Retitled from A Melancholy Year because of a by-election, this first came online in January. It is the second, concluding essay on Anwar Ibrahim, the tormented Malay soul, the Allah word, and a place called Kerling in Middle Malaysia. First part is here.
Postscript summary Jan 20
Because the essay is long and is in narrative form, below is the concluding summary:
- Anwarisma, Anwar’s fascism, gave Islam to Umno and made the latter representative of the religion and of the Malays. Numerous parties in Umno’s periphery, Gerakan and MIC notably, are floundering post March 2008 but Umno has survived. Islam is insulating Umno and, hence, a repulsive regime.
- As Anwar did for Umno by bringing political Islam into the party, he brings in Christianity today into opposition against Umno, Islam’s representative. Without having to do more, Umno will be strengthened by Anwar’s strategy. And the polarizing and confrontational consequences of Malay/Islam versus the Rest of Malaysia are too hideous to contemplate.
- The Allah issue widens Anwar’s political support base which is no longer up against Barisan Nasional but Umno alone. It used to be multiracial BN against radical fringes, primarily the Left and Islam. The sleeves of Malaysian political history are today turned inside out. Coagulating at Anwar’s band of Islamofacists and the radical Left, are the DAP Chinese and Indians (about 12 percent of the vote) and the native Christians of East Malaysia (another 10 percent).
- Like a rabbit caught suddenly in the glare of a truck’s headlights, the DAP’s liberal position is caught in bed with fascism (Anwar), Islamic bigotry (PAS), and the communist Left (Eli-Tian Chua clique), all the things it rejects as matters of party principle. DAP’s way out of this conundrum, using Middle Malaysia, does not get out of the way of the truck. Rather, Middle Malaysia puts the Church, historically an ally of fascism, into the Anwar pot. The DAP hopes that water dilutes when it actually contributes to ferment the poison. Only the Chinese and the Indian vote can come in between the Anwar-Umno collision. And because the deluded DAP, working on expediency, is not doing the job with the vote, an opportunity has arisen for Gerakan, MCA and MIC not just to save themselves but to pull the country back from the brink.
On the main route north, after the junction to Kuala Kubu Baru and Fraser’s Hill, Kerling is so quiet in the night you hear only the cicadas and forget easily, coming from a city bathed in lights, that nights are naturally pitch dark. This is a measure of its seclusion. Yet, from faraway dusty, dirt-poor Pakistan and the desert Islamic republic of Iran tumultuous events have reached Kerling where Islamification almost did it – kill the Equator gods. Darul Arqam was there in 1978, a forgotten, momentous year. Messiah messages promising deliverance by Islamist bands come and go in different guises to Kerling and they are followed today by the Bangsa Malaysia types. All covet its soul, if for different reasons.
On sale now are two chunks of Kerling, where in the hills camouflaged by trees silence hides much trouble.
If only there were takers. An offer is asking 110,000 ringgit an acre for 30 acres adjacent Ladang Kerling. The most recent, 71 acres, is going for 3.6 million ringgit, half the price offered before. Years earlier, 2001 thereabouts, Kuala Lumpur-Kepong, a good corporate, told its shareholders it too wish to let go its Kerling estates. Just as well since everybody blames Umno, which is always convenient even if true. But the 2009 desertion of humans and capital out of Malaysia took place after Anwar Ibrahim’s alliance of PKR-PAS-DAP had taken Selangor and a few other states in March 2008.
Among the urban chattering class, the core of Anwar’s sympathizers with little else to do except to fill endless days in the web pages of Malaysia Today, they have hailed this flight as a sign of rejection against racial politics rather than read it as a general discontentment that mirrored the reflections thrown up by the two coalitions in which the right becomes left and the haji cap replaces the Arab turban. But, all the same, only the symbols differ. Among this class, today the new ruling elite, Eli Wong devotes her spare time in her sarong napping among the Che Guevara types instead of trying to understand what it takes to run a business, which to her is evil because it exists to make money. Now, fatter since her sarong exposure, she calls her kind of occupation “speaking truth to power”. And that power is set up against one of her favourite targets, the property developer.
