Who can meet the expectations of the majority?



Malaysia’s thirteenth general elections (GE13) will be a battle of the coalitions, pitting the world’s most successful ruling coalition – the 13 party Barisan Nasional (BN/National Front) against the 4 year old, three party Pakatan Rakyat (PR/People’s Pact/People’s Alliance).

It is not easy to categorise the two opposing coalitions and its members as they are disparate, complex, and, with multiple agendas, often fractured. This is primarily the outcome of Malaysia’s recent history. The disparate regions and people that make up Malaysia today are, after all, an artificial construct whose only common denominator was that they were all subject to British Imperial power. A peninsular with 9 Malay kingdoms at the end of Asia’s land mass whose citizens were populated in majority by a polyglot of people from the Malay Archipelago, the Chinese and South Asian subcontinents, with a sprinkling of Arabs, Turks, remnants of past colonialists, various unique groups that were created through inter-marriages, and not to mention the many indigenous peoples aggregated together with two geographical entities on the island of Borneo, that is separated by 800 kilometres of the South China Sea, and whose people have greater cultural affinities with the peoples of the Philippines and Indonesia, and who themselves are disparate in culture, ethnicity and language.

However, all these societies did have one feature in common – feudalism. This was buttressed by British efforts to violently suppress progressive elements in the Malayan polity, preferring instead to hand over power after independence to conservative elements, primarily as a means to protect British interests. The feudalistic nature of these societies gave rise to what has become a very successful model of politics practised by the ruling coalition since the first elections before independence in 1955: Consociational politics, where the elites bargained and struck a deal where each group – first three, then rising to 14, now 13 political parties – had some share of political and economic power under the hegemonic power of the Malay and increasingly Islamised United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). This system has served BN well, chalking up electoral victory after victory at the past 12 general elections.

More importantly, the BN and its predecessor, the Alliance, were able to monopolise power because they were able to forge a ‘syncretism’ in their style of government i.e. governing via a variety of ideological orientations and political practises. The BN was successful not only because of its competent stewardship of the Malaysian economy but mainly because they were able to straddle competing (social, economic and political) interests within their coalition as well as address competing interests outside it by either co-opting them into BN, stifling them through draconian measures or skilfully manipulating these competing interests. The opposition parties and coalitions of the past were not able to successfully mount a challenge to the Alliance and BN partly because the electoral process and system was stacked against them, but also because the opposition parties could never successfully find a way to manage the competing interests that they each represented.

In the past decade or so, especially since the sacking of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and the East Asian Financial Crisis of 1997/98, the BN appears to have lost this unique ability to straddle the competing interests of its members and the communities they represent, while the opposition, led by, ironically, the sacked former Deputy Prime Minister, appears to be increasingly adroit at managing these tensions.

Therefore, one big question at GE13 is how the two coalitions are projecting themselves as true representatives of the people’s wishes, and how they go about addressing the key challenges that Malaysia as a country and Malaysians as a people face, in a way that satisfies the myriad competing interests.

The key reasons for widespread dissatisfaction with the present situation are manifold, but the key issues that both coalitions have to address are the rising living costs, demographic change, rapid urbanisation and increasingly uneasy race-relations.

The BN, in the past, has been very successful with their politics of development and key among these has been the reduction of absolute poverty to below three per cent and shaping Malaysia into a middle income economy by 1994 on the back of a low-cost, export-oriented economic model whilst at the same time creating a Malay middle class, primarily through the expansion of the public sector and government linked corporations (GLCs) jobs that is financed primarily through Malaysia’s revenue from non-renewable resources.

However, this particular model has two unintended effects: widespread relative poverty and high income inequality. The low-cost model has seen wages for 80 per cent of Malaysian households stagnate over the past three decades. These households earn less than RM3,000 (around AUS$ 1,000) a month in a country where the average monthly income is RM4,025 (around AUS$ 1,250). More critically, the bottom 40 per cent of households earn on average RM1,440 a month (around AUS$ 450). Most shockingly, the vast majority (71 per cent) of people in the bottom 40 per cent are bumiputeras – literally sons of the soil, a designation that includes Malays and a range of indigenous groups – despite 40 odd years of affirmative action for this group. Indeed, their well-being is and has been the raison de être of UMNO, the backbone of the ruling coalition.

People have been able to get by in spite of rising living costs, because they have been kept at bay by infusing government funds into basic social services, food staples and a fuel subsidy. The last especially has proven effective, but any attempts to rein in costs have been met by popular resistance as a motorised populace has become addicted to cheap petrol.

