Ulamaks and Malay-Muslim Politicians Vs The Thinking Malay


October 24, 2014

MY COMMENT: Prolific commenter, Mariam Mohktar, has raised an age-old issuemariam-mokhtar of the partnership between the ruling Malay political elite, and the ulamas and conservative religious functionaries. It is a marriage of convenience between them. They need each other to maintain their hold on power. It is a case of “Gu tolong Lu, Lu tolong Gua” (with apologies to the Prime Minister).

They are bound to feel threatened by intellectuals like Kassim Ahmad, Azmi Sharom and  poet laureate and novelist A. Samad Said, by an outstanding and public-spirited lawyer like Rosli Dahlan, by civil society activists like Ambiga Sreenevasan, Haris Ibrahim, Adam Adli  and Hishamuddin Rais, among others and now by an individual like Syed Azmi who was merely trying to eliminate the fear of dogs among Muslims.

They perceive their hold on the Malay Muslim community is being eroded with globalization and the social media. Their reaction is not discourse, but threat of punishment in the here and now and the hereafter. The Malay mind is, therefore, being mummified  by ignorance and dogma.

mullah-harussani-and-najibMullah Harussani of Perak and PM Najib

In his book, Concept of A Hero in Malay Society*, Dr. Shaharuddin Maaruf, when commenting on this partnership, has this to say: “…the Malay elite is encouraging many misplaced ideas and trends in thinking which are incompatible with progress…Important Islamic values that are conducive and harmonious to progress are not emphasised by the Malay elite; the Islamic conception of leadership is relegated into the background while feudal ideas concerning leadership are encouraged and propagated”. (page 2)

Dr. Maaruf goes on to say that “Intellectual interests and values are not nourished while irrationality and superstition are strengthened and accorded importance…The development of moral character that is sensitive to injustice is thwarted while the servile and morally numb human type is propagated”. For this purpose, the Malay elite makes use of the presumed superior knowledge of Islam of the ulamas. In that way, the ruling elite and the ulamas work in common purpose, that is, to legitimatise their hold on power over the Malays and their thought processes.

Today, their partnership has grown in importance in terms of politics. How long thisDin MericanY partnership can last is a matter of conjecture. But at this time we can acknowledge that it serves the political interest of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak who must pander to the ulamas and religious functionaries in the Prime Minister’s Department. After all, his position as Prime Minister is under threat.–Din Merican

*Concept of a Hero in Malay Society  ( 2014, SIRD, First Published in 1984 by Eastern Universities Press (M) Sdn. Bhd). Also read Malay Ideas on Development by the same author and publisher.

Ulamas and Malay-Muslim Politicians Vs The Thinking Malay

by Mariam Mokhtar@http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

The most dangerous threat to the Malaysian government is not an invading army, a contagious disease, or a nuclear threat. It is the thinking Malay.

syed_azmi_alhabshi_organiser_dogs_191014

When young pharmacist Syed Azmi Alhabshi (above right in pic) decided to organise the “I Want to Touch a Dog” event at Bandar Utama on October 19, he didn’t expect such a huge response. More than 1,000 people –Muslims and non-Muslims – turned up.

Whilst man and beast were having lots of fun, in other parts of the country temperatures were raised. Syed Azmi was perceived as a threat. Syed Azmi may have united Malaysians but he was alienating some conservative Muslims in Malaysia. His innocent “dog touching event” is a defining moment in 21st Century Malaysian history.

Muslim Girls and the DogThe Internet was awash with photos of tudung-clad girls smiling with their favourite dogs, Malay toddlers chasing German Shepherds, elderly Muslim couples stroking contented looking Labradors and Malay teenagers playing with Cocker Spaniels. Malays and non-Malays were getting to know one another, through another of God’s creatures. The people learned to bond – not just dog with humans, but Muslims and non-Muslims.

Malaysians, including the political leaders, should have been pleased to see harmony in action. People forgot their inhibitions. They did not see themselves as people of different faiths or races. They got on with one another, with help from the dogs.

Society’s party pooper, JAKIM, waded in to spoil all the fun. Its Director-General, Othman Mustapha, was furious and said that the programme should not have taken place to begin with. He barked that JAKIM would investigate the matter immediately.

