This ‘letter’ was first published two years ago, 2015 January. It remains valid — and true — and is reproduced below in full (easy that way). Why so? From Margaret Atwood:
“If you see a person heading toward a huge hole in the ground, is it not a friendly act to warn him?”
Poste Restante — Letter from Chang’an
Malay Crime and Punishment
Greetings. We write to you from our Motherland, and may this letter find you in good health and at peace. Winter has arrived, and early at that for we had snow the past three days and the weeks before that. Word is that there is going to be two feet of snowfall in another week or so. Yet, if there is ever half a chance, we did rather be back in Malaysia – to join you in warm drink and happy merriment, that is, if drink and merriment are still permitted. Malaysia could be a nation of intellectuals but, daily, it is turned instead into a nation of idiots. Be wary then of the like of Helen ‘Aku Cina’ Ang or Ridhuan ‘Aku Melayu’ Tee, those Chinese posing as Malays – they are so ‘liberal’ – people who live lives somewhere between a kampung clairvoyant and a city snake oil salesman.
But, rest assure that if Khairy Jamaluddin tells you ‘good riddance’ and never to return to Malaysia, it is a good sign. They say this to the Chinese all the time, if you recall, as if Chinese owe them their lives, so they use our identity cards and passports to hold us hostage and treat us like we are lap dogs. But, you know it doesn’t work – not anymore. Now, they tell the same to the Malays as well. Ironic?
For many decades (since Mahathir Mohamad?) Malaysia has not been a good place to be a Malay – it is only that the Malays found this out much later than the Chinese. This means Ali Abdul Jalil will be better off in Sweden. For proof of that, look at Terengganu: Between the shopping mall and the mosque your people choose the first. But those spiteful, malicious scoundrels of bureaucrat-politicians would blame this state of affairs on the malls. Step by step, inch by inch, they contribute to criminalize the Malay life, from the clothes you wear, the places you visit, the music, and to the thoughts you hold. But, why do your people continue to put up with this sort of indignities, suffer this affront on your persons?
In the Zaid Ibrahim polemic ‘Alpha Malays National Organisation’, a scornful and cynical comment from ‘Anonymous’ labeled as ‘idealism’ Zaid’s call for a Malay revolt against the Umno status quo. In making that call, Zaid’s biggest hurdle is neither facing Umno’s ominous government apparatus nor the vitriol of it sycophants (Isma, Mahathir Mohamad, Syed Akbar Ali, Petra Kamarudin, Helen Ang) but this cult of unanimity. It’s a culture that tolerates no argument, no controversy but accepting only consensus and (in Umno’s political language) ‘unity’, by which Umno politicians mean, to stand back-to-back so as to watch out for the Chinaman who they have pictured as perennially trying to steal Malay land and property then profit from them.
Conventional Malaysian and worldwide labels put Indians as argumentative (Amartya Sen wrote about it in the essay The Argumentative Indian); Chinese as greedy, covetous; whereas Malays are laid-back and tolerant. Laid-back perhaps but, to go by Umno general assembly speeches, Helen Ang, the great Malay apologist, wouldn’t be able to find a single tolerant Malay in a crowd of 2,800. Would it then be possible that a compliant, acquiescent Malay culture had permitted the regression of the Malay mind, arriving to its present state, unquestioning and subservient? If true, then it’s small wonder that the Malay life should fall so readily to an advancing and aggressive Arab Islamic culture or to be so easily persuaded by British gentility, with its perverse English laws and customs, and now … to Umno and PAS.
The American writer Leon Wieseltier has argued that levels of dissension make up the barometer of an open, tolerant society: the more there is dissension the better for it since argument is emphatically, he says, man-made. It is only God (and the PAS ulamas and Jakim) that brooks no dissension. This, from Wieseltier, is ingenious:
“The community of contention, the contentious community, is not as paradoxical as it may seem. The parties to a disagreement are members of the disagreement, and they wrestle together for the sake of the larger community to which they all belong…. A quarrel is evidence of coexistence.”
Within this universe of controversy, reflecting a universe of tolerance, lives reason or rationality, the things committed to the discovery of the truth, as opposed to beliefs, superstition actually, and those anti-rationalist cliches (think of Isma and that ‘former Judge’).
“Emotion is private and opaque,” Wieseltier added, “but reason is public and lucid.” He quotes Ovadiah Bertinoror’s remarks: “Only by means of debate will truth be established.” From elsewhere, he quotes again: “Sometimes it is our duty to make a quarrel…. For the sake of truth we are not only permitted to make a quarrel, we are obligated to make a quarrel.”
For Malays, those lines tantamount to this, which in Zaid’s words say, “Be unafraid.” Indeed!