She is wrong about the developer’s influence. There are few businesses outside of rubber and oil palm that have so much to do with land. And, in the Hulu Selangor District Council, boss of all Kerling land, the Pakatan government had appointed inheritors of the dakwah movement to oversee the property. Perhaps associates of Zubir Ismail are among them. Which is to suggest that, by proxy, Anwar and PAS are back in Kerling where Zubir first opened the way.
He is from the Malay College Kuala Kangsar, Class of 1974. Anwar would have been his senior. Also its alumnus is ABIM president Yusri Mohamad. Thus, the Kerlings – common people, Indian tree tappers, the Malay smallholder, the Chinese grocery selling piteous amounts of dust coated canned food, and the Malay-Chinese big business alliances – must now put up with two frontal assaults, from the Left clique in Eli Wong and from the Islamists on the right. Zainal Abidin Ahmad, deputy mentri besar from 1995 to 1999, had snatched Hulu Selangor by 198 votes from one G. Palanivel.
After the 1979 Iranian revolution that installed a national ruling council of Islamic clergymen, Anwar visited the country to pay tribute to the ayatollahs. He would have stopped in Pakistan, or maybe it was a separate trip. There, far-reaching constitutional changes were in place. In 1973 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had replaced Islam from its “official” status to being a state religion, giving the Quran a place in the constitution and creating for the purpose the “Council of Islamic Ideology”. Bhutto was, by one account, a “whisky drinking, pseudo-socialist from a Westernized family” and this might have detracted outside understanding into the ramifications arising from the changes. Four years later in 1977, when it came and when it was too late, General Zia ul-Haq deposed Bhutto, hanged him, and called his new government the “Nizam-e-Mustafa” – the Way of Muhammad. Three years after that Zia inserted into Chapter 3A of the Pakistan constitution the establishment of Federal Shariat Court, putting in at last the flesh to the skeleton of an Islamic state Bhutto created.
Malaysia, however, isn’t an Islamic state, according to senior constitutional lawyer Tommy Thomas because of this subsidiary clause – “but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation” – tagged to the main of Article 3(1), “Islam is the religion of the Federation.” Thomas’s argument that Malaysia is secular relies on three planks. The first falls back on some talking notes and minutes of deliberation prior to Merdeka 1957. The second is on precedent judgements. The third, and this is the most crucial point of contention upon which the secular-Islam divide has evolved. It centers on the subsidiary clause that reads, “but other religions may be practiced…”, which is in turn backed by the freedom of religion clause of Article 11.
Such a line of reasoning completely ignored, perhaps deliberately, the syntactical force and logical sequence in the statement that begins as, “Islam is the religion….” And it’s only by resting on this fact that other religions are given their dues. In another way of saying the same thing, Islam takes formal precedence in state recognition, that is, it is the first among equals. Being the state religion, Islam is not precluding freedom of worship – and who says it must? – and that is all there is to in the subsidiary clause of the sentence. That latter half sentence means what it means to say, without negating Islam’s position as religion of the state, a state being the whole of its national institutions collectivized under single symbols such as a flag and which are backed by the armed forces and uniformed men.
Once Islam is religion of the state it is no different to calling Malaysia an Islamic state, as opposed to “Islamic country”, Mahathir Mohamad’s preferred words in September 2001 when at a Gerakan conference he said: “UMNO wishes to state loudly that Malaysia is an Islamic country.” PAS or PKR might each counter Mahathir to say that without making the Quran as supreme and as the ultimate source of law, hence power, calling Malaysia an Islamic state is like calling timber gold, pure talk. That argument, like Thomas’s, rings equally hollow because the PAS and PKR ulamaks confuse methods to the ideal. Invoking the Quran or hudud laws merely give flesh to reaffirming Islam’s position. In not writing (yet?) the Quran into the constitution, Malaysia could well remain an Islamic state that is a work in progress so that, in the interim, Islam as state religion is not just the driver; it suffuses the work (think of Jais, conversions of minors, beer sale, Shah Alam temple relocation, etc).
