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Among the thousands of celebratory messages put out by the nation's political leaders during festive holidays for public consumption during the last decade, the most recent one by the country's newest Menteri Besar, Mohamed Azmin Ali, in conjunction with Hari Raya Haji or Aidil Alha, stands out.

Azmin’s message is, in my view, among only a few of these generally ritualistic and meaningless messages that are worth paying attention to. The message is worth reading in its entirety; and for Muslims in the country to ponder over in terms of its significance to their community which is now at a critical crossroad in their political and social development.

In his message, Azmin Ali used the example of Malcolm X, the black American leader who became a Muslim religious leader as well as a human rights activist and freedom fighter. Until Azmin's message, most Malaysians today, and certainly the great majority of Muslims in the country. would probably not have heard or known of Malcolm X, or El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz as he was also known, who was the most prominent American freedom fighter in the 1960s.

In many circles, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, published shortly after his death, is considered one of the most influential non-fiction books of our time. In 1998 TIME magazine named it one of the ten most influential non-fiction books of the 20th century.

Achieving democracy in a multiracial society

In Azmin Ali's message, he asked Muslims to emulate the example of Malcolm X who contributed to the development of of democracy and the struggle for justice and human rights in the United States.

In choosing to remind Muslims on their special religious day that democracy, independence and human rights as well as tolerance in a multiracial society cannot be achieved without sacrifice, Azmin departed from the politically and religiously conservative script that all Malay and Muslim leaders – with a few exceptions such as Zaid Ibrahim - are adhering to.

It has been this pervasive narrowly pious, self-righteous and defensive Islamic stance which has been the principal cause of the racial and religious divide in the nation today. And as pointed out by Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari recently, religious conservatism is being used to perpetuate the Malay-Muslim community’s dependency on the patronage and “protection” of Umno and its allies in the ruling class.

The test that awaits Azmin

In the future, we will find out the true mettle of this leader who has emerged out of the shadows of his mentor, Anwar Ibrahim; and is charting a course for his party and perhaps for the nation. For now Azmin – in the course of a few short weeks as Selangor Menteri Besar – has demonstrated that he has the political smarts to overcome the crisis of political confidence in his state that resulted from the sacking of Khalid Ibrahim.

In promising to cut back on the hefty salary increase granted to the Menteri Besar, Speakers and exco members by his predecessor, Azmin has identified an issue that resonates with the man in the street.

More people-oriented initiatives are necessary to wrest back the political initiative and to convince the alienated voting public that Pakatan is the better and right choice. This is crucial not simply for his own party, PKR, but also for the DAP and PAS. If Pakatan is to retain Selangor in the next elections, Azmin's performance in the coming two years will be one of the key factors.

In the meantime, Azmin can expect that all guns will be targeted at him and that the knives are out for him. Already Utusan Malaysia has zeroed in on Azmin in its front page. Its senior editor Zulkiflee Bakar lambasted him for not presenting any new development plans after ten days in office! In a commentary titled ‘Cukuplah Azmin! (Enough Azmin!)’, the Umno mouthpiece has begun its campaign of running down the new MB. Apparently, ten days in office is the new norm that Utusan is holding Pakatan leaders to in terms of delivery of development plans if the opposition should ever come to office.

We can expect more of such ludicrous and asinine print media 'commentary' and 'analysis' focusing on Azmin's shortcomings, and defects, mostly imagined and exaggerated in the coming months. I am sure that Azmin is fully aware of what happened to his role model, Malcolm X which resulted in his untimely death.

According to Wikipedia,

By March 1964, Malcolm X had grown disillusioned with the Nation of Islam and its leader, Elijah Muhammad. He ultimately repudiated the Nation and its teachings and embraced Sunni Islam. After a period of travel in Africa and the Middle East, he returned to the United States to found Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. While continuing to emphasize Pan-Africanism, black self-determination, and black self-defense, he disavowed racism, saying, "I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I'm sorry for now. I was a zombie then ... pointed in a certain direction and told to march". In February 1965, shortly after repudiating the Nation of Islam, he was assassinated by three of its members.

Is Azmin the man that can be Malaysia's Malcolm X and can he survive the political assassination attempts that have already started? All freedom-loving Malaysians who want a non-racist country must rally round Azmin if we are ever going to grow as a nation.