Report: Racial ties at all-time low, govt unable to help

South China Morning Post report says “Muslims-only” laundrette issue shows disparity in how a divisive topic was dealt with by Johor sultan and Malaysian prime minister.


PETALING JAYA: The outrage over the “Muslims-only” laundrette in Muar, Johor over the past week has brought to the fore the issue of weakening racial ties in the country, and the government’s seeming inability to deal with the issue.

An analysis by the South China Morning Post (SCMP) even puts racial ties at an all-time low, and says the issue has further strengthened the warning stated by United Nations Special Rapporteur Karima Bennoune last week – even before the uproar over the laundrette – on race and religion in the country.

Bennoune had said the country had much to lose if the authorities did not heed warning signs that the country’s culture of tolerance is under threat.

“Malaysia has over the years risen to the challenge of building a society inclusive of its broad cultural diversity, but it could be at risk if steps are not taken to meet current challenges,” Bennoune had said.

Bennoune had especially expressed her concern on the banning of books, including those describing moderate and progressive Islam, which she had attributed to “the growing Islamisation of Malaysian society and polity based on an increasingly rigid and fundamentalist interpretation of Islam”.

Highlighting the prompt action by the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, to condemn the actions of the owner of the “Muslims-only” laundrette, the Hong Kong-based daily said it was only days later that Prime Minister Najib Razak spoke up on the matter.

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“The government will remain committed to upholding the true Islamic teachings while protecting the interests of the other communities as demanded of Islam,” Najib had said, adding that the launderette owner’s apology and retraction of the policy should be well-received.

According to SCMP, Najib opted for the more diplomatic approach with elections due next year.

“Najib is treading a fine line while trying to maintain a strong Malay support base which will ensure him victory in the polls,” the report said.

Najib was also reported to have told Bernama that Malaysia would remain a moderate Islamic nation, as practised since independence.

“I am confident that Muslims will continue to uphold this struggle because we all want to see Malaysia progress into a successful, respected and exemplary country,” he was quoted as saying by the national news agency.

This prompted ridicule from PKR communications director Fahmi Fadzil who criticised Najib’s remarks as nothing more than a move to “play safe”.

“I feel that this isn’t the first time an issue of discrimination has come up, and Najib’s response was specifically to ‘play safe’ in the sense that he only commented after the Johor sultan had made known his sentiments on the issue,” Fahmi told SCMP.

“He should be among the first to speak up, but as always he fails to rise to the occasion.

“The government should be playing a more proactive role in encouraging unity, and put in place clearer laws and guidelines that penalise or stops discrimination from happening,” Fahmi was quoted as saying.

Last weekend, a picture showing a sign outside a laundrette in Muar with the words “Only For Muslims”, had gone viral on social media.

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Following this, Sultan Ibrahim was reported to have told The Star in an interview of his displeasure on the issue.

“I want the owner to apologise to me and the people of Johor. He has made Johoreans very angry and embarrassed because this is not the Johor we want.

“The owner has gone against the vision of a united, harmonious, moderate and tolerant Johor. If he still insists on carrying on the Muslim-only practice, he can leave Johor. I suggest he set up shop in Afghanistan. His thinking is sick and goes against everything that Johor stands for,” Sultan Ibrahim had said.

The owner has since apologised and removed the sign, saying that his business was now open to customers of all races and religions.

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