Yet, being afraid has been least of the Malay problems. Instead, it is fundamentally this – and which one might just as well say of this of Malaysians in general: The Malay has no internal, working mechanism, no philosophical grounds on which to stand on in order to make his decisions, on which to judge his ethics or appraise the injunctions and the entreaties of our time. That is, he has little on which to make a quarrel. Nothing he has, nothing he knows is his own. (Mahathir Mohamad, that piece of cretin, with his provision of economic and social crutches, merely turned the situation worse than it already was.) Which is to also to say, the Malay is permitted no private sphere. And Islam sees to it.
From Islam the Malay life is pre-ordained and every thought and action is already decided beforehand. This helps to explain why the pronouncements from Isma or Perkasa or some bureaucrat-politician constitute as much as banal hogwash even as they seem to sound radical, or ‘extremist’ as we now call it.
When the Malay is permitted no private sphere, how then can be be angry at any thing? Even the Malay anger has to made up, invented, drummed up. So Umno, the Party had, consciously and willfully, for an entire generation and beyond, constructed the Chinese as the Malay enemy so as to feed this Malay emptiness, in much the same way Russian Stalinists and Cambodian fascists feed the people with imaginary enemies – teachers, engineers, scholars, peasants, dancers, music, theatre, biology, science, everything (doesn’t this sound like PAS Kelantan, recently a complete washout, thanks be to ‘god’).
The Muslim Malays are condemned to be anti-human unless they, themselves, filled that void with their own humanity. And to fill his life with his own adat, his ethics, he must first be unshackled from the strictures of Islamic dogmas, from their parsonages, their kampungs, their ulamas and from their politicians. Being unbending – often on account of some abstract, usually absurd, ‘principle’ (think Petra Kamarudin, his son in a lockup, and the policeman who could let out the boy), such Malays have turned out to be monsters. Petra, supposedly a western-minded ‘liberal’, is therefore no different from the doctrinaire ulama; each in their own way both are moralists and both are inflexible and dour, unwilling, or perhaps unable, to accept as natural the human condition, whether good or evil, ossified in their thinking and their morality. Petra takes a dagger with him to political events; the ulama brings with him god … so insecure are these men that they have to employ a weapon and rely on a Pendatang god and to speak loudly to cover their deficiencies.
Mahathir likes to believe he could build ‘Towering Malays’, but these Malays had been constructed on sand – and that imbecile doesn’t even know it! But, to break this causal chain of life requires a struggle, a quarrel, a shakedown to be rid of these people and their doctrinaire ideas that place evil not only in deeds but, worse for it, in thoughts. You might have to move the Malay to stand on rocks.
Here are the contributions of three documents to unshackle the Malay mind from the bindings of Mahathir, Anwar Ibrahim, their petty ulamas and all the others who act like they are prophets sent to save the Malay:
- (1) Letter from the Eminent 25, Malay Mail, Dec 8
- (2) Farouk Peru’s reply, Open Letter to 25 Prominent Malays, Malaysian Insider, Dec 8, and
- (3) Alpha Malays National Organisation (AMNO), Zaid Ibrahim, Dec 8
The Malays are in the throes of an epic quarrel: which is this, neither Umno nor Mahathir Mohamad nor Petra Kamarudin shall have the last word on what it is to be Malay. This is revolutionary thought; a revolution because that challenge stabs at and shakes the perceived foundations of a given Malay identity-set, monopolised by Umno, and which has so far ascribed to the Malay on purely political terms (in the Constitution and in the Mahathir years) and now on Islamic terms as well. Such ways of thinking – Malay supremacism, a race divinely ordained – lead directly to fascism, Islamo-fascism in particular. It was Islamo-fascism that was the undoing of Afghanistan; destroyed, first, by a ragtag bunch of Talibans (no big armies needed there) and after them by Americans. Countries are not sacrosanct; they can be exterminated; recall that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Both the Eminent 25 and Farouk Peru have reason, therefore, to be wary not just of Isma and Umno but in particular their ulamas, apologists and propagandists, online and off.
In their letter – actually a Malay Manifesto – the Eminent 25 protested at how Islam and its laws have been used to govern the Malay life: religious authorities assert their authority beyond their jurisdiction, fatwas are issued in violation of the Constitution and supremacist Muslim-Malay organizations make life hell for everybody. Under Shariah, the most common, ordinary human activities – as pedestrian as playing music, having sex and family conduct – are turned into ‘crimes against the state’ (since it is the state that makes the arrest and initiates the prosecution).
The Malay life wasn’t any thing like this before, a point which Farouk Peru makes very well in reply to the Eminent 25: there is a Malay version of Islam and there is an Arabic version. This is to suggest that, before Islam, there has been the Melayu. The Malay had preceded Islam and changed it to suit the Melayu in him; it was never the other way around. “The Malay version of Islam,” Farouk went on, “had always been tempered by our own local culture and so we retained that beautiful spirit of moderation and acceptance.”
