but fear-based policies that target groups of people according to their religion, race or region of origin are counter-productive. When political entrepreneurs fan fear and prejudice it gives rise to racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. In the end there is no substitute for political will and enlightened leadership, the kind that, instead of pandering to people’s worst instincts, appeals to their better angels.
The danger now is that this Muslim refugee immigration ban is merely the first step in this heinous path and not the last. That is why it is urgent that everything be done to denounce it, battle it and defeat it. This is why Malaysians must be concerned about Trump’s Muslim refugee ban.

William Leong Jee Keen
Member of Parliament Selayang
February 9, 2017

[1] “Official: 50,000 Islamic Fighters Killed in Syria, Iraq- VOA News December 8, 2016
[2] Countering Islamist Extremist Narratives: A Strategic Briefing” Quilliam Foundation January 11, 2015
[3] “Trump’s Muslim Ban is Culmination of War on Terror Mentality but Still Unique Shameful” Glen Greenwald January 28, 2017
[4] “Trump is making ISIS great again” Boston Globe Robert A Pape January 30, 2017
[5] “Militant Islam in Malaysia: Synergy between Regional and Global Jihadi Groups” Middle East Institute Andrin Raj SEA Regional Director-International Association for Counterterrorism and Security. January 16, 2015
[6] “Indonesian and Malaysian Support for the Islamic State” United States Agency for International Development by Greg Fealy and John Funston. January 6, 2016.
[7] “The evolution of jihadist-Salafism in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines and its impact on the security in Southeast Asia” Superintendent Craig Riviere. November 2016. Vice Chief of Defence Force. Australian defence College
[8] “Malaysia: Clear and present danger from the Islamic State” Brookings Institute James Chin December 16 2015
[9] “Malaysia’s ISIS conundrum” Joseph Chinyong Liow. April 21, 2015 
[10] “Malaysia: Clear and present danger from the Islamic State” James Chin December 16, 2015
[11] “Salafi Ulama in UMNO: Political Convergence or Expediency” Contemporary Southeast Asia Vol 36, No. 2 (2014) pp 206-31. Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman.
[12] “Islam, politics and violence in Malaysia” Mohd Nawab Osman 9 January 2015