There is also a significant demographic change in Malaysia. 71 per cent of Malaysians are under the age of 40 with 34 per cent aged between 20 and 40. They face a major challenge. Malaysia is in a middle income trap and must either develop or procure high quality human capital as a pre-requisite to transition into a high income economy. However, Malaysia’s poor quality education has not prepared them for the necessary challenges of a knowledge intensive economy. International benchmarks and surveys shows that the quality of education in Malaysia, at all levels, is no match to the successful East Asian economies that Malaysia has chosen to emulate. 80 per cent of Malaysia’s labour force has no more than the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM – equivalent to year 10 or O’levels qualifications), and the 57 universities and the more than 500 colleges are producing large numbers of graduates that the Malaysian labour market deems unsuitable or poorly skilled. This in an economy experiencing full employment since the late 1980s, and severe skills shortage since the early 1990s. Ironically, unemployment among graduates was highest. In 2007, graduates accounted for more than one-quarter of those unemployed, while unemployment among new graduates was 24. 1 per cent in 2008. With limited employability, mediocre wages and loans to be repaid, young Malaysian graduates end up saddled with enormous debt. The bloated civil service and GLCs, which are also perceived to be inefficient and a fiscal drag on the economy, are unable to provide the expected middle class jobs for bumiputeras long accustomed to getting them as part of a perceived social contract with UMNO.

However, perhaps ironically, it has been rapid urbanisation, that has brought these once disparate communities closer together. While many urban areas are still stratified by race and class, the sheer density has increased the interaction. 71 per cent of Malaysia is now urban. Only Kelantan, Pahang, Perlis, Sabah and Sarawak have rates or urbanisation below 55 per cent.

Better infrastructure, especially information communication and telecommunications, in urban areas have also provided a platform for dissatisfied Malaysians to hear alternative views and to connect with each other. 65 per cent of Malaysians were using the internet in 2010. As the internet largely remains uncensored, the opposition coalition and civil society movements have used it effectively to mobilise support for their causes. These groups have used social media, technology and the internet to also penetrate into rural areas through free radio, websites, but also the audio-visual recording of government scandals in DVDs, and other forms. While the ruling party has also joined the information technology revolution, the opposition has been quicker and more able to marshal support online despite being out-resourced by the ruling coalition.

These developments, whose impacts were first experienced at the 2008 general election, have impacted the coalitions in different ways, and have prompted different reactions. It appears that the BN continues to rely on its tried and tested race-based, trickle-down economic growth, and welfarist approach to policies while PR sensing that the ground has shifted, appears to focus on class-based and rights-based policies.

The BN possibly believes that it is best to straddle the competing interests among ethnic, religious, cultural and regional groups by addressing their needs individually, while PR appears, in general to address issues more holistically.

In the BN, the president of UMNO and Prime Minister of Malaysia now takes precedence over the other political leaders in the coalition. Different interest groups today, do not go through their “representative” political leaders or parties to seek government support, but approach the Prime Minister directly, who then, channels the support to these communities through the “representative” political parties. This, however, applies only to Peninsular Malaysia, and not in Sabah and Sarawak which have different dynamics.

PR’s approach is markedly different. Although Anwar Ibrahim is the leader of the opposition coalition and is most likely to be the Prime Minister should PR win, several factions in PAS have indicated some misgivings, preferring their own candidate. This suggests a more equal distribution of power in the opposition coalition members. But most significantly, Anwar Ibrahim is the first mainstream Malay politician to persuasively argue for the dismantling of the race-based affirmative action and has committed to it in the PR manifesto. This alone stands in contrast to BN’s continued reliance on continuing and expanding affirmative action for bumiputeras (although the Prime Minister has made contradictory statements on this).

PR also appears to be moving towards depoliticising contentious issue such as education and language issues. While BN has made side payments to vernacular schools on a piece-meal basis, PR have promised to embed these into government budgets should they come into power. While BN has demonstrated inconsistency in its language policy in primary and secondary schools, PR has been consistent in promoting the right of communities to use their preferred language in education in vernacular schools. This was in the context of using English in the teaching of Science and Maths, that former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed introduced, and which has since been reversed succumbing to strong popular protest.

