We face problems of great magnitude, so how can they be resolved by the application of Sharia's Law, since these problems did not exist in the early centuries of Islam? - Dr Farag Foda (The Absent Truth)

COMMENT By now readers are probably wondering why S Thayaparan is going on about the ‘Islamic' issue when obviously there are bigger fish to fry. After all, hudud will never come to pass in Malaysia, so there's nothing to worry about.

Never mind that under Umno, Malaysians have been witness to a slow process of Arabisation that has seen the civil service decimated in terms of its racial and religious components.

Never mind that since race and religion are not mutually exclusive here in Malaysia that the history taught to successive generations is nothing more than propaganda meant to remind everyone of their place in the Umno social order.

Never mind that books are banned and that silence is the only response by the so-called alternative front to Umno hegemony. Never mind that Malay culture has changed so radically over the past decades that anyone viewing Malay cultural artifacts from a bygone age are amazed at how different the ‘Malays' were, or at least how ‘Malays' were viewed.

The manipulation of the feudalistic nature of Malay society combined with toxic forms of Islam from abroad has resulted in a Malay society where a class of people based on patronage and money live a life far removed from the shackles of Islamic piety, but also a non-Muslim class living in the shadow of the prophet, to steal a Milton Viost title.

It's as though people don't realise that you don't really need the official stamp of hudud for our lives to be so constricted by the dictates of Islam.

NONEEvery time the hudud issue comes up online under the cloak of anonymity, Malaysians let vent on their ‘Islamic' fears. Pakatan supporters bury their fears under the belief or faith that Malaysians have nothing to fear when it comes to the hudud issue with the reformed PAS and PKR.

Of course when we get down to it, if we really objectively analyse this issue, the only real difference between Umno and Pakatan is that Umno is willing to overtly use Islam as a weapon in the political game and so far the Islamic members of this alliance has dodged the issue without voicing any radical departures as far as Islamic policies are concerned.

A cursory listen to the Pakatan tune will reveal that when push comes to shove, Pakatan has no problem coddling Islamic bigotry all the while appeasing the Christian variety when Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim says that there should be laws that "discriminate against homosexuality" but archaic laws that punish the innocent should be reviewed. There's a joke in here somewhere, but I am too pissed off to deliver the punchline.

Some would argue that the "RM600 for housewife pledge" shows that there is not much of a difference at all with regard to any issues except maybe that Pakatan has more finesse when it comes to political "cajoling".

I mean surely there are other ways to address the extremely important women's issues in this country, especially where religion has been hijacked by the patriarchy (in the words of Karen Armstrong) rather than throwing a measly 50 bucks a month at housewives who are not the only "women" in this country.

Official and online discourses

What got my hackles raised this time about the Islamic issue, was a comment piece in the Malay Mail by Yushaimi Yahaya titled 'Slam the brakes on religious, racial remarks'. (Reading the mainstream media at a newsstand is a good thing because it allows one to see how critical the discourse is in the alternative media)

I have taken my shots at Yushaimi in my 'Press Gangs of Malaysia' comment piece but since then, he and I have been communicating online and I believe his heart is in the right place.

However I do think that more often than not we should not be too quick to follow the dictates of our hearts and instead place emphasis on what our minds tells us.

In his ‘Slam the brakes' comment piece, Yushaimi related how his ‘limits' were breached as far as racial or religious remarks were concerned after reading online comments which he thought (and no doubt were) bigoted about Malays and Islam after the samurai sword wielding duo and their ill-fated attack on Putrajaya.

Yushaimi may have to trawl the Net to discover his breaking point, but all readers have to do is read the local dailies to discover mine.

Yushaimi may dismiss racial or religious rhetoric from politicians as mere attempts to garner brownie points but I would think elected officials stirring up racial sentiment for the survival of their own political parties would be the more egregious sin than the most often anonymous commenters on the Internet.

If Yushaimi is concerned that Islam is getting a bad rep from acts of violence attributed to them, then perhaps he should condemn those who perpetuate the racist or bigoted acts that seem to go unnoticed by mainstream political/social commenters.

anti-lgbt rally in upm serdangWhen we have ‘undercover' journalists spitting out the holy sacrament and concocting lies about conversion, this gives Islam a bad name. When we have students rallying against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) citizens and other ‘ethnicities', this gives Islam a bad name.

