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Cablegate: Malaysia: Update On the "Allah" Issue and Church Attacks

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OO RUEHBC RUEHCHI RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDH RUEHDT RUEHGI RUEHHM RUEHJS
RUEHKUK RUEHLH RUEHNH RUEHPW RUEHROV RUEHTRO
DE RUEHKL #0014/01 0111034
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O 111034Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR
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INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNISL/ISLAMIC COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 2892
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0698
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KUALA LUMPUR 000014

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL MY
SUBJECT: MALAYSIA: UPDATE ON THE "ALLAH" ISSUE AND CHURCH ATTACKS

REF: A. KUALA LUMPUR 11 -- THREE CHURCHES ATTACKED
OVERNIGHT
B. KUALA LUMPUR 03 -- COURT RULING ON THE USE OF
'ALLAH'

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Summary: Following three separate attacks on
churches over the night of January 7-8 (ref A), unknown
individuals made another nine attacks on churches and a
mosque over the weekend, according to senior police officials
at a special briefing for the diplomatic corps on January 11
at the Ministry of Home Affairs. Police briefers stressed
that the incidents were sporadic and not planned, and that
the Government was committed to protecting religious
facilities across the country and to ensuring civil order.
The police and senior Home Affairs officials clarified the
government's position in the 'Allah' case (ref B) and
stressed how sensitive the issue is to ethnic Malays. They
indicated investigations into the attacks are ongoing but
that no concrete leads have been developed. They also
provided details of the church attacks but stressed that the
actual damage, except in the first attack, was relatively
minor. Both the Prime Minister and Home Minister issued
statements over the weekend committing the government to
tough actions against perpetrators of these crimes. The
Prime Minister also promised assistance to rebuild and repair
damaged churches, the Prime Minister's Department said
interfaith dialogues would be held, and Muslim NGO groups
offered help guarding churches. While many weekend editorials
expressed dismay at the attacks, some continued to defend the
right of Muslims to demonstrate and express anger about the
High Court's December 31 ruling that the GOM's prohibition on
the Catholic Herald's use of the word 'Allah' was
unconstitutional. End Summary.

ATTACKS CONTINUE OVER THE WEEKEND
---------------------------------

2. (SBU) As of January 11, there have been eleven attacks on
churches, and one on a small mosque, in Malaysia since the
first three attacks overnight on January 7 (ref A). Over the
January 9-10 weekend, eight more churches and a small mosque
were attacked, raising the total to twelve. Unlike the first
few attacks on January 8, which only took place in Kuala
Lumpur and nearby Selangor, incidents over the weekend
occurred in other parts of the country: in addition to one
more in the KL area, there were three in Perak, one in
Malacca, one in Penang, one in Negeri Sembilan, and one in
Sarawak (on Malaysian Borneo). According to police, most of
the attacks involved hit-and-run tactics, whereby the
attackers would throw poorly made Molotov cocktails, bricks,
or plastic bags full of paint on the churches. None of the
additional attacks caused damage valued at over 1,000
Malaysian Ringgit (RM) (approximately $300 USD), and only one
person was lightly injured: a pastor, when confronting three
attackers who stormed into his church, was pushed to the
ground.

BRIEFING THE DIPLOMATIC CORPS
-----------------------------

3. (SBU) Home Affairs Secretary General Mahmood Adam led a
government briefing of the diplomatic corps on January 11 at
the Home Ministry. The DCM, Poloff, and RSO attended from
the Mission. SecGen Mahmood began by stressing that "things
are under control", noting that no incidents had occurred
over the last 12 hours. (Note: There was another attack that
took place during the previous night, but news of the attack
was not released until after the briefing. End Note.) He
emphasized the government's commitment to protect religious
facilities. Mahmood and the briefing team devoted a
significant amount of time to laying out the background and
government's position with regard to the 'Allah' case and its
appeal to the Court. Mahmood commented that the government's
case was focused on "publication" of the word Allah by
non-Muslim groups and not on the casual oral use of the word.
He asserted that this is a very sensitive issue among Muslim
Malays that foreigners would find difficult to comprehend.
He downplayed the damage of the attacks, noting that with the
exception of the very first attack which gutted a church in
Kuala Lumpur, none of the incidents resulted in damage
greater than 1,000 RM ($300 USD). A police inspector
provided details of each incident, noting that most of the
attacks had no witnesses, and very little forensic evidence
that was usable in identifying the perpetrators. With one
exception, the police think that all of the incidents were
carried out by different parties, commenting "these attacks
were not planned or organized. There were no big groups
involved. They are expressions of dissatisfaction."