Both coalitions however have resorted to populists strategies. PR’s strategies such as free education, removal of excise duties on cars, etc. all show that they are targeting the young and lower and middle income earners, much like the BN is doing now by handing out cash bonuses to Petronas (the national oil company) workers and through its many 1Malaysia initiatives, one of which provided a cash payment to low income earners to purchase a smartphone.

Handouts and their associated media attention are economic and visual reminders of a party in trouble and a party seemingly still able to resource its mass redistribution of wealth according to the principle of affirmative action and poverty reduction rhetoric. The former has been shown to have benefitted those in power (the now infamous 1 per cent) much more than the majority it is meant to aid. The latter, too, has been critiqued, especially in Sabah and Sarawak where poverty rates remain high.

And yet, BN has maintained a strong showing in polls and a support base that does not wish to change the way Malaysian society, economy or politics is structured. The status quo is highly reassuring for many who have yet much to gain from it as well as those who deeply believe in it. And belief is crucial in a country where mosque sermons are written by politics, ‘race’ is used as an everyday descriptor of ethnic background and ‘class’ is not uttered since the crackdown on the communists in the 1950s and 1960s. Who will Malaysians believe come the next elections? Personal attacks against political leaders has been a mainstay in Malaysian politics and lurid stories abound, backed up by court cases, exposes as well as much rumour, gossip and coffee shop talk.

Malaysia today is not the feudalistic society it once was, but the political is still dominated by communal topics such as race and religion and the need to ‘secure’ both against some unknown and often unnamed threat. Many people are willing to move beyond the politics of fear into a brave new world, but will there be a job, a car, cheap petrol and cheap food for them?

Only after the election will we see.

Greg Lopez is a visiting fellow at the Department of Political and Social Change, Australian National University and the New Mandala’s Malaysia section editor, an academic blog hosted by the College of Asia and the Pacific, also at the Australian National University.

Gerhard Hoffstaedter is a lecturer in Anthropology in the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland. He has recently published Modern Muslim Identities with NIAS Press.


This article was previously posted on the New Mandela website

Lady Gaga and the Fake Rolex Affair

By Anya Palm

This weekend’s big event in Bangkok was a concert with the colorful pop artist, Lady Gaga. The star is doing her “Born This Way Ball” 2012 tour in Asia, and while Lady Gaga is in the region purely to perform and entertain, her visit has stirred quite a bit of political attention.

Most notably, she may be banned from performing in Jakarta, Indonesia next month due to her revealing costumes, which according to the Indonesian police will “corrupt” young fans.  She is currently in a dispute with Indonesian authorities on whether or not she will get a permit to perform there next month.

That was expected though. Indonesia, as well as disturbingly many other places, does have powerful religious hardliners with little understanding of modern pop culture.  And Lady Gaga is no wallflower.

But in Bangkok, something a little more subtle – and in a way considerably more significant – happened.

Upon arriving to Bangkok the night before her show, Lady Gaga tweeted to her 24 million fans on twitter:

“I just landed in Bangkok baby! Ready for 50,000 screaming Thai monsters. I wanna get lost in a lady market and buy fake Rolex.”

The comment offended her Thai fans. A lot.

“She came to our home, but instead of admiring us she insulted us”, said one commenter, while another sarcastically retorted: “I’m sure there are plenty of fake Gaga CDs, too.”

“We are more civilized than you think,” tweeted Surahit Siamwalla, a well-known Thai DJ. He declared that he, despite owning a ticket, would boycott her show.

 Lady Gaga will probably survive that.

But the reaction is interesting – there ARE a lot of fake Rolexes floating around Bangkok, and the city IS famous for counterfeit products. This is no secret. Why can’t she say that out loud?

Not too long ago, it was Angelina Jolie that was the subject of the Thai wrath. She had gotten herself a tattoo in Thailand, a religious symbol, and the Thai authorities felt that the actress disrespected a sacred image by inking up. So they went ahead and banned tourists from getting “sacred images” as tattoos altogether. Before that, the Hollywood blockbuster “Hangover in Bangkok” was scorned for giving Thailand a bad reputation, because the movie revolves around a drunken night, set in Bangkok.

But the reputation that Thailand has – for being a counterfeit haven and for being a party-city with red-light districts a plenty – has nothing to do with Gaga, Hollywood or Jolie.

It has to do with a corrupt and useless police force. It has to do with an incompetent, nepotistic government. It has to do with a collective state of mind of “problems are never MY fault”.

Acting angry and insulted will not stop the sale of fake Rolexes in Bangkok, nor will it do any good to the country’s reputation.

