On January 8, 2014, the Coalition of Malaysia NGOs (COMANGO), made up of 54 separate human rights organizations, was judged by the Malaysian Home Ministry as an “unlawful organization” that “champions rights that deviate from Islam” and subsequently banned from operating within the Muslim majority country. Two months prior, the Malaysian Muslim activist group, Jati, had declared “war” on COMANGO for their flagrant disregard of Islamic values and Malaysian sovereignty. Quoted in the Malaysian newspaper The Star, Jati president, Datuk Dr Hasan Ali had declared that COMANGO were “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who demanded a “call for the repeal of the Syariah law, which will eventually see the demise of Islamic laws that are a core foundation in Islam” after the latter had submitted a report to the UN, accusing the ruling party (Barisan Nasional) of human rights violations and suggesting reforms that would drastically alter the nature of the state.
COMANGO claims that the accusations and the subsequent banning were unwarranted, though their UN report unashamedly suggested otherwise. For instance, the report calls on Malaysia to fully accede to the Declaration of Human Rights, which though advocates many good measures for mankind, in other ways clearly violates Islamic Law and disregards the historical and cultural differences that make up contemporary Malaysian society. For instance, the Declaration very clearly states in article 16.1 that “[m]en and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family”. To adopt this article, Muslims would be coerced into violating the Sharia by being made to allow marriages between self-proclaimed Muslims of the same sex. Another article (18) states that “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”. In other words, apostasy, which is considered a criminal act under Islamic Law for Muslims, would have to be abolished, and heretical views acting in the name of Islam, would have to be legalized and allowed to publicly challenge orthodox views, thereby undermining the state. The Declaration also calls for full freedom of expression, even if such expression violates the sanctity of Islam (A.19). It further goes on to state that governments should be chosen strictly by the will of all the people within the nation (A.21.3), regardless of historical or cultural circumstances. This of course is detrimental to nations like Malaysia, which since independence, has declared Islam as the supreme religion of the land and granted Malays full government control. Calls to end the current nature of governance disregard very clear and justified concerns in light of an extreme anti-Islamic and materially privileged minority population seeking power.
It would seem then that in light of COMANGO’s arrogant suggestions, the Home Ministry was in fact justified in their banning of the “human rights” coalition that sought to encourage and ultimately impose foreign structures of legislation onto a nation whose circumstances and values are in obvious disagreement. Since the banning however, Malaysia has not been saved from foreign value occupation and has only just begun its uphill battle in retaining not only its identity, but its political and cultural sovereignty. The 54 NGO’s that once threatened to undermine the Islamic values and structure of the state have now been exiled from discourse and influence, but they were merely flies. Among the people of Malaysia have been tigers in waiting, rearing their heads ready to pounce, which have and still are affecting the political, cultural, and religious landscape of the nation. Because they are not as transparent in their efforts of destabilization, accusations towards their activities seem misplaced and unwarranted. However, reviewing their stated goals and history reveals uncomfortable truths about their operational impact in this Muslim majority country.
The National Endowment for Democracy
On September 21, 2012, the Malaysian newspaper The New Straight Times reported that certain NGOs within the country were being used by the United States to undermine the Malaysian government’s sovereignty. While the report was heavily criticized for giving very little evidence in support of these claims, it did provide one clue: all of the stated organizations were being funded, quite openly, by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a Washington run non-profit funder of “democracy activism” overseas. While many critics saw no need for alarm at this fact, it raised quite a few eyebrows and may have had a major influence on the results of the recent elections, which saw Barisan Nasional retaining power for yet another year since Malaysia independence, despite a strong and active opposition coalition.
However, the NED doesn’t do itself any favours in attempting to garner the trust of foreign nations. On the “History” section of the NED website, the organization begins by explaining its origins as so: “In the aftermath of World War II, faced with threats to our democratic allies and without any mechanism to channel political assistance, U.S. policy makers resorted to covert means, secretly sending advisers, equipment, and funds to support newspapers and parties under siege in Europe. When it was revealed in the late 1960′s that some American PVO’s were receiving covert funding from the CIA to wage the battle of ideas at international forums, the Johnson Administration concluded that such funding should cease, recommending establishment of ‘a public-private mechanism’ to fund overseas activities openly.” In this dramatized version of events, the NED unapologetically traces its activities and motivations to the covert methods of post-World War II democracy advocacy funded by the CIA. Being quite open about the need to be transparent and “public”, the story goes on to explain the evolution of this method up until the early 1980’s when the NED and its funding would be officially written into U.S. law under House Resolution 2195. This begun shortly after President Reagan had declared the need for an initiative “to foster the infrastructure of democracy – the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities – which allows a people to choose their own way, to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.”
