Tuesday, November 21, 2006


On November 4, 2006 Prime Minister Dato Abdullah Ahmad Badawi unveiled the blueprint for Iskandar Development Region (ISKANDAR). It is hoped that the 2500 sq.km zone would turn Johor into a world class business hub to be on par with Hong Kong and Shenzen in China.

The plan is to turn ISKANDAR into a business haven with high tech industries and the building of international theme parks, a water front city, a medical park and educational facilities. This in turn is expected to spur migration of manufacturing companies from Singapore and the region to Johor. To attract Singaporeans and foreigners, there will be an area designated as Free Access Zone (FAZ) which would allow foreigners and primarily Singaporeans to enter, live and work in the FAZ with no passport, immigration and custom clearance. Infact foreigners could also live in FAZ but travel to work in Singapore.

However, for five days potential investors saw the worst manifestation of negative, divisive and destructive and piquant polemics, enough to make any potential investor to give ISKANDAR (and Malaysia) a miss. What was on display for potential investors was sabre rattling talk, bone chilling warnings and blood curdling speeches where speakers without mincing words targeted and directed their anger against the Chinese. Then there was act of kissing the unsheathed keris (a recent phenomenon in the UMNO general assembly) seen as an adversarial act. Perlis delegate openly questioned “Dato Hisham has unsheathed the keris, waved the keris, kissed his keris. We want to know when is he going to use it”. UMNO exco member Datuk Azimi Daim warned ‘ when tension rises, the blood of Malay warriors will run in our veins”. Malacca delegate Hasnoor Sidang proclaimed that UMNO’s willingness to risk lives and bathe in blood. Other speakers talked about becoming amok if their rights were questioned.

For ISKANDAR to succeed it will naturally require participation and investment from foreigners and particularly Singaporean Chinese. However, after hearing all this incendiary language and watching open display of kissing an unsheathed keris would they still be attracted to investing in ISKANDAR? Would it not be wrong for them to believe that there is something seriously wrong in Malaysia and that their investment maybe safer elsewhere.

The question now is in the aftermath of the recently concluded UMNO general assembly would foreigners be interested or even be attracted to invest in ISKANDAR? Delegates who were spewing venom against the Chinese forgot to realize that investors require not only a condusive business environment but also an environment which provides safeguards for their business, personal property and their lives. Singaporean Chinese have not forgotten the destruction of Chinese businesses and bloodbath against the Chinese during the riots in Indonesia during the Asian financial crisis.

In the case of Johor, there is no denying that the Johor economy is to a large extent dependent on Singaporean investors and particularly Singaporean Chinese. For ISKANDAR to succeed it will very much dependant on Singaporean Chinese investors. The Singapore and Indonesian government are in advanced stages of setting up special economic zones in Indonesia particularly in the Riau Islands of Batam and Bintan.. After listening to the blood curdling threats against the Chinese and the sinister connotation of the act of kissing an unsheathed keris, would foreigners and particular Singaporean Chinese investors be keen to invest or even live in ISKANDAR ?

The speakers who warned about bloodbath and running amok forgot to realize the threat posed by Vietnam. Vietnam is fast rising and is seen as an alternative to China. For the investor and particularly Singaporean Chinese why would they want to risk their investment in Malaysia. Instead Vietnam in comparison may now be seen not only as an attractive and viable alternative but more importantly a safer option for their investment. For all the sufferings done by the American to the Vietnamese, Vietnam does not begrudge or threaten Americans or their investments.

Watching delegates lapping-up to inflammatory speeches against the Chinese and the adversarial act of kissing keris which received vociferous applause, gives any potential investor an impression that all is not well in Malaysia and that there are percolating undercurrents awaiting to implode. Already Malaysia is suffering from a drop in Foreign Direct Investment and if investors had doubts about Malaysia, the five day ransfest may have convinced to give ISKANDAR a miss. That is a real pity because in truth ISKANDAR could succeed.

In the rush to score sectarian points, UMNO delegates forgot that in a globalised economy, the last thing an investor need is a climate of fear and danger.

ISKANDAR, unfortunately may have to pay the price for the piquant polemics.

