Malaysia's image bruised by church attacks
MALAYSIA: Malaysia's image as a moderate Muslim nation has suffered a
blow with a spate of church firebombings that has widened ethnic
divisions and posed a serious challenge for Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Nine churches have been attacked since last Friday, pelted with Molotov
cocktails or vandalised amid anger over a court ruling that overturned a
Government ban on non-Muslims using "Allah" as a translation for "God".
* Suffered ablow with aspate
of church firebombings
* Over a court ruling on
non-Muslims using " Allah" as a translation for "God"
The Government has insisted that the use of the word by Christians,
who make up nine percent of the Muslim-majority nation's population,
could cause confusion and encourage religious conversion, which is
illegal for Muslims in Malaysia.
"It is a low point for Malaysia's image as a moderate Muslim
country," said Azmi Sharom from the Universiti Malaya, of the latest in
a string of religious disputes that have raised fears the country is
They include the sentencing of a Muslim model to six strokes of the
cane for drinking beer, and "body-snatching" cases where Islamic
authorities have battled with relatives over the remains of people whose
religion is disputed.
The tussles have caused unease among Malaysia's ethnic Chinese and
Indian minorities, who fear their rights are being eroded as political
parties battle for the support of the 62 percent of the population that
The "Allah" row "is an ethnic and political thing more than a
religious one," said Azmi, arguing that the ban on the use of the word
is aimed at shoring up government support among Malays, who represent
"The term 'Allah' has been used commonly elsewhere. The government is
just pandering to some people who are calling for the ban, but most
people actually feel quite indifferent about this issue," he said.
The ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), has
been accused of stoking Malay nationalism in order to protect its
support base after 2008 elections where it lost ground to the
Pollster Ibrahim Suffian said the church attacks are a "double-edged
sword" for Najib, who came to power last year pledging to heal divisions
among the ethnic groups.
"If the government doesn't appeal (against the court ruling), it will
be seen as offending the conservative Muslims in the country, but at the
same time he has pledged to reach out to all minorities," he said.
"It just goes to show the limited amount of room he has between
balancing his political interest and a wider Malaysian interest," said
Ibrahim, head of the independent polling firm Merdeka Centre.
Najib has visited the scene of the most serious of the attacks, a
church that was partly gutted last Friday, as have several leaders of
the opposition Islamic party, which is challenging UMNO for Malay
The fire-bombings come just as Malaysia, Southeast Asia's
third-largest economy, is trying to woo foreign investors. They also
threaten to harm its tourism industry, one of the key foreign exchange
Kuala Lumpur, Tuesday, AFP