Considered a private, non-profit corporate entity, the NED was legislated in such a way as to receive a large portion of its funds from the USAID (United States Agency for International Development). Though it claims to be a bipartisan organization, its agenda and its major source of funding suggests otherwise. The NED however, was only made to be an umbrella organization for other initiatives under its wing, particularly the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), both organizations which play an integral role in manifesting the project of democracy activism overseas.
The IRI & NDI
The IRI claims that it is one of the four organizations created for the sake of “carrying out the work of the NED”. The organization states quite openly on its “About” page that they work “in countries important to U.S. interests” by “helping political parties broaden their appeal” and “catalyse the efforts of democratic activists in a country”. They attempt to assure the reader that “they cannot implant democracy” and also go on to clarify that they are a “non-partisan” organization. Their efforts and methods are best known by the people of Latin America, especially of Venezuela, given the rich and detailed documentation detailing the IRI’s involvement in a historical coup d’etat attempt (military government take-over) in the country.
The failed 2002 coup that lasted nearly 47 hours in Venezuela began through a campaign initiated by privately owned media corporations that manipulated its viewers into believing that President Hugo Chávez was oppressive and therefore needed to be violently overthrown. The military eventually stepped in and arrested Chávez , but he was shortly released thereafter due to mass demonstrations under suspicions that the nation had been manipulated by outside forces. On the night of the coup, the IRI had released a press statement stating that “[t]he Institute has served as a bridge between the nation’s political parties and all civil society groups to help Venezuelans forge a new democratic future, based on accountability, rule of law and sound democratic institutions. We stand ready to continue our partnership with the courageous Venezuelan people.” In other words, the IRI took credit for an illegal act of political violence against a democratically elected leader that they simply didn’t happen to like at the time.
It should be of no surprise that the long-running chairman for the organization is Senator John McCain, a war veteran and a neo-conservative U.S. politician who supported the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 under the Bush administration. Under McCain, the IRI has also been responsible for training many of the groups which initiated the mass demonstrations and protests that have recently shook the Arab world, such as in Tunisia and Egypt. And while many may believe that these revolutions were justified, McCain, after learning of the Islamic motivations behind some of these groups, didn’t see the impact of his organization as producing positive effects for the region. In one interview, McCain was on the record as saying that he believed the revolutions were a “virus” sweeping across the region and a direct “threat to Israel”. The IRI, while admittedly for democracy across the world – even if violently instituted – doesn’t seem to like the type that goes against U.S. and Israel’s interests. So much for “bipartisan” and “peaceful”.
In case anyone is aware, the IRI is largest funded organization by the NED in Malaysia, with access to over 1.7 million RM per year. On the NED website, the IRI’s stated purpose is to “promote the capacity of Malaysian civil society organizations to conduct awareness-raising public advocacy campaigns…[by implementing] a comprehensive training program and direct support for targeted campaigns on a variety of constituent priorities.” Perhaps BN should be overlooking members of their own military, given that the IRI might be interested in training them for “democracy advocacy”?
The NDI, one of the other four organizations created under the NED, is usually alongside the IRI during these “peaceful” and “non-destabilizing” acts of democracy activism. The NDI also has a stated goal in Malaysia, “[t]o encourage greater fairness in the electoral process and accountability in governance in Malaysia…to work with parliamentarians, political party leaders, members from the ruling and opposition parties, and civil society groups…[and to] facilitate civil society groups’ access to information and capacity to utilize information” The NDI in Malaysia receives nearly over 1 million RM per year from the NED. In other words, as stated on their website, they influence society through the allocation of funds towards internet and televised media and also members of the opposition hostile to the ruling party. No doubt, the organization is also headed by a “morally upright” member of the U.S. government, Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton. Albright was a major actor in the implementation of the 1990’s sanctions on Iraq, which were reported to have killed over 500,000 children within the decade leading up to the Illegal invasion of the sovereign nation, under George Bush Jr. The purported aim of these sanctions was for the sake of U.S. interests, as stated in the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (Section 3): “It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.” In a 1996 interview with the televised independent news reporting show, 60 Minutes, Albright was asked by journalist Lesley Stahl regarding U.S. sanctions against Iraq, “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright responded without hesitation, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.” Under the NDI, “democracy advocacy” is worth the price of half a million children dying of malnutrition, and yet Malaysians are worried about the fluctuating price of kangkung?
