KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 22 — Former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Musa Hitam has declared that he is a liberal and proud of it, joining a small but growing band of Malay Muslims speaking up in the face of Islamic fundamentalism that has crept into the country.
In an interview with The Star daily published today, Musa, the first of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s four deputies, also pointed out that Umno was founded on the principles of moderation and liberalism because the Malay nationalist party wanted Malaysia to be one.
“Only moderation and liberalism will allow us to survive,” Musa was quoted saying.
“First let me say this emphatically and very firmly - I have always been a liberal and a moderate and am proud of it. My family, my parents, my elders brought me up that way, and in my more grown up days since I entered politics, my political party Umno adopted the stance of moderation from the early days that we gained independence. But I don’t know what’s happening there now,” he added.
Musa’s declaration of his liberal beliefs comes after a group of 25 retired senior civil servants called for open debate of Islamic legislation in Malaysia and urged Putrajaya to assert the supremacy of the Federal Constitution over Shariah state laws.
Malaysia’s religious authorities have long derided liberalism and pluralism, with Friday sermons nationwide claiming a conspiracy by “enemies of Islam” to manipulate Muslims through such philosophies and other ideologies like secularism, socialism, feminism and positivism.
This has been repeated by Prime Minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who in April said that Islam was being tested by new threats under the guise of humanism, secularism, liberalism and human rights.
Musa told The Star that he was very happy to see the statement made by the 25 prominent Malays.
“To me personally, that was a very good symbolic statement made by them in that they triggered thinking, arguments and conversations. Then there were the responses, which I compliment also because they are not calling names. They are not arguing based on irrationality but arguing on an almost point-by-point basis. This was absent before,” he said.
The 80-year-old also noted that “many Malay leaders” were attempting to instil fear and a siege mentality among the Malays, but did not name anyone.
“As a result, they are also instilling a very serious inferiority complex among the Malays. This is misplaced. So many Malays are capable, yet every day these groups are saying ‘You are inferior, you need protection’ and ‘Those superior people are attacking or threatening us’,” said Musa.
He said Malays had no reason to fear as they were well-equipped to face such challenges and to be competitive.
The former deputy prime minister and home minister, who served from 1981 to 1986, stressed that a democracy must have a high tolerance of criticism, amid a spate of investigations and prosecutions under the Sedition Act 1948 targeting mostly dissidents against the government.
“So, what I am trying to do is appeal to both sides, don’t just arrest them and hassle them. Use rationale and reasoning,” he said.
Musa also expressed concern about the use of racial and religious issues to gain political mileage, which he said hearkened back to the time leading up to the bloody May 13 race riots in 1969.
“Very early on in my political career, I saw so many attempts for popular support using racial and religious issues. I hate to use this example but I have to - the May 13 incident was the result of it all.
“But we were supposed to have learnt and corrected ourselves after that. Yet now, after so many years, we seem to be back to the old days. The basic ingredients are the same, the approach is the same, even the statements are the same in many respects. In the historical perspective, it brings a very eerie reminder of the bad old days,” he said.