He was followed by a Kelantan ulama who cried “Repent. Repent. Repent.” Other conservative Muslims claimed that the ulamas were being insulted. If anyone needs their heads examined, it is these people. This is not a political issue; so why were the ulamas angry? They were furious because they saw their power being eroded. The 3Rs – race, religion and royalty – keep us in check, and safely divided.

For years, Muslims have been told what to do by the ulamas. The political leaders, together with their cronies and religious authorities carve up Malaysia for themselves.

One political cynic said, “To keep them in power, the leaders manipulate laws. To control dissent, they bully us with draconian laws. We are threatened with sedition. We are told that women leaders will lead us to hell. We are told that God approves of the GST. We are told that voting for UMNO-Baru is a one-way ticket to heaven. The sad thing is that many Malays believe this.”

His colleague said, “After last Sunday’s dog touching event, more Malays are finally seeing the light. The Malay mind is being freed from its mental slavery. That explains why the authorities and the conservative ulamas are working at breakneck speed to find Syed Azmi guilty, but he has done nothing wrong.”

Fear of being irrelevant

Syed Azmi only wanted Malaysians to be compassionate towards animals and overcome their fear of dogs. He was not insulting the ulamas. The ulamas did not even bother to ask him why he organised the event.

ANJING

The ulamas and conservative Muslims see their power base eroding. They are afraid that they will no longer be of relevance in a modern world which does not believe in the 3Rs.

Many Muslims nationwide observed the event on the Internet and saw no issue with dog touching. The ulamas are afraid that the thinking Malay will start to ask questions about their other edicts, handed down, in the past, to control Muslim behaviour. The ulamas, like the political leaders, are obsessed with power. The rakyat is at their mercy. However, a thinking Malay can see past their warped thinking.

Touching dogs is not going to lead to touching pigs or eating non-halal food. It will not lead to free sex. It is the ulamas and their obsession with sex which makes the thinking Malay question why the ulama are stupid and shallow. The ulamas use sex as a crowd puller.

The ulamas must realise that in Saudi Arabia, the Bedouin tribesmen hunt with dogs (the Salukis), as in Afghanistan (the Afghan hounds). Dogs are used in search and rescue, for drug detection, hunting, and to assist the blind, the deaf and those with epilepsy. The dog is man’s best friend.

The thinking Malays wonder why things like chocolates, dogs, the word “Allah” and beer take prominence in the national debate. They wonder why the ulamas keep silent about the rising cost of living, petrol price hikes, the collapsing infrastructure, corruption, the abuse of power by the leaders, incest, drug taking by Malays and the high crime rate.

Today, the ulamas are against us touching dogs. Knowing how their minds work, it won’t be long before Muslims will be banned from eating hot-dogs, and using English idioms like “dog in the manger” or complaining that a book is “dog eared”, or that Malaysia has “gone to the dogs”.

The Kassim Ahmad Defence Fund


October 17, 2014

George Town, Penang

The Kassim Ahmad Defence Fund: Fight Arrogance of Power and Defend Justice

by Din Merican

kassim ahmad1Kassim Ahmad Arrested in Classic Mossad Covert Style by JAWI

On  March 26, 2014, officers of the Jabatan Agama Wilayah Persekutuan (JAWI) went to the northern state of  Kedah. They stormed and broke into the house of Malay scholar and public intellectual, Kassim Ahmad and abducted him in a 5 hour van-ride to Penang and then put him on board a midnight Air Asia flight to KLIA bound for Kuala Lumpur. This was a classic Mossad covert style raid and kidnap which had to be done under the cover of darkness.

JAWI’s territorial limits is only the Federal Territory which is Kuala Lumpur and JAWI had transgressed that territorial limit. But, JAWI  was not bothered. JAWI then interrogated the 80- year old Kassim Ahmad overnight and then charged him in court the next morning for defiling Islam. By then Kassim’s wife had made her way down from Kedah to Kuala Lumur to bail him. But she was disappointed. They refused to allow her to post bail for him because they said the bailor must be a Wilayah Persekutuan resident. And because she is a Kedah resident, she did not qualify. This is one of the perverse things JAWI did. There were many more.

Kassim and RosliUpon advice from his lawyer, Kassim Ahmad filed a Judicial Review to challenge JAWI’s actions. Judicial Review is a special type of legal action where the civil High Court is empowered to review the conduct of public authorities and public bodies from acting in an illegal manner. Because it is a special type of legal suit, a person like Kassim will need a special permission (Leave) to file a Judicial Review.

