Welcome to Talibanaysia?

All about Malaysian society

fairplay
Welcome to Talibanaysia?
Farish A Noor


There was, not too long ago, a time when I could safely say to myself: 
“Well, no matter how bad things are here in Malaysia, thank God we don’t 
live in a country like Afghanistan when it was under the control of the 
Taliban.”

But life has a way of ripping apart your illusions in the most brutal 
manner, and we are reminded as we grow older that adults are not allowed 
to entertain the sweet delusions of youth for too long.

Just when we thought that we had seen the back of the tide of radical 
religio-politics of the 1970s and 1980s, there came a string of 
embarrassing blunders to remind us that we, too, have our fair share of 
wannabe-Talibans right here in Malaysia.

In 2000, we were treated to the Islamiah Aqidah Protection Bill of 
Perlis, that proposed – among other things – that Muslims found guilty 
of ‘deviant’ and ‘un-Islamic’ behaviour be sent to so-called ‘faith 
rehabilitation centres’ so that their interpretation and practice of 
faith could be somehow ‘corrected’ by the religious ideologues of the 
state. (Those who failed to conform faced the prospect of being declared 
‘non-Muslim’, and by virtue of being declared as such would immediately 
lose some of their rights.)

Then we were fed a steady diet of nonsensical non-issues dressed up as 
religious controversies, ranging from the attack on independent 
academics, writers and activists by right-wing pressure groups like PUM 
and Teras in 2002. (Which was, incidentally, supported by PAS as well as 
some of the ever-so-liberal ‘reformists’ of Keadilan.)

Later in 2003 and 2004 the demagogues of Umno, not to be outdone, tried 
their best to show that they too could police the discourse of Islam by 
trying to criminalise differences of opinion, such as the pathetic 
attempt to demonise a lone blogger whose comments posted on an 
independent blogsite was said to be ever-so-offensive to some.

Despite the talk of ‘Islam Hadhari’ and the attempts to promote the 
agenda of ‘progressive, moderate Islam’ here in Malaysia, it should be 
painfully obvious to all by now that there remain very real repressive 
undercurrents in Malaysian society. This is particularly true for the 
Malay-Muslims of Malaysia, who are forced to live under the constant 
threat of a myriad of
increasingly repressive, intrusive and constricting laws governing their 
practice, understanding and expression of normative Islam.

The latest proof of this gradual slide towards an increasingly nasty 
brand of authoritarian social policing came last Thursday, when about 
100 Malay-Muslim citizens were rounded up by ‘moral guardians’ said to 
be working for Jawi (Jabatan Agama Islam Wilayah Persekutuan) at a 
nightspot in Kuala Lumpur.

According to the testimony of some of those arrested, the Jawi officials 
were ‘overzealous’, ‘abusive’, ‘rude’ and behaved ‘like thugs’ in a 
‘high-handed manner’.

Dehumanising and degrading

The manner in which the raid was carried out deserves to be repeated 
here, as the details provide us with a glimpse into the not-so-pretty 
collective Malaysian psyche: ‘At around 12.55 am a group of about 50 
people dressed in plain clothes entered the club. Some of them wore 
uniforms with the word Jawi on them. The officials then ordered the 
music to be turned off, and then segregated the crowd. Then, apparently, 
‘an announcement over the club’s PA system instructed the non-Muslims to 
proceed to another part of the club ‘to enjoy themselves’ while the 
rest, about 100 Muslims, were told to form two separate groups, men and 
women.’ (Sunday Mail, Jan 23).

What happened next can only be described as dehumanising and degrading: 
Our fellow Malaysian citizens were ordered to crouch down on the ground, 
then herded together into a caged space in a lorry and then driven off 
to a detention centre at the Jawi headquarters. Some of those arrested 
claimed that the driver of the lorry drove recklessly, despite the 
screams of panic and fear of those locked in the cage. Once at the Jawi 
headquarters, the men and women were locked in cells, some of which were 
so small that ‘they were forced to stand throughout their six to 10-hour 
ordeal.’

To get an glimpse into the mindset of these so-called ‘moral guardians’, 
the testimonies of the victims are again relevant: ‘The officers were 
only paying attention to the girls’, according to some of those 
detained. The women were said to have been exposed to verbal abuse and 
humiliation, and some were even asked to ‘twirl’ around in front of the 
so-called ‘moral guardians’ so that the latter could get a better look 
at them, thus able to ‘assess’ if the girls were ‘improperly dressed’.

Among the highlights of the evening was one girl being forced to urinate 
in her clothes because she was denied access to the toilet; another girl 
asked to lower her handbag (which she used to cover her chest) so that 
the officials could have a better look at her nipples; and another 
female student being asked by the so-called ‘moral guardians’ if she had 
her genitals pierced.

