Sticks and stones and what else can harm me

Raja Petra Kamarudin

When I was a kid, whenever anyone insulted us, we would sing, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words cannot harm me.” I am not sure though whether this is true anymore.

Indian Muslims have just announced they do not like being called Mamak. Two days ago, the Indian Muslims of Johore protested about the use of the word. They want to be called ‘Indian Muslims’. Imagine all these years the mainstream newspapers have been using this word. Just a couple of days ago there was a report in the media about the arrest of the Mamak Gang members. And our favourite eating place has always been the Mamak shop. How can we now tell our friend ‘meet you at the Indian Muslim shop’? It does not sound as appetising as, ‘meet you at the Mamak shop’.

Anyway, why, in the first place, must we call them ‘Indian Muslims’? Are Malays called ‘Malay Muslims’? Well, since we now have many Malay Christians, I suppose ‘Malay Muslims’ would be appropriate. Then we can call those Malays who have become Christians, ‘Malay Christians’. The Chinese would then be called ‘Chinese Taoists’, ‘Chinese Muslims’, ‘Chinese Christians’, ‘Chinese Buddhists’, and so on. Indians too would be further broken down into ‘Indian Hindus’ and ‘Indian Christians’.

Can you see how Malaysians would be further polarised and compartmentalised? How would this contribute to our Malaysianisation programme? The effort to create a Malaysian race would be frustrated.

Let us go back to calling everyone just plain ‘Malaysian’. Is this too difficult or do we insist that we must be Malaysian-Malay-Muslim, Malaysian-Malay-Christian, Malaysian-Chinese-Muslim, Malaysian-Chinese-Christian, and so on and so forth?

Talking about the Indian Muslims getting upset about being called ‘Mamak’, I remember some years back Tok Teng Sai, the then MCA Chief for Terengganu who was also the Kuala Terengganu State Assemblyman and Terengganu EXCO Member, telling me he is angry with PAS (Islamic Party of Malaysia) because it called the Chinese, in particular MCA members, ‘Kafir’. Imagine if I were to write here that the religious department is insensitive to Chinese feelings for writing in their kutbah (sermons) that those who are not Muslims are Kafir. The Mufti would probably call me Jahil (ignorant), ask me to taubat (repent), and point out that the Koran too uses this word so it is alright to use the word Kafir to describe non-Muslims. Well, Tok, I have news for you, the Umno Terengganu that you support also calls you ‘Kafir’.

Yes, not only can sticks and stones harm me, words can as well –- if you use the wrong word on a certain group of people.

While on the subject of words, Anwar Ibrahim gave an extremely rousing speech in Ipoh on Saturday night during Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s First Congress. He has clearly not lost his touch even after six years behind the high walls of the Sungai Buloh Prison. If he were to carry on like this for the next four years, Barisan Nasional is in for a tough time come the next general election.

The crowd turnout was also very impressive. More than 1,000 delegates attended the Congress with another 4,000 or so observers who came from all over the country in more than 100 buses. Anwar, whether one would like to admit it or not, is a crowd puller. Anwar’s performance is at its best when he has a responsive audience — and the larger the audience the better his performance.

In short, the crowd just loves to hear Anwar talk and Anwar just loves the crowds — they both feed on each other. As the Malays would say ‘bagai pinang dibelah dua’ or as the English saying goes ‘like two peas in a pod’.

The Congress went smoothly though there were contests for the Women’s Movement Chief’s post and the Deputy Presidency of the party. Understandably, there was some level of campaigning and a certain amount of slandering, which is quite normal in any political contest. But all, right down to the ahli biasa (normal member), knew that Anwar was rooting for certain candidates though the endorsement was not done openly.

When the result for the Deputy Presidency became known and Dr Syed Husin Ali beat his challenger Abdul Rahman Othman 794 to 261, one ‘normal’ member remarked, “What do you expect with Anwar’s backing?”

Most knew that Anwar was solidly behind Dr Syed and some felt that Anwar should have stayed above it all and not jumped into the fray. Anwar, of course, had his reasons for favouring Dr Syed above Abdul Rahman. Whether these reason are strong enough for Anwar to ‘soil his hands’ is a matter of opinion and the members are divided on this.

At the end of it all, it was very clear who was in charge and the party moved in the direction that Anwar wanted it to go. On a negative note, some may say that Anwar was interfering in party matters and not respecting the wishes of the members. But Anwar is, after all, the advisor to the party and it is not quite like he was an ‘outsider’. But what is the role of an advisor and did Anwar, as an advisor, overstep the boundaries?

I suppose the answer to this would all depend on whether you are in support of Dr Syed or Abdul Rahman.

One very noticeable thing was the usage of ‘chai’ in the campaigning. For those not too familiar with the term, a chai is a candidates’ list and is meant to ensure block voting. The effectiveness of such campaign methods was proven when all those who won were those on the chai that favoured Dr Syed Husin for Deputy President. For example, the chai listed Dr Syed Husin as Deputy and Azmin Ali, Dr Lee Boon Chye and Sivarasa Rasiah as the three candidates for Vice Presidents. All won, as did almost all those 20 candidates for Supreme Council Member.

In other words, if you were not in the ‘team’ or listed on the chai, then your chances of winning would be very slim.

This is politics and in politics campaigning is very natural, in fact, necessary. And there is nothing wrong in ‘teaming up’. But, as one ex-Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) leader commented, “This is so much like Umno.”