In Malaysia, defiling Islam is a serious syariah criminal charge. The state of Terengganu even issued a fatwa declaring Kassim Ahmad a Murtad (Apostate). But JAWI did not do that because if it did, then JAWI cannot proceed with the Charge against an apostate as an apostate is, by definition, not a Muslim.

So, what was this serious charge about? Kassim is charged for purportedly delivering an academic lecture at the Perdana Foundation officiated by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed. There you have it, this whole covert style prosecution is just about an academic lecture.

Most Muslims in Malaysia, including Judges, will become a bit troubled to show sympathy to anyone who is charged with defiling Islam. So, Kassim’s attempt at getting Leave was rejected because the High Court Judge, Justice Dato Zaleha Yusof, said that the civil courts do not have jurisdiction over a religious body. That seems to be a lame excuse. But never mind.

Kassim had to appeal and  the Court of Appeal agreed with him and directed the High Court to hear the Judicial Review. The Attorney-General’s Chambers then asked for more time to file affidavits for the Religious Minister, JAWI and the Syariah Prosecutor who are the Respondents in the Judicial Review. And this is where JAWI again shows its incoherent behavior as reported by Malaysian Insider and Malaysiakini. It would appear JAWI wants to bring about a collision course between the civil court and the syariah legal systems.

READ:http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/religious-court-on-collision-course-with-civil-court-over-kassim-ahmads-cas

READ:http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/269747 

Syariah Courts are located in the same complex as the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court called the Palace of Justice. Anyone who has been to the Palace of Justice will admire its beauty as a Palace. But then, can this beautiful Palace also serve its main function to deliver Justice?

If the Syariah Court insist on proceeding with the syariah criminal trial against Kassim whereasAzmi Sharom 3 there is a Judicial Review pending that has been ordered by the Court of Appeal, then the Syariah Court is courting problem. I suggest the Syariah Judge should introspect if that is what he wants to do- cause a crisis.

Until then, we Malaysians can only show our displeasure to these antics by JAWI by supporting Kassim Ahmad’s cause. We can do that by contributing to his defence fund. We can create this fund to support Kassim Ahmad and all other persecutions that endanger our liberty and freedom. In supporting Kassim Ahmad and others like Azmi Shahrom, we are securing a guarantee of our fundamental liberties.

To show your support, please send your contribution to this Maybank Account No: 514011895152.

 

Haris Onn Hussein: The Chosen One?


October 15, 2o14

Haris Onn Hussein: The Chosen One?

by Din Merican

Lembah Sari Sdn. Bhd with commercial links to Dato’ Haris Onn Hussein, the son of Haris Onn Husseinformer Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Hussein Onn, brother of Minister of Defence Hishammuddin Hussein and cousin to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak was recently awarded a contract for the printing of security-labels for liquor and beer from the Royal Malaysian Customs Department. The contract is worth some RM77 million.

The Edge Malaysia on September 12 reported that the contract was to design, print, store, supply and distribute banderols (tax stamps) for liquor (including beer) between 2014 and 2019. The company would also supply the department with authentication devices and necessary training. The letter of acceptance from the Customs Department was received by Lembah Sari on July 21, 2014.

With this latest award, Dato Haris who owns Duke Highway now effectively monopolises the security labels for all locally produced and imported cigarettes, as well as beer and liquor, in the country. He is very rich for life.

My initial reaction to this news was one of disbelief but upon some reflection I realise  that  the political elite in our country has been doing this sort of deals for a long time hidden from public scrutiny. You do not need special skills or knowledge to get lucrative business deals. All you have to do is to take full advantage of your connections and you are super wealthy almost overnight.

In Cambridge educated Dato Haris’ case, the fact that his grandfather was Dato Onn Jaafar, his father, Tun Hussein was Prime Minister, and so was his uncle, Tun Razak coupled with the fact that his first cousin is Prime Minister and elder brother is  Minister of Defence puts him in  a very privileged position to receive business offers, directorships  and cushy contracts.

So we can say that without powerful connections, he would not have made it in the commercial world. He is not alone, of course. Tun Mahathir’s sons,  Mirzan, Mokhzani and Mukhriz are privileged ones so are the children of UMNO elites and Cabinet Ministers.

