January 15, 2006

Is Malaysia fading off the map of the Anglosphere?

Malaysia, this most relaxed and friendly of Islamic republics, appears, sadly, to be stealth tilting towards shariah law, and thus will eventually remove itself from the Anglosphere.

Malaysia has around a 40% minorities population – primarily Chinese and Indian - and has hitherto been careful to treat everyone equally under the Common Law it inherited from the British. Although Muslims can’t drink alcohol, the supermarkets happily sell liquor to the Chinese, the Indians and the thousands of expats in the country. Churches and temples are accorded the same protection as mosques. Restaurants stay open all day during the month of Ramadan, serving everyone but Muslims.

The route map of running a progressive Islamic country that has a very large minority of non-Muslims – those non-Muslims being the major wealth creators – was developed by Dr Mahathir, both a devout Muslim and a pragmatist.

Yet according to www.Dhimmiwatch.org, under Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, who has only held office for a couple of years, things are already taking a dive. Native Malays (called Bhumiputeras – or sons of the soil – natives) are beginning to demand that the Islamic way of doing things be imposed on the rest of the country. From halal food to Islamic banking and the dreaded shariah law, they want the Muslim way of life imposed on the rest of the citizenry.

Last month, an Indian, who his Hindu wife said was Hindu, was given an Islamic burial against her wishes. She had absolutely no legal recourse. Several Hindu organizations have now banded together to protest the slide into shariah. Non-Muslims fear that Common Law and the previously unself-consciously secular society are under threat.

Said TERAS (the non-governmental Malay National Force) president Mohamad Azmi Abdul Hamid, “The Sharia court should not be seen as an institution that denies justice to non-Muslims. On the contrary, if its laws are fully applied, there is an assurance of better justice here compared to civil laws, which are the heritage of British colonial rule."

Malaysia's 40% non-Muslim population doesn't see it that way. Human rights lawyer P Uthayakumar demanded, “How can anyone even suggest such a remedy to non-Muslims? What becomes of the civil law, the judicial system and the secular Constitution?” His concern is justified. Malaysia has now embarked down the slippery slope of Islamism and there will be no stopping it.

Certainly, Malaysia has oil, but it is also dependent on the wealth created by the dozens of multinationals that have made their homes there in the confident expectation of resolving legal matters under English Common Law. A two minute drive on the causeway across the Straits of Malacca takes you to Singapore, with an immovable adherence to English Common Law and a very friendly attitude to multi-nationals.

Frankly, I think the 40% of the population that is non-Islamic has reason to worry. Militant Islam is on the rise and poisoning many a formerly free society. I foresee a sharp rise in property prices in Singapore.


Posted by Verity at January 15, 2006 12:24 PM
Comments

What is the geographical distribution of non-Muslims in Malaysia? I wonder if there is a possibility of a separatist solution to this dispute?

Malaysia and Bangladesh were the most promising experiments in Muslim democracy and coexistence between Islam and Common Law. It would be a shame to see one of the more promising experiments fail.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at January 15, 2006 02:56 PM

Well, Jim, the Chinese are largely in the big cities. There is already one Muslim state under shariah law, if I remember rightly. No one goes there, of course. I have seen photos and all the women are wearing black tablecloths. (It may be Trenangganu - I can't remember.

When I first went to Malaysia, around 15 years ago, the Muslim women wore either Western clothes or the elegant, figure hugging sarong kebayah, plus stiletto heels and jewellery. And they slathered on the make-up like there was no tomorrow. They looked fabulous.

Little by little - over a couple of years - they began wearing the hijab. But still with the make-up and jewellery. Muslim friends told me they were being bullied at their offices for not wearing the hijab, so little by little, one at a time, Muslims started going to work in the hibjab rather than be taken aside by another woman for a little talk about being a good Muslim.

Mohammad Mahathir kept the lid on all this. In fact, he discouraged it, but he couldn't discourage it too strongly because, of course, 60% of the population is Muslim and he still had to deal with the electorate and his own cabinet.

I know Malaysia well enough to have realised, when Dr Mahathir finally resigned, that basically, this was the end of the line. A lot of people didn't like him, but he had been brilliant for Malaysia. The next guy is just a successor - not a nation-builder. Big difference in outlook and the recognition of the need to be pragmatic and make compromises with the rest of the world.

