Malaysia suffers image problem


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25-09-2009 05:34 PM


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25-09-2009 05:34 PM



25-09-2009 06:39 PM

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2009-09-25 17:34:23

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PERCY, Karen

CHIN, James


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Malaysia suffers image problem -

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Malaysia suffers image problem

Karen Percy reported this story on Friday, September 25, 2009 18:32:00

MARK COLVIN: Malaysia's image has been taking a battering right now.

The Government is at loggerheads with Indonesia over claims to cultural traditions.

But it's also facing growing divide within its own borders, where conservative Muslims seem to be
setting the agenda.

In recent months there's been a rise in the number of people ordered to be caned for breaching
Sharia law.

And there are problems again for Western music acts.

South East Asia correspondent Karen Percy reports.

(Song plays: 'I've got a feeling')

KAREN PERCY: For a while, The Black Eyed Peas might have had the feeling they weren't welcome in

When the US hip hop band first announced their only concert in Asia it sparked controversy and
reports that Muslims would not be able to attend because the major sponsor was a brewer.

In Muslim-dominated Malaysia drinking alcohol is banned under Sharia law.

(song plays: 'Tonight's gonna be a good good night' )

Tonight t will be a good good night for Malaysians of all kinds, Malay Muslims, Indians and Chinese
after a change of heart by authorities.

But for some this incident is just another example of Malaysia's creeping conservatism.

US pop star Beyonce will have to tone down her performance when she tours Malaysia next month,
after objections to her skimpy clothes and sexy moves.

And there's been an angry reaction to two rulings for locals. A couple who engaged in sex before
marriage will be caned under Sharia law and a young mother Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno was also
sentenced to a caning for drinking beer.

She's accepted her fate but other groups are appealing the punishment and her case is on hold.

DINA ZAMAN: When you talk about a caning, when you talk about the Black Eyed Peas there is a lot of
support among Muslim Malaysians.

KAREN PERCY: Dina Zaman is a social observer and author in Malaysia.

DINA ZAMAN: What you say there's a rise in conservatism? No, because a lot of them say look, we are
Muslims, we don't do all this. You know you're not supposed to have alcohol, you're not supposed to
have pre-marital sex etc. etc.

So by having all these laws, these actions taken to punish these wrongdoers, to them they say look,
you did this, you erred, hence, you pay.

KAREN PERCY: These cases have been making headlines across the world and they're damaging
Malaysia's image abroad.

James Chin heads up the political science school at Monash University's campus in Kuala Lumpur.

JAMES CHIN: I think the message it sends to the rest of the world is that Malaysia is becoming an
increasingly intolerant society. But to be fair I have to say that a lot of these things are done
by lower officials.

I do not think that they care about what the rest of the world thinks; it's only the people at the
top leadership who worries that this thing may get out of hand.

KAREN PERCY: And does this necessarily mean dangerous intolerance, radicalisation, extremism?

JAMES CHIN: I do not think that it will lead to any formal extremism, but what it will lead to is a
further division between the Muslims, who make up about 60 per cent of the population and the 40
per cent of the population which are non-Muslims.

KAREN PERCY: Racial tensions have surfaced as a major political issue in recent years.

In the past month, a group of Muslims was arrested for stepping on the head of a cow to protest the
building of a Hindu temple in Selangor state. Cows are sacred to the country's Indians who make up
about ten per cent of the population.

The long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition is under pressure to change policies that give Muslims
advantages in business, education and the public service.

But the Government coalition also needs to look after its Malay Muslim base.

KAREN PERCY: Author Dina Zaman sees the focus on these issues serving another purpose.

DINA ZAMAN: It's not a very nice incident, but it take away the public's mind off the real things
that are happening in Malaysia; corruption you know, poverty.

KAREN PERCY: With the Government on the back foot because of the rise in the role of the Opposition
run by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim it's unlikely that these controversies will go

This is Karen Percy reporting for PM.