Farouk had rightfully made a distinction between ‘local’ and ‘Islamic’ culture, thus drawing a schism between geography and religion, between earth and heaven, between nature and god. The first was natural to the Melayu; the second was simply imported then acquired. In creating that division, Farouk returns to his Melayu roots, to the muddy banks of the riverine, paddy life, the humid, water-logged jungle forests, the estuaries from which shrimps and cockles were once harvested. Everywhere around the Melayu, the world brims with life. Once we compare that world to the roving desert camel people then we are likely to agree with Farouk.
In the beginning is the Melayu; then came the ‘Word’ and he became the Malay. The Melayu is a naturalist, a botanist and biologist. The Malay Ahmad Mustafa Babjee: “All my life, I have been curious about nature. I can sit and water nature work for hours…. A bundle of flowerheads of a wild palm can conjure in my min, strands of DNA with their bases, or a bunch of rosary hanging in a shop in Medina or an exotic ear-ring for a go-go dancer.” One is unlikely to find such a speaker in the desert, but Ahmad Mustafa is one of the signatories in the Eminent 25 letter.
Abraham is then a pendatang, and so it is with his kind of Heaven and God; they are desert inventions, 1,400-years-old, 10,000 km away, where the Melayu could know nothing about, much less played any part in its religious development. Thus, when politicians and bureaucrats, egged on by their ulamas, force feed the Malay life with this desert creed, usually of their own interpretation, alien to the Melayu’s mud-river, tropical kampung origins, it is small wonder the Malay do not turn up for Friday mosque in Terengganu and Kelantan. In time, Umno and PAS will make this absence a criminal offense.
Once Malay-ness is framed inside an ancient Islamic legal straight-jacket, there is little, if at all any, to be done to mitigate the full brunt of Shariah the modern Malays must face. The Eminent 25 could only ask, an appeal tinged by an apologia – “…at the end the day…, we want Islamic law” not for, unlike PAS, for its politics but “to meet the highest standards of justice…” They asked for Najib Razak’s personal intervention then for a review of the entire body of Shariah laws, and for reason and debate to prevail over the tyranny of the ulama clergy.
Yet, none of their suggestions are new. On this point, the Eminent 25 revealed that there was an internal government review of the Shariah laws in 1999 and nothing came of it. Instead, as the years rolled by, things went the opposite direction: stepped-up intrusion into people’s lives, a marked increased in criminalizing the most banal, everyday human conduct. In the circumstances, the Eminent 25 letter, no matter how well-meaning, could do nothing more other than to plea. How? How had the Eminent 25 managed to box themselves in?
To understand that, “we must understand the nature of Shariah law,” Farouk explained. “Shariah law is not designed to play second fiddle to any other legal system. It was designed with the firm notion of supremacism…. It will grow and ultimately subsume whatever system with which it is co-existent.” Which is to also to say, Islamic supremacism isn’t a system of just political power and rule, it ends up as an institution for domination, hence, exploitation.
Such thoughts are, by any measure, astonishing confession from a Malay – not that we had never seen it coming; we, neither the Melayu nor the Chinese, would bring this to admit it to ourselves. Recall that in the book Among the Believers, V.S. Naipaul wrote about this phenomenon, describing how the Malay/Indonesian life had been completely overtaken by Arabian Islam. One sees this happened to Anwar Ibrahim and his ABIM cohorts. But, Islamic supremacism dovetails so well into the Ketuanan Melayu ideology, so you can tell why Islam continues to be used by PAS at first, adopted by Mahathir and now followed up with a vengeance by Umno and Najib Razak.
Farouk’s suggestion for ‘complete secularisation’ – removal of the Shariah courts (which he considers as a historical anachronism) and to de-fang all the Islamist bureaucrats – strikes at the political heart of a religious problem. Which is to go back to the Malays with the agenda that their lives can be better lived if they knew where to begin: the shopping malls will naturally empty if, on their Fridays afternoons, the Malays knew how to better spend those endless, vacant hours that even God is useless to fill.
Recovering the Melayu character is not sufficient reason to cut off the legs of Islamic supremacism. Another, equally urgent task is to halt the Malay being from sliding into utter bestiality and inanity because, once you believe yourself to be supreme, what else is there left for you to pursue? Indolence and contentment take over. A thing as necessary as work is then given to others, ‘sub-contracted’ as they say, so that Malaysia, in creating a regime of exploiting, cheap foreign labor in nearly every field of enterprise, as basic as health care and municipal services, is surely not a stand-alone phenomenon unrelated to modern culture, our values, ethics and norms of conduct. This kind of life is forced and unnatural.