I knew that once Mahathir didn't have his hands on the reins any more, and the people couldn't remember hardship and struggle - Malaysia is rich now - things would go downhill. And they are.
Expatriate friends have told me the country is changing - and this is pretty awful for the Chinese and the Indians, whose families have lived there for generations.

As to your question about geographical distribution - it's really fairly constant, except for that one Muslim state in the north that no one else would dream of living in - and Penang. Penang is something like 80% Chinese, which is why it is so successful. Could Penang make it on its own? Well, Singapore has. Would it be allowed to? No. It makes money and contributes to the national coffers.

I agree, when this happens - shariah law - it will be an absolute tragedy for the 40% of Malaysians who are citizens but not Muslims. Meanwhile, they will make representations to the government and sign petitions and have meetings and write editorials and - it won't do them a blind bit of good. It's a bloody tragedy.

Posted by: Verity at January 15, 2006 03:32 PM

I suppose the only remotely good thing in the whole situation is that continued economic growth in China and India means the Chinese and Indians will have at least some opportunities for rebuilding their lives if remaining in Malaysia becomes impossible. Assuming, that is, they'll be welcome back in their ancestral homelands, which may not be the case.

Posted by: Peter at January 15, 2006 03:44 PM

Peter, that's an interesting observation, because India has now just made it legal for NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) to buy property in India. Formerly, it was disallowed, as it is for foreigners.

I don't know if there's a limit as to how many generations away from the original Indian family actually living in India, though. The Chinese and Indians came in almost 200 years ago ...

One thing about the Chinese is, they can accept just about any strictures on freedom as long as they are allowed to continue to make money and keep it. They are probably the world's most practical people. Those who just can't stomach Shariah can go to Singapore, no question in my mind. Singapore wants ethnic Chinese and they have a falling birth rate as the women are all too busy with their careers to have more than one child. Singapore practically hands out residence permits to visitors from China like candy.

Meanwhile, Malaysia has signed an agreement to import 100,000 Pakistani workers. While this is good in that that's 100,000 who won't be turning up at Heathrow, it's not so good for non-Muslim Malaysians. They used to import Indonesians - which made more sense because besides a religion, they share a language, so I don't know what happened there.

Posted by: Verity at January 15, 2006 04:01 PM

It would not be unthinkable for India to take a strong interest in its ethnic relatives in what is after all its "near abroad". Nothing so crude as military intervention, of course -- unless it was absolutely needed. It is worth noting that the Indian state has never hesitated to use military force when it thought its national interest was at stake. Goa, Sikkim, Bangladesh, the Chinese border, etc., and the Indian forces have performed pretty well. Of course it is possible to construct an argument about why those cases were unique and are not predictive about future behavior. It's also possible to construct the opposite case.

If both Chinese and Indians in Malaysia felt unhappy with the course of things, and India chose to undertake some form of intervention, I suspect they could just have a little talk with China and make sure they weren't unhappy with the outcome. At that point who would be left to make oppose them? The UN? Hah!

Posted by: Jim Bennett at January 15, 2006 05:41 PM

That one state in the north that Verity mentioned, that nobody wants to live in? Kelantan, which is dominated by the fundamentalist party.

Strangely enough, I have an aunt who stays there, and she told me quite a few stories about the rampant islamism in that state. It's also quite obvious, even to the malays, that Kelantan is not a good place. Whether or not they have made the connection to rigid Islam is the question.

It'll be up to the liberal forces in Malaysia to turn back the tide. Even as the fundamentalists try to push towards sharia, there is a significant proportion of Malay youth who prefer the liberalism of the west: trendy clothes, hip music, scantily clad female singers.

Is it enough? I have no idea.

As for Singapore, I won't say that we have a strict adherence to English Common Law, seeing that we've removed the jury from our courts. A bad move, in my opinion.

LKY gives his justifications here.
http://www.scholars.nus.edu.sg/landow/post/singapore/government/leekuanyew/lky2.html

I have to add that juries in the past lack the knowledge and education that present Singaporeans have. With an educated, knowledgeable citizenry, maybe it's time we brought the jury system back to our courts.