The Islamification of the Malays has been an ongoing exercise for the last 52 years so that when members of ABIM argue on television that Catholics cannot use Allah they were not talking about Article 11; they had in mind just Article 3. Pray to your god any which way you desire, by all means, but where it concerns Islam – and the Allah word concerns Islam – we, Muslims as empowered in the constitutional status of religion, have the last word. This is akin to numerous cases wherein Chinese and Indians go to the civil courts wanting to be out of Islam, but the courts sidestep the question and say, get first your apostate certificate from the Sharia Court. Islam has not just the last word, but also the first. Judge Lau Bee Lan had looked at only the latter half of Article 3(1) and, after that relied entirely on the wrong constitutional article (Article 11) for her decision that favoured the Church. In defending the Church, Anwar Ibrahim completely skipped Article 3(1), then invoked Article 11. He was once more being surreptitious. Was that not political expediency? Umno is so hated that nobody cares anymore if a false prophet turns up as The Deliverer.
It was by the Pakistani route that an Arabian faith has since dug into the Malay soul. More than anybody else, Anwar (small wonder, you might say, why Mahathir was so taken in by him) must take that credit, the man to give flesh to the skeleton of the state religion. The fortunes of Umno and Anwar are today inversely related: Anwar goes up Umno comes down, and vice-versa. Islam might be applied from different vantage points, different pages and verses of the Quran, but the end result is still Islamification. The difference between them is just a matter of degree.
In Pakistan there was at one time a quarrel among Muslims over how Islam should be applied. The method they eventually adopted came to be called, immersion – you simply drop everybody into the Sharia hole. In Malaysia diffusion is the preferred method so that you wouldn’t know it’s there until such a case as Allah’s turn up at the doorstep. This is when the force of Article 3 sinks in: Islam, not Catholicism, not Hinduism, is the religion of the Federation. And Umno, as ultimate state representative, decides therefore on when and how to apply Article 3: recall Nazri Aziz granting Sabah and Sarawak the right to use the Allah word, thereby pre-empting the government’s appeal against the Church. Since this power of Umno’s was never given it by the Constitution, nor is the party named therein, nor is the power handed down from heaven, it had to be acquired. Question then, how?
Umno’s predominant position in the executive is, of course, the well-spring of that power. But after March 2008, its position, balanced today by the Sabah and Sarawak native parties in combination, Umno must have the moral authority to speak up on Islam, especially when theological issues range at the periphery of Islam, such as the Allah word. PAS had that role by default of its politics and its ulamak authorial rule. But, for Umno, from whom or what and whence had that authority been derived?
Search anyhow or anywhere, past or present, you’ll return always to the same answer: Anwar Ibrahim. He not only gave Umno its Islamic identity, but coupled to it its raison d’Etat, French for reason of state. This, in political philosophy, would say that Malaysia has no reason for its existence absent of Umno. And this physical and ontological existence must serve the party’s namesake, the Malays, without whom there is no Umno and no Malaya. From that idea it is a small leap to Ketuanan Melayu that Anwar had previously articulated not in complete form but just the parts of it. Malay language supremacy, which Anwar championed as ABIM president, is an example. As much as Anwar gave Umno its existential depth, Umno gave Anwar the vehicle into creating and, in time, to perfect the final Ketuanan form. France is an ideological state (liberty, equality, fraternity), America is a legislative state (Bill of Rights), Iran is a theocratic state (Quran), but what is Malaysia? That Umno in post-Mahathir and post-Anwar days should invoke Ketuanan, this had not come 50 years late; rather, it took thirty years or more of construction to reach the point that it is today. Islamification has this immanent quality.
