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On Moderation: Blogging Malaysia.

Dear friends of mine, Leon and Chris, have begun blogging about Malaysia in recent weeks for The New Ledger. Whatever the original spring of this collective series (it remains elusive and even a touch eccentric to me), the series itself is a fine read indeed. Both talented lawyers, my friends write forcefully and informatively to call attention to, among other facts, the arresting public moderation shown by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, and the common tiresome perfidies of the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim.

The course to success or failure of moderate Muslims, properly so called, must not be a matter of disinterest to any opponent of the Jihad. Moderation (again properly so called, as against that imposture of the same so often on the lips of demagogues) is a natural buffer against the Jihad; it sets itself against its madness by native inertia, much of the breath of fanaticism stifled. Moderate statesmen are rarely aggressive warmongers.

American foreign policy has been a hopeless muddle so often that lines of consistently are hard to spot. However, the commitment to commerce, to interaction by intermediate institutions seeking peaceful mutual gain, may possibly pass as an example of one of the few continuities in American relations with the world.

The bonds made by commerce and trade have moderating qualities. Compromise and trust often undergird them. They are no guarantee of virtue or friendship, as reckless libertarian and liberal boasters all too often imply, but there is abundant evidence that, as Publius predicted, the commercial interest can work as a vital emollient against more truculent relations. Even straight tribute given to spare a people may be an act of high statesmanship. King Alfred paid off the Danes many times.

In Publius’ day, the cynic replies, commercial interest was more nearly coextensive with the middle class: Industrialists had not yet begun their plunder; plutocrats had not yet accomplished their larceny of labor. Nor did Publius anticipate the rising Slave Power, which back then worked its poison by sly and squalid compromises, but soon would assert more reckless preachments concerning the right for you to work and me to eat.

Yet free soil and free labor is certainly no less American, and probably rather more American, than plutocracy and slavery. Publius had the better of the argument even despite what he managed to overlook. And that argument is the one about commerce encouraging moderation, compromise, friendship, and peaceful relations.

Prime Minister Ruzak’s holds out in a speech the ideal of “a just and equitable peace predicated on the rule of law,” which men of good will everywhere can cheer.

Comments (10)

As you say, everyone must hail "a just and equitable peace predicated on the rule of law." Whether Malaysia offers a lot of hope of it is yet another question. Sharia law is definitely there, and "moderation" appears to mean that Christian converts, instead of being murdered outright with government approval, are taken instead to reeducation prison camps and denied the right to have their conversion acknowledged by the government--a refusal with many important legal ramifications concerning matters like the future of their own children. See:


and this comment,


(The post from which the above comment comes is also interesting concerning dhimmitude.)

Then there's the matter of underage marriage and its relation to Islam:


If Prime Minister Ruzak is opposed to all of that and more, he has my very best wishes that he will succeed in making Malaysia a non-Muslim country. Meanwhile, I suspect that this may just _be_ what "moderate Islam" means. It's important to note that "moderation" is often thought of in terms only of terrorism and violent jihad and especially in relation to other countries, not in relation to domestic issues such as marriage and conversion, which are connected with sharia rather than with jihad.

I'm afraid this doesn't look too hopeful:


Evidently Mr. Razak is

a) under the impression that the rights of Christians are _already_ protected in Malaysia (but see the links in the first sentence of the Jihad Watch article)

b) determined that Malaysia must not separate "Islamic principles in the way we govern the country."

And of course a _very_ important goal for the U.S. is suppressing "Islamophobia." Mr. Razak stands ready to help:


And that argument is the one about commerce encouraging moderation, compromise, friendship, and peaceful relations.

... not only between states and societies, but also between individuals.

