Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin
Forging a national identity varies according to the nature of the society. The ideal expression of national identity is easily achieved in a homogenous society whose populace are linked through a single language, education system, dominant belief system, heritage and a common history. They can identify with the mores and lore of their ancestors and take pride in them.
Japan is an example of a homogenous society which takes pride in its heritage, such as the samurai tradition and the values of loyalty and courage.
On the other hand, a heterogenous society has a conglomeration of different ethnic narratives, which in some cases have merged and forged a national identity, while in others have become calcified into their own domain to sustain their identities. Malaysia is an example of such a heterogenous society where efforts towards a national identity are marred by chauvinistic sentiments.
Malaysia appears to be facing an identity crisis for several years now. It has a heterogenous society with multiple ethnic identities in behaviour, mental state, ideology and belief. Each ethnic group has its own agenda with its own language and cultural expressions that more often than not, segregate rather than integrate. However, because of a laissez-faire attitude towards national identity, each ethnic group began to assert its identity through tangible and intangible cultural traits which manifested in their own language, beliefs, arts and other symbols of their heritage. Perpetuating the multiple communal identities negated the efforts towards a national identity.
There appears to be no common ground for interaction. Superficial physical interaction which addresses only the symptoms and not the cause, and may not be a sufficient impetus towards creating lasting and engaging relationships. There has to be camaraderie that fosters sharing and caring that creates a mental state of enduring relationships that are unfettered by religious and racial bigotry.
There is very little effort to look beyond the bigotry of racial sentiments. Some leaders of each racial group emphasise and promote their own thymos and isothymia, that is, the recognition, pride and identity of each racial group. There is no effort at bridging this ethnic chasm; to each its own.
The markers of national identity, such as the national anthem, language, and the Jalur Gemilang, are most often observed at official functions as manifestations of patriotism. But for some, these symbols of nationalism are just that and seldom evoke the patriotic spirit, perhaps except in the sports arena.
A national identity must be crafted from the historical perspective of the country using the dominant culture of the indigenous people as the base. However, a national identity cannot be based solely on the biological considerations of the indigenous inhabitants but also on the societal constructs developed through the interactive forces of human engagements. Thus the need to assimilate later settlers to this country through a common vision of national aspiration.
To create this societal construct, we need to develop common denominators that include mutual toleration of the idiosyncrasies of different communal groups as well as forge common norms and values. In creating this ecosystem of national integration, there has to be compromises to develop the symbols of national aspirations and patriotism. One undeniable major factor is the language of the indigenous people as the national language and their belief system as the official religion without imposing any constraints on the practice and use of other languages and beliefs.
This is exemplified in other countries, such as Britain where English is the national language and Christianity is the official religion. French is the national language of France and Catholic is its religion. In other Christian nations, too, the language of the indigenous people is the national language. In Thailand, it is Buddhism and the Thai language. The Philippines has Tagalog and Catholicism. In Indonesia, it is the Indonesian language and Islam as the official religion, just as in Malaysia. Even in secular countries like China and Russia, the language of the indigenous people is the factor that binds the people.
It is only in Malaysia that we face problems of promoting Malay as the national language as even after 60 years of independence, a substantial segment of the population cannot converse in Malay or only use it during official occasions. We are in fact a nation divided by race and also by geographical location, such as Sabah and Sarawak, which are also promoting their own provincial identities, Sabah for Sabahan and Sarawak for Sarawakians.
How do we integrate these communities to represent national identity? There has to be an ecosystem to nurture this national identity. First, we need to phase out identity politics that champion ethnic rather than common interests. It is easier said than done for the race-based political parties in Peninsular Malaysia are too ensconced in their sectarian mould that they have cultivated for so long. They have imbedded prejudices and suspicions about other races in their members. It will take time to cleanse their mental state towards a new paradigm of co-existence and trust. Such an endeavour must start with the younger generation for the older ones are too petrified and dogmatic in their mental and emotional states.
The younger generation need to share their learning, working and recreational space so that they develop an emotional understanding of each other. We must be patient to engender this mental attitude and the authorities, especially the politicians, must provide the leadership towards achieving a national identity.
We should move as one nation and one people, whose various narratives coalesce into a shared destiny.
