Pahang Jawi signage row – DAP leadership's party-first, not principle-first stand - Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Monday, August 03, 2020
Malaysiakini : "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."- Attributed (disputed) to Cardinal Richelieu
In defending Tras assemblyperson Chow Yu Hui's lawsuit that challenged a
mandatory directive to include Jawi script on signboards, DAP Youth
secretary Eric Teh said: "We should oppose any cultural hegemony instead
of surrendering to it, and I think (DAP Youth chief) Howard Lee (who
criticised Chow) has forgotten this."
us begin with the basics. Culture is a one-way street in Malaysia. The
non-Malays have no choice but to learn about Malay culture while the
Malays get to retreat to a mainstream political system that claims their
culture, economic survival and political system are under threat
because of the non-Malays - that generally means the Chinese community.
this is not only a question about cultural hegemony but also of
political expediency. I have no idea why the Pahang state government is
adamant that Jawi is to be incorporated on all signages in the state,
even business operations. After all, does the state government need Jawi
signage to be part of non-halal businesses that revolve around the sale
and distribution of alcohol?
As it stands in this country,
certain words are verboten, by law, to the non-Malay community, where
books are banned and people hauled up for sedition or hurting the
sensitivities of others. This idea that the Tras assemblyperson and his
lawsuit is attracting more trouble for the DAP is, well, ludicrous.
fact of the matter is that Malay power structures have always demonised
the DAP because it serves a political purpose. The old maverick and
two-time prime minister admitted this and has been trying to walk back
on earlier strategic decisions now that he needs the DAP. All this is a
matter of public record.
DAP assistant political education
director Ong Kian Ming called the lawsuit “totally unnecessary” and the
folks involved “wannabe heroes”. Oh, really? What about the time Ong
waxed lyrical about reading the Bible in the Malay language and
admonished those who would restrict usage of the word “Allah” by
Christians and warned of the slippery slope if this was not countered?
say that Christians should change the word Allah to Tuhan is to
disrespect the rights of a religious group – Christians, in this case –
to have autonomy and control over their own religious texts," Ong (above) had said.
could easily lead to other 'slippery slope'-type arguments. For
example, if the usage of the word Allah by Christians might offend or
confuse Muslims and this word has to be changed, would other things in
the Bible that may be offensive or confusing to Muslims – such as the
many references to Jesus as God and Savior – also be required to be
changed?" Ong asked in a post on his blog.
Ong was describing in his blog post about the Allah controversy is an
instinctual reaction to cultural hegemony and the need to protect the
freedom of expression and belief that is the foundation of a democratic
You could argue that when Ong was pontificating about the
need to respect one another’s culture, he was painting a target on the
DAP’s back too. This, of course, did not stop the big guns of the DAP
from pursuing this issue and using it as a political prop. The DAP
at that time was supportive of efforts to ensure that free expression
and belief remained in political and personal spaces. Of course, with
the subsequent “khat” controversy and the various backtrackings since
coming into power, the new tone seemed to be “do not spook” the Malays.
benefit is there to have Jawi signage in stores that sell non-Muslim
religious accoutrements? How will having Jawi signages for non-halal
businesses “empower” Jawi writing? What this is really all about is the
demonstration of religious power over the masses in an effort to negate
the pluralism of a religiously diverse polity.
At the height of the Jawi/khat controversy, former Harapan religious czar Mujahid Yusof Rawa (photo), in a piece expressing his devotion to Jawi, made the same claims, or rather, he conflated certain concepts.
who was then minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Religious
Affairs), made the claim that learning Jawi is an honour for Malaysians
and spawned the rather noxious meme that "in order to be a united Bangsa
Malaysia, we would cherish Jawi as one people". This passage came from a
piece where I debunked the argument that Jawi/khat had nothing to do with religion.
Youth chief Howard Lee, writing in "Jawi" no less, admonished Chow and
claimed that the DAP needed to focus on more pressing issues. From now
on, Lee should only tweet in Jawi or Malay because, maybe, he could then
make inroads into the target audience the DAP needs to demonstrate that
the party is not anti-Malay.
How does it look when a DAP youth
leader uses the Jawi language as some sort of sarcastic retort to the
action of another DAP political operative who was deemed religiously
Does this “empower" the language, as the Sultan of
Pahang intends? Do you really think that a tweet like this earns you
brownie points with PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang and the rest of the
Malay Über Alles crowd?
I am not interested in the
political manoeuvrings behind this latest provocation of using language
as a means of cultural hegemony. What I am interested in addressing, in
this piece, is that the phobia against cultural hegemony in this country
is justified and like it or not, it falls on the DAP to protect our
personal and public spheres.
The only language that needs to be in
all business operations or general signage is Bahasa Malaysia (first)
and, beyond that, any language that the target demographic understands.
Anything beyond that is purely political and the imperative behind that
reasoning needs to be questioned.
The Tras assemblyperson's actions are justifiable, if not politically expedient. This is a good thing as far as I am concerned.