Today, we are a divided nation in terms of rank and status, race and religion and income. Woe betide those of us who are egalitarians. The powerful and privileged will lord over us ordinary Malaysians who are condemned to lead a life of constant struggle for equity and justice.

People like Haris Onn and his kind lead a life of luxury and comfort. They are the chosen ones to whom life comes easy.  Even President John F. Kennedy  said that “[T]here is always inequity in life.  Life is unfair.” That is no comfort. But isn’t the role of government to strife for equity and equality of opportunity.

Progressive Islamic Ideas will spread despite Ban on Ulil’s Visit to Malaysia


October 12, 2014

Comment: What is so scary about progressive Islamic ideas or even ideasdinmerican in general that our government must prevent Ulil from delivering a speech in Kuala Lumpur at a forum organized by my friend Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa of The Islamic Renaissance Front on October 18, 2014. I see nothing wrong to listen to alternative views about Islam.

It appears to me at least that the Minister of Home Affairs, Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is a very intelligent man with a Doctorate in Philosophy, is worried not so much with Ulil’s views and ideas; ahead of the UMNO General Assembly, he is more concerned about the reactions of conservative UMNO members (and those in PAS too) who feel that they have a monopoly on propagating the “right” Islam. They are supporting the actions by the government against those like Pak Kassim Ahmad and others who seek to disagree with the official interpretation (which is usually politically motivated to manipulate and subjugate the minds of Malaysian Muslims) of this venerated religion.

The Najib administration and Prime Minister Najib himself, who promotes moderation in Islam internationally, have this bad habit of assuming that we Malaysian Muslims cannot think for ourselves and that we are stupid and self destructive if we are left to our own devices.

In the truth those who seek to suppress ideas are people who are scarred of their own shadows. Those shadows can only disappear when they learn to critically evaluate different interpretations, that is subject them to the test of reason. To quote Dr. R. Buckminster Fuller: “People should think things out fresh and not just accept conventional terms and the conventional way of doing things.”–Din Merican

Progressive Islamic Ideas will spread despite Ban on Ulil’s Visit to Malaysia

by http://www.malaysiakini.com

Ulil-Abshar-AbdhalaLiberal Indonesian Islamic scholar Ulil Abshar Abdalla said banning him from entering Malaysia will do little to stop the onset of Islamic progressive ideas.”As sad as this ban might be, it won’t work. The authorities might ban my entrance to Malaysia. But Islamic progressive ideas can’t be stopped,” he said in a series of tweets today.

“What may this ban tell us? It tells that conservative groups won’t allow voices of difference to challenge them.What conservative groups want to do is to impose a mono-culture of conformism on Muslim society,” he tweeted.

Ulil was slated to speak at a roundtable on fundamentalism organised by the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) in Kuala Lumpur on October 18,2014.

Najib The so-called Moderate

Ironically, the forum is to be held at the premises of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s centrepiece to showcase his Islamic ‘moderation’ worldwide.However, Home Minister  Dr.Ahmad Zahid Hamid yesterday announced Ulil would be barred from entering the country. “The Police have received several reports that when he delivers lectures or attends programmes organised by non-government organisations, he would not only damage the faith of Muslims but also deviates from the teachings of Sunni wal Wajamaah (Shafie sect),” Bernama reported the minister saying.

Ahmad Zahid said the ban would be enforced until he is found to be no longer a danger to Islam. He was likely responding to the Malaysian Islamic Development Department’s (Jakim) call on Thursday for the ministry to put a stop to the forum titled ‘Religious fundamentalism threat in this century’.

Jakim alleged that the forum was an “effort to bring in teachings that contravene the Ahli Sunnah Wal Jamaah and can threaten the faith of Muslims in Malaysia”. Pointing out that the trend of Islamic conservatism seemed to be increasing in Malaysia, as in his home country, Ulil believes that this did not spell good news for Muslims in the Malay  archipelago (Nusantara).

“I am sad that this ban happens at a time when the Muslim society needs more dialogues to stem radicalism in their midst,” said Ulil in his tweet.

Related: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/277309

Sarawak’s Nancy is a Spokeswoman for UMNO’s washed-out version of politics


October 12, 2014

Sarawak’s Nancy is a Spokeswoman for UMNO’s washed-out version of politics

by Sandra John@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

“…it comes as a nasty shock that Nancy is now the face UMNO has pushed under the spotlight to meet the firing squad as she explains the double standards and religious intolerance perpetuated by Najib’s administration.”