Anwar outside Umno has since been equally influential, especially from 2008. It is so total and complete that every comment and article (saved one letter to Malaysiakini) outside of the mainstream media – and there have been hundreds – has looked to him as a saviour of sort over the Allah fight. Take this fawning from Terence Netto: “Anwar … has led exemplarily in this current national crisis….” Lim Teck Ghee of the Centre for Policy Initiatives avoided naming Anwar but couldn’t help suggest that “PKR and PAS leaders (have) refused to put political expediency ahead of higher principles of morality and ethics.” What ethics would that be? If getting to the Malay vote is politically expedient, why isn’t the Chinese or the Indian vote?
The Church listens as Anwar (left) speaks. What is it that they hear or see which is different from the past? That all within the four seas are still brothers?
Dakwah Visits Kerling
Zubir Ismail could be aged 53 today. Among a group of five men as young as 21, Zubir over several weeks in 1978 visited a number of small Hindu temples in Hulu Selangor and its estate towns. They went in the dead silence of the nights, so that when the rubber tappers woke the next morning they found their stone symbols on the floor smashed to pieces, the places a wreck. A group of eight Indians, equally young, waited one night at the Sri Subramaniam temple in Ladang Kerling. Prosecutors at their trial the following year, 1979, said they had laid a death trap; D. P. Vijandran, an MIC man, defending them argued to the effect that the men were defenders against a group that committed sacrilege and worse for it, not once, not twice but repeatedly. We, Zubir told the court, shouted “Satan” each time they destroyed the stone images. Among the five, he was the only survivor; the others were killed.
Court trials are never the places to find causes, only guilt or innocence. Until today there is no explanation into the forces that drove the men to kill the gods, or why they picked Kerling. Perhaps because it is Kerling, so solitary, and tucked in the hills. Or, perhaps because Islam came to Malaysia by way of Pakistan and Iran, and Kerling, for no fault of its own, stood in the way of the dakwah movement that, at the time, was organised around three outfits, ABIM, Jemaat Tabligh and Darul Arqam. They wanted a true ummah and in varying degrees this objective was concerned with three primary goals: (a) racial purity pivoted to religious inviolability, (b) the supremacy of the Malay language and Malay rights using Islam as the primary means, and (c) an “egalitarian” and “just” society on terms defined by Islam.
You hear today variants of the same demands from PAS, Umno and the Zukifli Noordins of PKR.
In September 1977, ABIM (35,000 members in 1971), called upon the government to introduce a theocratic state. In November 1979, just six months after the Kerling trial, a religious teacher and a student also went on trial for destroying the Hindu gods in Temerloh. In 1982, so called Middle Eastern young “Turks” in PAS deposed their president Mohamad Asri Muda. This, then, was an era in which Islamification came into mainstream politics. While Anwar negotiated his entry into Umno, the Turks of PAS wanted the party to return to its Islamic purity foundations that had been based in part on its objection to Umno collaborating with the kafir in MCA and MIC. PAS began labeling Umno members as apostates and kafir, a two-in-one label that shut out Umno imams from leading congregational prayers, incapable of solemnizing marriages, or to slaughter livestocks for religious occasions.
V.S. Naipaul, Nobel-prize novelist, traveling in Malaysia at the time felt the undercurrents and noticed their manifestations and wrote the following (excerpts from Among the Believers, 1981):
ABIM … was not the only Muslim youth group in Malaysia; Anwar Ibrahim, with his high idea of Islam, was not the only leader. There were other leaders, with less difficult messages. Missionaries (from Indian and Pakistan) had brought the idol-smashing message to Malaysia. They had worked out, from various books they had consulted, how many thousands of years in paradise a Muslim earned for every idol he smashed; and they had calculated that a grand total of thirty smashed idols won a Muslim the jackpot, an eternity in paradise.
The new Islam comes like this, and to the new men of the village it comes as an alternative kind of learning and truth, full of scholarly apparatus. It is a passion without a constructive programme. The materialist world is to be pulled down first; the Islamic state will come later – as in Iran, as in Pakistan.
And the message that starts in Pakistan doesn’t stop in Malaysia. It travels to Indonesia.
In public gardens and in other places in this new town can be seen young village Malays dressed as Arabs, with turbans and gowns. The Arab dress – so far from Pakistan, so far from Arabia – is their political badge. In the university there are girls who do not only wear the veil, but in the heat also wear gloves and socks.
