What are the limits in ‘New Malaysia’? - By Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
Malaysiakini : “Please lah. Don’t be stupid!” – Art Harun, top blogger
COMMENT | The quote that begins
this piece was a rejoinder by top blogger Art Harun to Finance Minister
Lim Guan Eng in this whole “Mandarin” statement imbroglio. Art puts it well - “But please do your job as a minister as you
should be (doing). After all, you were the one who so proudly proclaimed
‘I am not Chinese, I am Malaysian’. You are showing the wrong signal.
The wrong attitude.” - a sentiment which was echoed by the sometimes
ornery but always friendly email group of Malaysiakini subscribers I often find myself part of.
To be honest, I find all of this rather dumb. The problem with the
Bangsa Malaysia ‘Kool Aid’ is the negation of race and the hypocrisy of
action(s) that precede or proceed it. It is always better to acknowledge
your ethnicity and the reality of racial and religious politics in this
country rather than put forward a hypocritical narrative that the
non-Malays have to subscribe to in order to share power with the
majority Malay community.
What is really disheartening is that the same propaganda does not
apply to the Malay community except when they are called “racists”, an
example of which, when Art had to qualify his statement - “I am not
racist. And I am not talking about Malay rights or the proverbial
‘mertabatkan Bahasa Melayu’ and stuff.”
This particular issue really does not concern me. What I found
interesting is when Lim said this - “The new Malaysia is an inclusive,
respectful and diverse country. While safeguarding the status of Malay
as an official language, we also need to master the use of other
languages in order to increase our competitiveness.” And Art’s reply -
“Don’t be arrogant and dismissive of this. You are really pushing it.
There is a limit to the ‘new Malaysia’,”
Forget about the Mandarin language snafu, for a moment. Lim and Art
raise interesting points. What are the limits in this new Malaysia? For
the record, when people go on about new Malaysia, I have no idea what
they are talking about. I think for most people who voted Pakatan
Harapan, it merely revolves around expectation.
They expect the state security apparatus to get on with the reform
programme. They expect that race and religion will somehow not be issues
either because the Harapan regime will not make them so, or that the
former regime has lost its ability to fabricate them.
The reality is very different. What are the limits of this new
Malaysia? In other words, what are the sensitivities of the majority
community that we should be mindful of when it comes to race and
religion? That’s what I thought at first. Then I said, screw it. There’s
something wrong here.
I get emails in Bahasa Malaysia all the time. The volume now is the
same as the mails in English. Young Malay people always email me about
current issues to keep me informed of their activism, or articles/blog
posts in Malay that I may find interesting. Sometimes the going is difficult. Regional dialects and the fact that
some of the lingo is beyond me. Most difficult is when they write in
“pakar” BM. I muddled through it though and what really gets me, whether
conservative or liberal, the issues more often than not are not so much
about race but religion. Sometimes the two get conflated but what do
you expect, right?
I read this great letter by Abdullah Afiq in Malaysiakini - Navigating fear and loathing in ‘Malaysia Baru’-
and thought, why the hell are not more people reading this? What he
writes is the kind of stuff I get from the young Malays who write to me. Forget about this whole Mandarin gaffe, the real action of where this
new Malaysia really is, is in what a young Malay like Abdullah Afiq
describes in his letter. Abdullah Afiq, is right when he says
“activists” groups like Malaysian Muslim Solidarity (Isma) are
attempting to control the narrative in social media as to what it means
to be Muslim. But what can Harapan do?
Here are a couple of things that directly relate to what Abdullah
Afiq writes about. Abdullah Afiq believes that religious “authority”
should spread their word on social media, although he qualifies this as
religious scholars who are cognisant of the time they are living in,
which I assume means those of a progressive bent – no pun intended.
However, what is really important here is that the powers of the
state should not be used to impose any kind of religious narratives on
young Malay people. Here are three points that I think test the limits
of this new Malaysia much better than the language fiasco that Lim found
1. Mohamed Tawfik Ismail (Umno MP for Sungai Benut from 1986 to 1990)
said the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) should be shut down
instead of re-evaluated. This was in response to Putrajaya that a
committee would be formed to re-evaluate this religious organisation.
How much money is spent on funding Jakim? What has Jakim done to
create an atmosphere of peace and stability in this country between
Muslims and non-Muslims? If Islam is in the hand of state rulers, Tawfik
is right to challenge the existence of this body on constitutional
Beyond closing it down, what should be done is an extensive audit of
this organisation. I want to know where the money went, who it went to
and what was done it with. I believe when the curtain is finally pulled
what we would discover is that very unIslamic things were done by very
people who impose their brand of Islam on the average Malay rakyat
through their outsourced moral police.
Keep in mind, this is the institution that decries excessive laughter. The state should not control the Islamic narrative insofar as
providing a stable ground for a marketplace of ideas. Isma and their
kind have every right to attempt to forge a narrative but it should not
have the backing of the state. Also liberal “Muslims” should not have
the backing of the state, either.
Indeed, when it comes to religion, the best narrative the state can
offer is that the state, while “Islamic”, believes in a plurality of
voices, which is what the former Umno regime attempted to halt.
So when Abdullah Afiq writes something like this “…when a fellow
Malay proudly admits that he is a homosexual looking for a boyfriend,
the majority did not know what and how to respond” - at least anyone who
does this will be relieved that the state (notwithstanding silly
colonial laws about homosexuality and the like) will not use religion to
come down like a house of bricks on him or her and the only thing
sanction will be the vicious tweets or comments by people who disagree
with these choices.
2. Apostasy. Look, two years ago, when Najib Razak was the grand poobah, he made it clear in the Rooney Rebit case, that the executive can interfere to his heart’s content when it comes to the way how Islam is practised in this country.
We are talking about freedom of religion here. A right supposedly
guaranteed to all Malaysians. When Abdullah Afiq writes,"…When a fellow
Malay renounces God in a thread… and the majority did not know what and
how to respond.” – and if the Umno grand poobah knows how to respond,
then the laws should reflect this attitude - that supposed sacred cows
are not so sacred after all.
Obviously, this is not a Sarawak issue only. Or Sabah, for that
matter. The former Umno regime has never presented any proof of
proselytising by Christian activists. What we do know is that there is
enough anecdotal evidence that Muslims for whatever reasons want to
leave their faith, as described in Abdullah Afiq’s letter.
If Najib as the former grand Umno poobah can decide for whatever
reasons this does not apply in Sarawak, who is to say the Harapan regime
cannot make the make the same strategic move when it comes to Islam in
3. Harapan has to finally resolve this issue of unilateral conversion. Okay, thought I would slip this in here. Remember last year when the tabling of the proposed amendments to the
Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 was postponed? Then deputy
prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi claimed
that this was because "…The attorney-general (AG) has been asked to
study the feedback and look into the proposed amendments together with
"This is to ensure the amendments will not be against Islamic fatwa
or the Federal Constitution," said the deputy prime minister.” Guess what? I think Zahid is right. I think that new AG Tommy Thomas
should look into this and finally the bill would be tabled in
Parliament. Unilateral conversion is a form of religious kidnapping. The
fact that the former Umno regime saw no issue with this demonstrates
how easy it is to define this new Malaysia as in opposition to
everything Umno did.
Creating a new Malaysia is not that difficult. Testing the limits is
not such a hazardous endeavour. All that is needed is the will to do
what Umno did before with fiat, but this time through the proper legal
and legislative processes.