What will then? Putting down the coffee mug and start dealing with problems so obvious that even a passing-through pop star mentions them will.

Well-deserved boomerang hits Malaysia by Anya Palm

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His job consists of getting palm fruits down, either by climbing up the meter-high palm trees or use a picking knife, a sharp seal strapped on a two-meter long stick, that he lifts up and manages around in the treetop. The knife is wildy difficult to manage and if he loses control, it comes down at high speed and impossible to stop in the fall. Death accidents are not uncommon. The three Ds in 3D stand for Difficult, Dirty and Dangerous and usually the wages are low and the hours long. Being a relatively prosperous country surrounded by very poor countries, however, Malaysia never had any problems filling these positions. They are filled by people like Ainudin, who comes from Indonesia and is in Malaysia for the second time. Last time, he was caught with no passport – his employer had confiscated it – and took a severe beating from the police, before he was shipped off back to Indonesia. –         I came home, but then I started working to get back again, because I could not find a job in Indonesia and my family is very poor, he explains. His story is very common. Till recently, Malaysia had about 2,1 million immigrant workers, mainly from Indonesia and Bangladesh, and nearly all of them worked in 3D jobs. When the economic crisis hit Malaysia all this changed drastically. In January, the government started invoking laws to rid the country of migrant workers in order to avoid skyrocketing unemployement and save jobs for the Malaysian citizens. First order of business was revoking 45,000 visas for Bangladeshi workers and then systematically terminate contracts and deport people out of the country. The  already overfilled deportation camps were strained beyond the max and in May, two Burmese workers died of illness due to poor hygiene in the camps. Despite these unpleasant events, the Malaysian government continued to tighten the foreign worker laws, craving the employer to pay a fee for every foreign worker and even send out patrols to catch foreign workers, who had gone into hiding to avoid deportation. When caught, the workers got caned, fined and was then shipped home. “Malaysians first,” was the unsympathetic slogan, the government officials repeated in newspapers, TV-rapports and radio. Useless union presidents in all sectors backed up this policy. One of the most important – Malaysia’s Trade Union Congress – simply suggested a freeze on taking in immigrants. –         I know this is not very politically correct. But in time of crisis, we have to think of our own people first, said the general secretary, G Rajasekaran at the time. During the first six months of 2009, Malaysia deported around 300,000 people. An additional half a million went into hiding in fear of deportation. Knowledge of the situation these people were thrown into – either shipped off to extreme poverty or living in a parallel world hidden from the authorities – makes it even worse to now find out that all this was in vain. Malaysian business these days, are suffering a labor shortage  – Malaysians will not take the loathed 3D-jobs and employers cannot afford the extra fee, that the government put on them, if they use foreign labor. It is scaringly incompetent governance  not to investigate the possible consequenses of own laws. When people are laid off in large numbers, it is not very difficult to foresee this is going to create a vacuum. And it is even more deterring that not even the unions backed them up. Today, the hundreds of thousands of foreign immigrants are long gone and forgotten about. The Malaysian government faces the boomerang effect of their harsh laws and has a growing labor shortage to deal with. Remaining workers are put on overtime to fill in the holes and small businesses forced to close down. This – however sad it may be – does create a window of opportunity. With the urgent need of immigrant workers, it screams to heaven that somebody should start demanding better wages and better conditions for immigrant workers in Malaysia. There is a NEED for them which Malaysia has never admitted to before. Someone should take this opportunity to use this new situation to rid the jobs from the unfortunate 3Ds and someone should make an effort to care for this massive group of people, who are by far the most vulnerable in the market. Only one question remains, though. Who?

A visit to Malaysia’s only (legal) casino

Malaysia’s only casino, Casino de Genting at Genting Highlands Resort, is for high rollers. For the filthy rich and for the middle men. And for those with dirty money that needs washing.

By Anya Palm 

The big room is less glitzy than in Hollywood movies. The lighting is too bright and the colors too dim and dusty. But that’s all. Other than that – the casino is exactly like in the movies. Piles and piles of chips in front of eager players of all ages. Slots. Slick dealers with empty faces and silk ties. Neon lights. Monotone little melodies from the many machines placed in rooms with names like “Monte Carlo”, “Fortune Corner” and – yes- “Hollywood.”

The Genting Highland Resort Casino in Malaysia is the only casino in the country, seeing as gambling is illegal, save for this one spot.

