Politics, religion and the art of marketing

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Last week, I closed down the ISLAMIC DEBATE blog. After tolerating it for a couple of months I have come to the conclusion that the so-called debates are not really debates at all and were doing more harm than good. Malaysians in general just do not know how to debate. Malaysians’ idea of debating is running down your opponent and resorting to name calling.

On Monday, I floated a new article in my MONDAY MORNING BLUES column called ‘I am a Malaysian and you better believe it’. The next day, I floated ‘Islam is wonderful, but I can’t stand the Muslims’ in my LOONY MALAYSIA column.

Both articles are provocative and were meant to attract strong responses from Malaysia Today’s readers. And I suspected the responses would be hot laced with outrage. Lo and behold, how right I was. And for the first time both Malays and non-Malays and Muslims and non-Muslims alike were united in opposition to the articles. I suppose there is a way, after all, to unite Malaysians of different ethnic backgrounds and religious persuasions.

Now, while on this subject, why must we use the term Malay, non-Malay and Muslim, non-Muslim? Even I use these terms because this seems to be the only terminology I can use to get my message through.

Do Christians say Christians, non-Christians? Do Hindus say Hindu, non-Hindu? Do Buddhists say Buddhists, non-Buddhist? For that matter, do atheists say freethinker, non-freethinker? Why do Muslims say Muslim, non-Muslim? What we are saying tantamount to: Muslims are the benchmark and all others are below this benchmark, meaning inferior to Muslims.

I know, I know, now you are going to quote verses from the Koran to explain and defend your use of this terminology and if I were to say ‘please don’t quote these verses’ you will in indignation ask me why I am so revolted by the Koran and whether I am really a Muslim or not.

I am not disputing the Koran. But if you start quoting verses, others will quote other verses and it will become a theological debate which we know can never end because even Muslims cannot fully agree on the interpretation of these verses, let alone between Muslims and non-Muslims (there I go again; Muslims, non-Muslims).

Since the 1940s, Malaysia has always been divided along racial and religious lines. This has been Umno’s, MCA’s and MIC’s strategy and is a throwback of the very successful British ‘divide and rule’ agenda. Umno, MCA and MIC were not only set up with the blessings of the British but the British were actually behind the move to set up Malayan political parties so that Malaya could eventually be given independence like India and the other British colonies but then still controlled and British business interests protected.

In fact, it was all about money as evident in the ‘Emergency’. When Chin Peng’s Malayan Communist Party waged war on the British-backed Malayan government, the British refused to call it a war but an emergency. If the British called it a war, then in the event any British property was destroyed, the insurance would not cover the loss. In an ‘emergency’, their insurance policy was still valid so they would suffer no loss.

The British made it a condition that before independence for Malaya could be considered the Malays, Chinese and Indians must come together and unite under one banner. So these three race-based parties merged under the banner of the Alliance Party, a coalition of three parties that still retained their independence and own identities. This was not similar to the merger between Parti Keadilan Nasional and Party Rakyat Malaysia that saw the birth of Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

The British allowed the Alliance Party to go round the country campaigning for independence. It of course looked like the Alliance Party was fighting (berjuang) for independence, but in reality it was just a sandiwara (stage play) aimed at mobilising the people under the Alliance. There were many other political parties in existence as well then and the British were worried that Malayans might unite under one of these other parties instead of the Alliance Party. While the Alliance leaders were free to slam the British and make seditious anti-British statements, all those from the other political parties who did the same were rounded up and detained under the predecessor of the Internal Security Act, the Emergency Ordinance.

This story was related to me by Datuk Ishak, better known as Datuk Andika, from Kuala Terengganu who just recently passed on at the age of 100 (I think). Datuk Andika was then the Assistant District Officer (ADO) of Dungun and invariably the District Officer (DO) was a Brit.

When Tunku Rahman and Tun Razak visited Kuantan on their round-Malaya road-show, the DO asked Datuk Andika to go to Kuantan to participate in the Umno Independence Rally. The DO gave Datuk Andika one week’s leave and some money to cover his travelling expenses to Kuantan. Then, it took days to travel from Kuala Terengganu to Kuantan due to the numerous ferries — there were no bridges then.

Datuk Andika returned to Dungun to form the first Umno Division with him as the Division Chief. Eventually, Umno spread throughout the whole state of Terengganu. You could say that the de facto advisor to Umno Terengganu was the British DO who encouraged Datuk Andika to spread the independence mood throughout the state and get the people behind Umno in the pursuit of independence.

