Making sense of Malaysian Malay Ire

Assailants attacked three Malaysian churches with firebombs Friday, extensively damaging one amid a growing conflict over the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims, officials said.

The attacks sharply escalated tensions in the Muslim-majority country ahead of planned protests by Muslims later Friday against a Kuala Lumpur High Court verdict which struck down a 3-year-old ban on non-Muslims using "Allah" in their literature.

"I condemn these actions because they will destroy our country's harmony," Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters. "The government will take whatever steps it can to prevent such acts." source: AP

I could, I suppose, join some quarters in saying that the Malays are an unreasonable lot whose system of rationality requires some upgrading; or others whom are of the opinion that Islam is divisive; or that religion ought to be tossed into the rubbish bin of history for its utilising the sword to negotiate through difference (as if the religion of the nation-state isn’t guilty of the same).

However, I’ve often found the Malays to be generally and comparatively a peaceful, simple, fun-loving, communal, animated and curious lot. That opinion still stands despite my being a Roman Catholic, an ex-altar boy, and despite some of them fire-bombing a Church in Malaysia (the report calls it a ‘Malaysian Church’, which i found to be quite a strange term given that it is not a state church like, say, the Church of England) - to all Christians and Catholics, cool it! Remember Jesus’ reaction in the Garden of Gethsemane when pissed-off-Pete attempted to take up the sword against the Romans and their collaborators whom had come to arrest him? Right. Now that’s settled...

The Malays aren’t really the belligerent sort culturally, socially, or economically. And as for Islam, I think it a great faith that comprises components of the idea of universalism and has a metaphorical character that can serve to enrich other faiths through fusion. However, given the capitalist and nationalist status quo throughout the world, its character can serve to react to it in a way that might be interpreted as indicative of the problematic nature of the faith. That, of course, is erroneous.

So, perhaps we could take the time to look at other causes for the actions and attitudes of some of these Muslims so as to perhaps address these conditions for the purpose of undermining its foundations.

Off the top of my skin head, I would say that the siege mentality amongst the Malays of Malaysia has remained constant for quite some time. Like my mom said not too long ago, quite a few Malays in Malaysia never forgave Tunku Abdul Rahman for giving up Singapore. And I have read a few accounts of how some Malays feel that the Chinese had taken over singapore and turned it from a Malay/Multicultural state to a Confucian one (of course, it wasn’t directly the ‘Chinese’). That does little to get rid of the siege mentality in the face of difference in Malaysia don’t you think. We could even go on to say that the situation in singapore has exacerbated it, just as singapore’s pro-Chinese stance is serving to validate China’s monocultural ethos. The sinews of the here-and-now stretch further than you think mate.

Secondly, i’ve often detected a strain between the communal ethos of the Malays and the nationalist-cum-capitalist ethos. I commented in a local blog that the perception that ‘Malays are lazy’ is borne of the obtrusive predominance of the capitalist and Confucianism-cum-Legalism induced standard that promotes life as means to work as opposed to a means to live. Hence, it could as easily be said, if we were objective about things, that the Malays have a work-life balance that isn’t congruent with the work-is-life imbalance promoted by the aforementioned ethos. Hence, given Malay communality and relative absence of economic belligerence and self-absorption-cum-alienation, it is no wonder that the siege mentality is further exacerbated. Where profit is paramount, and a dog-eat-dog world is taken as the norm, communality and its various manifestations would become a disadvantage. As I’ve been inclined to say for quite a while, ‘an angel in hell is soon relieved of her wings’. In other words, being communal in the face of capitalist or confucianism-cum-legalism induced economic belligerence, the Malays will tend to lag behind given that mammon is yet to be perceived as the reason to live. But if a more communal and empathetic standard was to become predominant, it is those whom are economically belligerent whom would be afforded looks of askance. Get it?

Thirdly, the demands of the religion of the nation-state that a brother ceases to be a brother the moment he switches the emblem on his passport to that of another wouldn’t really sit well with the universalistic Muslims. After all, i’ve often viewed the 5-times-a-day prayer by the Muslims as not only a worship of God, but a global communion amongst Muslims with Mecca serving as the rallying point that cuts across borders. I personally think that a really beautiful phenomenon. However, as the capitalist elite cannot join hands across the oceans with as much ease if their nationally fragmented factories, aka ‘nation-states’, do not remain fragmented, it is no wonder that a cross-border sense of familialarity is frowned upon. This, again, feeds the sense of alienation in the face of difference amongst the Malays or Muslims.

Lesser minds would have glossed over all of the above and just returned with a premature ejaculation of, ‘yah yah, if Muslims (or Malays) are so universalistic, then why did they firebomb a church?!’ That’s the problem in a fascist milieu. People generally tend to go with the flow of opinion on both sides of the illusory divide between the proposition and opposition and leave the thinking to the ‘doctors’ and the prominent. Fools. The point here is that given the siege mentality, one’s reaction cannot be assumed to be indicative of the nature of one’s faith or culture. The siege mentality-induced act of defense can take on belligerent and unacceptable forms (such as the fire-bombing of the church in Malaysia) when incited. When universalism and communalism is assailed, retaliatory acts cannot be taken as naturally arising from the culture or faith, but from an effort to defend it. Of course, in every act of defense, there will be the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The firebombers fall in the category of the latter.

When I look at the Bumiputra policy, which is as fascist, racist, and unconscionable as the ‘Mandarin is cool and appreciate Chinese culture’ campaign in singapore, I do however recognise that they are, whether they realise it or not, defending, in essence, a work-life balance that is out of sync with the capitalist ethos, and which is actually communal in nature. The Malays do not generally have a problem with difference and can be highly individualistic themselves (i.e. look at the ‘mat rock’ of the past, their being quite adept in the arts, etc.) Of course, overtime, this can take on a race vs. race character as future generations remember the more salient form of conflict but not its essential features. That is when people can begin to make sense of things in ways that can lead to, say, the fire-bombing of churches or ‘religious’ and racial riots. But this is when everyone loses sight of the real problem.

Thus, this article.

Assalamualaikum to All.