After the demise of COMANGO, the NED was forced to remove funding from one of the organizations included in the ban, SUARAM, a Malaysia based human rights organization. Reported in 2009, SUARAM was being funded 300,000 RM for its activities, and possibly more prior to the recent 2014 prohibition. It would seem that the ban on one of the NED’s partners would be enough to expose the U.S. based organization and its affiliates of misdeeds, but the IRI, the NDI and other Malaysian born NGO’s operating under their wings are still operational. Which policy NGO’s, if any, are being trained by the IRI? Which media and social NGO’s are having NED funds allocated to them by the NDI? As it so happens, an intricate and well-entrenched network of native NGO’s have been gathered to operate under the whims of U.S. foreign interests. These organizations, whose agenda is to destabilize Malaysia in hopes of installing a democracy friendly to the U.S. (read “proxy government”), are secular extremists campaigning for an overthrow of the current system and Islam.
The Islamic Renaissance Front
The IRF is an Islamic think-tank based in Kuala Lumpur that considers itself “an intellectual movement… focused on youth empowerment and the promotion of Muslim intellectual discourse” which “echoes the voice of reason and compassion, and is committed to liberating the Muslim mind from rigid orthodoxy and conservatism.” However, their understanding of ‘youth empowerment’ and ‘liberation’ has strong ties with the organizations it affiliates with. On the “Mission” page of the IRF website, it declares openly that it seeks to “maintain, nurture and expand our network of like-minded individuals, corporate entities, NGOs, governments and other bodies towards ensuring the effective dissemination of our analyses and positions” effectively admitting that it only cooperates with organizations with similar causes and beliefs. Given this, it is incriminating that the IRF receives over 170,000 RM per year from the NED and works closely with the IRI and NDI in its efforts. The think-tank’s chairman and director, Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa, believes himself to have the credentials to speak on matters related to ‘rigid orthodoxy and conservatism’ of the Muslim mind, with his Islamic degree in cardiothoracic surgery from the National Heart Institute (note the sarcasm). Among his many scholarly achievements revolving around Islam, Dr. Musa has revealed IRF’s definition of ‘orthodoxy and conservatism’ on his blog, by suggesting they represent a group known as “Islamists, especially in Malaysia”. Dr. Musa’s definition of an ‘Islamist’ is someone who articulates “an Islamic ideology in trying to respond to their current political and economic problems. They have always imagined that Islam provides a solution to all problems, a complete and ready-to-use divine system with a superior political and economic model. They argue that Muslims must return to the roots of their religion. Islamism entails a political ideology articulating the idea of the necessity of establishing an Islamic government, understood as a government that implements the sharia.” He then goes on to suggest that individuals with such aspirations implicitly create societies that are the “most corrupt states on earth”. What is Dr. Musa’s alternative? He suggests that “The fight to turn this country to become an “Islamic State” is a lost cause. There is no foreseeable future for such politics. Muslims should learn to live in a secular state and promote [their] fundamental Islamic values…” In other words, as a self-declared Muslim, Dr. Musa calls for the abolishment of Sharia as the foundation of Malaysian society and asks Muslims to submit to a secular government “that is neutral to all the differing religious doctrines” while only promoting the most fundamental aspects of their religious values. Hence, not only is Dr. Musa advocating for the abolishment of the Sharia, but also the abolishment of bumi putra rights in Malaysia. In another article, he even goes so far as to suggest that a “just non-Muslim is more worthy of being a leader than an unjust Muslim”, therefore indirectly advocating for non-Muslim, minority rule over Malay society in the form of a pure democratic state that fulfils U.S. foreign interests. While it is undeniable that Malaysia suffers from some elements of corruption and poor leadership, to undermine the very foundational values and structure of governance that can just as easily remedy this problem, with a system totally based on kufr, is an act perpetuated by individuals typically labelled as munafiqun. In the very least, Dr. Musa’s statements and affiliations are seditious, especially in light of the fact that his organization claims to promote Islam. Coincidentally, Dr. Musa is also the Vice Chairman of BERSIH – a coalition movement of opposition parties who has staged numerous protests in Malaysia, even to the point of starting riots and attacking police officers in its most recent demonstration against the government – and is a writer for Malaysiakini, a self-proclaimed independent online newspaper in Malaysia. If anything, it appears that the IRF, under Dr. Musa’s leadership, is campaigning to lead the Muslim community against the ruling party in hopes of overturning the system. It should be easy to see how the IRI plays a role in training members of the IRF in their mission to destabilize the country.
