Malaysia is more conservative than ever

Few weeks back, I just came back from visiting Kuching and Kota Bharu. I had the opportunity to meet up with several opinion leaders and academicians; discussing the political spectrum in Malaysia.

Most of us agreed that our nation has turned to be more conservative than ever, due to the change of political landscape since the past two decades.

Although I have been to Kuching and Kota Bharu a couple of times and it may not be a surprise to many, Islams in Kuching and Kota Bharu still sit at the same table and eat together with non-Muslims despite the food beside them is not Halal.

Attire of an Islam has also been an issue in Malaysia lately. More fear and peer pressure towards the attire especially the females who were demanded to wear properly which adheres to the Islamic teachings. Even some extremist blames females who does not wear Islamic clothing encourages rape cases.

Needless to say, LGBT is frowned upon. Let alone fighting for the rights of LGBT, I think publicly recognising as an LGBT is a fear towards many.

How the loud extremists has condemned and criticizes LGBT issues can be seen from the purported video of a federal Minister in a sex act which involves both males. 

It seems that the sexual orientation of a Minister has been determined as a capability to being a Minister rather than his ability to manage his tasks in the Ministry.

Malaysia has long been known to be more inclined towards a more moderate version of Islam. And I think even many non-Islam is proud of it.

But the last few general elections have changed the landscape of our politics especially during the 2018 general elections where we see the fall of Barisan Nasional.

It started off with the sacking of Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim as the Deputy Prime Minister in 1998, where he led a huge number of supporters to PKR. That year marks the beginning of a huge crack among the Malay political community.

Post 2018 general elections saw an even bigger split with PPBM, PKR and Amanah in the Government while UMNO and PAS forming a pact.

Majority non-Muslims, without a doubt, strongly support the Pakatan Harapan especially DAP.

The split among those parties is a mirror of how split the Malay community are, politically.

While Amanah may not seem to be in the picture, we can see that there are undercurrents building within PPBM, PKR, UMNO and PAS; calling for unity of Malays but at the same time wooing support towards their respective parties.

These parties know the fact that their key to survival is to target their base voters which are Malay and Islams.

They have to rely more and more on political campaigning focused on Islam to attract and retain the Malay vote. These will lead to a more conservative way of campaigning or to be more direct, these political parties have to make themselves look more Islamic or more Malay-centric.

Many especially the moderates and urbanites worry that this shift will lead Malaysia towards a stricter and conservative Islam instead of the more moderate version upon which the nation was founded.

Despite being a Chinese and a non-Muslim, I have always feel proud to live in a Muslim majority nation because it has always long known to be a good example as a moderate and modern Muslim nation. Despite many Western nations labeling Islam as part of terrorism, we are the ones who proudly stands together with our Islam friends denying it. We even had a Global Movement of Moderates which fights against extremism and terrorism, unfortunately it has been cease operations.

Today, it seems that we are leaning towards the right end of the political spectrum, towards being a conservative nation. In fact, it is not only happening in Malaysia, but many other countries, even in a nation as developed as the United States of America.

While we know that there is nothing wrong with religion alone, it can be a chaos if the move towards conservative becomes extremism.

I believe we need a louder voice from the moderates and the liberals so we can move the nation to a more balanced political spectrum.