The writer is an emeritus professor at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang
Published in: New Sunday Times, 12 May 2019
In a just society, the rule of law applies to everyone whether he is a prince or pauper, a politician or a corporate captain, an academic or a layman, rich or poor.
However, a just society that abides by utopian principles of humanism, justice and fair play is a rarity, if it exists at all.
Unjust societies abounded in the days of yore and in the present world. History is replete with dictatorships, potentates and religious figures who governed based on draconian or prejudiced dictates.
The people existed at their behest and many were reduced to the status of chattels. They had no recourse to justice except that meted out by these leaders.
Vestiges of such societies exist today in the guise of democracy, socialism and religious governance. There are numerous examples of evils and atrocities perpetrated in these systems in the contemporary world.
Open and outright belligerence is committed by countries, such as Myanmar, Syria, Israel, Serbia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and several African states.
Camouflaged atrocities are perpetrated by so-called democracies like the US, Britain, Australia and France, as well as China in the case of Muslim Uyghurs.
The world is replete with the asymmetrical concept of justice and injustice with justice skewed towards the interests of the powerful.
For example, the US declared the 9/11 twin tower incident as an act of injustice but prided itself on imposing justice in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, killing thousands of innocent people.
It misrepresents justice in recognising Israel sovereignty over the annexed Golan Heights.
There are other examples of asymmetrical misrepresented justice in other countries whose leaders repress the general populace to serve their vested interests as in Myanmar, Rwanda, Syria, Serbia, Cambodia and Ukraine, among others.
There is no recourse to justice for the common people.
Thus, to address the plight of the downtrodden, the United Nations established courts.
Among these are the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Most member states which uphold international principles of justice subscribe to the initiatives of the UN.
On the other hand, those who opted not to be a signatory are involved in both internal and/or external repressive conflict as in Myanmar, Israel and the US.
There are states that have not ratified the Rome Statute. Malaysia is among them.
But Malaysia ratified the Rome Statute only to withdrew due to smear campaigns stoked by the 3R card — royalty, race and religion.
It’s odd that Malaysia withdrew as the country has no history of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.
In fact, Malaysia has from time immemorial been a peaceful and docile nation.
Its history testifies to this. All aggression and wars were external, committed by the Portuguese who invaded Melaka, the Dutch and the British.
Then there were the Japanese occupation and the Communist insurgency and the Indonesian Confrontation.
In short, the DNA of this country is a peaceful one unlike those of America, Germany, Russia, Britain, Israel and the Middle Eastern countries.
And there is no possibility of Malaysia being involved in any of the crimes stipulated in the Rome Statute.
Thus it is quite perplexing for the defeated politicians and the royals to oppose the ratifying of the Rome Statute. There is no basis to oppose it other than to gain mundane and inane political mileage.
At the same time, it is mind-boggling that certain academics, in consort with failed and corrupt politicians, advised the rulers that ratifying the statute would undermine the immunity of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and the sultans as well as compromise Malay privileges and Islam, which parrots the unfounded sentiments against ICERD.
These cohorts distorted the facts on royal immunity. The king and sultans are constitutional monarchs and do not enjoy absolute immunity as an absolute monarch of yore.
In fact, immunity against civil and criminal prosecution had been annulled in the 1993 Constitutional Amendment Act, which also established a special court to adjudicate misdemeanours by the royals.
Therefore the Rome Statute will not have any impact on the position of the royals, for as constitutional monarchs they act in accordance with the advice of the government of the day in the person of the prime minister.
If at all the country enters into conflict, it will be defensive and not offensive, and the elected government and the people will be responsible, not the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or the sultans and raja.
It is also fallacious to imply that ratifying the Rome Statute would undermine the privileges of the Malays and the position of Islam.
These unfounded fears are perpetrated by politicians to generate apprehension and tensions for political gain.
Contrary to these fears, ratifying the Rome Statute would in fact augur well for Malaysia’s international image as a nation that seeks a just society in words and deeds.
The writer is an emeritus professor at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang
Published in: New Sunday Times, 14 April 2019
The Malay mind has been shaped and conditioned by their belief and tradition and adatembedded in their societal matrix.
The traditional Malay mind/mentality is steeped in a conglomeration of tribal mores and lore and feudalistic adat that demands subservience to a leader or council of elders as in the tribal communities or to a single individual as in an absolute monarchy.
