Leonard A. Leo

WASHINGTON — The US government watchdog on religious freedom voiced concern Tuesday about a spate of church attacks in Malaysia, saying that leaders’ response would be vital in shaping the nation’s future.

“We are very concerned with events in Malaysia, as the church bombings have shaken Malaysia’s delicate political and ethnic balance,” said Leonard Leo, chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“How Malaysian leaders settle these matters will determine that country’s political and economic future,” he said.

The commission, which makes policy recommendations to the US government, is a bipartisan body with members appointed by the the president and Congress.

Assailants have fire-bombed or vandalized nine churches in a wave of violence since Malaysia’s High Court on December 31 lifted a government ban on non-Muslims using “Allah” as a translation for “God.”

It was the latest incident to stir religious tensions in Malaysia, where the Muslim Malay majority lives alongside ethnic Chinese and Indian communities. — AFP