Moderation - Malaysia’s failed strategy - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Monday, September 23, 2019
Moderation or Suicidal
Malaysiakini : "Moderation is like diet coke, decaffeinated coffee or
non-alcoholic beer. Healthier but it's so unauthentic. Who would want
this?" - Wong Chin Huat
COMMENT | I am glad political analyst Wong Chin Huat finally belled the cat. He makes three important points.
The first is that the Umno/PAS union should not be underestimated. The
second that new voters – especially young voters – are the wild cards,
and the most important third point, “moderation” is an ultimately
What exactly does “moderation” mean? Most
Malaysians, especially non-Malay/Muslims, define it as the middle
ground between the religious and racial politics of the majority and the
“rights” of minority communities. Moderation has nothing to do with
secular governance, nor does it have anything to do with egalitarian
policy. Most of the time, it is political rhetoric.
when it comes to political rhetoric, moderation is pusillanimous and
normally means engaging in false equivalencies and tempering expectation
by blaming everyone for certain problems, instead of attacking
ethnocentric narratives and policies.
To Malay power structures,
“moderation” is defined by acquiescence to the concerns of the minority
communities. By how pliant their non-Malay counterparts are to their
racial and religious agendas. Maintaining hegemony in a racial and
religiously diverse coalition is the only form of governance that
Hence, moderation has always been defined
not by values or policies – which are predicated on not spooking the
majority – but rather on compromise at the expense of oversight and
accountability. Every political party has its definition of moderation.
it comes to “moderation”, PAS is now free to define it along an Islamic
context, but more importantly, jurisprudence (if one reads PAS and
their supporters political literature) agenda – “Some opposition
analysts think that PAS was crippled when Amanah broke away, but my
thinking is different, especially when speaking to PAS grassroots-level
organisers. While a political party needs a robust dialectic within it
to remain relevant, PAS is now free to define (centrally) its own
version of moderation without having to rely on non-Muslims (or Muslims
who are simpatico to non-Muslim politicians) input to craft a narrative
which resonates with their ever-growing base.”
PAS is defining the
Islamic discourse and because of the supine stand - moderate instead of
progressive - of Pakatan Harapan, it has got to a point where someone
like Steven Sim (below) is accused of proselytising by Tuan
Ibrahim Tuan Man, even when Sim was doing whatever he was doing in a
church with a Christian audience.
that. I am in constant communication with many non-Muslim religious
leaders and they tell me that they have to be more careful when it comes
with dealing with Muslims or engaging in the political process.
is what the far right and the Islamists in this country want. This
should be countered by a progressive state narrative, instead of the
so-called moderate agenda of the religious bureaucracy which, in
reality, is anything but moderate.
Take affirmative action, for
instance. I am not going to get into a definitional argument about
whether we can call what we have here – race-based affirmative action
for the majority – affirmative action, but rather just point out that
Harapan is never going to market needs-based affirmative action as a
How could they? Affirmative action and the
other race-based entitlement programmes are the bedrock of mainstream
Malay politics. There is nothing “moderate” about attempting to go
against Malaysian political orthodoxy. It is, in fact, revolutionary, or
maybe evolutionary, depending on how you view race relations in this
The Harapan grand poohbah talks about the deleterious
effect these policies have had on the Malay community, but does not
really do anything about it. Anwar Ibrahim (below) talks a good
game about speeding up the process for needs-based programmes, but it
remains to be seen if he can commit to his rhetoric.
the case, attempting to market this position as “moderate” is not going
to work. What Harapan has to do, is to commit to a progressive agenda
(which is what needs-based action is), which would ultimately benefit
all Malaysians, instead of continuing policies which ultimately have a
negative impact on the majority community. You cannot market
progressive ideas as moderate, especially when you are up against a
far-right coalition which you are attempting to differentiate yourself
from. People need to know what makes you different, for better or worse,
and understand the kind of change you are going to bring to the table.
the height of the euphoria of Harapan’s historic win, I wrote an
article of PAS’ foreboding green tsunami. In it, I argued that “losing”
the election, the schism with Amanah and being demonised by the
non-Malays, was the best thing that ever happened to PAS.
post-May 9 milieu, with its fractious Harapan politicians and the
backtracking of the Harapan manifesto, has enabled PAS to forge a
coherent Islamic narrative that has Harapan spooked.
made Umno bend the knee, continues to laugh at Amanah’s high jinks and
nods approvingly that its religious agenda, and not Harapan’s, is
promulgated by Harapan’s religious czar, Mujahid Yusof Rawa.
with young voters, PAS strategists and grassroots-level activists tell
me that they feel confident that PAS could benefit. After all, religious
schools are the perfect foundation to establish Islamic norms in young
people. Indeed, with the Harapan regime, pouring money into religious
schools – the DAP in Penang has done a wonderful job of sustaining
Islamic schools – young voters from these schools are whom PAS believes
will carry them, especially in urban areas.
But if these young
people are a hope for PAS, then they are a hope for Harapan too. Instead
of concerting development in urban areas, what the Harapan regime
should be doing is creating more opportunities for young people in the
Malay heartland, instead of narcotising them with religion through
The far-right does not fear “moderation.” What they fear
is going up against progressive policies because they have worked in the
past. Look at how colonial policies and then post-colonial polices
turned into shackles by gradual religious processes brought upon by
political chicanery. Look at the majority culture before and after the
nefarious agendas of the political elite - which includes the non-Malay
policies may dispel the fears of young people that the system is not
working for them and all they have to fall back on is their racial and
religious privilege. Why do you think the far-right and the Islamists in
this country are always harping on “liberalism” and attempting to
demonise Malays who are progressive and inclusive in their weltanschauung (world view)?
is there an exodus from states where there is much religion, but very
few jobs or opportunities? Why is it imperative for the far-right to
make inroads into urban areas which subsidise their religious and racial
preoccupations through state-funded religious bureaucracies and other
We know inclusive policies work. We know
oversight and accountability work. We know this because we had a
baseline which was eroded by ethnocentric and religious agendas which
took us out of the fast track to a developed nation, and which now makes
Vietnam a better bet than Malaysia.
is pointless talking about how we should set aside our differences and
work together when the politicians we voted for are not carrying out
their mandate which got them voted into office.
Instead, what the
Harapan politicians are doing is playing the “moderate” game, hoping
this will keep them in power, while the far-right and Islamists forces
in this country gather strength and wait to make their move.