Revival of Islamists
From Singapore to Malaysia to Indonesia, an intolerant breed of Islam is gaining ground. Governments there appear helpless in containing it. I asked a woman of Indian-Pakistani origin who worked with me in Singapore why she now wears the hijab (headscarf). "It’s best to be like everyone else if you live here”, she replied. In the metro, the next day, I heard a stream of Bengali from under the hijabs that two saree-draped Bangladeshi women wore.
The Islamic revival also manifest in Malaysia, Indonesia and parts of the Philippines compelled Singapore some years ago to pass a law forcing every child to go to an ordinary school. It had been Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s pride until then that he would achieve full literacy without compulsion as in Britain where it entails elaborate bureaucratic, policing and legal mechanisms. The Singapore society he had created, Mr Lee boasted, highlighted the benefits of education while placing it within easy reach of every Singaporean. But schooling had to be made compulsory when it was found that Malay Singaporeans (14 per cent of the population) preferred madarsas.
Islam is gaining ground throughout the region. Malaysia’s clerics did not say anything very novel when they recently declared that "rioting, causing disturbances and damaging public property are all forbidden by Islam.” I doubt if any religion — Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism — sanctions "rioting, causing disturbances and damaging public property.” But the announcement by Mr Abdul Shukor Husin, chairman of Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council, highlighted Islam’s importance in statecraft.
The clerics spoke after a massive Opposition rally demanding clean elections ahead of a widely expected snap poll. No one knows who started the violence but with the police and demonstrators engaged in a confrontation, the Prime Minister, Mr Najib Razak, accused the demonstrators of trying to topple the Government. So did the former Prime Minister, Mr Mahathir Mohamad, recalling the uprisings that had effected regime change in Egypt and Tunisia. "When the Government does not fall, (the Opposition) can appeal to the foreign power to help and bring (it) down”, he said of the Syrian revolt, "even if it means using fire power.” (...)