For most Americans and those reading this, the nation of Malaysia–the country I call home–is likely nothing more but a mysterious, distant, small and relatively unimportant land. Some of you might be familiar with Malaysia’s carefully cultivated public image of being some sort of harmonious multicultural tropical paradise, which is recycled endlessly in 30-second-long television spots both here and overseas.
But for anyone who may be trying to come to grips with the grim reality that is Islam, Malaysia may be one of the most important places on the planet. That’s because anyone who still, despite all the evidence, feels that there really is a moderate, progressive, tolerant and peaceful Islam, need look no further than Malaysia. Once you do, you’ll be thoroughly disabused of this notion.
My own awakening to Islam is mostly a tale of ignorance and more than whiff of denial, punctuated by sudden, shattering and irreversible epiphanies. I say ‘shattering’ because the ideas that I embraced as I grew up–that Islam is just one religion of many, and doesn’t particularly pose a threat to anyone–does not withstand anything more than a cursory examination of the facts. And as the evidence piled up and my doubts grew, those old notions I had held previously, like a sheet of plate glass, came apart under the hammer blows of truth.
The first blow to my complacency was that dark day in Lower Manhattan nearly ten years ago. Like so many others reading this, I was horrified at the televised scenes of destruction and carnage in New York and Washington. How could any rational human feel otherwise? But as the days and months passed after September 11th, I starting hearing Malaysians say, over and over, that the US Government was lying about 9-11, that it was a ‘set up’ and a plot against Islam. And that the Jews were really behind it, of course. As I realized how sincere these Malaysians were in these outlandish ideas, I thought, “What makes so many people in this country prone to this nonsense?” At the time, the exact answers eluded me, but my budding doubts about Islam festered.
Another devastating blow came when Doctor Azahari Husin, a well educated Malaysian who had willingly and savagely butchered hundreds, maybe thousands of innocents, both Muslim and ‘infidel’ alike, became the most notorious terrorist in Southeast Asia. When he was buried in his hometown here in Malaysia in 2005. I read about it in the Malaysian newspapers. The local media did their best to humanize the man, and his funeral was like a hero’s sendoff, well attended by hundreds of Malays who screamed ‘Allahu akbar’ as his coffin was lowered into the ground. The Malaysian government said nothing about Azahari’s passing, not even a perfunctory condemnation of his wanton deeds. In addition, Azahari’s own family has, to this day, steadfastly refused to apologize for any of Azahari’s long list of crimes. I remembered thinking at the time, “What kind of government and what kind of family could refuse to condemn a mass murderer?’ My doubts grew apace.
It was about this time when I began my own private investigation into Islam, to go beyond apologetic Malaysian government textbooks and misleading press accounts. Finding nothing credible in the local, heavily censored bookshops, I searched online. Soon I discovered the carefully-researched work of Robert Spencer. His words online, and in his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam reeked and shouted of the truth, a truth I had sensed for some time but which I had long failed to see its full dimensions.
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