Sunday, February 17, 2008

Taliban Malaysia of Badawi

The Talibanization of Malaysia
By: Alex Doss
Source: TamilCanadianFor many tourists visiting tropical Southeast Asia, Malaysia is one of the hottest attractions on their list of places to see. From luxurious beach resorts and five star hotels, to shopping malls thronged with numerous fast food chains such as McDonalds, KFC, and Starbucks one would think they are back in the U.S. However, with all its modernity's and resemblances of a first world nation, it is 50 years behind in civil rights and racial equality amongst its minority Indian Tamil and Chinese populations.

On November 14, 2007, nearly 10,000 ethnic Tamil Malaysians of Indian origins staged a peaceful rally for equal rights in the heart of the capital of Kuala Lumpur. This was met with tear gas and water cannons laced with chemicals from the Malaysian Royal police. Within minutes, what once resembled a first world democratic country began to look more like a Burmese crackdown on peaceful demonstrators which earned the government harsh condemnation from *Amnesty International* and *Human Rights Watch*. Furthermore, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi threatened to use the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows detention without trial.

Under this ISA, hundreds of cases of torture and even deaths while in custody have been reported. Many at first glance of Malaysia would not expect anything like this happening. However, the roots of this problem go back during British rule with the Indian Tamils bearing the brunt of the hardships placed upon them.

Indian Tamils were originally brought to the peninsula to work in the rubber and oil palm plantations during the 19th and 20th centuries. From the 1930s onwards and after the abolition of indentured servitude, Tamils from India started taking on other jobs. However, even after the abolition of indentured servitude, 95% of those brought from India have continued to undergo hard working conditions with poor schooling facilities for their children.

After independence from the Britain in 1957, Malay was made, the official and national language with Islam designated as the state religion. Special rights were reserved for the Malays or Bumiputras (Sons of the soil) in areas of employment, quotas for scholarships and business permits, including the reservation of designated lands for Malays. Special loans were given to the Malays to start businesses which do not have to be repaid in many cases. In places like the United States affirmative action was meant to help minority groups to get into schools. But with Malaysia, it was totally in the reverse where affirmative action was to benefit the Malay majority, while marginalizing the Indian Tamil and Chinese minority.

Regardless of political groups such as the *Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC)*which says it represents the Indian population, racial discrimination and suppression continued throughout the years. Sadly, groups such as the MIC have only served their own interest and as pawns by the ruling * United Malays National Organization (UNMO)*.

Resentment against discrimination was met with violent suppression from the Malay government. It was not till a decade later when the country witnessed its first anti-Chinese riots of 1969. The result left 196 people dead with scores wounded. Since then, Malaysia has continued its emergency rule.

From the 1970s onwards, police brutality and religious intolerance have been targeted against minority groups, particularly against the Indian Tamil population. A majority of Malaysian Indians belonging to the Hindu faith have had over 15,000 of their temples demolished over the past 50 years which drew concern from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Furthermore, Tamil schools have been neglected with literally no funds set aside for improvement, while roughly 300 Tamil schools are being demolished for development projects.

Other religions are not exempt from religious intolerance. Malaysian customs officials have seized 32 Bibles from a traveler which was destined for a church. Even in church meetings, if Malay is in the audience, the pastor could be arrested and charged. In some cases if it is a visiting pastor from another country his or her passport could be confiscated by the Malaysian government.

Even Malays are subject to strict Islamic rules where they cannot convert to another faith. A human rights group known as *SUARAM* has exposed this injustice where one Malay individual who converted outside of his religion was jailed, tortured and even humiliated where he was told to strip naked and to pose imitating the Crucifixion of Christ. The Becket Fund, a religious rights group, has reported of a young Malay woman who converted to Christianity and wanted her religious identification to be changed on her national ID card. She was later arrested under Sharia law.

Apart from infringement of freedom of religion is police brutality. Police brutality is heavily meted out upon the Indian Tamil population who form 60% of cases of death by police shootings and death in police custody when they form less than 10% of the population. As quoted from the *Malaysian Star*, "it has been revealed in the Malaysian Parliament that from 1989 to 1999, 635 people were shot dead by the Royal Malaysian Police Force. This works out at 1.3 persons shot dead every week." There have also been numerous reports from victims and families that there is an unofficial shoot to kill order by Police top brass that results in these extra judicial killings.

It was not till 2007 when a civil rights group known as the *Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF)* spearheaded the recent equal rights movement with 18 demands for Malaysian Indian people in regards to ending racial and religious discrimination. As a result of the recent peace rally flanked with pictures of former Mahatma Gandhi, five HINDRAF lawyers have been detained under the Internal Security Act. Sadly, the present Malaysian government is now taking advantage of the situation and deeming civil rights activists standing up for justice as terrorists.

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