Posted by: The Wobbly Guy at January 15, 2006 06:53 PM

Jim - With respect, this is way dramatic ...

The Malaysian Indians and Chinese do not think of themselves as foreign any more than Americans whose families came to the US 200 years ago think of themselves as foreign. They're Americans. The Indians and Chinese families who have been living in Malaysia for 200 years are Malaysian. And they have votes, and Malaysia's a constitutional democracy.

As I said, I predict a stealth tilt towards shariah. (But not Saudi Arabian style shariah.)

A lot of Chinese will eventually leave when there becomes too much Islamic overlay on society (they may stop selling cognac!) because Singapore is two minutes across the Causeway and welcomes ethnic Chinese.

I suspect Malaysia will just shut down tiny freedoms - and, of course, no freedom is tiny. That's why I wrote "stealth tilt". Let's put it this way - I think there will be a forward march of restrictions under Badawi towards "Islamic compliant".

But it's such a huge tourist destination earner, I doubt that they will ever stop selling alcohol.

I don't think Malaysia will victimise minorities. I just think there will be increasing restrictions.


Posted by: Verity at January 15, 2006 07:51 PM

The thing is, Malaysia was working on a tacit compromise between the various ethnic groups, and a tilt toward sharia may destroy the compromise. And ethnic groups under pressure often revive old identities if that becomes useful to them.

At that point, it would be a matter of whether India was looking for excuses to be more proactive in the region.

As I said, nothing so crass as military intervention. Usually, if you're capable of it, there's no need to actually do it.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at January 15, 2006 08:28 PM

Malaysia has not had equal treatment under the law, it has instead employed pro-majority affirmative action for 35 years. This has prevented the recurrence of the anti-Chinese pogroms of the late 1960s (in contrast to Indonesia, where the Chinese business elites were subject to murder and rape in 1998). Unfortunately, the beneficiaries of Malaysian affirmative action, the the Muslim bumiputras, have not progressed to the point where they can make as much money as the Chinese on their own, much to the disgust of Matathir, the former president. This persistent inequality is driving the trend toward Muslim pride. If the Muslims were as productive as the Chinese economically, they wouldn't feel anywhere near as much need to impose their relgious law on their economic superiors.

Posted by: Steve Sailer at January 15, 2006 09:18 PM

Another interesting anecdote: during basic military training, my platoon had one guy from Indonesia doing NS for his singaporean citizenship, at the height of the aforementioned Indonesia crisis.

Why the Malays can't do as well as the Chinese is a matter of great debate. Something in their culture, or perhaps(being highly politically incorrect) in their very genetic makeup.

Posted by: The Wobbly Guy at January 16, 2006 02:57 AM

Steve Sailer, despite thinking that Malaysia has a president as head of government, is correct about the failure of the Bhumiputeras, or Bhumis, to advance without massive concessions in every area (including being allowed to graduate from university with lower grades than the Chinese or Indians). I do agree that the persistent inequality, despite the incredible advantages the government hands them, is driving their sense of uppitiness.

Wobbly, failure to achieve is so uniform in both Malaysia and among the Muslims in Singapore that I can only think it is genetic.

I don't know if you agree, but if they do impose it (and, given their record in achieving anything complicated, it may never happen)there will be a steady trickle of Chinese over the Causeway.

All the brilliant Indian lawyers are going to be somewhat disconcerted, being trained in English Common Law. I think they'll go to Britain or Oz. Indians are welcome just about anywhere.

Posted by: Verity at January 16, 2006 07:19 AM

I must have lost my scorecard. Malaysia was a member of the Angloshere?

Posted by: Bram at January 16, 2006 10:17 AM

Why would it not be? They have English Common Law (so far), their courts are run identically to British courts (so far), they all speak English, their military is run along British lines, we have a history in common. Maybe not 100% full membership, but they are definitely in the club. (So far.)

As I said, however, this is already fading into a memory as a more aggressive form of Islam becomes entrenched. Sadly. It's a very sweet country.

