A meditation about the common bond of life and how it relates to the recent tussle for ownership of the word ‘Allah’. This is an essay in three parts which will be published over three consecutive days. Comments may only be made on the third instalment. This second segment deals with deconstructing the mind of those that demand ownership of the word ‘Allah’, a consideration of a crucial part of our nation’s history and a critical assessment of the government’s attempts to defuse the situation.
When we apply this thought process to deconstructing the demands of those Muslims who claim the exclusive right to use the word ‘Allah’ and those that attacked the churches and mosques we will discover a deep, underlying fear and dysfunction. While the government’s actions to prosecute those attackers are good because injustice and terror should never be tolerated, that is just the legal and superficial level. To be meaningful, the government must address the deeper psychological, spiritual and emotional issues that drive those actions that are borne out of a fear of life which in turn breeds distrust, contempt, hatred, ignorance and an intense narcissism.
These elements can be seen in the attitude of those Muslims that insist on the sole right to use the word ‘Allah’. We see their painful ignorance of the very religious heritage they claim to love and protect. They have forgotten that Islam shares many of the same Christian and Jewish prophets. That the Bible and the Torah are mentioned approvingly in the Quran. They are ignorant of the fact that all three of these great faiths find their point of origin in Prophet Abraham. We see their narcissism when Muslims all over the world, even the Arab nations, have no problem with others using the word ‘Allah’ and even encourage it. We see their distrust when they spew rubbish like using the word ‘Allah’ will confuse the Muslims into converting out of Islam forgetting that words are used within a context. Any self-respecting Muslim who leaves Islam for Christianity simply because a Christian uses that word is a moron and does not deserve to call himself a Muslim, or even a Christian. We see their contempt and hatred in the fire which they inflicted on the churches.
Amidst this their fear and insecurity stands out like a bright full moon. The fear and insecurity reeks in their words, it stinks in their actions and nauseates in their hateful demeanour. They should be pitied if they were not so contemptuous and violent in their expressions.
But we do not have an appropriate solution at the moment because the people in the influential circles of our government are not sophisticated, not sensitive (and by this I do not mean merely ignoring the issue but acutely feeling and understanding the issue), not intelligent and honest enough and worse, not spiritually attuned enough to create a constructive environment to enable us to engage about these issues in society.
Their best solution is to have a closed door discussion with those people who think they represent those segments of society that have an interest.
In doing so, they show how intellectually shallow and spiritually bankrupt they are in trying to foster reconciliation. All of society must be engaged because those representatives do not speak for all of us. They only speak for some of them at best and for themselves at worse. They certainly do not speak for me.
On our own personal beliefs, which are a matter of immense fundamental personal importance, all of us need to be engaged. How can any of you, or a non-governmental organization, speak meaningfully about the deepest depths of my soul? How can you hope to engage my very soul in a board room with microphones, fluorescent lights, and political interests, set up with the expectation of a compromise? How can you possibly elucidate and explain my most intimate moments when I feel I am engaging with my conception of Allah when not just I have trouble doing so, but the greatest of poets and artists for centuries have struggled to do so? When we are called to account for ourselves before Him for our sins and failures, are we going to refer to that NGO-government dialogue where a compromise was reached? Is that what it says in our holy books? I dare not undertake for even one of you because sometimes I don’t know whether I can do it for myself, in the truest sense of the word.
The solution is not in the end product of discussion but in the process of constructive engagement that can and should never end.
This is why I feel the government’s and most of the other approaches I have heard to this religious conundrum is misguided with the potential to aggravate and exacerbate this exclusive claim to the word ‘Allah’.
The approach they have taken has no solution in sight, only mutual annihilation. It is one thing to talk but do they know what they are talking about? If they are going to talk, they have to also understand that many wrong things can be said when they talk especially on the issue of religion which is so open to misunderstanding, misapprehension and the unleashing of great violent passions.
