93 NGOs back open letter by prominent Malays

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KUALA LUMPUR: A total of 93 Malaysian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have pledged their support for the open letter signed by 25 retired high-ranking Malay civil servants who called for an end to extremism and for a rational dialogue on Islam.

Coordinated by Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM), the NGOs endorsed the joint statement, urging Putrajaya and civil society to widen the space for rational discourse with open minds and progressiveness.

GBM chair Tan Yew Sing urged all Malaysians not to be influenced by extreme rhetoric or dance to the tune of populist moves.

“Whether at the government level or grassroots level, or in all sectors of the society, we should advocate shared prosperity, mutual respect, support and progress,” he said during a press conference yesterday.

“The ruling and opposition political parties in their process of competing for voters should not manipulate the sentiments of ethnicity and religion by being chauvinistic and dogmatic.”

Tan said the country had to abide by certain principles if it wanted to enjoy long-term stability.

“To ensure that the rights and welfare of all Malaysians are protected, the implementation of government policy should be based on the principles and spirit of the Federal Constitution, Rukun Negara and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948,” he said.

“The people should reject religious and ethnic extremism and the government should take fair and just action in handling extremism and not adopt selective prosecution,” said Tan.

He urged all parties to respond positively to the calls of the 25 concerned citizens.

Political parties should openly and clearly promise to uphold the best interests of the people, he said.

They should not provoke tensions over religion and ethnic issues for their own political gains, said Tan.

Among the NGOs that endorsed the statement were Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia, Suara Rakyat Malaysia, Jihad for Justice, Sisters in Islam, All Women’s Action Society, Islamic Renaissance Front, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall and National Indian Rights Action Team.

Ikram vice-president Zaid Kamaruddin said they applauded the courageous action of the towering figures to stand up and publicly address sensitive yet critical issues plaguing the nation.

“We share their sentiment that there is a real need for a consultative process that will bring together experts in various fields, including Islamic and constitutional laws, and those affected by the application of Islamic laws in adverse ways,” said Zaid.

He said all the NGOs had agreed with the open letter on the use of the Sedition Act that was seen as a constant threat to silence anyone with a contrary opinion.

“The prime minister has reneged on his promise to repeal the act and announced that the act would be further strengthened with two additional provisions. We are deeply concerned about this development,” Zaid said.

Jihad for Justice chairperson Datuk Thasleem Mohamed Ibrahim Al-Haj said the 25 eminent personalities did not only represent the Malay community, but all Malaysians as well.

He said the next move to promote moderation has to be at the national level.

On extremism on social media, Tan said more rational people needed to get on to social media and discuss issues in a rational way.

“It is for us to stand up against any extremism whether it is from Chinese, Indian or Malays because extremism is our common enemy,” he said.

Suaram’s Right to Justice coordinator Tarmizi Anuwa said there was a need for more voices to support every effort to bring Malaysia to a healthy and rationale discourse.

He added that Malaysian youth needed to have the courage to state their stance and be more open to discussing sensitive issues such as race and religion.  — The Malaysian Insider

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on December 18, 2014.