Thursday, June 11, 2009

POLITICS: A liberal view of the Pan-Islamic Party of Malaysia ...

Keith Leong, an Associate at the Malaysia Think Tank, provides some interesting perspectives on PAS, a religious party that forms part of Malaysia's opposition.

As a young non-Muslim Malaysian with generally liberal leanings, I have always had mixed feelings about PAS. The party has been painted as the ultimate bogeyman by the establishment media and pundits to my demographic group, often with general success. Incidents like their periodic campaigns against alcohol consumption and teenybopper music only served to heighten my discontent towards the brand of politics that they practiced.

On the other hand, one cannot help but admire the dedication and perseverance that the PAS ranks have shown in their long, twilight struggle in Opposition. The high regard, even affection by which their leaders like Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat are accorded to, not only by Malaysian Muslims but their compatriots of other faiths as well suggest that there is more to PAS than what the powers-that-be would have us believe.

More importantly, however, is the small but growing number amongst them who realise, like their colleagues both in Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan Nasional that Malaysia can only be led effectively in a broad-based, inclusive manner. The politicians who realised this before and since the 8th of March 2008 have grown in stature, while those who have not or will not have only exacerbated the sectarian tensions that threaten to rend this country apart.

Malaysia may be a Muslim-majority country, but PAS cannot rely on Islam to gain anything even resembling an electoral majority. Religion and ethnicity are intertwined in Malaysian law and politics. If Malay nationalists worry non-Muslim minorities, imagine how they must feel about PAS.

... it seems many young leaders, regardless of their party, who want public life in Malaysia to be more than a zero-sum game dictated by archaic sectarian rivalries are being hounded into obscurity while the demagogues triumph.

The possibility of this happening in PAS is all the more sad because Malaysians have had, for the last couple of months the chance to see what the party could be like if it was led by moderates. The picture that that possibility presented was inspiring and promising.

MP for Shah Alam Khalid Samad visiting a Catholic Church (the construction of which had faced numerous bureaucratic obstacles) in his constituency and receiving rave reviews from the parishioners. Nik Abdul Aziz standing up for his fellow PKR and DAP leaders smeared by the reactionary press.

PAS has the ability to embrace a more pluralist approach that goes beyond pan-Islam and Malay chauvinism.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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