Malaysia, Where Iranians Seek Respite from Iran

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 9/07/2011 12:01:00 AM
There's an interesting article from TIME about how those seeking a respite from "the pananoid style in Iranian politics" are heading for Malaysia. To be sure, Malaysia is not exactly an exemplar of freedom from political suppression--witness the continued persecution of Anwar Ibrahim by the ruling party he used to belong to (UMNO) on what many international observers believe are trumped-up, salacious charges.

As with many things, however, matters are relative. Iranians themselves often feel that they are able to leave the tumult of domestic politics behind while in Malaysia, all the while partaking of a comparative atmosphere of another Islamic country. The latter qualification speaks to the common wish not to break away entirely with the familiar but to perhaps do away with the most egregious of strictures and limitations. It takes me back to the pre-Asian financial crisis era when Indonesia and Malaysia were often lauded as models of a tolerant brand of Islam. With both countries having recovered from the aforementioned crisis, we may be coming full circle. From TIME:
The Iranian influx is small but growing fast. At present, there are about 60,000 Iranians, studying, working or waiting for visas in this relatively easygoing, multiethnic Muslim-majority country. Iranians hold shares in an estimated 2,000 Malaysian businesses and occupy about 15,000 spots in Malaysian universities. Tourist arrivals from Iran jumped 14.3% to 116,000 last year. And, observe new arrivals, words of Persian origin, such as dewan for hall and anggur for grapes, have long been part of the Malay language. Most Iranians in Malaysia bask in the comforts of a life free from ideological pressures and from, in one exile's words, "bribing the police every time you want to have a party." Malaysia has become the base for frequent "Persian disco nights" and glitzy concerts by famed singers — in one performance earlier this year, during the Iranian New Year in March, there were singers calling for the overthrow of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; it was not part of the program.
The Sunni-Shia divide is also another important consideration:
But life there isn't without hassles. Many, including Ali Manafi, a radio anchor who recently fled Iran at considerable risk, are exhausted by Malaysia's religious rules. "Spirituality should be personal," he says. "Here there are too many mosques and imams." Few Malaysian mosques welcome Shi'ite Muslims, leaving Iranian Shi'ites to worship at their embassy. Iranian activists have also faced rough treatment for political protests. Five Iranian student leaders were arrested for carrying candles in a memorial for protesters killed in Iran. In 2009, a protest of Iran's recent elections outside the U.N. building led to tear gas. However, most activists say they try to stay away from Malaysia's current unrests — though they are quietly pleased that the recent July 9 demonstration, in which 1,400 Malaysians were arrested, took place on the 12th anniversary of one of Iran's largest protests.
Malaysia is not quite the ideal escape, but it comes closer than most while retaining a touch of comforting familiarity for Iranians.