Geography week at Doug’s Darkworld starting with Malaysia, demonstrations, Islam, and teddy bear news.
Welcome to geography week at Doug’s Darkworld. Or more accurately, Russia, Sudan, Somalia, Congo, and Malaysia week. I’ll try not to mention Iran or Iraq this week at all, won’t that be a pleasant break. (Unless of course something terrible happens there that must be discussed…knock on wood.) Malaysia first. OK, so they are demonstrating in Malaysia. News to some folks I am sure since it’s not exactly getting big coverage in the western press. Malaysia really isn’t even on the radar in the west, except as the occasional backdrop to an action movie when they need an exotic urban locale. Americans mostly only know about the world from what they see in Hollywood movies, which is scary, but I digress.
I bring up Malaysia because I have used it in the past as an example that Islam can and does coexist with modern parliamentary democracy. Malaysia has been an independent nation since 1963, they have prospered economically, and are now one of the most developed and industrialized and richest nations in East Asia. And all the while they have had a stable parliamentary government…and Islam as the official state religion. Only sixty percent or so of the population is Muslim though, and while the rest in theory have equal rights and freedom of religion, in practise there is still significant “affirmative action” that gives Muslims an advantage in many walks of life. And recently the Tamil minority, people of Indian origin who make up about ten percent of the population, have been protesting their second class status.
These demonstrations also illustrate the nasty legacy of colonialism. There wouldn’t be a significant Tamil minority in Malaysia if the British hadn’t moved huge numbers of labourers there in centuries past. These sorts of post colonial problems are common throughout the former colonial world. Which leads me to another point about Malaysia, yes, it is about 60% Malay, but the other 40% cover a huge amount of ground, though Chinese and Tamils are by far the largest minority, with aborigines coming in third. Even among the Malays there is a wide range of ethnicities and cultures. In other worse, Malaysia is a remarkably diverse nation, far more diverse than most nations. And yet despite that, their track record of stability and economic growth is enviable. Again, more proof that Islam is not the kiss of death when it comes to progress and modernity.
In another example, while Sharia is the law of the land in Malaysia, it only applies to Muslims and it only covers domestic matters such as marriage and divorce. In theory, in practise the scope and application of Islamic law has been expanding in recent decades and it has become a burden to non Muslim in many cases. Will Malaysia be the next Taliban? Despite claims by some that the future of Malaysia is doomed by Islam fundamentalism, Malaysia is not Afghanistan. Frankly I’ve read so many articles about Malaysia this weekend that my head is spinning, but that is a good sign. Malaysia is still an open society where differing views can be expressed. That has to be a good thing, nu?
So what do I think of it all? Well, I still think Malaysia is example that Islam and modern secular parliamentary government are not incompatible. Yes, the Muslim majority have managed to rig the laws in their favour, so? I can easily think of modern countries where Evangelicals, Catholics, and Jews have managed to do the same. I don’t think it’s a good thing, but forty plus years of peace, prosperity, and stable government counts for a lot. It was riots in the sixties that engendered the current rash of pro Malay (and thus anti-Tamil and anti-Chinese) laws. With any luck the current situation will resolve itself fairly, the jury is still out on that though and I’m not going to stick my neck out and make any predictions. Germany was a paragon of liberal democracy about a week before a certain man took office, things can change awfully quickly in any nation.
In other Islamic news, the teacher in the teddy bear row has been pardoned and released from Sudan. Religion almost always takes a back seat to politics, so this is no surprise. The government of Sudan needs the west, and despite our supposed tears for the people of Darfur, we want Sudan’s oil and being on good terms with the government of Sudan is the best way to get it. Tomorrow, Russia. Suggestions always welcome, this discussion of Malaysia was prompted by comments from esteemed reader Archana Raghurum.
Have a great week everyone.
(The above map of Malaysia came from the USA government produced CIA World Factbook and is thus public domain under US copyright law. Please note that while the maps in the CIA World Factbook may be accurate, the other information provided reflects the official US government world view, and may contain egregious errors or self serving omissions.)