It was in such an environment and under such pressures Zubir Ismail was schooled and nurtured. It is an environment that Anwar and his Muslim bands had forged out of the ingredients of constitutional law, Islam and their trumped-up worldviews, so that if churches burn today, the burning is purely Kerling extended to the cities. It would be Islamification brought forward to the present day. And this, if true, then the fire was not lit in 2001 when Mahathir declared Malaysia an Islamic country or state. It started earlier, much earlier, and it has to come from causes outside of Umno’s control because Umno once openly opposed the Islamist bands with harassment and jail but saw that the efforts paid almost no dividends. Predictably, it is PAS and the PKR that, more than the DAP, want the ISA abolished and why not: captured Jemaah Islamiah members were drawn from the ranks in PAS.
Hussein Onn relied largely on the ISA to break the dakwah. Umno under Mahathir added a second prong by co-opting the Islamification, as well as the Pakistani, the Middle Eastern elements into the party. It saved Umno from being marginalized by its own people but the price for that strategy, bringing the radical into the mainstream, is now to be paid for by the churches, by forced conversion to Islam of minors, by the destruction of more temples in Selangor, Malay babies tossed out in grocery bags, and the Indonesian-born woman to be whipped for drinking beer. Mahathir is at least right that Malaysia is already an Islamic country, so the quarrel among the Malays and within the mainstream is not over Article 3 but how far is the country into Islamic purity or from the ideal envisioned by the dakwah movement. The Malay dispute is, in other words, purely a matter over degree.
Class of 1974, Malay College Kuala Kangsar. Zubir was among them, elitist, or so they think. Zubir’s class 5S1 was ran by class master Loo Yew Khin, perhaps a rarity even then.
Azhari Hussin, a Jemaah Islamiah member: he, too, like Zubir Ismail was from Malay College, also Class of 1974.
Zubir’s schoolmate at the Malay College, one Azhari (sometimes spelled Azahari) Hussin, a man Zubir’s age and shot dead in 2005 by Indonesian security forces, is representative of the pure and the ideal. If he had taken Kerling to Bali, 25 years after Zubir, it would for the same reason the Hindu gods were to be killed. Bali, the surviving vestige of an Indonesian Hindu-Buddhist archipelago-empire but today in a sea of Muslims, would have appeared to Azhari as the Satan temple catering to Western tourists, a bunch of evil, beer-drinking white skin kafir.
Anwar’s dakwah association is overt and seemingly respectable. Here he is mentioned together with Din Syamsuddin of Indonesia’s Muhammadiyah, an organisation not unlike those in Malaysia that is concerned with Islamic if not racial purity. For Anwar to go from dakwah, missionary work to politics, he might have changed his politics. But surely not the Islam he has been propagating, unless one now says the man professes two kinds of Islam applicable to different periods or stages in his life. This would be a profane accusation.
Politics might change religion as is individually practiced into either a radical or a benign form, but the Islamic ideology of the Quran remains the same, which some say – and this is not without basis – is totalitarian. Umno switched from the benign to the radical because it co-opted Islam into its politics. PAS went from the radical to the seemingly benign because, its Islam credentials already established, it can afford to do so. This means it isn’t just Umno that is being politically expedient to appeal the Allah verdict but the expediency is all around at work on multiple fronts. If the Malay vote is expedient to Umno, then the Chinese and Indian votes are expedient to PAS and to, above all, Anwar.
Anwar would be hesitant to denounce Ketuanan Melayu, another political expediency, for that would be equal to hollowing the Malays of their Islam. Besides, Ketuanan in its disparate parts has always been his project, beginning in ABIM, Umno after that, breathing life into it by declaring the Malay language, religion and rights as inviolate (not in any order). And after 30, 40 years of work, it is so close to fruition why give it up? This is why Anwar initially vacillated on the Allah word, finally settling on Article 11 for its cover of distraction. For wanting an Allah prohibition, then appealing against judge Lau, Umno isn’t being politically expedient. It is just being true to itself (or being principled, a favourite word of the naive in Malaysia), a supremacist Malay organisation that Anwar had infused with a post-Merdeka generation, a post-Merdeka purpose, all of which left behind people like Razaleigh Hamzah, bewildered as to what had become of his age and the old days.