Ilion, I think it depends. I think commerce _does_ encourage getting along between people groups. But I think it's turned out to be not only possible but even plausible that _within_ one people group, individuals will be treated pretty badly and this will be regarded as simply an "internal" matter, despite the fact that the group is learning to get along better with outside groups. I suppose one way of putting this is that commerce per se is better at discouraging war than at discouraging oppression of the powerless. I think its influence for discouraging oppression of the powerless will be a longer, more indirect, and more chancy sort of influence: Quite frankly, in the case of Islam, it will be the influence of undermining Islam through giving people within Islam more contact with non-Muslims and with non-Muslim ideas and options. But ultimately, to the extent that a Muslim country remains _officially Muslim_ and reflects this in its laws, it will be objectionable. It is, indeed, a sort of moderation to send your converts to reeducation camp rather than sentencing them to death. But it remains in another sense _not_ moderate--that is, to the extent that "moderate" means something akin to "unproblematic" or "okay." Of course, it is possible that as Malaysian Muslims interact with Western countries through trade and through cultural influence, they will come to think that such laws are wrong or silly or whatever and will support getting rid of them. To that extent they will be becoming _non-Muslim_, since _some_ sort of penalty for conversion is intrinsically bound up with sharia. Right now, however, that doesn't seem to be happening at all, not even a little bit. The "moderation" of Malaysia--in the sense of really being _positively good_--appears to consist in things like arresting terrorists and rejecting suicide bombing, not in any form of actually rejecting the internal laws of sharia. It's great if this is the result of commerce. It's just that moderation and peaceful relations towards converts and Christians within the country are going to be much harder goals to accomplish by any means whatsoever, including commerce.

The bonds made by commerce and trade have moderating qualities. Compromise and trust often undergird them. They are no guarantee of virtue or friendship, as reckless libertarian and liberal boasters all too often imply, but there is abundant evidence that, as Publius predicted, the commercial interest can work as a vital emollient against more truculent relations.

Indeed, far less truculent than chiliastic impositions of "democracy" and "freedom".

I find some of the comments above intriguing, but only because I have some experience with Malaysia, and having met converts to Catholicism who are now pastors of their churches, they didn't bother to mention the re-education camps to which they were sent. Having attended Mass there, I must have blanked out the part where the thugs came in, beat us, and desecrated the Hosts, chanting Allahu Akbar.

I think a few points are in order here.

First, Malaysia really is a very tolerant, moderate place -- the Brits found a temperamentally placid group and transposed their legal and cultural system, and it stuck. It helps that the locals are very well-educated; Sufism was the vector for Islam into the region; and lively debates over Islamic practice and belief are extremely common there. I say without hesitation that it's a wonderful place to visit. It's not perfect; no place is. But as far as East Asian places to go, it's easily the safest I've felt as a Christian.

Second, the statement "Sharia law is definitely there" is really true only in the sense that there are laws regulating alcohol and pork (usually but not exclusively taxing them), laws against sodomy, a death penalty for drug trafficking, and a constitutional enshrinement of Islam as the preeminent faith there. One would expect most if not all of these things in a Muslim country. It is noteworthy that the opposition coalition is composed in no small part of a group the primary plank of which is imposing sh'ria, which is to say, they don't feel it's being done. Google PAS+Malaysia, you'll see what I mean. Remember, that's the opposition, not the law of the land. They are the largest party in the opposition, but in a majority-Muslim country, they command the allegiance of a small minority of Muslims.

Third, there seems to be a perfect-as-the-enemy-of-the-good problem here. In terms of respect for minority rights, commitment to religious tolerance, and indeed, pretty much any other metric, Malaysia has the best prime minister it, or pretty much any Muslim nation, has had since the start of the twentieth century at least. He has explicitly condemned suicide bombing as contrary to Islam for being murder and being suicide -- from what I can see, a first -- and because English is the default language of his country, he can't get away with the lie-to-the-infidels/speak-truth-to-the-faithful silliness so many Muslim leaders do. I would suggest that this is because (1) the majority of his country agrees with him (2) this is apparently a heartfelt belief and (3) this is a very smart thing to do. Your problem appears to be that he has not converted to Christianity, which is to say, that he's still Muslim. There, I cannot help you.

Finally, the sarcasm of the start of my comment notwithstanding, and noting that praxis is different across Malaysia, it's kinda noteworthy that Christians go to service every Sunday across the country without fear of being killed, bombed, butchered, having their churches shut down, and/or being imprisoned in re-education camps. Catholic and Protestant missionary schools tend to draw applications from Christians and Muslims well in excess of their capacities. Again, relying on a single source and a complete lack of experience with the place appears to be driving you into treating any sign of Muslim character as being more or less synonymous with Saudi Arabia. This is silly.

V. S. Naipaul has a whole sensitive chapter on Malaysia in his book Among the Believers. Probably a bit outdated now, but valuable nonetheless.

they didn't bother to mention the re-education camps to which they were sent.

