Op/Ed: "Defending Malaysia’s Diversity"

December 30, 2005

Source: International Herald Tribune


On December 30, 2005 the International Herald Tribune ran an opinion piece by columnist Philip Bowring, who writes, "Natural wealth and a benign history have enabled Malaysia to prosper economically while religious/ethnic divides have grown, at least in peninsular Malaysia. (Things are different in the ethnically more diverse Borneo states). It may be hard to admit this in Kuala Lumpur, but Malaysia badly needs to look to Indonesia for an example of how to be a modern, multiethnic state. That will eventually require ending the automatic identification of 'Malay' with 'Muslim' and acknowledging that different interpretations of Islam can coexist within the same predominantly Muslim state. In Indonesia, pluralism and Islam are synonymous, but in Malaysia the links between religious authorities and a state with huge powers of bureaucratic patronage are inhibiting for both. Unless Malaysia's prime minister tackles the social gap between Muslims and non-Muslims, it will continue to grow, whatever the claims of tourist brochures about Malaysian multiculturalism. Capital will continue to exit the country, and [Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's] vision of Islam Hadhari [a moderate, modernist Islam focused on basic principles and the pursuit of knowledge] will be stillborn."