The Umno-Anwar inverse law of relations apply.
If Umno is true to itself then it must be Anwar who is being politically expedient. This is so plain – Sabah and Sarawak – yet why is it nobody sees the expediency employed by the man who, if not because of discretion, might have long ago claim he is a prophet? The answer is probably this: Umno is so hated, anybody, anything, is welcomed. Numerous beginnings in fascism or communism – German Nazism, Pol Pot’s Kampuchea First – were always preceded by one kind of ineffectual government or another. Umno’s Islamification by Anwar might have given the party a renewed purpose and refreshed its generation but that also left it confused and incoherent between its Merdeka past and its Islamic present. The situation is nearly alike in PAS today, dislodged from its Asri’s days: a wandering saint bewildered in a nation of sinners and unable or incompetent to see humans for what they are. Azhari’s answer to the problem: blow up the damn thing.
Umno now champions Ketuanan fascism also because Islamification had been total, supplanting every thing else the party was created 60 years ago to serve. Thus, when Utusan labelled Anwar a Malay traitor, they had not intended it to mean he gave up the Ketuanan cause. He gave that to Umno as its reason for being so it’s contradictory to say the founder is the anti-founder. Rather, they would have thought him treacherous, seeing him beside the likes of Karpal Singh who more than anybody else understood in depth the dimensions of the Islamification. It was Karpal who said, over my dead body will Malaysia be an Islamic state. He would have understood the exigency behind Article 3(1) – Islam is the religion of the Federation – and, again, more than anybody stood in its way (prosecuting him in court over sedition was the awaited payback). Karpal had made it non-negotiable to go beyond as rhetoric, “Islam is the religion”, and he’d be contented to let the line stay as mere words for eternity. But Karpal, evidently under persuasion from an old party friend Lim Kit Siang, is today less vociferous in his denunciation of Anwar or his Islamification. Here, then, is the new composition of the political expediency: Anwar, Kit Siang, and “his” DAP. And the DAP, having looked the other way, Kit Siang’s son Guan Eng has since named the expediency “Middle Malaysia” where places like Kerling must now hide the Equator gods so Anwar in the future don’t have to hide his Arabian one.
That, the New Politics cover for fascism, is Left wing ideology in association with Right wing Ketuanan.
The two are hardly antithetical. They may compete at opposite poles of a political spectrum but they reach out to the same desire for total social control. In Europe it’s been named the Red-Green alliance that one sees in demonstrations against the Afghan war, against George Bush, and against Salman Rushdie. In Malaysia, always a willing importer of European ideology, the clique of Eli and Tian Chua best personify the alliance, having painted themselves as liberals, sitting among the Islamists and Ketuanan fascists like Zukifli Noordin, bound not just by a common enemy in Umno but the tastes of power. PAS, attracted to the Red-Green idea, now wants the same kind of action so it is not by popular demand that it will structure its Supporters Club into the party’s Islamist political hierarchy with the ulamak council at the top. This – the gathering of Islamist radicals (inheritors of the Zubirs and Azharis), the Left ideologues (the Elis and Ah Chuas) and, for no truer word, the fascists – is that which will drive into the future Malaysia, or into what’s left of Kerling. Anwar represents the epitome of the alliance.
In Malaysia, the true gods were killed in Kerling a long time ago.
Consequently, today, one hears alot of agitation in place of sound social and economic policies. Malaysia enters into perpetual revolution, churches burn, enemies everywhere, corrupted souls, evil abound, Anwar forever preaching, in and outside Malaysia, from having mastered in Umno and from Mahathir the art of double-speak from both sides of the mouth. Even fascism can be spoken of in a low voice and from a benign face.