Parliament is in session again and many an unsavoury character has let fly logic-defying remarks that have wormed their unfortunate way into our media.

Leading the pack of empty vessels was Bung Mokhtar and his unconvincing display of trauma at having his life threatened – all because of a tweet that he should be gotten “rid” of. More fiery tweet exchanges and a police report later, and we are all still reeling from the utter absurdity of the entire episode.

However one development that has refused to die down is that of Perkasa’s Ibrahim Ali getting away scot-free after threatening to burn all Malay- and Iban-language Bibles containing the word “Allah”.

Hajjah_Nancy_Shukri

Nancy with an Identity Problem

Appearing like a Godsend to offer up a defence in the form of gibberish was Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri. Explaining away Ibrahim Ali’s antics as nothing more that his “burning” desire to protect the sanctity of Islam, Nancy committed an even worse sin by saying his threats were in line with the Federal Constitution.

She also went out on a limb, explaining that Ibrahim Ali’s threat only extended to a specific group of individuals and not society at large. Hence the over reaction on everybody else’s part to want the dear fellow charged under the Sedition Act was totally unwarranted.

As the country’s de facto Law Minister, Nancy has taken a beating for those remarks. In the past few days, she has been accused by political leaders and members of the public for practising “double standards”, talking “rubbish” and being a “coward”.

Christians are incensed with her justifications and even some Muslims are stumped at how she has condoned Ibrahim’s bad behaviour by brushing it off as nothing out of the ordinary. But for those who know the real Nancy, she is far from the racist and cowardly politician she is made out to be at the moment.Being a Sarawakian, Nancy comes from a land where racism is a dirty word and religious intolerance is well… not tolerated.

Chinese… Dayaks… Malays… all live together peacefully, respectful of each other’s cultural and religious beliefs regardless of whether they pray to Allah, Jesus or a tree.

Of mixed parentage herself – Scot, Chinese, Iban, Malay, Melanau – Nancy grew up without agonising over whether she was Malay or Chinese. She was just Nancy. And Malaysian.

In an interview she had with online news portal The Nut Graph in 2010, Nancy said that for most Sarawakians, eating at a non-Muslim’s house was never a problem. No one ever asked if the dishes were halal or non-halal. They just ate because “that’s us”.

She also commented that the “Allah” issue the country is currently obsessing over was one Sarawakians chose to remain silent about in Parliament… until now of course, since Najib’s administration has picked her to be the scapegoat, and unfortunate spokeswoman, for its washed-out version of politics.

As one who led Christian hymns in her school days because it was merely a singing activity to her, it is an abomination that she has allowed peninsula-style politics to wrap its hideous tentacles around her once-liberal mind and wring it dry.

Is Nancy merely toeing the line? And if so, is her forsaking all that she has felt passionate about until recently worth the effort?

For someone who once said, “We don’t want anyone from outside Sarawak to come and teach us about harmony or peace or living in unity!”, it comes as a nasty shock that Nancy is now the face UMNO has pushed under the spotlight to meet the firing squad as she explains the double standards and religious intolerance perpetuated by Najib’s administration.

While Najib stands at the world stage preaching his brand of moderation, it is the liberals like Nancy, who should be making a stand to right the many wrongs this nation is committing in broad daylight.

If Nancy, who once said she hoped Sarawakians could be a model of how to live peacefully, has seemingly crossed over to the dark side, do the rest of us even have a prayer?

 

Dr Welsh on PAS’ 60th Muktamar and the Doublespeak of Abdul Hadi Awang


October 7, 2014

Dr Welsh on PAS’ 60th Muktamar and the Doublespeak of Abdul Hadi Awang

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Hadi3The Political Comedian with Ambition to be Malaysia’s Next Prime Minister

COMMENT: With emotional outbursts, walkouts and contradictory statements, PAS’ 60th muktamar last week was more of a confrontation rather than a celebration.

With the PAS President referring to the Islamic party’s Pakatan Rakyat partners as “minor enemies” and its members who stood with ally PKR as “lackeys”, it has become evident that PAS under the leadership of Abdul Hadi Awang appears to be no longer a party that can be trusted to listen to the people and work with other parties to bring change to Malaysia.

