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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Much to lose as an ‘authentic’ Islamic nation



You [demagogues] are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing, but if they thoroughly stir up the slime, their fishing is good; in the same way it's only in troublous times that you line your pockets.”
- Aristophanes, The Knights
Saudi Arabia recognising us as an authentic Islamic nation is not something Muslims should rejoice. Indeed, any recognition by the House of Saud is fraught with danger. In these perilous times when the Muslim world is reeling from the belated realisation that the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to extremism and geopolitics, Malaysia as a stable moderate Muslim country should be careful who it chooses to get into bed with.
In the ‘Kingdom in Malaysia’, I articulated what I thought about this whole idea that we can benefit from the House of Saud - “I contend there is nothing we can and should take from the Saudi kingdom. I would argue that the reason why Malaysia is a so-called moderate state is because however dismally we have managed to resist the excesses of the House of Saud, we still have a multi-ethnic population whose contribution in politics, economics and culture has maintained a fast fading line between what the Wahhabis and their ilk want and what is rational.”
This idea that a small relatively stable Muslim country like Malaysia is running to embrace a failing kingdom locked in a life and death struggle with not only various Islamic extremist groups that they helped fund but also another nation - Iran - is troubling for more than just the absurdity of thinking that there are any real privileges of being considered an “authentic” Islamic state.
Prime Minister Najib Razak asks why King Salman Abdulaziz Al-Saud picked Malaysia and then goes on to claim because we are “recognised as authentic Islam and for our moderate approach. Those are what he (King Salman) views highly”. This, of course, is total horse manure because if King Salman really viewed “moderate” Islam highly, he would practice that in Saudi Arabia instead of giving Wahhabi clerics free reign to practice a regressive form of Islam.
Najib also claimed that he got a “positive response” to build “two haj complexes in Makkah and Madinah”, which means very little because we all know how the House of Saud takes to Muslim interlopers attempting to profit from Islam in their country. The House of Saud, of course, is the only one who can benefit from Islam.
I have argued that our prime minister is in a better position than the monarch from Saudi Arabia is. So why then does King Salman bestow such largesse upon a small Muslim Southeast Asian nation. You can believe what our prime minister claims, that the House of Saud thinks that we are a moderate Muslim nation that he views highly or you can believe that we are part of a greater Sunni/House of Saud struggle against the nation that the Saudis believe is a threat to their hegemony - Iran.
There is a reason why US President Donald Trump chose to make his grand speech to a host of Muslim potentates in Saudi Arabia. There was a reason why there was a host of Sunni-dominated heads of state in Saudi Arabia where Trump made it clear that Iran was the big bad wolf in world geopolitics and that what was needed was the Muslim world to fight against “terrorism” and recognise that Iran was meddling in the business of other Muslim countries, and as such part of that ‘terrorist’ definition.
The Saudi kingdom is always furthering the narrative than Iran is causing confusion and sectarianism in the Muslim world. Beyond regional (Middle East) geopolitics, this goes to the heart of Islamic dogma and this notion by the House of Saud that they are the true and only keepers of the faith. Statements condemning Iran like the one from the Trump-Muslim/House of Saud summit is a constant reminder that Islamic elites are embroiled in a worldwide struggle.
A tangled web
When the Saudi king paid (in more ways than one) Malaysia a visit, he took the opportunity to spit a little venom at Iran. What was most unfortunate was that Malaysia become part of the story. Point 15 in a joint statement by the two potentates is as follows -
“15. The two sides expressed serious concerns over the Iranian interference in the internal affairs of countries in the region, stressed the need for Iran’s commitment to the principle of good neighbourliness and the need to respect the sovereignty of States.”
The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Bahram Ghasemi, response was a mixture of authentic bafflement and subtle warning (Middle East Monitor) - “He called on the Kuala Lumpur government to avoid involvement in ‘dangerous’ scenarios that are aimed at undermining Muslim unity and supporting Takfiri terrorist groups, particularly Daesh, through financial cooperation with certain countries.
“Malaysian government is expected to review, as wisely as before, the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic and avoid suspicious areas and deteriorating issues by deep and long-term considerations,”
This, of course, is all part of the balancing act or so Putrajaya thinks. Only a year ago when sanctions were lifted against Iran, Najib was waxing lyrical of the new trade deals between Iran and Malaysia - "We can belong to different schools of taught, but we have the same desired objectives and goals. So, the closer we work together, the better it will be for the Muslim world.
"During the two meetings, we had the opportunity to exchange views and opinion in an open manner on how both countries can elevate relations to a higher level.”
This is part of the tangled web this government is weaving. China, of course, has always had close ties with Iran going so far as to complain of the new round of sanctions against Chinese individuals and companies linked to either Iran or North Korea's nuclear or missile programmes. As reported in Reuters - "China is opposed to the blind use of unilateral sanctions particularly when it damages the interests of third parties. I think the sanctions are unhelpful in enhancing mutual trust and unhelpful for international efforts on this issue."
Malaysia could have a moderating influence on the Islamic world, but for whatever reasons has chosen to overtly side with the Saudi kingdom. While Shia crackdowns are common in Malaysia, there will come a time very soon when Malaysia will be lumped with the rest of the Saudi allies as a possible target of retaliation.
We have to keep in mind that Muslims have massacred their co-religionists in greater numbers than colonialism or the machinations of Western hegemons. With a world economy in shambles, Washington under a weak leader, old cold warriors China and Russia resurrecting the great game - or as I call it, the neo-great game - this is not the time for Malaysia to embroil itself in Islamic intrigue.
Malaysia now has to balance the strategic interests of a regional superpower like China against whatever Islamic hegemonic goals of the Saudi kingdom. If we had a strong stable government this would be business as usual but when it comes to mixing Islam and regional geopolitics things get much trickier, especially when local Islamic imperatives are mixed with foreign [Islamic] intelligence operations.
Since there is very little transparency in how the Najib regime handles the business of government and since religious dogma influences foreign policy, what we are left with is hostile Islamic interests in the region competing against the sole hegemon in the region.
Malaysia becoming a hotbed of Islamic intrigue by rushing into alliances because of the weakened state of the ruling coalition is a dangerous position to be in. History has shown us that situations like this do not end in a whimper. They end with a bang. Most probably, a series of bangs.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.- Mkini

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