Tourists come here and the resort has other attractions too. But that’s not interesting. Because regular tourists are not admitted through the doors behind the metal detector and the two armed guards. Into the Silver Lounge where membership card and a certain amount of cash is required. THIS is where money is laundered.

An elderly man sits at one of the hundreds of tables in the lounge. In front of him is a massive amount of yellow chips – 80? 100? 200? Stacked in nice piles, each orderly next to each other.

The Genting Resort Union President, Robert Henry, is present. Besides his job as a union leader, he also works as a guard in the casino. “Each yellow chip is worth 5,000 dollars,” he whispers, as he passes the man with the piles. Dollars.

Later, he reveals that it is not uncommon for the Silver Card Members to come here and gamble for well over a million dollars. And then – like an afterthought – that some of it is money laundering.

– How else would you explain suddenly having millions more than yesterday? “I went to the casino and won.” the president explains. But of course, this is hush. And that is of course just a non waterproof suspicion, he has. He does not ask.

And without knowing it, Henry just made a very excellent point. Because money laundering – or corruption for that matter – is like smoke. Once the money hit the casino, the origin is obvious and hidden at the same time. The union president tells of one client, a Cambodian man that comes every three days with more than a million dollars to gamble for. He always likes to live in a suite and he pays good tips. Who gets a million dollars every third day? In Cambodia? What is this man’s job? Obviously, there is no answer.

In Malaysia corruption cannot be categorized as an overshadowing problem. Malaysia ranks as number 47 out of 180 over Transparency International’s corruption index and thus is in the better end than many of her neighbors. But the thing is that corruption cannot be defined, not in any way that makes sense. It is not excluded to businessmen and shady realty deals or crooked politicians. It is your friendly policeman in the little local station, your children’s math teacher, your mom when you needed vaccine as a child, you. It is a part of the Malaysian culture, which is not easily categorized – nor altered.

Corruption has always been there and we all know it is bad – why talk about it now?

Because of what happened just outside the capital in Malaysia this June:

The Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium collapsed.

The Stadium was built in 2008 and it cost a good billion dollars to build. It holds 50,000 spectators when sold out and sold out it was on Wednesday June 3, when the Public Institute of Higher Learning Games was to be held here. The night before, the gargantuan concrete rooftop collapsed and crashed down over the seats, leaving no doubt that had this happened just 12 hours later, thousands of lives would have been lost.

On the day of the now cancelled event, Malaysia was very quiet. Those, who had their tickets still, got their money back.But guess which money did NOT come back? The dollars that were supposed to go to building a decent stadium. The money, that may or may not have been spend, not on good building materials and competent construction workers and architects, but on chips. Possibly yellow.

So why does Malaysia rank so low on the corruption index, when it is so painstakenly clearly infiltrating this country? And why is there a legal casino in a country that forbids gambling? Who are these people that can gamble for millions and millions on a regular basis? Obviously, the public deserves an answer.

Towards a better understanding

Timo Kivimäki, Senior Researcher, NIAS and Gerald Jackson, Editor in Chief, NIAS Press

In the West, Islam is often presented in a very simplified manner (much as the West is interpreted in simplified terms in many parts of the Islamic world). This is no surprise but in fact is typical in situations where there is tension between two parties.However, in this case, for the sake of truth and the need for a de-escalation of these tensions, it is crucial that both sides perceive each other with greater subtlety and insight. Not least, it demands that we see each other’s world for what it is, as diverse and humane.From our Western (Copenhagen) perspective, therefore, it is important that the Islamic world is presented to Western audiences as something other than an alien landscape of beards, burkas and bombs – an image that is far too common. First and foremost, we recognize that it is a human world populated by people with needs and desires much like our own. In cultural terms, the Islamic world is also incredibly rich and diverse.Arguably, one of the essential aims of scholarship is to uncover and present our common humanity to the widest possible audience. Certainly, this is a thread in the endeavours of academic publishers generally, also of our own NIAS Press. For this reason, we welcome this special issue of NIASnytt, which showcases the work (published by NIAS Press) of six scholars writing on quite different aspects of Islam and/or Muslim peoples. Together these offer an alternative vision of the Islamic world to what is all too frequently presented in the West. They give a glimpse into the humanity and diversity of this world.

NIASnytt 3/2008Theme: The many faces of Islam

A cosmopolitan peripheryby Philip Taylor, Australian National University

In this extract from the preface to his study of the Cham Muslims of the Mekong delta, Philip Taylor describes how the Cham protect their cultural distinctiveness at home by being markedly cosmopolitan outside.

