My Malaysia Ordeal Shows How Religion Can Fuse With Populist Nationalism To Silence Dissent

BY AHMET T. KURU PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE SAN DIEGO STATE UNIVERSITY I hadn’t expected my book tour in Malaysia to end with a confrontation with men who identified themselves as police in a Kuala Lumpur airport. I arrived in the Muslim-majority country in early January 2024 to promote the Malay translation of my book “ Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment ,” an academic analysis of the political and socioeconomic crises facing many Muslim societies today. But my visit attracted unwarranted attention . Some conservatives and Islamists labeled me in social media a “ liberal ” – a term used by Malaysia’s federal agency administering Islamic affairs to denote those against the official religion, Sunni Islam. This was followed by the cancellation of my book launch event . Nonetheless, I continued my program of other talks. Two men who identified themselves as police officers came to my last event and questioned my publisher. The following day, the same men interrogated m

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