For too long now we have been living with the thought that Sarawak is insulated from the religious extremism and racial discord.
This notion is not entirely wrong for we can indeed be proud that ours is a state where a church and mosque share their car parks with each other and where Muslims attend Christian funeral or wedding services without fear of being ‘confused’and vice versa.
However, we have to accept that we live in a globalised world and are not immune to the influence of religious extremism and racial incitement that creep through the social media.
Thus it came as no surprise when the police detained a woman in Miri last Thursday for putting a sticker supporting IS on her car back screen. It turned out that the woman claimed it was a supposed to be a joke and she is not a supporter of IS.
If indeed what she claimed was true then it was very foolish or insensitive of her to think it was funny to do that. The case might be considered settled and considered a dumb prank but disturbing questions remain.
The fact that such stickers are available in our state should be food for thoughts for the police.
While the IS sticker case in Miri might have been a false alarm, it should be a wake-up call for us all. We should also take heed of the recent grenade attack on crowd watching a football match in Puchong which has been confirmed as an IS inspired attack by the police.
More disturbing is the growth of IS extremists from Malaysia has been on the rise as more people are being radicalised through the social media.
Although the chances of anyone from our state joining a terrorist organisation are slim it would be foolish to think that Sarawak could shut out the influence of radical preaching without putting any effort to counter it.
The big question is what could be done to stop the messages of violence through religion from radicalising people in the state.
Exhortations and rhetoric or falling back on our record of religious tolerance and racial harmony would not be enough.
The state government has been doing the right thing by banning known religious extremists from the state but while we can stop them physically from entering the state we cannot stop them from preaching through the cyberspace.
Religious and social organisations have a big role in countering the influence of these hate mongers among our people.
The state’s Islamic Centre, the Inter-faith association and the Association of Churches have been exemplary in promoting religious acceptance and understanding in the state.
Therefore the state government should allocate more funds for these organisations to organise inter-faith dialogues and activities in the state.
A state-level religious understanding and racial harmony committee comprising members of various religious and racial organisations should be formed to explore ways promote religious moderation in our state.
It might be a small step in the fight against the influence of religious extremism in our state but it could be a vital first step towards that goal. Something has to be done and it must be done now – we just cannot sit back and let it happen.