01/29/2010, 00.00
MALAYSIA
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Kuala Lumpur, Anwar Ibrahim trial; political confrontation in the name of "Allah"

Next week the opposition leaders will appear before the courts for sodomy. He faces up to 20 years in prison and sentencing would mark the end of his political career. The government is promoting a campaign based on Islamic nationalism. Three Muslims suspected of the attack a church in the capital on trial.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The second trial of Anwar Ibrahim, opposition leader charged with sodomy, will be held next week. He says he is confident that the charges against him will be dropped.  The hearing of the former deputy premier arrives at a time of social and political tension and controversy in Malaysia, over the use of the word "Allah", exacerbated by violence against Muslim and Christian places of worship and poorly managed by the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak. The prosecutor, meanwhile, has called for the trial of three Muslims allegedly responsible for the attack at a church in Kuala Lumpur.

Anwar Ibrahim, 62, was deputy prime minister until 1998, when he had to leave following allegations of corruption and sodomy, illegal in Malaysia even between consenting adults. Imprisoned in connection with the millennium crisis in Asian financial markets, he spent six years in prison. Released in 2004, the opposition leader plunged into politics and in the elections of 2008 won support in a large chunk of the electorate, especially among ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysians.  

The accusation of sodomy can carry up to 20 years in prison and a possible conviction would mean the end of Anwar Ibrahim's political career. He has always spoken of "conspiracy" behind the allegations made against him. The process also threatens to plunge the political framework of the country, with a government unable to contain the controversy on the use of the word "Allah" and stop the violence and desecration of places of worship, Christian and Muslim.

Premier Najib Razak has focused much on the economy, foreign investment and political reform to gain consensus. However, religious tensions in recent weeks, which hide political and social contrasts, showed a loss of consensus in favour of the opposition. That's why the government supports the campaign of the country’s fundamentalist and nationalist wing, contrary to the Supreme Court ruling that legitimizes the use of the word "Allah" to Christians. The prime minister and his allies emphasise nationalism and the defence of Islam in order to maintain the balance of political power. However, there is a real risk of sustaining a fracture between the Muslim majority and ethnic-religious minorities in a so far secular country. Ibrahim, on the contrary, despite having a Islamic fundamentalist history, endorses the decision of the judges and has promoted a campaign that unites the majority Malay Indian and Chinese minorities. A political gamble, which has estranged him from nationalists who stigmatize his choices as "too close to the Christians." Moreover citizens are much more interested in economic growth and fighting corruption, rather than nationalism, covered by the mantle of Islam.  

Today, the prosecutor's office in Kuala Lumpur has indicted three Muslims, the suspected perpetrators of the attack on a church in the capital. They are the first to appear before the judges, in the story linked to bombings of Christian places of worship in Malaysia.

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