Umno veteran leader Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has ticked off his party for failing to provide leadership in the row over the use of the term ‘Allah’ by non-Muslim.
Razaleigh, who is former senior vice-president of Umno, accused the ruling party of fanning communal sentiment.
“In a milestone moment, PAS, the Islamic party, is holding onto the more plural and moderate position while Umno is digging itself into an intolerant hardline position that has no parallel that I know of in the Muslim world,” he said today at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies’ Regional Outlook Forum 2010.
Razaleigh lamented that the controversy appeared to be “more about racial sentiment than religious”.
According to him, the Barisan Nasional coalition is increasingly driven by “sensitivities” rather than principle.
“Public life is about behaving and choosing on principle, rather than sentiment. Islam, in particular, demands that our actions be guided by an absolute commitment to justice for all rather than by looking inward at vague ‘sensitivities’ of particular groups, however politically significant.
“It is about doing what is right, rather than protecting arbitrary feelings. If feelings diverge from what is right and just, then it’s time to show some leadership.”
Last Thursday, the High Court declared that the Home Ministry’s ban on Catholic weekly The Herald on the use of the term ‘Allah’ invalid.
The Herald, which is printed in four languages, has been using the word ‘Allah’ as a translation for ‘God’ in its Malay-language section, but the government argued ‘Allah’ should be used only by Muslims.
The term ‘Allah’ is widely used among indigenous Christian tribes in Sabah and Sarawak, most of whom speak Bahasa Malaysia.
Not doing the right thing
Razaleigh argued that only the “gutter politicians” would resort to fanning the sensitivities of the people in pursuing their agenda.
“In the controversy over whether Christians are allowed to use the term ‘Allah’, the government talks about managing sentiment when it should be talking about what is the right thing to do.
“The government of a multiracial society that cannot rise above sentiment is clearly too weak or too self-interested to hold the country together. It has lost credibility and legitimacy.”
Razaleigh said the 2008 general election results, which saw a seismic shift in the mindset of Malaysian voters, plunged BN’s communal power-sharing into crisis.
“The people are often ahead of their government. They are interested in more things than identity politics. Unable to respond to the reality that the BN formula is broken and the people want more than ethno-religious politics, the ruling party appears to be reacting by digging itself deeper into narrow racial causes with no future in them.
“As Umno is rejected by the voters, party members pursue racial issues more stridently. They think this will shore up their ‘base’.”
However, Razaleigh said these Umno leaders were severely mistaken.
“As they do so, they become more extreme and out of touch with ordinary voters of every race and religion, whose major concerns are not racial or religious identity but matters such as corruption, security, the economy and education.”