Correct Muslim Perception of the West: Malaysian-Tamil Woman

Richard Stengal the Managing Editor of Time Magazine, in his Sept 11th 2006, editorial, “One Thing We Need To Do” describes the need for national dialogue on democracy within America in the post 9/11 era. He writes about how most Americans didn’t care much about foreign policy……and didn’t know the name of the Prime Minister of Malaysia before. It didn’t matter then but it does now. Here is why Mr. Stengal is right. And here is why we need to have this conversation not just within the United States but also in the United Nations, internationally and within Muslim countries.

Malaysia is the United States 10th largest trading partner. Mr. Abdullah Badawi, the current Prime Minister of Malaysia, is chairman of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Countries and an Islamic scholar. Given that Malaysia is having serious problems with Islamic fundamentalism from within, Mr. Abdullah Badawi is spearheading what he calls Islam Hadhari that pertains to Muslims only. In his recent Hari Raya speech: Correct Western Perception of Islam:PM he addresses Muslims only.

As a Malaysian-Tamil woman, I wonder what an impact Mr.Abdullah Badawi would have not just in Malaysia but in other Islamic countries if he were to begin to give speeches to this effect: Correct Muslim Perception of The West.

Americans and the International community who want to see an end to the war in Iraq, Islamic terrorism and the safe return of their troops need to be paying close attention to the development of political Islam in Malaysia – whatever form it takes. Badawi has introduced Islamization programs to counter the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism not just in Malaysia but in other Islamic countries. Here are the ten points of the chairman of the Organization of Islamic Countries for Muslims only in a multicultural/multireligious country:

Faith and piety in Allah
A just and trustworthy government
A free and independent people
Mastery of knowledge
Balanced and comprehensive development
A good quality of life
Protection of the rights of minority groups and women
Cultural and moral integrity
Protection of the environment
Strong defenses

Sounds good. The only exception here is that non-Muslim Malaysians and women are excluded from this utopian idea of a ‘just ‘government. I don’t understand how an Islamic scholar can justify piety with the injustice of consistently excluding a significant segment of his population when speaking to the Malaysian people. This is racial politics disguised as religious politics. We are not blind.

That conversation/dialogue that Mr. Stengal calls for can happen in the United States and Western countries but what happens in Malaysia and other Muslim countries is the monologue. We will begin to solve the problem of violence in Iraq when the Prime Minister of Malaysia changes his conversation significantly and identifies himself as a man different from the former Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir. In other words, we need to be hearing from the Prime Minister of Malaysia, chairman of the 57-nation Organization of Muslim Countries words that reflect critical thinking pertaining to the foundations of freedom that so far, the Malaysian Chinese and Indians are able to hear, understand and adopt into their lives. Hence, by extension the economic success of China, India and Japan.

There is an old Malay proverb that Malaysian Muslims listening to Mr. Abdullah Badawi need to pay close attention to – jangan jaga tepi kain orang lain. The translation is – don’t be watching the ends of another’s skirts. For as long as I remember, the West has been vilified one way or another in Malaysia. Muslim Malaysians are constantly being exhorted to be more pious than the West. The examples that are held up for Muslims, even young impressionable 18-year old Muslims at the Muslim only schools and colleges are negative examples and images of western culture.

For example, one is not allowed to juxtapose a speech by Dr. Mahathir Mohammad with one by Abraham Lincoln.

Speaking from personal experience, as a former Institute Teknology Mara English As A Second Language lecturer, one’s contract will be terminated for teaching critical thinking. For myself, it was merely loss of a job. In the long term, for Muslim Malaysians, it is the loss of minds. Our ability to think critically and engage with the rest of the world, whether our immediate neighbor or someone on the other side of the world is crucial to the success of our communities and cultures.

Malaysian Muslims need Mr. Abdullah Badawi to engage with the precious ideas of freedom that the United States, Europe, now China and India are embracing. It is fine to embrace Islam, and to hold it close to your heart but your mind must also be able to recognize the political/social/cultural realities of a world peopled by 6.2 billion others of varying beliefs.

If Mr. Abdullah Badawi is proposing a just and trustworthy government within the context of this new Islam, he is going to have to repeal Malaysia’s apartheid policies publicly. I look forward to significant developments in Malaysia and the ripple effect to be seen in other Islamic countries. The 57-nation Organization of Islamic countries can allign itself with Western countries and become a powerful force for good by quite simply changing its’ conversation and focus. Progress and economic development in Iraq can begin just as soon as Mr. Abdullah Badawi corrects the problem in Malaysia. I can think of no greater public statement or service by Mr. Abdullah Badawi towards God and Country.

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