4. (SBU) Following the briefing, several questions were posed
by members of the diplomatic corps. Most notable was a query
posed by the French Ambassador as to why use of the world
"Allah" by non-Muslim groups in Malaysia was such a
controversial issue, when in Indonesia and several Middle
Eastern countries it is not. SecGen Mahmood replied that
Malaysia was different and that "to be fair, you have to
compare an apple with an apple." Mahmood went on to say
that just like Christianity has different branches such as
Catholicism, Protestants, etc., so does Islam, and that
Malays follow "Ahli Sunnah wal Jamaah". (Comment: "Ahli
Sunnah wal Jamaah," is simply the Arabic term for Sunni
Islam, which is not different from Islam as practiced widely
in the Middle East nor neighboring Indonesia. End Comment.)

GOVERNMENT WORDS AND ACTIONS OVER THE WEEKEND
---------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Prime Minister Najib visited the site of the most
serious church attack on January 8 and pledged RM 500,000
(about USD $130,000) in government funds to repair the
affected churches. A chorus of ministers joined Najib in
condemning the attacks. Home Affairs Minister Hishamuddin
Hussein (PM Najib's nephew) was quoted on the front page of
the January 11 Malay-language Utusan Malaysia saying that he
would not hesitate to implement the Internal Security Act
(ISA), because if these incidents were left unchecked it
"could disrupt peace and harmony" in Malaysia. (Comment:
Hishamuddin also stressed that other laws -- arson,
vandalism, etc. -- would be used to charge anyone involved
with these attacks, implying that the Najib administration
could selectively arrest people whose statements might
otherwise provoke discontent. His mention of the ISA is seen
by some as a thinly-veiled warning to the opposition to cease
accusing the ruling United Malays National Organization
(UMNO) party of being the root of the problem. End Comment.)

MEDIA RESPONSE
--------------

6. (SBU) Parallel with this law-and-order approach to the
church attacks has been another narrative in the vernacular
papers suggesting that Catholic/Christian use of the word
'Allah' is the root of the problem, and that the Catholic
Herald and others -- mainly Christians in Sarawak and Sabah
-- should gracefully stop using the word. The front page
editorial cartoon in the January 11 edition of Utusan
Malaysia (the ruling party's Malay language mouthpiece) cites
a statement from the Christian head of the Sabah Development
Institute, Clarence Bongkos, who suggested over the weekend
that Christians voluntarily stop using Allah, which he said
would be no problem. "That would be the best solution," the
cartoon's straight man concludes. Other articles have made
clear that the Allah controversy feeds into national
politics. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim commented "Much of
the blame for the recent attacks can be placed at the
doorstep of the UMNO-led BN (National Front) ruling party.
Its incessant racist propaganda over the Allah issue and the
inflammatory rhetoric issued by government-controlled
mainstream media, especially Utusan Malaysia, are
reprehensible." Citing opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's
charge, an op-ed writer counterattacked in Utusan's weekend
edition, saying that it was Anwar who was trying to "burn up
the masses" by accusing UMNO of racism. The ironies include
the fact that in the 1980s Anwar was instrumental in forming
one of the Malay student organizations, ABIM, that is now
vocally asserting that non-Muslims may not use "Allah."

NO REPORTS OF INCIDENTS INVOLVING AMCITS
----------------------------------------

7. (SBU) As of January 11, 2010, American Citizen Services
(ACS) has not received any reports of Americans who have been
hurt or effected as a result of these religiously motivated
attacks.

KEITH

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