It seemed as if these ‘moral guardians’ could only think of sex in the 
course of their moral policing! One is then compelled to ask: whatever 
happened to the Quranic injunction for men to lower their gaze and guard 
their own modesty?

It is reported that some of the victims felt so thoroughly humiliated 
and abused that they felt they had ‘been soured against their own 
religion’. So much for Malaysia’s promotion of the long-awaited project 
of ‘progressive, moderate’ Islam Hadhari. If this is the sort of 
behaviour we should expect from the ‘defenders of Islam’ in Malaysia, 
then the Malaysian electorate might as well have voted for PAS at the 
previous elections!

Rise of authoritarianism

The goings-on that took place on the night of Jan 13-14 should remind 
all of us that despite the superficial changes in terms of official 
rhetoric and despite Malaysia’s new-found status as a ‘moderate Muslim 
state’ by none other than the neo-con establishment of Washington, 
things have not really changed here.

Furthermore, it should alert all Malaysians that what is being done in 
the name of ‘safeguarding Islam’ has serious repercussions for the 
future of Malaysia; the status of all Malaysian citizens – be they 
Muslims or non-Muslims; Malaysia’s international image and standing, and 
its own credibility as a supposed ‘bastion of moderate Islamism at 
work’. It raises some difficult, embarrassing and even painful questions 
that we – the citizens of Malaysia – have to ask ourselves, openly and 
honestly. (But more of that later.)

Before we even begin to solve this problem – namely, of the growing tide 
of religio-political authoritarianism and intolerance in Malaysia – we 
need to understand the nature of the problem itself. This problem has a 
name, and its name is fascism.

‘Fascism’, in case we have forgotten, is not some nasty thing in the 
past dreamt of by German and Italian right-wingers wearing silly 
oversized boots and monocles. As an ideology as well as a mode of 
political conduct, it is characterised by several salient essentials:

    1. The valorisation of power, force and violence as a means to 
achieve political ends;

    2. The use of a defensive, parochial and introverted rhetoric that 
constantly warns of ‘dangers and threats’ to the community;

    3. The active cultivation of a culture of fear, paranoia and 
prejudice that presents difference and alterity as threats to the 
cohesion of the whole;

    4. The wilful and deliberate identification of ‘Other’ groups 
(religious, ethnic, racial and gender communities usually) as ‘external 
threats’ and ‘contaminating’ influences that need to be guarded against; 
and,

    5. The tendency to promote and foreground a singular, simplistic 
understanding of unity predicated on an oppositional dialectics that 
sees others in negative terms to be opposed, fought against and defeated.


It is for this reason that ‘fascism’ or fascistic tendencies can be 
found practically everywhere in the world, among right-wing groups: Be 
they the neo-con militarists who currently hold power in Washington, 
extremist Hindu fundamentalists and Aryan racial supremacists in India, 
to the Taliban and neo-Salafi/Wahhabi elites in the Muslim world. All 
these groups share a similar worldview and value system, and the 
expression of their fascistic inclinations is often the same, 
manifesting itself in terms of violent moral police, hounding campaigns 
and witch-hunts against their enemies, demonising their enemies as 
‘deviant, corrupt, evil,’ etc.

Hot-headed thugs

Here in Malaysia, the first signs of the rise of authoritarianism could 
be found in the dominant political culture of the state itself. By the 
1970s, the authoritarian political culture of Malaysia gave birth to 
local oppositional groups that were likewise mirror-reflections of the 
authoritarian culture they opposed: On the campuses of Malaysia there 
emerged right-wing Malay-Muslim student groups who claimed to be 
‘Islamist activists’, but who were really more concerned about isolating 
the Malay-Muslims from the rest of the student body and to police their 
fellow Muslims instead.

It was during this period that hot-headed thugs (like Ibrahim Ali and 
other Malay student leaders) began their campaign to ‘police’ student 
campus life, to the point of breaking into campus dormitories and 
checking on their fellow Malay-Muslim students, in order to make sure 
that they were ‘behaving properly’.

Today, the logic of popular authoritarianism has come full circle, with 
the state playing a role it has no business playing: namely, policing 
the values, beliefs and private lives of ordinary Malaysians. Across the 
spectrum we have seen groups from PUM to Teras to PAS to Umno trying to 
police the behaviour, thoughts and lifestyles of Malay-Muslims, 
ostensibly in the name of ‘defending Islam’.

Academics, writers, activists and now ordinary kids going out for a good 
time have become their victims. There have been attempts to criminalise 
differences of opinion in Islam, attempts to demonise Muslim womens’ 
groups (like Sisters in Islam), demonise Muslim gays/lesbians, etc.

The latest addition to this gamut of repressive laws and instruments of 
state is Malacca Chief Minister Mohammad Ali Rustam’s suggestion that 
the Malacca 4B Youth Movement should be called upon to help ‘spy’ on 
Malaysian Muslims, and to police their private lives- again in the name 
of defending the good name and honour of Islam.