Posted by: Verity at January 16, 2006 10:43 AM

The Anglosphere isn't really a club, it's a network within a cultural artifact. Many countries are neither fully in nor fully out; just somewhere in the net. Malaysia seems to be one of them. If they ditch Common Law, they're headed toward the periphery.

I tend to doubt the racial thing. Filipinos are essentially the same ethnic group as Malayans and Indonesians, and they do quite well in the USA. Ask General Estrada.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at January 16, 2006 08:32 PM

Jim - I don't understand your point. Almost everyone does quite well in the USA.

Contrary to your note above, I would say that if Malaysia ditches Common Law, they are not just headed toward the periphery, they are out. Common Law and a common language are musts, surely, to be in? Common Law is what holds us all together and gives us confidence in one another's countries. I have absolutely no doubt that if I were tried for something in Singapore, I would get an absolutely fair hearing in a trial I could understand and with a lawyer whose tactics I could understand. Once Malaysia slides into shariah, the entire country of Malaysia would become alien to me.

I know, Jim, that you have reservations about letting people whose countries weren't entirely settled by Anglophones in, and I disagree with you, thinking that language, Common Law and a civil service in which one has confidence are the backbone of the Anglosphere.

To me, if they fulfill those qualifications absolutely, they're in. Malaysia appears to be about to jettison this precious heritage.

When I lived in Singapore, had I been charged with some crime or misdemeanour, I would have been frightened, of course, but I would have been absolutely confident of getting a fair trial according to standards I understood. It wouldn't have been a jury; it would have been three judges. They wouldn't have been Caucasian; they would have probably been Chinese or maybe two Chinese and an Indian. But I wouldn't have been frightened. (Unless I'd done it, of course!)

Posted by: Verity at January 16, 2006 11:08 PM

Jim - I don't understand your point. Almost everyone does quite well in the USA.

This was a response to your comment above:

Wobbly, failure to achieve is so uniform in both Malaysia and among the Muslims in Singapore that I can only think it is genetic.

If it's genetic, then chaging the surrounding culture shouldn't affect the success rate. In general, the (accurate) observation that eveybody does well in the USA is one of the reasons I tend to hold genetic explanations for things like economic success suspect.

I know, Jim, that you have reservations about letting people whose countries weren't entirely settled by Anglophones in, and I disagree with you, thinking that language, Common Law and a civil service in which one has confidence are the backbone of the Anglosphere.

I'm a bit surprised about that statement, since my response to Lawrence Mead, who does take that position, was, I thought, quite explicit that I think the opposite. However, in countries where Anglosphere institutions and practices have been grafted onto a quite different civilization, and particularly where the majority of the population continue to use other langages as their home language, I tend to consider them to be somewhere between the core and periphery of the Anglosphere. Common Law is indeed one of the key criteria, but places like South Africa, where the legal system is a mixture of Roman-Dutch and Common Law, aren't entirely out of the Anglosphere either.

If Malaysia abandoned Common Law for sharia, but continued to use English to the same degree in its everyday life, had an English-language press that was important tpo politics, etc., it would have moved substantially to the periphery but would still not be out of the Anglosphere entirely.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at January 17, 2006 10:58 AM

Jim - I don't understand your point. Almost everyone does quite well in the USA.

This was a response to your comment above:

Wobbly, failure to achieve is so uniform in both Malaysia and among the Muslims in Singapore that I can only think it is genetic.

If it's genetic, then chaging the surrounding culture shouldn't affect the success rate. In general, the (accurate) observation that eveybody does well in the USA is one of the reasons I tend to hold genetic explanations for things like economic success suspect.

I know, Jim, that you have reservations about letting people whose countries weren't entirely settled by Anglophones in, and I disagree with you, thinking that language, Common Law and a civil service in which one has confidence are the backbone of the Anglosphere.

I'm a bit surprised about that statement, since my response to Lawrence Mead, who does take that position, was, I thought, quite explicit that I think the opposite. However, in countries where Anglosphere institutions and practices have been grafted onto a quite different civilization, and particularly where the majority of the population continue to use other langages as their home language, I tend to consider them to be somewhere between the core and periphery of the Anglosphere. Common Law is indeed one of the key criteria, but places like South Africa, where the legal system is a mixture of Roman-Dutch and Common Law, aren't entirely out of the Anglosphere either.