Kua Kia Soong recently wrote about the institutionalisation of racism – that silly Ketuanan thing – to the degree that it has become a norm. Even ‘moderates’ (such as the Eminent 25) would accept preferred treatment of Malay in fields of commerce, education, religion and other fields; they plea not for the dismantling of those institutions but only one, that is, Islamic power be reigned in, by which the legs of the ulamas be cut off, from knees down it seems. In that conclusion, and this includes Farouk’s deduction as well, such a proposal is largely administrative in nature – whittle down the Jakim staff, for example, and starved them of funding.
But this kind of remedy does nothing to sever Islam’s political, moral and religious backing that stand at the back of, and giving impetus, to the insane thinking that powers and which provides the doctrinal foundation for the like of Isma, Perkasa, and even the ulamas. What is their thinking if not Malay supremacism? Face it: Islam is bundled as a tool of Ketuanan, and it is a very potent one at that.
Here, however, is their problem: They can’t use Islam to touch us, the Chinese (and Hindu Indians). With Islam, Ibrahim Ali can make a lot of noise, or the Syariah could rob the Hindu of their dead or abduct a Chinese child from her Penang school then convert her, but all that’s at the peripheral. In the main, it is the Malays who must face the full force of hudud, so that, as they say, the rooster is now back home to roost.
If you accept this line of argument then you must also accept its logical conclusion, that Ketuanan doctrine, hence institutionalised racism, is at the root of Islamic power and its rise. Farouk was in error to attribute that power only to its moral, political and religious standing (the Syariah does not play second fiddle to any other legal systems), which then puts you into a bind on how to unbundle it. The ultimate source of its power, in Malaysia and among the Malays is, one dare say, the Ketuanan. This conclusion would explain what one reads about: why PAS, in ruling Kelantan and Kedah, sets Malay quotas higher than Umno and that the two seem to get along so well and that the object of Malay ‘unity’ is a perennial topic. The Chinese have live for so long and have endured so well under institutionalised racism, it doesn’t matter one way or other if that stays or goes. In their Daoist-Confucianist way of thinking, the Malay need no institutional support if he is supreme; it shows naturally. But, to hand him made-by-Mahathir crutches is to admit failure and weakness, and that’s even before trying. Crutches for helplessness and misfortune is a different thing altogether.
Xiaodi apologise this letter has gone on for too long. You can see where the letter takes you, that is, where its conclusion lays. For the sake of brevity, let this be said: The Malay revolution has to go deep. Only then it is sustaining and meaningful.
Ali Abdul Jalil, poor chap, exiled in Sweden, is but a manifestation of what the Malay is doing to the Malay over causes that are man-made not ordained and this goes back to the Malay raison d’etre. The Eminent 25 do not call themselves the Eminent 25 Malaysians but Eminent 25 Malays, suggesting to the Chinese to mind their own business. The Chinese will and has no reason to bother if Malays gather in Dataran Merdeka to throw stones at another Malay. It may be true that only Malays should solve Malay problems but what if the root of those problems lay not in just the Malays alone but it the conduct between them and the others, the Chinese in particular?
Umno, pre-Mahathir, was far less mindful of Islam but this instead grew in the zealousness of Mahathir’s anti-Chinese bigotry until we arrive at the situation we are today. PAS by itself would play lip-serve to hudud, but ruling with those DAP and PKR infidels it turns with lunacy towards Islam. The same appears to be the situation when Umno was singularly dominant but with Malay power divided three ways, it acts differently. But, this argument is empirically false: Umno sees, and hence asserts, its power only sometimes in relation to other Malay parties (all are Malays after all). But Umno’s policy conduct, moving between the crest and the bottom, like a roller coastal ride, have always been held in accordance with its relationship with the Chinese in particular and Barisan in general. They treat humans much like Islamists treat dogs. Should we, as Chinese, do nothing in the circumstances? What if the Muslim laws intended by PAS or Umno or the ulamas usurp then replace simply human decencies? Are we, the Chinese, to sit on our hands while watching your sisters dragged, screaming, to the stone execution pits?
If the Malay is to redress his religious dilemma, he must also act, politically, on Chinese-Malay relations within Malaysia. Good relations with China is but a pretense and a bad substitute for those relations; worse for it, it doesn’t work. Religious problems are for the Malay to act – as it is Zaid’s call to free Malays from ancient and foreign Islamic strictures – that is within his power. But if his intent is moderation, which is to say his mental constitution, his heart, his freedom, then he must first establish and acknowledge the roots of the immoderateness. You should well know that in religious morality, in Islam and Christianity in particular, the individual is never sacrosanct; only God is. (We, the Chinese, are raised to believe it is the other way around.) So they sacrifice the woman in the stone pits so as to appease their gods and to abolish punishment – recall what our western-minded judges use to tell prisoners: to inflict punishment so as to abolish it once the lesson is served to all. But, dear Melayu, what do you believe? When tyranny is committed in the name of your Allah, what then do you say? Tell us, what does your adat say?
Peace be with you,