Colour, race, religion and language
Become sharp blades
To use in the carnage
- Said Zahari (Hidden Hands)
COMMENT I am of course breaking my self-imposed ban on not commenting on anything ‘Islam' but circumstances warrant it.
Here's the thing. The anti-Islamic diatribe (how I loathe describing it as such because I have read and seen far more provocative and intelligent musings on the subject by Islamic scholars, Muslim and non-Muslim) ‘The Innocence of Muslims' and the race-baiting ‘Tanda Putera' share similarities that should make right-thinking Malaysians sit up and question the status quo.
Malaysians should also begin asking their preferred political allegiances the tough questions instead of making appropriate noises of compromise or appeasement when it comes to the questions of race and religion.
Both films are fear-mongering pieces designed as appeals to emotions to radicalise majority communities to view the ‘other' as a threat to the status quo and whatever ideals that are most often only paid lip service to.
Both films conflate or distort or cherry pick (and not necessarily in that order) in order to bolster a narrative to demonise the ‘other' and as a way to redefine genuine complex tensions between diverse groups as a simple conflict between good and evil or right and wrong, using ‘facts' as a defence against legitimate criticism.
Understand now that I am not equating the senseless deaths that have occurred because of the over reaction of ‘Innocence' (and yes, I think the carnage that has occurred is an overreaction orchestrated by groups whom would use any excuse to pursue agendas that are anathema to right-thinking Muslims and non-Muslims or as Salman Rushdie's puts it, "manufactured outrage") and a piece of state-sanctioned propaganda (‘Tanda') meant to scare minorities into embracing the devil they know (sic) but I believe that the motives behind both movies are the same - that is to generate fear and loathing of the other.
The difference (and depending on how you view Islam, of course) is that here in Malaysia, ‘Tanda' is state-sanctioned, while abroad ‘Innocence' has become the minefield which separates political correctness and right-wing bluster with a good dose of hypocrisy thrown in with regards to the free speech/expression angle.
Here's a quote by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz "Malaysia is of the opinion that freedom of expression must be practiced with tact and responsibility. The freedom to condemn and slander must not be allowed as it can destroy lives and international harmony," which is interesting for a couple of reasons.
This quote of course does not apply to the way how the DAP's Lim Kit Siang was demonised with outright lies or the way how Utusan Malaysia and its ilk have been allowed to run riot in the mainstream discourse.
On the flip side, the way how pro-opposition commenters routinely slander and demonise their fellow Malaysians from the opposite side of the political divide demonstrates that something has always been rotten in those who always claim the moral high ground when the reality is that compromise is the glue that binds the opposition together.
Muslim reaction in this country has been swift in the case of ‘Innocence' but muted when the numerous provocations that the minority have had to endure at the hands of Islamic forces (most often state-sanctioned) in this country.
Be it the cow-head protest or the spitting out the sacraments of the Holy Communion, the ‘others' and the religions they adhere to have been mocked and vilified all the while we are told that Islam is a religion of peace and warned against questioning of Islam and of the Malay race less we poke the hornet's nest that would lead to the ruin of Malaysia through the destruction of the precious social contract.
PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub's statement of "agreeing to disagree" seems to be in conflict with that of Lim Guan Eng's, which is "DAP's co-operation with PAS under Pakatan is principled in not just agreeing to disagree on hudud but also that any future Pakatan federal government is not about implementing an Islamic state or hudud," and this is something that should be of concern to Pakatan partisans.
Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim while speaking at the Royal Selangor Club's Fifth Presidential Luncheon Talk observed that many are concerned about the question of hudud when it is only part of the greater Islamic whole.
Speaking for me, my concern is not with hudud - I categorically oppose it - my concern is with the way how Pakatan deals with issues concerning Islam when it is supposed to be the so-called middle path political alliance. The conflicting statements of Lim and Ayub is a case in point.
(Apropos nothing, I have seen Anwar speak in his various incarnations throughout the years and the one constant is that he is a remarkably persuasive politician. As an Anwar sceptic, I was impressed by the candour on display at the talk.
He didn't dodge the hard questions and answered questions, especially those touching on his Umno DNA, without resorting to lame mea culpas and his talk was grounded in the real politik of race and religion, something almost unheard of here in Malaysia.
And yes, I think it's time to bury this whole "Anwar will say anything to different crowds" accusation because he did not say anything that deviated from his overall message that I have been following for some time now walking amongst Anwar ceramahs far and wide in this country.
Readers may be interested in the fact that Anwar stated that he is not interested in pursuing any vendettas against his former BN brethren, and as long as monies are returned he is uninterested in seeking jail time for any miscreants. He prefers a Mandela-like approach to BN malfeasances, which is something I advocated in one of my pieces.
I don't doubt that he is ambitious and wants to sit on the Putrajaya throne but I think his thirst for power is fuelled by the desire to prove his Umno enemies wrong, that there is another way - his way - of doing political business in Malaysia. For many, his way and the Umno way are the same, but I don't think this is the case. However, this is a topic for another piece.)
To be fair to Anwar, he did say that people should have sympathy for him because of the difference between the way how Pakatan and BN do things. In his cabinet days, all he got were "Saya setuju" but these days he has to thrash it out with the various divergent expectations in his coalition.
I, of course, don't sympathise because he (and the rest of the Pakatan leadership) is merely carrying out the obligations that he claimed [they] would when they asked for our votes.
However, when it comes to the Islamic issue "agreeing to disagree" is not an acceptable compromise especially when you have an Islamic party in your alliance which is extremely influential despite what the current regime claims.
Pakatan kool-aid drinkers acknowledge that the Malays will decide the future of this country but are quite willing to indulge PAS in its waffling because they don't want to rock the boat to Putrajaya. Already there are some naive enough to believe that hudud is an acceptable feature in Malaysian life when nowhere in the world has an Islamic system of jurisprudence delivered on the ‘egalitarian' promises its adherents claim it would.
Putting out the fire
The conventional wisdom is that we should not be side-tracked by this issue but at the end of the day, I want to know how Pakatan will deal with the Islamic indoctrination that separates Muslims from non-Muslims.
I want to know what role the Pakatan state Islamic agencies will play in governing the lives of fellow Malaysian Muslims and the impact on non-Muslims. I want to know if the process of Arabisation will begin to be reversed when Pakatan comes into power.
I want to know if the Malay community through its elected Pakatan representatives will begin the slow process of reverting back to a bygone era were the Malay polity was not as cut off from the rest of their fellow Malaysians because of the way how their religion is promulgated.
Because once this issue is resolved, all others will fall into place and once we are truly a cohesive society in substance we could be a great power perhaps even more so than China and India in South-East Asia, something which was denied us by Umno ... okay, for years we voted BN in, so it was our fault but I truly believe that our multi-ethnic/religious foundation so long used to divide us is our greatest asset.
I am not concerned about the Islamic fire that Umno continues to fuel, I am concerned about the way how Pakatan intends to put out the fire and so far, all they seem to be doing is blowing smoke our way.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.