When we have small business holders cooking beef burgers in front of a Hindu/Brahmin social activist's house, this gives Islam a bad name. When an elected representative opines that hudud law be implemented on non-Muslims, regardless of whether they agree or not, this gives Islam a bad name. When we have the home minister sitting with the ‘cow head' protesters (who were later charged with sedition and illegal assembly), this gives Islam a bad name.

These are just a few recent examples of how my limits have been breached by the forces of Islamic extremism in this country.

The Net is the last tenuous bastion of free speech. Since the mainstream press is unsuitable for whatever reasons for the general public to air their views in an open and sometimes racist/bigoted manner, then the only haven left is the anonymity of the Internet.

Yushaimi asks why the bashing on one segment of society?

The answer is simple. When ‘that' majority segment has been exposed to the racist and bigoted doctrines of the BTN (Biro Tatanegara) courses for example, do you blame the ‘other' segment for viewing ‘them' with hostility? When that majority ‘rights' are trumpeted by the ruling coalition and their counterparts as supreme to all ‘others', do you blame the minorities with viewing the majority with a cynical lens?

And this is the problem right here. When the discourse is confined to the online world or quiet religious forums (which sometimes gets disrupted by the defenders of the faith) nothing is going to change.

Maybe that's the plan. The only people who can change the way how Umno perpetuates Islam in this country are the political parties that claim they are an ‘alternative' to the current ruling coalition.

Grab the bulls by the horns

When we talk of the handout culture or how certain communities are demonised, what we are really talking about is a culture that is intimately entwined with the way Islam is practiced in this country.

Here, take a look at what Puteri Umno chief Rosnah Abd Rashid Shirlin said when giving her support to the proposed implementation of hudud law, "Muslims are obliged to support regardless of party, and refrain from making negative comments or say something that will stir up doubts."

This kind of thinking which has been cultivated by Umno to buttress any argument it makes when it comes to Malay ‘rights' or anything which threatens their hegemony should be actively discouraged within the Pakatan coalition.

Of course, Pakatan has a poor track record when it comes to dealing with internal dissent, Latheefa Koya's departure from MBPJ (Petaling Jaya City Council) for whatever reason is just the latest example in a slow burning issue of the way how Pakatan handles dissent.

Then we have cretins like Ridhuan Tee Abdullah who claims that as a Muslim he "has no choice" but to group himself with the Malays because constitutionally speaking the ‘Malays' are the ones who ‘profess' Islam.

NONEForget about the fact that the premise of who is a Malay is a loaded question as far as the constitution goes, but why the Umno sycophancy on Ridhuan's part? Surely identifying oneself as Malay does not automatically include being supportive of the policies Umno? Would not the Islamic impulses of PAS be a more appropriate avenue for Ridhuan (a Chinese Muslim) to express his own religious preoccupations? After all aren't they ‘Malay', too?

And when we get down to it, the discourse as far as Islam is concerned is dominated by the voices of those who ‘get angry', that their religion is not accepted by those who don't practise it. That's the ugly truth.

Like I said nobody wants to grab the bulls by the horns, certainly not Pakatan which can't afford to offend the sensibilities of its voting Muslim demographic, even though radical political and religious thinking or better yet policies is what is needed if we are to solve the ‘problems' that Umno is often blamed for.

Of course, ignoring deeper issues and concentrating on short-term communalist gains is what this election is all about for both sides of the divide. ‘Wait till the election is over and give Pakatan a chance' is what I keep hearing.

Maybe I would find it credible if there was some evidence that Pakatan intended to address the ‘Islamic' issue and all that it has wrought in some meaningful way, but as it is all I hear is the platitudes of the faithful that things will change when they come into power. Nobody wants any real constructive discussion on this issue with the election so close.

I have said my piace and won't be revisiting this issue any more but when the dust clears and things remain the same, with the way how the crescent is wielded here in Malaysia, ever a deleterious presence in our lives, I'll remain silent. After all, ‘I told you so' has always been a poor rejoinder.

S THAYAPARAN is commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.