As a growing chorus of extremism threatens to dominate public dialogue, former minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said Putrajaya must coax reason and sensibility back into local politics for Malaysians of all races to once more communicate intelligently with each other.
Saying that political discourse has devolved into “mass stupidity”, the former de facto law minister warned of the consequences of allowing public exchanges to be dictated by those whom he described as aloof to views and ideologies different from their own.
“Today, the prime minister cannot expect Perkasa and Utusan (Malaysia) to talk intelligently to the public on many issues. They are not interested in engaging those with whom they disagree,” Zaid said, who added that the Malay rights group has so far responded to his previous invitations for a public debate by calling him names.
In an essay made available to The Malay Mail Online, Zaid enumerated instances of creeping fascism in Europe that he likened to his examples of the Malay rights group and Umno-owned newspaper Utusan Malaysia.
“Geert Wilders in Holland leads the Party for Freedom. His popularity is increasing and he became famous worldwide when he threatened to ban the Quran and expel Muslims because he thought they were responsible for the present difficulties of Europe,” he said.
Zaid also pointed to Greece’s Golden Dawn party, which he said openly blamed the country’s economic problems on Muslims and migrant workers while ignoring the effects of extravagant policies, an overdependence on tourism, corruption and a bloated civil service.
Another example was the storm in a teacup caused by Danish People’s Party leader Kristian Dahl over an apparent ban on pork meatballs in the country as a sign of respect for Muslims.
“He (Dahl) said that this was an example of how Denmark was losing its identity. He didn’t reveal that only a small number of cafeterias had stopped serving pork — but he wants to be a hero, so logic and sensibility are discarded,” said Zaid.
The former Cabinet minister is outspoken on the matter of growing extremism in Malaysia, having previously warned of the seductive dangers of fascism.
He said such groups often preyed on the young and disenfranchised by offering them the easy escape of blaming others for their own situations, which he likened to the Nazism behind the Second World War.
Yesterday, Zaid urged Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to grasp the menace of extremism in Malaysia and take steps to rein in the vitriol that is becoming the norm.
“He needs to slowly teach the art of being reasonable to his supporters in Utusan and elsewhere, and how to use their heads when faced with problems.
“The country must learn to engage the various issues of the day in an open and friendly way. We need to learn that our problems affect us all and that we must overcome them by peaceful discourse together,” said Zaid.
Coincidentally, Najib earlier yesterday called on the country’s “silent majority” to drown out the voices of extremism, and said diversity should be celebrated and the right to co-exist should be defended.
“We cannot afford to allow voices of extremism to dominate the political discourse. It is time for the silent majority to drown out the calls to violence, to reject extremism,” he said during his keynote address at the Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council/ ISIS Malaysia: Dialogue on Diversity, Diplomacy and Peace here at the Marriott Hotel.
Malaysia is generally peaceful, but pockets of political as well as race- and religion-based groups purporting to defend their individual interests have caused tension among the country’s multicultural community.
Although critics have dismissed these as fringe elements and not an embodiment of the largely moderate Malays, political observers and analysts noted that rights groups such as Perkasa has muscled into political significance in the country.
An ongoing legal tussle over the Arabic word “Allah” between Muslims and Christians has also served to magnify the apparent religious friction and provide a platform for self-professed defenders of faith to gain traction for their apparent fight for religion.