If Malaysia abandoned Common Law for sharia, but continued to use English to the same degree in its everyday life, had an English-language press that was important to politics, etc., it would have moved substantially to the periphery but would still not be out of the Anglosphere entirely.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at January 17, 2006 10:59 AM

Well, of course, as there is as yet no hard and fast definition of the Anglosphere, we're all free to improvise as we go along. But I would take issue with you that shariah would not totally disqualify Malaysia from membership, because Common Law is one of the pillars of the Anglosphere. I cannot imagine any country that allowed a man four wives being in our company. I'm sorry. Nor any country that assigned the testimony of a woman in court exactly one-half that of a man. Nor any country that only allowed women to inherit one-half as much as a male. Nor a country that condemns homosexuality as "wicked" - even if it doesn't run to stoning gays to death, or hanging them. Or a country whose definition of a victim of rape is "adultress". Oh, and where the penalty for consulting your conscience and realising you're not really a Muslim and wish to leave, is death.

I just don't see it as being compatible with the advanced, enlightened Anglosphere, Jim. I would be interested in your response.

Posted by: Verity at January 17, 2006 12:48 PM

I cannot imagine any country that allowed a man four wives being in our company. I'm sorry.

Well, if the Canadian Department of Justice has its way, that country will shortly be leaving the Anglosphere -- they recommended legalization of polygamy. Of course the election may have some impact on that. And of course sharia has been imposed in northern Nigerian states, and I believe at least partly in Pakistan. A combination of sharia and tribal law has always been in force in the autonomous tribal areas in Pakistan, like Waziristan, lately in the news again.

The point is that "the Anglosphere" is a descriptive, not a prescriptive term. It's trying to encompass a complex set of things that are happening in the world. The prescriptive side is the "network commonwealth" - -the entity whose creation I am advocating, and that can have standards. I've been defining "Anglosphere" as the presence of a set of things -- the more of those things a nation has, the greater extent to which they are part of the Anglosphere.

Countries that adopt sharia, however, will probably continue to exit the Anglosphere in other ways as well.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at January 17, 2006 03:32 PM

I think we are all aware that Canada is not only not part of the Anglosphere, but not part of the planet. I believe their interest in Ontario of introducing shariah "for Muslims only, of course" has been defeated by Muslim women living in Ontario who have said not just no, but hell no; don't go there. Read the uppity, brilliant and brave Irshad Manji. She's also very funny.

I very much appreciate what you are trying to define with the Anglosphere, Jim. But countries adhering to controlling religious beliefs can't get "associate membership" status or be allowed to be officially associated with us in any way.

Malaysia will not suddenly go the full Monty. It will creep forward, little by little, so as not to frighten all the multinationals. If it goes this stupid route, it will first introduce shariah courts for resolutions of "family matters". But it will bear the weight of law. Who gets custody. Who decides which schools the children can attend. What percentages of an estate children can inherit. But they won't frighten the horses. At first.

I sincerely hope Malaysia does not go this route, but if it does, then there is no choice but to cast it off.


Posted by: Verity at January 17, 2006 07:07 PM

Well, as I said, "the Anglosphere" is an analytical concept. But the institutions we choose to build within it are up to us. Common Law creates huge opportunities for cooperation, and those who deliberately move away from it are abandoning those prospects for cooperation.

The proposed Canadian move toward polygamy, by the way, is separate from the proposal for sharia law in Ontario for family disputes among Muslims. It was a federal Ministry of Justice proposal.

Posted by: Jim Bennett at January 18, 2006 12:03 AM

Re polygamy and shariah, I believe Irshad Manji has had quite a lot to say about that.

Posted by: Verity at January 18, 2006 07:23 AM

I have just read over on Dhimmiwatch that over the last two decades, hundreds of churches and Buddhist temples have been demolished Malaysia in areas that were being redeveloped. No building permission has been given to replace any of them.

I believe that, in addition to a steady trickle of emigration over the next five years or so, we will soon see flight capital. Both Chinese and Indians are readily welcomed in most Western countries, which see them as achievers and wealth creators, and if they come with money, so much the better.