There is a sense of betrayal among the public, whose hopes have been dashed by a reactionary faction of conservative ulama within PAS who think they are the ‘chosen ones’ – many of whom who have acted in a manner that is neither in keeping with their religious values nor reflects wisdom.

In the wake of this muktamar, where the reactionary forces have dominated the bitter discourse, the Pakatan coalition has suffered a serious blow from within. It appears that the opposition coalition is over. This conclusion is understandable but – for now – premature.

Pakatan is clearly deeply wounded, but the intensity of the battle inside PAS reveals an ongoing struggle that suggests that there are many more battles ahead and the fight to develop an alternative political narrative is not over. In fact, arguably, the PAS muktamar reveals the scope of struggles that are necessary to overcome in order to give the majority of Malaysians what they have voted for – a better Malaysia.

In this muktamar, the divide within PAS has come into the open. The skirmishes have been ongoing for many years, repeating historical tensions inside the party and paralleling struggles within Islamist parties globally.

PAS has moved from a pattern of working toward consensus – even this was fragile – to open conflict. Those that are the most insecure, the conservative religious ulama, have taken to the reactionary tactic of destruction, aiming to derail political reform within PAS itself and nationally.

Most of the focus of the discussion has centred on Abdul Hadi Awang. The underlying issues facing the party go well beyond its president. There are three interrelated crises facing the party – identity, leadership and democracy. Let me elaborate these further.

PAS identity – in UMNO’s image?

PAS’ political advantage has traditionally been that its leaders are portrayed as moral and non-corrupt. This ‘upright’ standing has allowed the party to be compared favourably to UMNO. It has underscored the profound respect for spiritual leader Niz Aziz Nik Mat, for example, whose missing moral authority was keenly felt at the Johor muktamar. But PAS’ righteous advantage is disappearing.

Rightly or wrongly, PAS’ response in the Selangor MB crisis has caused many to question the honesty and integrity of its leaders. Double-speak, contradictions and inconsistencies – in direct contrast to the theme of the muktamar – have left a mark on party’s image.

PAS has always had a trust deficit among the majority of the country; it only managed to win on average a third of support among Malaysians on its own. The actions over the last few months have deepened distrust and, for many non-Muslims and Muslims alike, shattered the perception of PAS as the ‘good’ party.

People are asking why PAS leaders have misled the public, visited certain places in the shadow of night and avoided answering questions directly. In the wake of the muktamar, PAS has come off as a party interested in its own power, not listening to the public nor apparently keeping its promises. Has PAS taken a page from UMNO, many wonder?

In fact, while scholars point to UMNO becoming like PAS in its advocacy of exclusionary Islamist policies, there has been another phenomenon, PAS – or at least some within the party – is becoming more like UMNO.

This perception is reinforced by a closer look at the backgrounds of PAS leaders. Gone are the days of humility and humbleness. Today many PAS leaders appear to be interested in securing international positions, wealth and material goods. The sins of greed and pride appear evident.

Observers are asking how religious schools led by some PAS leaders have amassed such wealth, while others secured lucrative business contracts. Questions are being raised about the ties of many PAS leaders with those from UMNO over assets and finances.

Corruption and nepotism within PAS are even being quietly discussed in the sense that some are using the party for position, their families and personal wealth rather than the ideals the party supposedly espouses. Worse yet, religion is being used to justify positions that appear to be more about self-interest rather than actual religious principles.

For decades, PAS has been wrestling with how to promote an Islamist agenda and what sort of Islam it should be advocating. As it engaged in a more inclusive manner through Pakatan, the myopic focus on implementing hudud and syariah laws has been challenged by more inclusive shared religious values of justice, good governance and stronger humanity.

A spirit of humanism and community has been fostered, where greater inclusiveness and appreciation for equality have disputed the narrow-minded thinking of many conservative ulama that see themselves a step above ordinary people.

Many conservative ulama within the party are uncomfortable moving outside of what they know, and in fact have increased their efforts to indoctrinate younger members with their interpreted religious views. They advocate an exclusionary approach that not only divides Malaysian society, but also follows the line of dictating to others.

They just don’t get that the overwhelming majority of Malaysians want to choose how they practice their own religion, and that the majority believe that the country is not ready for hudud.

