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President of IRF Zakir Naik in Istanbul

The case of Zakir Naik, the Indian-born Muslim preacher wanted in India on money laundering charges, is an issue that simply refuses to go away. It doesn’t help, of course, that Putrajaya keeps issuing contradictory statements on the matter. It makes one wonder whether our ministers really bother to think through their statements or just make them up on the fly.

First, the government insisted that there hadn’t been an extradition request from India, so the question of extraditing him didn’t arise. Then the foreign minister revealed that there was, in fact, an extradition request but he couldn’t remember when it was submitted.

Our esteemed minister of Islamic affairs, meanwhile, embraced Naik and hailed him as an inspirational figure despite noting, months earlier, that Naik’s combative style of preaching including putting others down was not suitable for Malaysia.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, for his part, insisted that Naik wouldn’t be extradited because there were doubts about the fairness of the Indian justice system, implying, whether intended or otherwise, that a Muslim preacher would not be fairly treated in a Hindu-dominated country. He also said that for so long as Naik didn’t create any problems here, there was no reason to send him away.

During his recent visit to Turkey, however, Mahathir offered a different take on the issue.

Speaking to Turkish media, Mahathir said, “We have a multiracial and multi-religious population in Malaysia. We don’t want anybody who comes up and expresses extreme views about race relations and about other religions. So, to that extent, we cannot have him, but on the other hand, it is difficult to send him anywhere else because many countries do not want to have him.”

In other words, Naik is not really welcome here – given his penchant for exacerbating racial and religious tension – but we are stuck with him because few countries are willing to accept him. What a disingenuous argument; how many countries have to agree to accept him before he can be asked to leave? Isn’t one enough?

What is it about Naik that leaves all these Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders with their knickers in a knot? They can’t even seem to agree whether he’s a villain or a hero, an inspiration or a threat, and yet they seem determined to treat him as if he is already a Malaysian citizen. Is he?

Interestingly, while our ministers bob and weave over the issue, Naik himself is irritatingly consistent, insisting that he has nothing to apologize for and does not regret anything he has said – presumably that includes urging Muslims to vote for the corrupt BN government in the last elections because it was Muslim-led instead of PH which he deemed insufficiently Muslim. Of course, when BN lost, he quickly rushed over to greet Mahathir and proclaim him a great Muslim statesman. Who says flattery will get you nowhere?

Naik has now become so cocksure of himself that instead of just keeping quiet when Mahathir and others are bending over backwards to protect him from Indian law enforcement, he makes their position yet more untenable with his inane comments. The least PH leaders can do is to tell him to just shut up until they decide what to do with him.

In the meantime, the government should explain why it is so concerned that Naik will not receive a fair trial in his homeland. The Indian judicial system is, mind you, respected enough that Indian case law is often cited in other Commonwealth jurisdictions including our own. In the interests of transparency, and in order to avoid the impression that this is all about local politics instead of the rule of law, the government must make public its concerns about the Indian justice system if that is the worry.

Whatever it is, it is high time for Putrajaya to be more transparent on the issue. If it intends to allow him to stay, it should let the public know why it is in the national interest to permit a wanted foreign fugitive to stay in the country especially now that the prime minister himself has admitted that Naik’s “extreme views about race relations and other religions” render him unfit to stay.

[Dennis Ignatius |Kuala Lumpur |3rd August 2019]