Monday, November 20, 2006


All right thinking Malaysians and particularly Catholics are outraged at the intimidating actions of ill informed groups of Muslims who on November 5, 2006 pursuant to an SMS came in droves and gathered outside Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Silibin, Ipoh Perak causing fear and anxiety to the worshippers. ( Read The Herald November 12, 2006)

The SMS message said:-
A number of Malays will be baptized by Dato Azhar Mansor this Sunday at the Slibin Church, Ipoh. Recently 600 students from Ungku Omar Polytechnic have converted to Christianity. Revealed by the Perak Mufti this afternoon at the state masjid. Please forward to all who stand for Islam. ( Translation )

The original SMS in Malay (and unedited) said:-
Sejumlah Melayu akn dibaptiskan oleh Dato Azhar Mansor Ahad ini di Gereja Selibin IPO. Seramai 600 plajar Poli teknik Unku Omr Ipoh telah msuk Kristian baru2 ini. Pendedahan oleh Mufti Perak ptg ini di masjid Negeri. Sampaikan SMS kpd orang-2 yang mahukan ISLAM .(sic)

That malicious SMS ( which had indeed been circulating for almost three days before the incident ), on November 5, 2006 was enough to mobalise Muslim protestors ranging from individuals to political parties-read PAS and Muslim NGO’s to gather outside the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes. In truth what was to take place and did indeed take place in the Church was the First Holy Communion celebration for 98 children.

In the aftermath and in the days following the incident, the Perak Mufti Datuk Seri Harussani Zakaria began to shed some light on the issue. He first revealed that a woman from Selangor whom he later named as Raja Sherina as the originator of the text message. The woman had apparently on October 21, 2006 at 9.33 am sent the said SMS to him.

According to the Mufti, this woman had claimed that she had studied at the International Islamic University and the Al-Azhar University in Cairo. On her return from Egypt she was doing social work with missionaries when she converted. However, she claimed that she later returned to Islam.

The Mufti further claimed that the woman and her husband had come back to his house on October 22, 2006 to confirm the substance of the message.

According to the Mufti, the Perak Mufti Department then decided to record his meeting with Raja Sherina and copies of the VCD were later handed over to Special Branch, Perak Menteri Besar, the Prime Minister’s Department and the Islamic Development Department for further action.(read NST pg.12).

Thereafter on November 2, during a meeting at the conference room of the state mosque with members of non-governmental organization the Mufti once again brought up the issue of the SMS. The Mufti then claimed that on November 3, 2006 he was informed that a number of NGO’s who attended the meeting would hold a peaceful protest against the alleged baptism. As the highest religious official of the state, the Mufti could have and should have in no uncertain terms stopped the proposed protest. Instead he made some sheepish attempt by discouraging the protestors before leaving town for Syria.

What all this means is that as early as October 22, 2006 and some 12 days before the alleged baptism ceremony, the Mufti and many others already had knowledge of the SMS and the impending “baptism “. Thus the Mufti as a religious leader could and should have acted with greater responsibility first preventing the protest and secondly and more importantly verifying the authenticity of the SMS. Neither of this was done. Instead time was spent doing a VCD recording!. The 12 days was a period long enough for the Mufti and all concerned to do among others number of thing:-

a. Investigate further about Raja Sherina background and verify the truth of her claim;

b. Since the national mariner Azhar Mansor was said to be going to perform the baptism rites, why did the Mufti or other authorities not contact and obtain confirmation from him. After all he was in Langkawi. A denial by Azhar Mansor could have expeditiously resolved and concluded that the SMS was false;

c. Find out the procedure how one is baptized into Catholism. For the uninitiated, in Catholism only a priest can conduct the baptism rites. Thus no lay Catholic and worst of all a recent convert would not be allowed to perform the baptism rites and that includes Azhar Mansor even if he had converted;

d. In the spirit to ensure religious harmony, the Mufti could have verified the authenticity of the SMS with the Church. Naturally this would have been easier had there been open channels of communication;

e. Investigate and verify if there was any truth that 600 students of Ungku Omar Polytechnic had indeed converted to Christianity.

Perhaps it may not be wrong to assume that what was hoped for, was to catch the Church in the act. That would have been sensational news and Azhar Mansor would have been the icing. Instead and thankfully the SMS and the alleged event has turned out to be one big hoax and now the Mufti is scurrying away and hoisting the blame solely on the messenger. The SMS turned out to be not only malicious but also mischievous, irresponsible and has without any doubt has damaged inter-religious relationship. Now the authorities are searching for Raja Sherina and Raja Sherina (if caught) could be charged under the Sedition Act or under the Multimedia and Communication act.

