Sunday, March 21, 2004

The terrorists lost

Malaysia's Barisan Nasional (BN) ruling coalition has trounced the Islamic fundamentalist Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) at the polls. BN has had a particularly strong showing in the Green Belt. Like the US' Bible Belt, the predominantly rural Green Belt is characterized by a high degree of religiosity and relative ethnic homogeneity. BN's success among observant rural Malays demonstrates an emphatic rejection of PAS' goal of turning all Malaysia into an Islamic state subject to sharia law. In previous elections, PAS promised Chinese and Indian minorities that the enforcement of sharia would not affect them only to renege upon achieving power in the Green Belt states of Terengganu and Kelantan.

The Bush Administration has stated that one of its goals in Iraq is to provide a democratic example for the Islamic world. Despite controversy over whether electoral rules unfairly favor the ruling coalition (I would have to say yes), Malaysia provides such an example with out all the mess and controversy of a war. Were PAS to win nationally, its record leaves little doubt that PAS would not try to impose sharia nationwide as it did in Terengganu and Kelantan. Despite its competition with PAS for the Malay Muslim electorate, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the dominant party in the ruling coalition, has not pursued the similar policies. To compete with PAS, UMNO leaders have used Islamic rhetoric that appeals to Malay voters (and alarms Chinese and Indians) but ultimately practiced tolerance of Malaysia's pork-eating Chinese and idolatrous Hindu minorities. The ultimate victory in the war on terror will only truly be won when that tolerance is mainstream for the entire Islamic world.


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