Other NED Affiliates
The IRI and the NDI require not only the services of the IRF in their reconstruction of Islamic thought and ideals, but also seek assistance from other NGO’s to help destabilize the country. For instance, the “legal wing” of the IRI, also known as “Lawyers for Liberty” (LFL) is another self-proclaimed non-profit and bipartisan organization operating in Malaysia that receives nearly 175,000 RM per year from the NED. LFL’s mission in Malaysia is to “To protect and promote human rights and access to justice. Lawyers for Liberty will continue to build a network of lawyers interested in the protection of human rights and conduct a range of activities such as legal rights and empowerment trainings, public information campaigns, and strategic litigation”, or in other words, to undermine the laws of the nation through those who have knowledge of the civil and religious rulings in the country. Other organizations funded by the NED, such as Mkini Dotcom Sdn Bhd (350,000 RM) – the mother company to Malaysiakini – Merdeka Center for Opinion Research (250,000 RM), and Liberal Banter Sdn Bhd (175,000 RM), fall under the NDI’s allocated funds and methods of activism.
Malaysiakini has been notorious for its anti-government reporting and has even been called out in the past for the funding it receives from the NED. Premesh Chandra, chief editor of the online newspaper, has admitted to receiving these funds, but states that they neither compromise the integrity and objectivity of his news staff nor make up a large portion of the companies returns. At the same time, however, Mkini Dotcom Sdn Bhd has refused to release public statements of the revenue it receives from its owners, subscribers and foreign funders. This lack of transparency is telling. If in fact it were true that Malaysiakini is a non-profit and independent reporting agency, then it should not fear releasing its annual returns to the public. Further, why does such an organization need nearly 350,000 RM for its operations if this is such an “insignificant” amount of money that assists their project? Either the money being channelled to Mkini Dotcom is the primary source of funding for Malaysiakini or is clearly being used for something else. Why do they still receive the money – quite openly – from an organization that is obviously neither bipartisan nor peaceful in its agenda if they claim to be independent? The answer should be clear. Chandra and his editors receive most of their funding from the NED for operations and either uses the rest to fatten their pockets or to cover other unnecessary expenses. By receiving funding from the NED, which is allocated by the NDI to media outlets for the sake of “informing the public” (read, “confusing them”) to act out against the ruling party, the Malaysiakini project is revealed as a reporting site with a clear and obvious agenda – or just a bunch of greedy men taking advantage of the grievances of their audience. This is not shocking given their affiliations.
The Merdeka Center for Opinion Research and Liberal Banter Sdn Bhd are two other organizations that assist the NDI in information destabilization. The former is merely an anonymous poling centre that brings in opinions on separate issues against the ruling party and structure of Malaysian society and submits them to foreign or affiliate organizations in hopes of persuading them to give more funding or to assist in undermining the state. The latter works primarily with youth in “educating” them in matters of policy and human rights issues (read, “anti-Islamic”) activities in hopes of drawing a large portion of the Malaysian population who is able and willing enough to stage protests, and violent activities if necessary. The NED lists their activities as providing “the Malaysian public, especially young Malaysians, with a forum to discuss critical social and political issues” and as organizing “a voter education project on issues that are often ignored both by the electorate and politicians during election campaigns”. One cannot help but read ‘BERSIH’ in between the lines.
What is Needed
Following the ban on COMANGO, the Malaysian government has proven that it can effectively protect its sovereignty against destabilizing agendas from overseas. While it is true that Malaysia suffers from many issues that need addressing, Islam is the necessary alternative to corruption and bad politics. Opponents to this position refuse to acknowledge this alternative because their agenda is not to assist Malaysian society, but rather to create a proxy government for the United States to hold more power and influence in the region, even at the costs of those that live there. Historically, all organizations operating under NED funding have led to either violent coups or rifts within societies considered “dangerous” or “unfit” to U.S. foreign policy. Given the historical evidence, we should not sit idly by and allow these NGO’s to infiltrate our societies, change our laws, or overturn our values for the sake of a few greedy and unsympathetic citizens who simply want power and more of it. Let us not stop at COMANGO, but go further and cut at the root of the problem. They were flies; but the tiger waits, patiently and willing.