The government is also wrong to think that this religious conundrum can be compartmentalized and dealt with by itself. It is wrong in thinking that this conundrum has nothing to do with the wanton corruption, reckless and politically self-serving policies that they have inflicted upon the rakyat and our country.
The claim for exclusivity on the use of the word ‘Allah’ is not the yearnings of Islam. They are the clamour and cries of insecurity and the manifestation of a deep seated inferiority complex by the political Malay. It is the cry that finds its root in spiritual posturing, cultural confusion and a fear of anything that he feels is a threat to him. And from the sound of it, just about everything is threatening.
But what can we expect from the political Malay after first being caricaturized as lazy and intellectually uninspiring natives by the British? And what can we expect when for the next 50 years, the Malays are constantly told and reminded of their genetic inferiority by a great influence on their thinking, told that they cannot compete with the non-Malays and still need quotas to flourish, told that they have to be more entrepreneurial, more Muslim, more local, more global, more glocal, more creative, more competitive, more efficient, more creative, more Muslim, more this, more that, look East, sent West, in their bid to fracture our society to maintain political hegemony. It is enough to drive anybody crazy. And it has. The government in constantly telling, reminding, cajoling, threatening and exhorting the Malays to be this or that has confused them to the point that they have lost their sense of identity, are psychologically damaged and are now struggling to define themselves.
The government and UMNO must own up to the fact that they are at fault.
They must accept that their attempts to maintain political hegemony and survival are entirely colonial in nature. Some Malays appear to have forgotten that UMNO stands for ‘United Malay National Organization, its acronym in English. Therefore on a literal level, UMNO is not Malay. On a metaphorical level, that UMNO is the acronym in English indicates the transference of the colonial master mindset of the British to the political Malay in the form of UMNO.
What UMNO has done in this last 50 years is not to undo the damaging racial discrimination between all of us but has continued and intensified the colonial legacy of divide and rule. In fact, they have outdone the British because we are now discriminated on just about every ground – gender, religious beliefs, age, class, material possessions – on a political level.
That we stand on the very edge of a religious outbreak and chaos is the culmination of continuing the British colonial policy of divide and rule by UMNO. That is why for me the country’s most crucial turning point was actually not even over the last 50 years. It was earlier.
That most crucial turning point was during the UMNO election between Onn Jaafar and Tunku Abdul Rahman. For those that don’t remember, Onn Jaafar, even before Merdeka called for non-Malays to be a part of UMNO and ran on that platform. He wanted the M in UMNO to stand for ‘Malayans’ not ‘Malays’. Tunku Abdul Rahman did not. Onn Jaafar, of course, lost, left and set up the Independence of Malaya Party. Tunku Abdul Rahman won and here we are today.
I am not saying that Tunku Abdul Rahman or any of the Prime Ministers we had prior to Tun Razak were mala fides or had in their minds to preserve the colonial mentality. They were just not as far sighted and sensitive as Onn Jaafar. The more I contemplate what he did, the more I realize just how unimaginably far-sighted and brilliant he was but also unmentionably brave he was. He proposed this at the height of not just nationalism but Malay Nationalism. His vision transcended the racial divisions of the time and ironically has greater relevance today. And for me, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) is not what Onn Jaafar envisaged.
But then the stakes were not so high then and for all the good of Tunku Abdul Rahman, he was blessed with good common sense but not a powerful intellect. Common sense is sufficient for today but a powerful intellect is necessary for tomorrow (and a sensitive one for yesterday). It is unfair to lay the blame on him because at the end of the day he was a good sensible man. The blame cannot be laid on the UMNO members at the time either for the same reason as it cannot be laid on Tunku Abdul Rahman.
Human beings are not especially known for their far sightedness, we are biologically wired for short term survival. Only the rare among us are blessed with the foresight and courage of Onn Jaafar. We have to treat that moment merely as an understandable mistake of having made the wrong decision at one of the most crucial moments in our lives. And that is a mistake all of us can identify with.
Who among us has not made that fateful decision that put our entire life into a tailspin?