The British grand design was very successful indeed and until today, almost 60 years later, Malaysians are still compartmentalised into Malays, non-Malays, and Muslims, non-Muslims. (Why must Chinese and Indians be ‘non-Malays’ and not instead Malays be ‘non-Indians’ or non-Chinese’?). And over the 60 years we have seen many race riots and religious conflicts erupt one time or another. And Malays resent the idea of removing the race label and replacing it with simply a Malaysian label. And they will quote verses from the Koran to support this hard-line stand as if they are saying to question this would be to question God Himself.

The British knew they could manipulate the simple-minded Malays to their advantage. The Malays of today are of course more educated than those of the 1940s and 1950s. However, educated as they may be, the 1940s and 1950s mentality remains, as the postings and comments in Malaysia Today can show. You can take the Malay out of the kampong, but you cannot take the kampong out of the Malay. And this is the sad reality. And this is very successfully perpetuated by Umno and Barisan Nasional.

This is what one of the bloggers who goes by the pseudonym of Pintu Gate posted:

“Malays were universally seen as indolent and slothful and of no productive use whatsoever. Sir Frank A. Swettenham, a self-professed expert on “the Malay” went so far as to say “the leading characteristic of the Malay of every class is a disinclination to work…the Malay has no stomach for really hard and continuous work, either of the brain or the hands…” (Swettenham in Birch, pp 195-196).”

About 20 years or so ago, I visited a friend in the UK and he showed me a 1920s copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. The explanation of Malay was ‘a short, curly-haired, lazy, brown-skinned race that practice a deviant form of Islam’.

Both Swettenham and the Oxford English Dictionary were certainly most unkind but this was their perception of the Malays then. But was it only then and is it mere perception? This, the Malays must ask themselves and be honest about it.

When we say Malays and Muslims must think and use logic, this attracts hostile responses. They immediately brand those who ask Muslims to think as deviants and heretics as if thinking goes against God’s wishes and the Koran.

This is what Bluemoon, another blogger, has to say about using logic: Kalau ayat-ayat Quran dah tak boleh dibuat panduan, nak jadi apa pada orang Islam? Adakah nak menggunakan hujah akal semata mata?

When another blogger, ProArte, said, “We will get somewhere if we concentrate on common universal religious and humanistic moral values.”

The response from Perakman was, “…what kind of religion is that? Is it Islam plus Christianity plus Buddhism plus Hinduism?”

Anyone who does not agree with my view of Islam is the enemy, is the stand the Malays take. And Muslims must never ally themselves with people of other religions (I am trying hard not to use the word ‘non-Muslim’). And this Perakman defends by quoting the following verse from the Koran:

(Al-Ma’idah 5.51) “O believers, do not hold Jews and Christians as your allies. They are allies of one another; and anyone who makes them his friends is surely one of them; and God does not guide the unjust.”

What Perakman is saying: if Muslims ally themselves with non-Muslims, then they will become non-Muslims. And he is saying it is not he that is saying this but God.

Bluemoon then takes Malaysia Today to task for what he says is allowing bloggers to bash Islam.

“Peter can’t stand the Muslims but he can stand all the Islam bashing on this blog — e.g. Islam is outdated 1500 years ago, Islamic laws are backward not suitable for the world today, etc. The problem is, Muslims today do not follow the true teaching of Islam,” says Bluemoon.

Bluemoon, however, does not offer any explanation on what he means by ‘the true teaching of Islam’ and what is it that is not ‘true’ any longer today. And this Pintu Gate has challenged Muslims into explaining but no one seems able to do so. Of course, they do cut-and-paste many verses from the Koran but they leave it hanging, they do not explain the application of these verses and in what way it satisfies this question.

Then Pintu Gate says, “You guys are unbelievable! How can you say Islam is good but “what make Islam look bad are people and politics.” Name me one country where Islam has been an example? Name me one!”

No one has come forward to reply to this — other than just saying Islam is good, we must implement Islam, this is what the Koran says we must so, so there! End of discussion!

Hang Jebat is more reasonable and pragmatic and this is what he had to say:

“Why do you laugh at Pintu Gate? If people say bad things about you, then see whether they are right. If they are, then do something about it. My father also agrees with the definition of Malay.”

“You know, my mother is also Malay so it is not easy for my father to say like that. I don’t like it also when someone says something like that about my race but also I have to think if what they are saying is true or not so that I can try to change for the better. So please don’t make yourself look like a no good Malay.”

“This Pintu Gate is funny. My mother says he makes her laugh. But if she meets him by accident she will punch his nose and pull his hair. I don’t know why she says something like that.”

Understandably, Pintu Gate does not see the fine points of Islam and he is challenging the Malays to convince him otherwise.