It is augmented by a host of regulatory adat (traditions) and local wisdom. For example, the saying “Biar mati anak, jangan mati adat”, which means we must even be willing to sacrifice our children just to maintain our tradition.
Such was the state of the Malay mind through the various absolute monarchies of the Malay world before the advent of the colonial era. However, the Malay mind continued to be shackled through the colonial era not only by the feudal system but also by colonial imperatives.
A turn for the worse happened during the Japanese occupation during which the Malays were enslaved and humiliated.
Perhaps this trauma, humiliation and slavery by the Japanese and as chattels during the feudalistic era, ignited in the Malay mentality a sense of freedom and wanting to be shorn off all mental and physical shackles. Thus the awakening of the Malay mind after World War 2 to challenge and demand independence from the British.
There were Malays who were exposed to British education which opened up their minds to universal values, ideas of emancipation, democracy, socialism and communism. Such people were in the minority and confined to the urban areas. In the rural Malay hinterland, traditional Malay schools and religious madrasah were the mainstay of the educative process, which perpetuated the traditional feudalistic mentality that stresses conformity and submission rather than free thinking and expression.
The duality of the Malay mind, traditional in the rural areas and modern in the urban areas, has created a chasm in the thought process of the Malay masses.
Thus, for the past 60 years, the ruling party has exploited this identity crisis to serve its vested interests. Umno and Pas have taken advantage of this duality of mindset by using race and religion to exploit rural Malays by saying that they are the defenders of the Malays and Islam. However, Umno has a two facades; one, race and religion for the rural Malays, and two, secular and materialism for the educated urban Malays.
The party engaged and embraced the urban Malays into its fold by appealing to their materialistic tendencies through party positions, corporate appointments and other forms of remuneration. In this way it minimised the public advocacy of the educated Malay minds.
The mentality of the rural Malays was easily shaped to serve the vested interests of Umno and Pas. An almost communistic vigour of unquestioned loyalty and acceptance of false religious pronouncements have been drummed into them.
Pas has gone further, indoctrinating them to believe that those who support this so-called religious party are assured of paradise. It is a religious requirement to oppose the infidels that not only include non-Muslims, but also Muslim members from opposing parties. That a cruel and corrupt Muslim is better than an honest humanitarian non-Muslim. That it’s permissible to fabricate lies in the service of the leaders and the party, for these lies are sanctioned by the leaders as syariah-compliant.
Currently, both Umno and Pas, former sworn enemies, have become strange bedfellows for their own vested interests and are actively playing the race and religious card, labelling non-Malays as infidels and enemies of Islam.
Sadly, the open-minded and educated urban Malays are silent and are not countering this bigotry. Most of them are leaving it to the new Pakatan government to counter this extremist attitude. If unchecked, it would lead to a catastrophe as the perpetrators are willing to risk the peace and harmony of this multi-ethnic nation just to serve their greed for power and wealth.
It would take a long time to change this Malay mentality towards an open, critical and sane state that views the socio-political-economic scene from an educated and intellectual perspective.
It is the responsibility of all leaders and politicians to accept the challenges of co-existence by discarding bigoted attitudes and working towards a peaceful and prosperous nation. This would require a change in mentality and world view of all races in Malaysia, which would reflect a common mission and vision for a shared prosperity.
The writer is an emeritus professor at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang
Published in: New Sunday Times, 17 March 2019
Expressions of Islamophobia range from outright confrontation involving subjugation and killing to various forms of punitive actions.
Such repressions could be communal or state sponsored as a form of external aggressions from people of different faiths or within the same faith.
These have resulted in both covert and overt actions ranging from sanctions to their physical appearance, speeches, practices, banning them from visiting certain countries, restricting their movements to specified areas within a country to outright massacre and genocide.
The massacre of the Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine State of Myanmar is a cause celebre.
Myanmar’s government has systematically maimed, tortured, raped and killed the Rohingya Muslims who are denied citizenship despite the fact they are the original inhabitants in the state.
Less known and out of the glare of the international media and covertly executed is the persecution and subjugation of the Uighur Muslims of Turkish origin in Xinjiang, China.
Out in the Middle East, Israel with the connivance of America are persecuting Palestinian Muslims, torturing and killing them, having occupied their lands and incarcerated them in a prison-like blockade of land, sea and air.
