Ultra-liberals and the futility of discourse - By Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Monday, August 13, 2018
Malaysiakini : “The political nature of man made it highly unlikely that a
society designed to meet regularly would remain peaceable. "The way to
make friends quarrel is to pit them in disputation under the public
eye," Jefferson said.” ― Jon Meacham, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
COMMENT | Truth be told, I like
Rafizi Ramli. Sure, we have had a very public spat but the reality is
that for whatever reasons, he often kicks the Pakatan Harapan regime in
the nut sack and more often than not, gets pilloried for it on social
media. The internal politics of PKR, I have very little interest in. No
matter who runs the good ship, PKR politicians in Harapan will not stray
too far from mainstream Malay politics even though they, like the DAP,
claim to be a multi-racial party.
Malay establishment politicians have to pay attention to certain
agendas and non-Malay establishment politicians have to enable such
dictates. It does not have to be this way but it is easier to retain
power this way. Recently, Rafizi labelled those hounding Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail on the whole child marriage fiasco as ultra liberals who "focus on the one issue".Not nice, Rafizi.
Dismissing these critics, while saying these ultra liberals are not
responsible for the poor, while the DPM, was, is a strange way of
deflecting from the criticisms of the cautious response of the DPM on
this issue. Firstly, child marriage, as in marriages between children and adults, is normalising sex with children. Furthermore, it is normally the “poor” children who are exploited in
this manner. Also, this idea that ultra liberals are single-issue
advocates is rather bizarre, because it's like saying that rights groups
who advocate on a specific subject do not care about anything else –
the poor – because they advocate for specific issues.
Last year when Umno was in power, my Malay-speaking activist friends
were always worried that the state labelled them as deviant and that
meant they were liberal. As one young activist said (in Malay no less),
how could he be liberal when he can't even speak English that well. Even now I do not want to go into the whole definition on the debate
about what a liberal is even more so an ultra-liberal, which I suppose
is akin to an ultra Malay or Islamist or howsoever else Malaysians
define such things.
It gets really messy when Rafizi claims that some activists are
biased against Wan Azizah because she wears a tudung, more “Malay”
looking in her outlook and appearance and behaves like a moderate.
Really? Some would argue that Wan Azizah is an idealised version of a Malay
woman. A fair skinned, tudung wearing, religious and socially compliant
political operative. I mean we are talking about a community which is a melting pot of various people foreign and domestic, right?
Why even say horse manure like that? And what does having a Malay
outlook mean and does having this Malay outlook, trump whatever agreed
upon principles that the opposition says it has? How does one define the
middle ground this way? But wait. Rafizi already staked out the middle moderate ground. “And
the moderate centre behaves like Wan Azizah. The moderate centre does
not behave like very vocal social activists who want outright political
condemnation,” he said.
Wait, so all those years when tudung wearing Malays were outright in
their condemnation of Umno policies and rhetoric, they were not the
“moderate centre”? All those social activists many of whom were tudung
clad did not represent the centre of Malay politics, which is what the
opposition (Harapan) was saying was the true face of this country?
What about those who do not wear tudung? Are they somehow less
“moderate” in their views? Does the content of the criticisms change
depending on whether one wears a tudung or believes in a specific
Muddying up waters
But what is the moderate centre in PKR? By labelling activists who
are vocal in their criticisms about a political operative who is also
the women and family development minister, as ultra-liberal, then what
is the moderate liberal's position? Less vocal? It is like PAS saying that anyone who disagrees with their
interpretation of Islam is liberal but an ultra liberal is someone who
actually voices out such disagreements. Where does someone like Zaid
Ibrahim fall when it comes to the liberal and ultra-liberal label?
Which brings us to the futility of the discourse and the big tent approach of PKR. Let us be honest here. In most cases, the discourse is between the Malay component – liberal or orthodox – and the non-Malay component of PKR. Rafizi’s example of Malay groups who are not happy with the UEC
recognition and bringing those who are and those who do not together
sounds like a swell idea. But really, when it comes to Malay rights, can there ever be a
dialogue? Why do Malay rights groups oppose the UEC? The basis of their
dissent is based on racial and religious supremacy, right?
So it's how you have to allay their fears, right? But this is the
problem right here. Non-Malays as citizens of this country should not
have to allay the fears of their countrymen. How exactly does the UEC,
for example, threaten the culture of the Malay community? How exactly is talking about this with people who base their
objection to specific issue along racial or religious lines going to get
us to that place, where we are all treated equally before the law?
How erectly does the discourse work with people like this? I mean
really, saying non-Muslims can use the word, Allah – as long as it was
not misused – is something to be proud of? If I ask an orthodox Malay
who believes in Malay supremacy how do the non-Malays misuse the word
Allah, he or she would say that by uttering the word, they would be
For whatever reason, Rafizi is the only political operative who
pisses in the Harapan kool-aid occasionally. I will take occasionally
over the prostrating of most political operatives at the altar of the
great old one.But for Allah's sake, be mindful of how you respond to criticism. If
your critics are wrong just say they are wrong and but don’t engage in
The discourse is hard enough already without folks who should know better than muddying up the waters even more.