Sweet. So somebody made that up? That doesn't happen? The reeducation camps don't exist? Ravthi Masooai didn't spend six months in one of the "rehabilitationg centers"?


Her baby wasn't seized?


Lina Joy's story didn't happen?

Let's see, hmmm. How about Kelantan state, which passed a bill that anyone who converts from Islam faces beating, a fine, and years in prison.


Oh, wait, I know: That's subsidiarity. It's a state law, so we shouldn't worry about it.

Perhaps the bishop who said this,

there is a systematic and progressive reduction of public space to practice, profess and express our faith. The freedom to wear and display crosses and other religious symbols, to use religious terms and to build places of worship has been progressively restricted

lives in the U.S.?

You don't address the issue of child marriage or the fact that marriage with any girl who has begun to menstruate--straight out of sharia--was very prominently upheld by the Malaysian law minister.

The Reuters story about a spate of demolitions of non-Muslim churches was obviously faked by a "single source" (Jihad Watch, perhaps?), because you, Mr. Badeaux, "missed" the part where the church you were worshiping in was razed:


(The Reuters link has disappeared, but the story is quoted at the JW link.)

Mr. Badeaux, Jihad Watch is a clearing house of information. The stories it blogs are from other news sources, including the Associated Press, Reuters, etc. Unless you hold to a full-fledged theory that the JW bloggers are making up the stories they pretend to quote and relying on the fact that the mainstream media moves its links after a time to quell suspicions, I think you should drop the stuff about "relying on a single source."

These things happen, they are bad, and they are official, and to call a country in which they are done by government at various levels (including the high court and law minister) "the good" of which I am making "the perfect" the enemy is stretching it.

This story about Lina Joy, I note, is from the BBC:


Malaysia's highest court has rejected a Muslim convert's six-year battle to be legally recognised as a Christian. A three-judge panel ruled that only the country's Sharia Court could let Azlina Jailani, now known as Lina Joy, remove the word Islam from her identity card.

Malaysia's constitution guarantees freedom of worship but says all ethnic Malays are Muslim. Under Sharia law, Muslims are not allowed to convert.

Ms Joy said she should not be bound by that law as she is no longer a Muslim.


Malaysia's Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim said the panel endorsed legal precedents giving Islamic Sharia courts jurisdiction over cases involving Muslims who want to convert.

About 200 protesters shouted "Allah-o-Akbar" (God is great) outside the court when the ruling was announced.

"You can't at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another," Ahmad Fairuz said.

I have no doubt that Malaysia is indeed comparatively speaking a "moderate Muslim country." But I know of no law that says that, if it turns out that "moderate Muslim countries" have such problems as this entrenched in their sharia legal system, we must fall all over ourselves applauding them simply because they are less bad than other Muslim countries!

The sarcastic comment about "my problem" being that the Prime Minister has not converted to Christianity is simply silly. The Prime Minister could be a Platonist, a Moonie, or an atheist and not uphold sharia law as it _presently exists_ in his country--which apparently he does do. Does the fact that his opposition wants sharia to be even _more_ harshly enforced mean that its present form is unobjectionable? Of course not. The downplaying comments that it's just about regulating pork, sex trafficking, etc., are, I'm sorry, simply misleading. "Move along, folks, nothing to see here." There _is_ something to see here, as has been amply documented.

Does this mean that no country should be officially Muslim, that there will be these sorts of objectionable aspects any time a country is? Yep. It almost certainly does mean that. Where is it written that we must find some officially Muslim country about which to be enthusiastically positive? Nowhere that I know of.

It would be one thing to say, with wry and illusionless realism, that a country whose prime minister rejects suicide bombing and in which _some_ or even _many_ Christians can get away with practicing their faith unhindered is comparatively preferrable to a more ardently Muslim country. Such an illusionless analysis should, however, come with a full recognition and admission of the multiple cases in that country where non-Muslims are indeed directly persecuted by official forces at various levels, in the name of Islam and the Islamic nature of the country. It should also come with a recognition of the remaining problem of officially endorsed child marriage and whatever other highly objectionable aspects of sharia exist. A sarcastic and unresponsive dismissal, without admission, of multiple documentation of such problems, coupled with a heavy-handed insistence that the comparative axis is the only important one, is not what we need in America for purposes of crafting either an informed foreign policy or an informed domestic policy (e.g., on immigration).

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