Never has ‘Islam’ been so sullied by those who simply wish to expand and 
increase their own share of power!

Thirst for power

The bottom line is that all these so-called ‘moral campaigns’ are 
nothing more than an exercise of expanding the power of the state and 
the powers-that-be. Despite the claims that these groups wish to police 
the morality of the public for the sake of ‘common decency’, there is 
and has
never been anything moral or decent about such self-appointed social 
guardians in the first place.

The policing of the private lives of citizens, as George Orwell has 
pointed out, is the first step towards the encroachment of the state 
into the private lives of everyone. Behind the slogan of ‘Islam in 
danger!’ we have witnessed the rise of so many authoritarian movements, 
from the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Ahle Hadith, Laskar Taiba/Jamaat’ul 
Dawa in Pakistan to groups like the Laskar Jihad, Fron Pembela Islam and 
Majlis Mujahideen Indonesia in Indonesia.

It is important to note that if and when such ‘moral campaigns’ get off 
the ground, it is always the weakest, most marginal and disenfranchised 
sections of society who have to pay the human costs: gender minorities, 
kids, racial/ethnic minorities, the poor and unemployed, etc.

It is interesting to note that in some of the reports on the incident 
that took place in Kuala Lumpur, one of the Muslim youths was allowed to 
get away, ostensibly because he was well-connected socially. So here 
already we find the first contradiction in the exercise: that there are 
two standards of morality, namely one for the rich and one for the poor 
and ordinary!

Wake up, wake up

For too long, Muslims and non-Muslims alike have been cowed into a state 
of fear and submission by these authoritarian bullies who claim that 
they alone have the right to interpret what is the ‘right’ version of 
Islam and to impose their vision of the faith on the rest of society. In 
some cases, the outcome has been the suffering, even deaths, of innocents.

One such case was the instance when the moral police of an Arab country 
chose to lock the gates of a girls dormitory that had caught fire, on 
the grounds that some of the girls should not be allowed to escape as 
they were not ‘decently dressed’ and had not covered their heads with 
scarves. The end result was the deaths of these young girls – but the 
‘moral police’ would presumably have defended their actions by saying 
that the girls who died had ‘gone to heaven’ as their modesty was not 
compromised!

Are we, the Malaysian public, in store for such developments as well? 
This country, whose leadership prides itself as being a model of 
‘moderate, progressive’ Islam is now forced to look itself squarely in 
the face and ask the question: How much longer must we tolerate the 
flagrant infringement of our rights and private space?

The present political leadership was voted into power last year with 
such an overwhelming show of support, precisely because the Malaysian 
public was fed up with the brand of theocratic absolutism, bordering on 
the medieval, offered by the opposition.

Is this what the Malaysian public voted for? Or can we, as a nation, 
show the courage and political conviction that is needed to say once and 
for all: We will no longer tolerate the abuse of religion – any religion 
for that matter – for political ends, and that we will no longer be 
treated like children, herded and bullied about, by demagogues?

Above all, we must remember this simply yet vital truth: Any attack on 
any section of Malaysian society (whatever their racial, ethnic, 
linguistic, gender or cultural background) is an attack on Malaysian 
society as a whole. When one Malaysian citizen has his or her rights 
infringed, threatened or abused, we – all of us – are the shared victims 
of that abuse. We need to realise this now, more than ever. In the words 
of the American film director Spike Lee: “Wake up. Please, wake up.”
                                            
Khor
and in the words of Chi McBride
girl u talk alot of shit...
                                            
datukbendahara69yahoocom
I can't agree more than that about this Farish's writing.
                                            
Pan
How about detailing what you disagree with and why, instead of
top-posting on top of the entire article?

Michael

If you would like to send a private email to me, please take out the TRASH, so to speak. Please do not email me something which you also posted.
                                            
Khor
michael or pan?
are u the same person?
anyway,
well i dunno wanna sound racists
malaysian live in a very fragile level of integrity
or what our previous PM would say "we live by tolerating each other"

sparking racial sentiments is not good...
like one minister in malaysian cabinet would say "Jangan Main Api"
meaning dont play with fire...or be thrown into ISA

but i give u a clue about the sitaution
"with great powers come great responsibilities"
                                            
d1818hotmailcom
The one from Penang is michael.
PAN from New York is Michael.

2 different persons. :)

regards,
michael ... [email protected]
                                            
Pan
Why are you asking that?


In other words, you're calling it "shit" because you'd rather these
kinds of things never be talked about, no because you claim they're
not true. Not good.

Michael

If you would like to send a private email to me, please take out the TRASH, so to speak. Please do not email me something which you also posted.
                                            
Paladin
dude like your signature says
take your trash out first