THE BLOG
12/05/2014 11:49 BST | Updated 10/07/2014 06:59 BST

A Malaysian Neo-Nazism?

Malaysia has found itself embroiled in yet another religious controversy. For a country that prides itself on moderation, tolerance and multiculturalism, it is surely bizarre that it appears to be perpetually troubled by religious and racial extremism.

The recent spate of derisive comments made against Malaysia's minorities by Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) delivers just one more blow to Putrajaya's now reticent calls for "1Malaysia".

Outlandish comments labeling non-Muslims (specifically the Chinese) as "invaders" and "intruders" who came to then, Tanah Melayu to "bully the Malays out of their wealth" or as "immigrants who should know their limits and who have no right to interfere in the affairs of Muslims" are just some examples of blatant racist and divisive speech that do nothing but brew hatred and belligerence.

What ever happened to compassion, love and harmony of the kind we used to be so famously known for?

Have we fallen so far that almost 60 years on since Independence, we have forgotten what it means to be Malaysian, to be human?

A strange kind of Neo-Nazism is quietly brewing with every antagonistic comment made on racial lines. Because in a country like Malaysia whose identity is defined by diversity, this vocabulary of "them" versus "us" is as toxic a speech as can be.

What Isma wants and indeed, what most misguided parties want is unity through uniformity. But true unity cannot be achieved this way. True unity can only be achieved through the celebration of diversity - even tolerance, despite being told otherwise will prove (if it hasn't already) to be insufficient.

But trying to convince Isma of this would be an almost impossible task. Bigotry by its nature is uncompromising and unapologetic. It is also very loud, which is why an inattentive observer might wrongly think it an affliction of the general Malaysian public.

I know Malaysians by and large do not agree with organisations like Isma. We believe in equality of race, colour, creed and circumstance for a better Malaysia. But our nonchalance in the wake of religious controversies like this one is problematic. Our collective tolerance for ignorance and hate is the very reason for their longevity.

As Albert Einstein once said, "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

I think this is representative of what is happening in Malaysia. We need people to be more intolerant of extremism. That includes not just the oppressed but the unaffected bystanders as well who are aware of the calamity but are tempted by inaction.

The silent believer of a faith holds more influence in the perpetuation of religious extremism than he/she might think. For it is much easier to tear down bigotry from the inside than to do it from the outside.

It is unfortunate that this very important truth is being overlooked at the expense of religion's reputation. Many look at the provocative remarks made by Isma as the dangers of religion.

But religion in itself is not dangerous. It is extremists who are. And our failure to drown out the noise of ignorance and bigotry with true religious virtues is indicative of everything that is wrong with the world.