Unlike the covert subjugation of the Uighur Muslims in China which was put under wraps and disguised as acculturative re-education, the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians are cause celebre, but with a different slant.
In this case the Jewish American-controlled media distorts the facts, creating the perception that Israel is the victim while the Palestinians are the aggressors. This is an overt form of Islamophobia.
There are other covert intimidating forms of Islamophobia in so-called democratic countries that are supposed to have freedom of religious and secular expressions, pretending to tolerate differences of belief and lifestyle and celebrate unity in diversity.
Another aspect of Islamophobia is the prejudice within the Islamic community. One is between nations and the other is within nations.
In both cases, the conflict is between Sunnis and Shia, which dates back to the time of the emergence of the four Caliphates. It is prejudice and animosity between these two denominations of Islam.
Sunnis believe Muhammad is the last Prophet, while the Shia regard Ali as the anointed successor of Prophet Muhammad. Shia-Sunni relations have been volatile, resulting in violence confrontations.
Such confrontation occurs when one country has an overwhelming Shia or Sunni population as in the case of Iran and Iraq or a proxy one as in the case of Saudi Arabia and Iran.
This sectarian conflict is also replicated within a nation having both Shia and Sunni populations as in Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon and Azerbaijan, which have a majority Shia population, and a minority in Pakistan, Syria and Yemen.
It is a known fact that Shia and Sunni can co-exist peacefully but the underlying dormant tensions can be exacerbated into internecine conflict when political agendas are factored into the equation. This has been the case in Iraq and Syria.
Even within the exclusively Sunni Muslim population as in Malaysia and Indonesia, there are conflicts the result of different groups giving different interpretations in the practice of Islam based on their political ideology. Political parties that misused Islam purveyed their own brand of the religion and regard all others who are at variance with their religious and political beliefs as infidels.
Islam as a religion has attracted so much negative attention, perceptions and animosities. Its believers have been persecuted, subjugated, maimed and killed in certain countries. It has been touted as a religion of violence and linked to terrorism.
The beauty and the true image of Islam has been tarnished by unscrupulous leaders who hijacked the religion to serve their political agenda.
The regional and world organisations such as the United Nations, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Asean seem unable to solve the plight of the Muslims.
The Muslim community is fractured, each having its own earthly agenda and forsaking the true teachings of Islam as enshrined in the Quran and Hadiths.
And the western powers have taken advantage of the economic weakness of the Muslim countries as well as the greed of the despotic and corrupt rulers of the wealthy countries to perpetrate dissension and confrontation among the Muslim countries, especially those in the Middle East.
It is imperative that Muslim countries cast aside hostility towards each other and reconstitute the ummah to be a military and economic force that is able to exert influence and secure the safety and security of Muslims beyond individual geographical borders.
Muslim countries must have physical, economic and intellectual strength to counter the covert and overt confrontation of Islamophobia.
Published in: New Sunday Times, 3 February 2019
Islam is again at the forefront of public scrutiny as a result of several issues among which are the LGBT cases, the caning of two women accused of lesbianism, the incarceration and caning of a prostitute and child marriages in Kelantan and Terengganu. And last year the so called Islamic political party, PAS, introduced a Private Member's Bill, RUU 355, to increase punishment for syariah-related offences. It gives the impression that Islam is mainly concerned with punitive issues, rituals and sermonising through religious lectures by celebrity preachers and that it is a restrictive and repressive religion. It displays its calcified stance in adherence to syariah regulatory injunctions in the case of child marriages without taking into account the social implications of such marriages.
But those propagating the Islamic way of life through the implementation of syariah laws and other formal and informal regulatory measures are bent on impressing the punitive rather than the compassionate aspects of Islam that emphasise harmony, forgiveness, sharing and caring.
Most of such people emphasise the afterlife rather than the current one and that this life is ephemeral, a brief existence in preparation for eternal life. As such these people place spiritual needs over materialistic ones and neglect economic viability and discount secular education and other elements such as shelter, health, connectivity that formulate the fabric of living. A good example is Kelantan under PAS rule, which has remained the poorest state in Malaysia because the state government is more concerned about the ritualistic and punitive aspects of Islam instead of seeing to the worldly needs of the people.
