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Religion, crime and politics

USE of the word “Allah”, A Kugan’s death in custody, and political party-hopping were some of the concerns the Malay-language press was engrossed in between 28 Jan to 2 Feb 2009.

“Don’t challenge Islam”

The headline for Mingguan Malaysia‘s 1 Feb edition was Jangan cabar Islam, and the lead read: “Don’t challenge the sanctity of Islam. Don’t arouse the anger of the Muslim community.”

The story was in reference to the fight by the Catholic weekly Herald to use the term “Allah”.

The report quoted Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as saying the Constitution forbade adherents of other religions to proselytise among Muslims. “Don’t play with fire,” Ahmad Zahid warned, asserting that Malaysian Muslims would unite in defence of their religion, regardless of political allegiance.

In Bakal undang krisis agama in Utusan Malaysia on 2 Feb, religious leaders supported the minister’s statement. Selangor mufti Datuk Seri Mohd Tamyes Abdul Wahid characterised the Herald as being disrespectful towards Muslim sensitivities. He said the ban on other religions using “Allah” had been decided by the National Fatwa Council years ago.

According to Mohd Tamyes, Christians themselves did not use the word “Allah” in the Bible, employing monikers such as ” ‘Ilah’, ‘God’, ‘Lord’, and so on to refer to their god.”

Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (Abim) president Yusri Mohamad was more tempered, saying the Herald‘s disrespect was towards the judiciary, since the issue had been brought to court. “They were the ones who wanted this case to be heard, and they should be more respectful.”

“Bollywood” Kugan

In his column for the 1 Feb edition of Mingguan Malaysia, veteran journalist Awang Selamat mulled over the passing of A Kugan. He dwelled, in particular, on several “unverified stories of abuse of Malay and Muslim detainees”, pointing out that these incidents passed without note or politicking. He likened the circumstances of the Kugan case to that of a “Bollywood action film”.

Awang brought up the “extraordinary reaction” towards the “Chinese woman” forced, while in detention, to do ear squats in the nude. According to Awang, following an exposé by a DAP leader (Seputeh Member of Parliament Teresa Kok in 2005), the government had to send a cabinet minister to Beijing to apologise.

“But when the woman was identified as a Malay, the strong reactions turned silent, and the fate of the woman was ignored, even by the parties that had exposed the case,” Awang wrote.

“Those two stories, and more, beg the question: which race is obviously more racist and aggressive?”

Interestingly, Mingguan Malaysia misidentified Kugan Ananthan as “S Kugan” in the Bisik-bisik Awang Selamat column.

Mourners at Kugan’s funeral on 28 Jan 2009
In contrast, in Tubuh suruhanjaya siasat kes Kugan PAS published on on 31 Jan, the PAS mouthpiece quoted top party leaders as calling for the establishment of the proposed Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission.

“Human rights violations and so on are perpetrated by the police,” said PAS information chief Datuk Mahfuz Omar. “Based on my experiences in lockup, the police use these methods to extract information. I believe this is not right.”


In Gerhana matahari dan gerhana kesetiaan in Utusan Malaysia on 28 Jan, Zaini Hassan wrote on the virtue of loyalty in politics and elsewhere. “Sincerity and loyalty guarantees a party’s strength and wholeness,” Zaini asserted.

Zaini reflected on the fact that in contemporary Malaysia, there are many politicians who lack this virtue. “Defections are always caused by trivial reasons: for power and position,” he wrote.

The columnist’s piece was likely referring to Perak assemblyperson for Bota Datuk Nasaruddin Hashim, who left Umno for Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) last week. It was prescient inasmuch as it heralded rumours that Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi and Mohd Osman Jailu, also Perak assemblypersons, were resigning from PKR, as reported in Dua Adun PKR letak jawatan in the 2 Feb edition of Berita Harian.

In a 29 Jan Berita Harian analysis, Menangguk di air keruh politik kotor pemimpin Pakatan Rakyat, Ridzuan Yop pointed out that both Jamaluddin and Mohd Osman were facing charges of corruption, and if found guilty would precipitate by-elections that could reduce the Pakatan Rakyat’s slim majority in the state.

The writer painted Pakatan Rakyat-ruled Perak as being “afraid of its own shadow, making preparations for pulling in Barisan Nasional (BN) representatives to ensure their control of the state government isn’t taken over by the BN.”

Ridzuan pointed out that following the March 2008 general election, Pakatan Rakyat reps had alleged they were offered positions and large sums of money if they joined the BN.

Ridzuan described Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin’s welcoming reaction to Nasaruddin’s defection as contradictory. “He is even unhesitant in claiming that there are more BN representatives who are interested [in hopping to PR], and who are only waiting for the right time,” Ridzuan wrote.

However, on 2 Feb, Berita Harian quoted prime minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in YB Pakatan Rakyat mahu sertai BN: PM as saying that “they want to join us because they believe Umno is a party that strives for a cause that they like, so we will accept.”

(© Leonardo Barbosa /
Questioning the morality of party-hopping did not happen in either Utusan Malaysia or Berita Harian that day. Sinar Harian, however, was less reticent. In Lompat parti: Rakyat semakin muak dan meluat, the daily took a populist stance, and ended strongly: “Political frogs, whichever party they are from, do not deserve respect. They do not deserve the title of ‘Yang Berhormat’. Unless we actually like frogs!”

Remember the Federation

Two analyses in the Malay press were noteworthy for their opposing conclusions.

In Sentimen kepartian gugat integrasi Persekutuan in Berita Harian on 28 Jan, Md Shukri Shuib considered the Pakatan Rakyat-ruled bloc of Malaysian states and the BN-ruled bloc as separate entities. He warned that such a bipartite situation would turn Malaysia into Palestine, “where we see the establishment, between Fatah and Hamas, of two governments within the same country.”

The writer recommended that “the Pakatan Rakyat’s efforts to build a pact of states within themselves” be examined critically, and its impact on national integration studied in-depth.

“Whether Pakatan Rakyat or BN, all state executive leaders should bow to the decision of the cabinet and national chief executive,” the writer argued. “Menteris besar or chief ministers have no right to ignore the central government.”

Sinar Harian‘s Dr Aisar Yee Abdullah thought that the fault was with the federal government itself. In Sikap Fikiran stereotaip pemimpin kalahkan BN published on 28 Jan, the writer dwelled on the tactics of denial, where “there is no development for a constituency if its voters do not vote BN.”

“This is abuse,” Aisar wrote, saying that development was the “duty of every government anywhere on Earth”, and that politicians could not accuse an electorate of not being grateful, as progress was the people’s right.

Aisar raised Kelantan as an example. The state “was left to rot by a Malay party, and led by ultra-Malay leaders, even though almost the entire population was ethnically Malay, just because the state refused to choose that party. [The party] has forgotten the concept of ‘federation’, in use in Malaysia.”

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