Strangely, the Mufti now advises that should anyone receives similar text message on such issues, he should forward them to the police and the authorities instead spreading them. Fair advice, Then why did he without first verifying the authenticity of the SMS, on November 2, 2006 made the SMS known to others particularly to the NGO’s .? As a religious leader, does he not know that his exalted position requires him to act with prudence and a greater responsibility is required from him.

This is what Johan Jaafar writing in his column NST Point Blank on November 18, 2006 (about the Mufti) had to say:-
“ Now this person have been known to make ridiculous statements on almost everything-banishing AIDS sufferers to an island, giving out fatwa (decrees) that smoking is haram and even stating frightening figures about Muslims who have become apostates”.

Incidentally, in February 2006 the Mufti made a sensational revelation claiming that 250,000 Muslims (of which 100,000 were Malays) had apostised themselves while 100,000 more had submitted their application to do so. Never mind that he was never able to substantiate his claim save for stating that these figures were obtained from “reliable sources”. Still it was enough for some NGO’s and political parties read PAS to go on the overdrive. In the end on November 11, 2006 Malaysiakini reported the findings by Dr Mohd Azam Mohd Ali, professor of law at University Technology Mara who basing on official data obtained from the state syariah court, religious departments and the National Registration Department recorded that from 1999 to 2003 there were 750 applications. Of these, only 220 were granted throughout the five years and most of these were applicants who were converts to Islam. Clearly the figures bandied around by the Mufti has been debunked.

The Catholics and Non Muslims are most relieved at the swift reaction and response by the police and the government. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said that firm action must be taken against those who had spread the SMS message because the “SMS message is dangerous as it can lead to racial disputes and create a tense situation”.

The Prime Minister according to a report in the NST is reported to have told his cabinet that this was a matter which could not be treated lightly. The Prime Minister also wants those responsible be severely punished because “they did with the intent to provoke anger”. The good Prime Minister could not be more correct. Catholics and Non Muslims are most comforted by the Prime Minister when he returned to the issue of the said SMS during the UMNO General Assembly when the Prime Minister when addressing the issue of intolerance said:-

“ It is this same group who makes such proclamation that are conjuring imaginary threats aimed at inciting Muslims, hoping that they (Muslims) will become more intolerant of others.
Their agenda is to see Malaysia torn apart, for us to fail as a multi racial, multi religious nation. This is not Islam.

For example, so many SMSes have been sent, claiming mass baptisms of Muslims and the purported formation of a Malay Christian Association. There are even those who claim- without proof-that hundreds of Malay Muslims have become apostates.

This kind of incitement whips many Malays into a frenzy because we do not have a culture of seeking to verify what we hear, preferring to believe everything we are told.

It is such unfounded claims which lead to many becoming angry and even militant.

But when the lies are exposed, those who create them scurry into hiding, nowhere to be seen and not even attempting to rectify the situation or to calm things down.”

The good Prime Minister could not have said any better. He has soothed the pain and anguish of the Catholics. However the authorities must show courage and take this matter seriously and not only investigate but also apprehend and prosecute the individuals and groups that have deliberately tried to sow hatred and racial ill-will in this country.

If the perpetrators and those involved are not apprehended and prosecuted, then there is every danger that an ill-informed group could merely being suspicious of the language and skin-tone may on a Sunday appear at the church doorstep to inspect and verify if the Indonesians migrants, Sabahan and Sarawakian or even Filipinos attending praise and worship are indeed Christians.

Never again should the Catholics and Non Muslims be subjected to such trepidation and that the legitimate exercise of their faith including religious and holy ceremonies in peace should be respected and protected.

Surah al Hujraat 49 : 6 - O you who believe ! if a sinner comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest ye harm people unwittingly, and afterwards become full of repentance for what ye have done.

Surah al Hujraat 49 : 12 – O ye who believe ! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible) for suspicion in some cases is a sin.

Fr Bernard Paul : “ A sad state of affairs.. because it shows how gullible people are and how quickly they believe in lies rather then checking first before responding. They are disrupting our religious service. This is our Sunday celebration ! Its unjust…