Moreover, they do not realise that citizens are not willing to turn over moral authority to religious leaders that appear to be acting immorally. PAS’ conservative ulama appear to have forgotten that the means are as important as the ends, and by choosing to adopt practices that promote division and disrespect they are not acting righteously.

Sadly, of late, a path of destruction has been adopted by Hadi and his ulama camp against their professed goals. The message that stands out is not only one of further parallel to Umno in the prominence of arrogance and use of division, but it is also a signal that ironically strengthens Umno as the choice for government over the long term.

Crisis of leadership

Malaysians have been searching for leaders they can respect and put their faith in. More and more have been putting their belief in PAS. But this muktamar has not inspired any such confidence.

Rather than working together to move the country forward, PAS under Hadi appears to want to move the country and his party backward. When Hadi assumed the presidency in 2002, he had difficult shoes to fill following the death of Fadzil Noor. Not only was the former president willing to listen and work with others, he inspired support that brought new people into the party and won additional states to govern.

By any measure Hadi cannot be credited with the same gains, especially in recent months. Hadi’s decisions contributed to the loss of Kedah, Terengganu (twice), Perak and potentially Selangor, and his leadership has weakened rather than strengthened the party.

The future of Hadi’s leadership will continue to play out until the next muktamar when a party election is scheduled. The rally-around-the-leader dynamic of this muktamar was as much a reflection of weakness of Hadi’s leadership as it shows that many within his own party are alienated by his actions.

The leadership problem in PAS is broader than one person. One dimension is the role of the ulama in the party hierarchy. Many in PAS do not agree that the conservative ulama should lead the party. It is a long-standing battle in PAS, and this battle has intensified.

Until this muktamar, the conservative ulama have been losing ground. Conservative ulama have played limited roles in Pakatan, with many of them not even attending decision-making meetings. The ulama leadership in states like Kedah was rejected by the electorate.

The key PAS actors involved in successful Pakatan governance have been those with the direct skills and knowledge to address the country’s problems, the non-ulama. The party delegates and general public understand this. In last year’s muktamar, progressives were elected in the majority for positions, as the delegates opted for more non-ulama leadership.

The conservative ulama fear marginalisation and in this muktamar fought back. They defended the decisions and positions of their teammate Hadi who has increasingly taken on less reform-oriented positions.

The conservative ulama clearly are unwilling to accept a different and more advisory political role. The recent meeting shows that they are willing to do anything to stay in premier positions, even if it means dividing PAS and weakening the opposition as a whole.

Painting themselves as martyrs for the conservative cause, the current ulama are seen to be trying to assure the survival of younger conservatives, many of whom are from the same families of the current ulama leadership. At its root is a reactionary goal – to stop reforms in the party and nationally.

A second leadership problem is that PAS currently does not offer a viable prime minister candidate. This has to do in part with the competition among the more progressive leaders among themselves. It also stems for a lack of grooming and experience of many PAS leaders in government and on the national stage.

For a party that supposedly claims to seek national power, it has a deficit in giving voters an alternative that can not only lead the country but also inspire confidence. While there are many PAS leaders that have potential to fill this role, the current situation and traditional PAS party culture of accepting hierarchy has prevented them from coming to the fore.

If the progressives are to have any chance at all they will need to agree and present an alternative leader. This will require significant reform within PAS, and successful measures involving courage that thwart the reactionary turn.

Moving away from democracy towards theocracy

A third interrelated dimension of PAS’ current crises involves democracy. PAS is grappling with the conflict between different political bodies within the party, namely the syura council versus the central working committee.

It is wrestling also to respond to an increasingly demanding and diverse membership and electorate. In recent months, the PAS ulama leadership has moved in a more authoritarian direction, with decisions by fiat rather than through consultation.

In fact, minority views have prevailed, as the majority were ignored, dismissed and even ridiculed. Clearly, the mandate of the delegates and voters has been ignored. The conservative ulama appear not to understand that dictatorial practices lead to the downfall of Islamist parties, as happened in Egypt. They similarly do not understand that as an opposition party calling for more democracy, their own lack of democratic governance reveals hypocrisy.

PAS, like other parties, wrestles with engaging democratic practices. As Umno and PKR have introduced more democratic internal party elections, allowing members to select the party leadership, under Hadi PAS has resisted opening up. This has not allowed new blood to come into the leadership and different ideas to emerge. It has signaled a lack of respect for the wisdom of its members.