Posted by: Verity at January 19, 2006 08:30 AM

U all just blind. U hace said that chinese and Indian people in Malaysia could make far more money than bumiputras? I don't agree with that. U have to study and understand more about Malaysia. Chinese and Indian people are immigrant during British time.We never expect them to come to our country.But the English people just brought them here.So, The best way according to Islam is to treat everybody fairly no matter their religion was..That's how it get started in Malaysia.As Bumitputras, we are not going to give everything we have to the immigrant. We believe in each other.When Chinese or Indian sell their Product, we will buy, If they offer service, we do come.That's how they become wealthy. Without supporting each other, I'm sure only Malays will live comfortably in Malaysia.Think further before making any ridiculous statement that can harm this peaceful country.

Posted by: Syed at September 24, 2006 09:11 AM

That comment from Syed is unbelievably shallow.

The original discussions thus far has been very interesting, and I believe many (not all) points are closer to the truths. The chord that struck me was the comment on the fashion statement 15-25 years back ... when things were fairly "normal" and the Malays, Chinese and Indians were mixing freely and had more respect for each other.

In contrast, nowadays, the younger generations seem to form more clot groups and gravitates towards their racial make up - look in schools, colleges and the local universities. The Malays are shifting and emphasizing the religion more than they used to, reflected evidently in the everyday clothing for the women folks. There are also more Malay extremism examples that I see coming from the political party youths. I have this feeling of dread for this country, but at the same time I still hope things would balance out in the years to come.

The key is balance. If the 23% Chinese becomes too successful, it breeds resentment from the 60% Malays. And of course, from the Chinese view point .. the Malays are lazy and squanders this special privelege. Whatever anyone's view is, the balance is the basic reasoning for the NEP (New Economic Policy). The history and race make up will never go away, maybe in 1000 years to come ... but not now. Whatever the solution to achieve this balance, no doubt some parties may think it's unjustified, partly due to their exposure to the Western style democracies .... but if you think about it deeply, no other country in this world is as unique as Malaysia.

Not wanting to sound cliche, I'm from a Malay-Chinese background myself. There are some parts in the Malay mindset that I'm ashamed to see ... and there are parts in the Chinese mindset that goes against my own (non-religious) principles in life.

Posted by: Ross at October 5, 2006 12:02 PM

It has been some time since this thread was started, but I thought I'd add my two cents worth.

The question was: Is Malaysia fading off the map of the Anglosphere?

For many years, a concerted attempt had been made by the Malay elites to distance themselves from their 'colonialist' past. The increasing use of the Malay language and marginalization of the English language being the most obvious example of this. In other respects, especially the judiciary there have been fewer changes, although in the last one year the previously mentioned creeping changes have been more prominent with the Sharia courts trying to claim bodies of people who had allegedly previously converted to Islam.

During the last years of the Mahathir administration, English was brought back as the medium of instruction for Science and mathematics in schools. I think there is a realization that among the many reasons for the high Malay unemployment rate is this inability to comprehend and communicate internationally. The Malay reliance on a language used only in one small corner of the world has partly led to a whole generation of Malays with an extremely shallow mindset and inferiority complex as exemplified by Syed. What is worse are the other contributing factors of which the Affirmative action policies are especially prominent.

Overall I would say that much depends on the actions of the current generation of Malay leaders. If they somehow manage to see reason and then manage the herculean task of convincing the Malay majority that English is a good language to know and that it's high time to junk the NEP, there may yet be a future for Malaysia in the Anglosphere.

I'm afraid that much seems to point the other way, with leaders who do not lead but pander to the masses with much unrepentant keris waving and then coming up with lame excuses for unforgivable words and acts. Malaysia appears to be slipping ever so towards a Malay far right, powered by a whole generation of Malays who are unable to compete in the global arena. As the economy slides one can only wonder who the scapegoats will be and whether there will be a repeat of the afore mentioned pogroms. If the latter happens, the irony will be that the very policies meant to prevent these things from happening will have become instead one of the main causes of Malay poverty, inferiority, non-competitiveness, incompetence, and ultimately, failure.

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