Malaysia’s Islamic fundamentalists, Christian threats & Freudian slips


One of the popular stories Slavoj Žižek tells is about a man who is suspected of stealing items from his factory. The police, in an effort to catch him in the act, decide to station themselves at the factory gate. At night, the man would come out with a wheel-barrow. When he reached the gate, the police would then stop him and inspect everything inside the barrow. But each time the man came out with a wheel-barrow, the police could never find anything. It’s only after a long time that the police realised their folly: the man was stealing wheel-barrows.

The subversive point of the story is that often we should suspect the framework and the formulation of a given problem. It is not what the barrow contains but the barrow itself.

Take the latest inter-religious fiasco in Malaysia. The Johor (state) Education department organises a teacher-training seminar with an over-extended and boring title which nevertheless raised the blood pressure of many non-Muslims because it included the phrase “the threat of Christianisation to Islam”. After a public outcry, this was ‘resolved’ by a simple title change. Now, it seems, Christianisation no longer threatens Islam, at least not in the title.

Of course, not everyone is happy.

Funny-mentalists like PEMBELA (Muslim Organisations in Defence of Islam) and PERKASA (Malay Nationalist Movement) decried the ‘cowardice’ of the change, demanding that Muslims in Malaysia have the constitutionally guaranteed right to organise events with such nasty names and that the seminar organisers should not have bowed to political pressure. The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) strongly requested that not just the name but the very content of the seminar must be amended such that any implication that Christianity was threatening Islam is removed. This was soon followed by Hasan Ali’s video-revelation of three Muslims who converted to Christianity then later re-converted back to Islam (this double-proselytisation being itself problematic, as Joshua Woo points out) and his claim that Christians have been exploiting the weakening faith of Muslims occasioned by society’s materialism and hedonism.

At the end of the day, some form of resolution has been found, which is not unlike the ‘resolution’ of the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) raid on the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) last year. In that case, ultimately the Sultan said that JAIS were right to conduct the raid but DUMC weren’t sufficiently wrong – go figure.

And yet the key questions of this incident remain:

Why did the Johor Education Department use the title at all? Was it not aware of the controversy it would raise?

Assuming – cautiously – that UMNO is not involved (especially in election season?) and – generously – that sheer stupidity and insensitivity is not at play here, why would a state body of such outstanding quality (if Helen Ang’s gushing holds water) commit such a boo-boo?

To revert to the wheel-barrow example about the importance of the frame itself, one answer is mildly plausible: Could it be that fundamentalist Muslims in the various Islamic organisations involved and the Johor Education Department require a constant element of fear as an integral part of that which constitutes its own faith?

Not unlike PEMBELA and PERKASA who can feel threatened by 5,000 copies of the Alkitab (the Bible in Malay language) coming in to the country, were the Johor seminar organisers doing nothing more than producing what they have believe – that other religions were up to no good?

In a word, are threats to fundamentalist faith something which such faith needs to include into itself?

You know how scorned lovers often lament about their loss of love, their rejection, how life is unfair, etc.? Is it not true that some of these folks, when pressed to discuss the reasons why their boy- or girlfriend has left them, nevertheless adopt an attitude of not wanting to know? They would choose ignorance because the very act of being depressed is ‘enjoyable’ in itself, a form of enjoyment which would be diminished should the truth come to light (that, say, the relationship had lost its romance or that one’s girlfriend couldn’t stand one’s constant bickering, etc.). Such people simply cannot take the loss of enjoyment which comes from more understanding; they prefer to continue bemoaning and weeping over their lost love.