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Nongovernment Groups Warn Malaysia Risks Racial, Religious Polarization

ICC Note: In the wake of the Lina Joy and similar cases and the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement that Malaysia is an Islamic country followed by a ban on media discussion of the statement, Malaysians are concerned that the country’s peace and unity are in danger. Unless the government turns this tide, Malaysia could be headed for Sharia law.

8/3/07 Malaysia (AP) – Racial and religious disputes are threatening to unravel decades of efforts to nurture multicultural unity in Malaysia , one of Southeast Asia ‘s most politically stable nations, leading nongovernment groups warned.

More than 30 think tanks and human rights, economic and religious organizations endorsed an «Independence Statement» issued by the Center for Public Policy Studies late Thursday that called for political, financial and social reforms.

«Recently the state of unity has been fraying at the edges,» the statement said. «Ethnic, linguistic and religious divides have deepened, causing genuine pain and hurt to many in our nation.

The groups urged the government to establish an independent panel to review laws and policies that might undermine harmony and investigate complaints of ethnic and religious discrimination.

The call came ahead of Malaysia ‘s 50th anniversary of independence from Britain on Aug. 31…

Concerns about religious rights have mounted over a recent string of court verdicts in inter-religious disputes that favored Muslims…

Malaysia has prided itself on decades of peace since 1969, when some 200 people were killed in riots sparked by Malay frustration over the economic clout of ethnic Chinese. The violence spurred the creation of an affirmative action program _ still in effect _ that gives Malays privileges in government jobs, contracts and education to help them close the wealth gap with the Chinese.

The nongovernment groups’ statement indirectly called for such policies to be gradually curtailed, saying discrimination based on ethnicity in the public and private sector «should be discouraged and eventually eliminated.

«Programs and initiatives to redress poverty imbalances must emphasize a ‘weaning off’ dependency on government aid by building a generation of independent workers, small businessmen, entrepreneurs and professionals,» the statement added.

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