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Press Statement by Charles Santiago in Klang on Friday, 22nd January 2010:

Business confidence undermined with continued attack of places of worship

I strongly condemn the recent attacks on two surauís in Muar. These acts are cowardly and shameful. They also go against the tenets of religious teachings which are rooted on respect and reverence for all religions.

When a government rushes to downplay a serious issue or worse, attempts to sweep it under the carpet fearing international bad press and condemnation, the problem would become uglier. It certainly would not fade away.

The attempted arson on two surauís is a clear example of the UMNO-led government's failure to seek the right approach to find a durable solution to the growing racial and religious strife in the country.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak had clearly rejected suggestions for open inter-faith dialogues and varied discussions with political leaders, civil society representatives and religious leaders to stop the war of words over God.

Several churches were firebombed and others vandalised following a High Court ruling allowing a Catholic weekly, Herald, to use the word Allah to refer to God. A 100-year-old Sikh temple was attacked as the Sikhs also use the word Allah to refer to God in their worship and scriptures.

However, the court ruling was suspended last week pending an appeal by the government which argues that Allah is exclusive to Muslims.

The government's efforts to delicately craft an image of multi-racial, multi-religious Malaysia which is harmonious has gone up in flames, together with the burning of the surau, churches and attacks on other places of worship.

This unmistakeable surge in attacks reflects on the country's ethnic-based political landscape and years of institutionalized discrimination against non-Malays by the UMNO-led government.

But Malaysia's color lines are shifting. Moderate and forward-thinking Muslims have denounced the warring in God's name. UMNO veteran leader Razaleigh Hamzah has condemned his party's response to the High Court verdict and Islamic party PAS has made it clear that it would not subscribe to exclusivist Islam.

Now its over to UMNO to stop fanning racial sentiments to continue its legacy on power.

The Allah controversy will have enormous economic implications for the country. Already, the country is suffering from a loss in competitiveness and a drastic drop in foreign direct investment.

Confidence in the country will further erode if there is no quick resolution to the Allah controversy and if places of worship continue to come under attack.

Thus, it is absolutely necessary and urgent that an open inter-faith dialogue be convened with participation from non-governmental organisations, civil society members including religious leaders to put a lid on growing fears and uncertainty in the country.

* Charles Santiago, Selangor DAP Vice Chairman & Member of Parliament for Klang



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