Putrajaya as Islamic assertionby Ross King, University of Melbourne

Arguably Southeast Asia’s most spectacular and architecturally distinguished city, Kuala Lumpur (KL to its denizens) in 2007 celebrated the 150th anniversary of its foundation and its 50th as capital of an independent Malay(si)a. The celebrations were fragmented, however, as KL now has a very different twin in the new administrative capital of Putrajaya some 30 kilometres to its south, a putative high-tech focus or ‘technopole’ for a wider Southeast Asian region – even more, for an emerging pan-Islamic world to stand against a reviled, railed-against West. Where KL is a diverse, cosmopolitan, multiracial metropolis, Putrajaya fulfils an elitist vision of a Malay-Muslim utopia. KL’s multi-cultural richness is reflected in the diversity of its architecture and the complexity of its urban spaces. Putrajaya, by contrast, is an architectural homage to an imagined Middle East.

Between and beyond mosques and malls in Malaysiaby Johan Fischerr, Roskilde University

Exploring consumption practices in urban Malaysia, Proper Islamic Consumption (NIAS Press, 2008) shows how diverse forms of Malay middle-class consumption (of food, clothing and cars, for example) are understood, practised and contested as a particular mode of modern Islamic practice. The book illustrates ways in which the issue of ‘proper Islamic consumption’ for consumers, the marketplace and the state in contemporary Malaysia evokes a whole range of contradictory Islamic visions, lifestyles and debates articulating what Islam is or ought to be. The empirical material on everyday consumption in a local context reinvigorates theoretical discussions about the nature of religion, ritual, the sacred and capitalism in the new millennium.

Women and Islam in urban Malaysiaby Sylva Frisk, Gothenburg University

Throughout Malaysia, religious educative activities have flourished and grown in popularity since the 1980s, developing out of the broad current of Islamization of Malaysian society. Women’s roles in the Islamization movement have generally been described in terms of followers and supporters of the movement, whereas men, in their capacity as leaders of political parties or as religious ideologues, are presented as initiators. Relatively little has been said about women’s participation in the process of Islamization from the perspective of women themselves. In her book Submitting to God. Women and Islam in Urban Malaysia, Sylva Frisk provides an ethographic account of Malay women’s everyday religious activities Kuala Lumpur, which balances this image. The focus is on religion as lived practice with an emphasis on the perfomance of religious duties, the acquiring of religious knowledge and the organisation of collective religious rituals, performed independently from men, in their homes and in the mosque. With its emphasis on women’s active participation in Islamization and the leading role that women are increasingly taking within Islam, the book aims to work against common representations of Muslim women as either passive, sometimes unconscious victims of a male dominated religious tradition, or as victims who try to openly resist that very tradition.

Muslims in Singapore: A secular state recruiting slam to its nation-building projectby Michael D. Barr, Flinders University

Since the foundation of Singapore as an independent state in 1965, the People’s Action Party government has not trusted the 15 per cent of its population who are Muslims. Until the mid-1980s they were routinely excluded from National Service for fear of which way they might point their guns in the event of a confrontation with Singapore’s larger Muslim-majority neighbours, and even today they are still subjected to open and public discrimination in the armed forces. These claims are not contentious in themselves since they are matters of public knowledge and are defended by the government at the highest levels. Less public but even more damaging to the welfare of the Muslim community has been discrimination against Muslims in education, employment and in the workplace – and in particular against the Malay-Muslim community, which makes up more than 90 per cent of Singapore’s Muslim population.

Islam in local contexts: Localised Islam in Northern Pakistanby Are Knudsen, Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI)

As Clifford Geertz remarked in his Islam Observed (1968), the idea of a ‘changing’ religion is a contradiction in terms, as religion is fundamentally concerned with what is permanent and eternal. Still, one way to come to terms with religious change is to consider the many ways that religion is interpreted, by laymen and scholars alike. Social anthropologists like myself have naturally found a niche for themselves in local studies of religion, especially in what is often referred to as ‘local Islam’. This article, based on my book Violence and Belonging. Land, Love and Lethal Conflict in the North-West Province of Pakistan, discusses the role of ‘local Islam’ among the tribesmen living in the Palas valley, a remote and inaccessible mountain valley located in the Kohistan District of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Northern Pakistan.