In actual fact, Islam requires us to attend to both the needs of the present life and the preparation for the afterlife. While we must fulfil the prescribed Islamic practices such as prayers, fasting, and payment of zakat the social deeds to fellow men and women in meeting their economic, marital and educational needs form a significant part of the ibadah for consideration in the hereafter. The giving of alms and mandatory payment of zakat testifies to the importance of the social and economic aspects in the well-being of the ummah. Thus, Islam requires its adherents to strive for prosperity so that they could share it with those who are less fortunate. It encourages people to seek knowledge from all sources to be intellectually and technologically proficient to uplift the image of Islam.
Above all, Islam espouses the quest for knowledge, justice and truth and to view all syariah transgressions through the prismatic light of mercy and compassion. It is far from meting out punishments for syariah transgressions to flaunt authoritarian and dictatorial political stance as was the case of the single mother who turned to prostitution to support her child as she did not receive financial support from either her ex-husband or the state. Likewise, such unyielding authoritarian stance was also displayed in the case of the two women who were accused of lesbianism.
Syariah laws are not so much individualised as it is communal for the administration of syariah laws involving the community, that is, the state. The state is responsible for the wellbeing of the ummah by way of ensuring the availability of physical comfort – food, shelter, health, security – and intellectual competence (education) through the various state and private sectors, economic initiatives as well as other support facilities to ensure a decent living that would prevent them from committing crimes to meet their physical needs. Thus, the state is culpable, in the case of the single mother who turned to prostitution to support herself and her child.
It is not that the state should provide everything but it must create opportunities for employment through sound education and economic planning and practice. Thus, each to his/her own ability to eke out a decent living and those mired in poverty because of circumstances beyond their control should be helped by the Baitulmal.
Other religious institutions, besides the Baitulmal, especially the mosques, are also required to augment the state efforts in helping their needy khariah (people living within the mosque's jurisdiction) through their collection and donation.
Instead of being a centre for monitoring and providing help to the people within its jurisdiction, the mosques have been downgraded to a place for prayers and religious lectures. Worse, the monies collected are not disbursed to the community but accumulates in the mosques' bank accounts. This social responsibility and public advocacy is seldom practised. But the current trend in Malaysia is that the Islamic authorities are more concerned about meting out punishment without doing much to alleviate the poor and destitute, and without any initiative to counter unnatural sexual orientations or counselling to prevent child marriages. They only act on the symptoms rather than the cause.
In this case the state is only concerned with the syariah enactment on child marriages, instead of dealing with the factors that prompted such marriages. It chooses to ignore the negative social and financial implications of such a marriage. Thus, such punitive actions meted out by the Terengganu religious authorities do not represent the true teachings of Islam. This is the problem when looking at Islam by piecemeal, disengaging it from its holistic perspectives, which also include the role of the Ulul Amri or leaders as role models of piety and selflessness in the service of the ummah. There is much more to be done to reflect the true teachings of Islam beyond the prescribed rituals and outward appearance and behaviour.
One needs to create a positive and enlightened image of Islam as a progressive religion that is economically and technologically resilient that combines the spiritual and material to serve humanity underlined by compassion, forgiveness and mercy.
Thus, submission to Allah is not only through spiritual enlightenment of the self but also through worldly engagement to serve humanity as ordained and enshrined in the Quran and the Sunnah.
Published in: The Sun Daily, 2 October 2018
The university — as an institution that explores the many facets and meanings of existence through its manifestations of knowledge, and its efforts to imbue its charges with the critical and analytical faculties to fathom the multiplicity of creations — is a thing of the past. This institution is no longer a sanctuary to explore esoteric ideas and thoughts, and engage students in critical and dialectical discourse in exploring the physical, metaphysical, metaphorical dimensions of knowledge.......................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)
As an adjunct in the preservation and conservation of cultural heritage, the Department of Museums, besides its core business of exhibiting historical relics that include weapons, jewellery, costumes, ceramic and crafts, also periodically organises performances of traditional art forms such as wayang kulit, Mak Yong and gambus music.......................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)
The character and identity of a nation is moulded and represented by its cultural heritage, which encompasses the whole gamut and style of living. Our heritage is the DNA of our cultural make-up and expression. From time to time, mutation occurs as a result of external stimuli, environmental changes, influences of other cultures and, of course, technological development. The genotype mutation causes changes in the phenotype behaviour and cultural expression......................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)