More fringe groups may resort to force

    Jul 8, 2000

    Sauk episode reveals expression of frustration by fringe group, say analysts, warning more such groups may emerge and resort to use of force


    IS ISLAMIC militancy becoming a problem in Malaysia?

    No, said religious experts, government politicians and opposition members.

    But some of them warned that more groups, such as the Brotherhood of Al-Ma'unah which was responsible for the Perak arms heist, may mushroom and resort to use of force if they buy the argument by the opposition party Parti Se-Islam (PAS) that the government is downplaying the Islamic agenda.

    Most of the analysts say that the Sauk episode was an expression of frustration by a fringe group, led by a man who believed he had supernatural powers.

    The government has identified at least eight other religious deviationist groups with a tendency towards violence and is keeping them under close watch.

    But for the most part, Muslims in the country practise their faith according to universally-accepted tenets, said Umno Youth executive committee member, Mr Zein Isma.

    He added that Malaysian history has been peppered with isolated cases of Islam and politics becoming a volatile and deadly mix.

    He noted that in 1985, 18 people were killed after police raided the village of a spiritual leader, known as the Memali incident.

    ""The problem is that teachings by PAS leaders could be of influence among these fringe groups,'' he commented. ""The Memali incident happened in a similar way.''

    Not everyone agrees.

    The Memali incident and the disbanding of the Al-Arqam movement took place amid an Islamic renaissance among Muslims in the region that was linked with the Iranian revolution.

    Dr Michael Leifer, director of Asia Research Centre of the London School of Economics told the International Herald Tribune: ""It doesn't seem part of the same pattern of Islamic resurgence. This is just political alienation.''

    Mr Khalid Jaafar, director of the Institute of Policy Research and member of Parti Keadilan Nasional, said that while Islamic militancy is not prevalent here, there is growing disenchantment with the establishment.

    If there is no outlet for these disenchanted people, they could go outside the boundaries of the law to be heard. Similarly, if there is a perception that the standing of government institutions has been eroded, groups of people are likely to hatch their own plans and attempt to take matters into their own hands.

    Umno politicians, however, scoff at such talk.

    They say that the remedy is to go after deviationist groups and hit them hard, rather than opening channels of communication with people who are unreasonable and extremists.

    Writer and veteran politician, Mr Kassim Ahmad, said: ""We should allow dissent but not to the extent of demanding the impossible, like demanding to implement the hudud laws.''

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