“Yes, I have been living in an extremely civilized society with intellectual and mental capacity to discuss anything in an intelligence manner,” says Pintu Gate. “Not in MALAYSIA. I have to insult them to get a response. I do not have to do that where I live. Do you know what shock therapy is? If you don’t, then arrange yourself to see the administration of this treatment in the local mental ward to get an idea what it is all about.”

“So I say again, what kind of GOD forsaken ISLAM is being preached by Perakman and his kind in Malaysia? That is NOT the ISLAM of the KORAN. I will DEFEND the truth wherever it is found. ISLAM in Malaysia is scam. It is political motivated to maintain power. This is true of PAS and UNMO. They are the same beast; using one another for their own gain. Tell me, how do you justify ISA in Islam? How do you justify NEP in Islam? If you can’t justify it then GET OUT OF MY FACE! Don’t call yourself a Muslim or even suggest that Malaysia is an embodiment of ISLAM.”

Well, there you have it. As much as I dislike Pintu Gate’s abrasive manner, I have no choice but to reluctantly agree with him. The Malays are giving Islam a bad name. The Malays do not really know what Islam is all about. And the Malays are incapable of indulging in matured, intellectual debate or expertly debate issues to defend their position.

The Malays’ only tactic is to throw the Koran at you and ask you to read it and follow it or else God will send you to hell.

Barisan Nasional (BN) is in power. They have been so since independence, though earlier under the Alliance coalition, the forerunner to BN. The opposition Barisan Alternatif (BA), or whatever is left of it, is hoping its fortunes can change. 1999 was the heyday for the opposition. Last year it was in the pits. Can it recapture the glory days of 1999, or better that, or will it go downhill even further as we go along?

This is the billion dollar question — what it cost BN to win the general election.

Until the PAS Islamists, the DAP secularists, and the non-race based PKR can come to terms with their differences, BN will continue to be in power and forming an alternative government is a mimpi di siang hari (day dreaming).

And as long as the Malay Muslims see racial integration as unIslamic, that is how long the opposition will remain an insignificant opposition.

PAS is not a missionary (dakwah) movement. It is a political party. If it wishes to propagate Islam then it should get out of politics and go fulltime into doing dakwah work. I am not saying that propagating religion is wrong. In fact, it is good that Islam is explained for we certainly agree that Islam is suffering from extremely bad PR since 911 and much needs to be done to repair Islam’s image.

But this is not PAS’ job. This is the job of the missionaries and scholars. PAS should focus on winning the elections and it will never do so the way it is currently going.

Today, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in his address to the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) said, Muslims should work to correct the world’s “ignorant and extremely damaging perception” that their countries support terrorism and militancy.

“It is our duty to demonstrate, by word and by action, that a Muslim country can be modern, democratic, tolerant and economically competitive,” Abdullah said. “We need to close the great divide that has been created between the Muslim world and the West. In embarking on this crucial mission, we must guard against extreme motivations or extremist elements.”

With this stand, expect BN to remain in power for a long time to come. And with what our bloggers are saying in Malaysia Today, expect the opposition’s fortunes to continue sliding until we just fade away into oblivion.

Of course, we cannot rule out that some of these bloggers could be agent provocateurs or members of Umno Youth’s cyber-team that was set up to sabotage websites such as Malaysia Today. They could be sipping their beer behind those computer monitors of theirs and engaging Malaysia Today readers in ‘Islamic debates’ in between surfing porn websites. Their purpose is not to construct but to destruct. So we have to be wary of who these people are. Are they sincere in wanting to implement Islam to the letter as laid down in the Koran?

Sometimes I wonder!

Let me relate a real life situation.

Putrajaya has about 5000 voters, mostly all Muslims and civil servants. The Umno candidate is a man of…well…known reputation. In fact, he is a fake and not even a real Tengku. The Keadilan candidate, Abdul Rahman Othman, strongly backed by PAS and by no less than its president who went there personally to endorse him, not only lost but lost his deposit as well.

Why did the predominantly Malay-Muslim electorate not support the opposition candidate?

Simple! And this was explained by many of the voters themselves: they were scared of losing their jobs and they felt that the government would know who they voted for so they dared not take the risk though they despised the corrupt Umno candidate and felt that Abdul Rahman is a pious man.

If you read some of the postings in Malaysia Today it appears like the Malays firmly stand by the Koran and refuse to ‘compromise their Islamic principles’ by accepting non-Muslims as equal. If you were to suggest that we adopt racial integration they will scream and shout that this is unIslamic and cannot be accepted. They will even quote verses from the Koran to defend this view.

But when it comes between losing their jobs and doing the right thing, they choose their jobs first.

Bikin tak serupa cakap!