Another challenge has been including women in political positions within PAS. The party leadership’s recent attacks on a politician – although not everyone in PAS – because she is woman, has not conformed to democratic values of inclusion.

Equally important, members in PAS have been supporting decisions that are not in line with the public mandate on who was voted into office and why. Unlike a decade ago where PAS was leading the path toward democracy in the Malay community, the Islamist party has stagnated in expanding democracy. In this muktamar, the reactionary conservative ulama have further resisted democratic reforms.

An example is the supremacy of the syura council in party decisions. Syura members have the undemocratic power to choose their members and they are not accountable to anyone. Is this the type of body that Malaysians are willing to accept to wield ultimate decision-making power and those who assume positions not from an open election?

Who should have power and whether that power should be accountable to the delegates and ordinary voters has come to the fore.

This involves the difficult issue of legitimacy. Who should legitimately hold power? How should leaders be chosen by the people? What should be the source of legitimate power is right for PAS? Should it be the party constitution, elections from members or archaic practices of a syura council that is neither representative to the party itself or appears willing to respect and listen to the views and aspirations of ordinary voters?

Reforms to the party constitution will be necessary if the party is to move in a more democratic direction. The reactionary push-back in PAS has resisted these democratic pressures. More broadly, the party’s authoritarian turn had been damaging for democracy in Malaysia.

Difficult future for Pakatan

Anwar-Ubah

The Doublespeak of Hadi weakens Pakatan Rakyat

The reactionary elements in PAS have been there for decades. In this muktamar, they have come out into the open. The intensity of their responses reflects ongoing struggles over identity, leadership and democracy.

The fact that they have come out as they have, fighting in a no-holds-barred manner, reveals weakness not strength. They are afraid and insecure. They are willing to do everything to stay in control of PAS to maintain their reactionary position.

The use of reactionary politics is sadly increasingly common across the political spectrum in UMNO as well as PAS. Its roots however have to be seen to derive from the increasing democratic pressures and demands from the public on leaders who are neither willing nor able to accommodate them.

The fact that more of these reactionary measures are being used shows that Malaysia is changing and those in power are unwilling to change with it.

PAS is headed for further internal struggles. The more progressive forces in the party may appear to have lost ground at this muktamar, with reactionary forces dominating the discourse. They clearly were not prepared to fight openly against the reactionary forces. But they have survived to fight another day, and the party election in the next muktamar as well as the Selangor issue will be the next battlefields.

The muktamar showed that the internal battles will continue to rage, and that the fight within PAS is far from over. The important decision ahead for the progressives in PAS involve whether or not to stay within the party, the development of strategies that strengthen internal party reform and movement toward offering an alternative leader to Hadi.

What does this mean for Pakatan? Is it dead as many have claimed? No question, the working relationships of leaders and partnerships have soured, and will likely to continue. The opposition coalition may enter a period of decline. As long as the reactionaries control the party decisions in PAS, the Islamist party will not be seen as a trusted partner. This will feed distrust among the opposition parties.

Pakatan’s future will heavily depend on the outcome of the battles within PAS. It is important at this juncture not to completely dismiss PAS and the reality of the difficulty of its internal struggles. Indeed, the battle for democracy in the Malay community is taking place on many fronts.

It also needs to be acknowledged that PAS alone is not responsible for all the troubles in Pakatan and considerable responsibility lies with the folly of the ‘Kajang move’ and inflexibility of other Pakatan leaders in the handling the Selangor crisis. PAS’ Pakatan partners need to look inside themselves to appreciate why reactionary forces in PAS have become so predominant.

Pakatan now enters its most difficult phase and this will decide whether the coalition will survive and the struggle for political reform is a genuine one. It will involve courage, faith and wisdom. One decisive factor ahead will be the willingness of leaders across the opposition coalition to learn lessons from Selangor and set in place measures that offset the damaging cycle that has emerged.

Current conditions suggest this is not yet promising. People are increasingly losing confidence in Pakatan and words will not be enough. What will matter is whether the opposition remembers why it is in office in the first place – to serve the people.

Malaysians want results and solutions to problems rather than politicking that results in more problems. The time now is for reflection, not reaction or ‘reactionarism’, and a return to respecting the mandate that made the Pakatan coalition a reality in the first place.

BRIDGET WELSH is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of National Taiwan University and can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.