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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Going the way of the Taliban

Fanaticism is overcompensation for doubt.”
- Roberston Davies
COMMENT ‘I would argue that Malaysian Islamic extremists are in the Taliban stage…’
Shahidullah Shahid, former Taliban spokesperson turned Islamic State (IS) supporter, now thankfully dead, said this about the attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai - “Malala Yousafzai targeted and criticised Islam. She was against Islam and we tried to kill her, and if we get a chance again we will definitely try to kill her, and we will feel proud killing her.”
Malala, on the other hand, observed - “I spoke of the irony of the Taliban wanting female teachers and doctors for women yet not letting girls go to school to qualify for these jobs.” Why am I talking about religious narco traffickers?
Because if we are not careful, one day we may have our very own Shahidullah Shahid and Malala Yousafzai. Some would argue that we already have the former. Anyone with a passing familiarity of Islamic rhetoric in this country would discover that both establishment and opposition Islamic political rhetoric is laced with extremism and bigotry, and of late has reached the kind of hysterical extremism that we read about from other countries.
I would argue that Malaysian Islamic extremists are in the ur-Taliban stage, where much like those religious students who were funded by Pakistani intelligence and waged war against the so-called Western world and modernity,the same sentiment is wafting from the swamp of religious education and state-funded indoctrination here.
As I wrote in a piece about the failings of the state security apparatus in combatting Islamic extremism - “Security personnel tell me that efforts with monitoring mosques and other religious meeting places are hampered by the fact that on-the-ground assets have to filter so-called ‘anti-Umno’ rhetoric that is part of the democratic process and the real threats of anti-government rhetoric by committed Islamic terrorists.”
Why is former international trade and industry minister Rafidah Azizcomparing Malaysia to the Taliban?
The answer is simple. Malaysia is slowly but surely going down a road that would make us one of those countries that civilised folks use as a cautionary tale. Of course strolling along our urban havens seeing our multiracial polity enjoying the fruits of capitalism, you would not think that anything is wrong.
However, something is very wrong. Partisans are used to and support their preferred medium of yellow journalism hence dire warnings about impending doom are subsumed beneath the next news cycle of political misconduct and race baiting. When people talk of the Arabisation process, the phrase has become so played out that we do not realise how much trouble we are in.
“Are we adopting the approaches of Osama bin Laden (the late al-Qaeda leader) and the Taliban?” asks the former Umno insider. My answer is, who do you mean by “we”. The real question should be is Umno adopting the approaches of the Taliban? The answer in this specific case is no. Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak is an over eager minion who just got carried away and in typical Umno fashion attempted to get into a pissing contest with someone who is not paying much attention to him.
Stirring religious pot
However, the racial and religious pot has been stirred for far too long and the signs are everywhere that one day soon, the pot will overturn. Writing about the mendacious way Umno and the opposition played the so-called ‘Allah’ controversy three years ago, I said - “The conventional Umno wisdom is to take the hardline and non-Malay support be damned. What certain factions within Umno hope to achieve with the opportunity that the opposition has given them is to dethrone a lame duck prime minister and light the fire for an Islamic revival that they believe they can contain.”
The splintering of the Malay/Muslim community has far-reaching consequences for the Umno regime. This is why Umno has been doing the dance with PAS. Umno has always manipulated the religious sect for its own purposes. Many have said that Amanah breaking away from PAS was the best outcome from the fallout with the religious sect. While I do think that Amanah could make a difference in the long run, I am pessimistic that it would become anything but the acceptable face of oppositional Islam.
Same old, in Pakatan
Pakatan Rakyat was a missed opportunity for change when it came to Islam in this country. As I wrote a couple of years back, “What PAS should be doing is using this phase of political compromise as a starting point in reforming its ideas, perhaps reconnecting with its own leftist ideology that it abandoned in favour of the Saudi-influenced Islam that has proven disastrous everywhere in the world.”
Instead, what we have today is a Selangor state government that continues the narrative of Islamic supremacy even though they were voted in because they were supposed to represent change. An example of this would be the case of Rosliza Ibrahim. My question is, why is the state government pursuing this case instead of facilitating Rosliza’s exit from the faith, which is the only moral position considering that Malaysians have the right to freedom of religion.
What has the Selangor state government done in terms of differentiating itself from an Umno state government when it comes to Islam? Has the state government set up a special agency to help citizens when it comes to conflicts with the religion of the state? Has the state government distanced itself from Islamic policies that it deems detrimental to national unity? Has the state government offered its resources to those who find themselves at the mercy of the federal government when it comes to issues which curb their right to religious freedom and expression?
Moreover, before anyone accuses me of promoting political interference, well that is exactly what I am advocating. Umno does it all the time, the most recent example would be the Rooney Rebit:
“In the recent Sarawak state elections, the Rooney Rebit case is evidence of the carrot and stick approach when it comes to Muslim sensitivities in Malaysia. Sensing there was political capital to be made, this time by curbing the excesses of the Umno state, the Najib administration made electoral promises that the National Registration Department (NRD) would not appeal the Rebit case.”
Many people would argue that the goal of removing Najib is far more important than picking on the opposition for failing to live up to their supposed secular principles.
However, I would argue that a nation recovers from corrupt regimes far more easily than nations that slip into religious regimes and unless the Islamic opposition offers something other what Umno is offering, they and their allies are as complicit as Umno in moving this country into failed nation status.
If we are all going to hell in a hand basket, I would rather the way be paved with good intentions rather than bad ones.

S THAYAPARAN is commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. -Mkini

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