January 18, 2016
The Merchants of Hate
by Cmdr S. Thayaparan
“Virulence is the sound of a self-selecting community talking to itself and positively reinforcing itself with no obligation to answer to anyone or look anyone in the eye.” – Thomas L Friedman, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century
After the Paris attacks, when bellicosity as some sort of catharsis permeated the discourse, Andrew J Bacevich from the realist school of American political discourse wrote, “Rather than assuming an offensive posture, the West should revert to a defensive one. Instead of attempting to impose its will on the Greater Middle East, it should erect barriers to protect itself from the violence emanating from that quarter.
The Teachers of Hate
“Such barriers will necessarily be imperfect, but they will produce greater security at a more affordable cost than is gained by engaging in futile, open-ended armed conflicts. Rather than vainly attempting to police or control, this revised strategy should seek to contain.”
This article is not about the West’s reaction to the threat of Islamic extremism but rather on whether we, as a nation, have a “defensive” posture when it comes to the IS? The answer is an emphatic “no”. Before we go any further, perhaps it is best to define what the goals of IS are.
While the discourse is dominated by polemics dispersed by left- and right- wing propagandists, The Atlantic ran a piece titled ‘What ISIS (IS) really wants’ by Graeme Wood, which has already garnered kudos and brickbats from both sides of the Western ideological divide. I happen to agree with the piece, and the cliff notes version by Steven Rosenfeld published by Alternet.
Rosenfeld lists six takeaways from the Wood piece:
(1) IS is Islamic. Very.
(2) IS is the most extreme of extremist sects.
(3) To IS, required punishment; to others, war crimes.
(4) Top prophecy: they’re in the battle for end times.
(5) IS has allure for true believers.
(6) Countering evil in our time – in which Wood writes, “The ideological purity of the Islamic State has one compensating virtue: it allows us to predict some of the group’s actions. IS has an obligation to terrorise its enemies – a holy order to scare the shit out of them with beheadings and crucifixions and enslavement of women and children, because doing so hastens victory and avoids prolonging conflict.”
No doubt, many Muslims are offended by the piece but I think our situation in Malaysia requires more open dialogue than the pandering that passes as “tolerance”.
In Dean Johns’ remarkable piece, he asks, “Is Islamic State a boon for BN?” and details the dissonance that emanates from UMNO regarding this Islamic extremist group.
Dean wrote (on Malaysians involved in the recent suicide bombings) “… Najib’s cousin, Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, far from echoing such piously politic remarks, seemed to hark back to Najib’s original ’emulate the bravery of IS’, urging with the oddly apparently admiring comment that the Malaysian suicide bombers were ‘not only not afraid of dying, but aimed to do something others will not even think of'”.
It is this kind of obscenity that permeates the rhetoric coming, not only from UMNO, but also nearly every political Muslim entity in this country. In press reports, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Ahmad Zaid Hamidi says that supposed pro-IS detainees have to be separated from the general prison population because “they have been found to influence other criminals in joining the ideology”.
In my piece about Malaysiakini’s interview with Yazid Sufaat, I wrote, “It should surprise nobody that the thinking of someone like Yazif could be shaped in this country. His search for a deeper understanding of Islam led him first to his local imam, then to the shores of a foreign land where he is charged with funding sectarian violence. And when he is finally incarcerated under the ISA, it’s done in secrecy and his wife is threatened and imprisoned for a spell. After seven years, this wanted Islamic terrorist is released because, in his words, he capitulated to the desires of his captors. And after being released he mocks his captors: What kind of rehabilitation is this?”
We live in a country where the idea of racial and religious superiority is embedded in our Federal Constitution. We live in a country where political parties are segregated by race and religion and where the dominant ethnic group is constantly told that their race and religion constantly needs to be defended.
UMNO leadership tells the Malays that they are the only ones capable of defending their race and religion and Opposition political groups reinforce this idea by pandering to Malay sensitivities in the guise of realpolitik.
‘Ketuanan Melayu’ propaganda
Malays are taught, through the ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ propaganda, that their race and religion are superior to the “Other” communities, who are “pendatang” and who are always attempting to usurp their position.
The apparatchiks of the state are not sanctioned when they proudly and defiantly claim they are “Muslim” first, which they use to subvert the law with the aim of maintaining religious hegemony. Government institutions are defended as Malay/Muslim institutions and every incident is turned into a racial one.
The most glaring examples are where a criminal act by a group of Malays was instead turned into a political and racial enterprise, with UMNO creating “Malay-driven” Low Yat 2 enterprise; and non-Muslims are told that their only avenue is the syariah court when the issue is plainly a civil one, albeit concerning Islam in a most insidious way.
Islam is used as a weapon against any progressive thought, movement or individual, and opposition political parties clamouring for the Malay/Muslim vote ape policies and rhetoric all the while, claiming a difference in policy and methodology.
Meanwhile, non-Malay oppositional groups are demonised as anti-Malay and Muslim, and in a foolish attempt at Malay relevance, form alliances and pacts with supposedly like-minded Islamic political groups, thereby injecting them into the mainstream of Malaysian politics.
In an environment like this, is it any wonder that confused young men, filled with a sense of superiority and purpose, seek out extremism as a natural extension of their religious beliefs? Is it any wonder that they find similarity and welcome in extremist teachings that most rational people would find to be anathema?
For years, the Biro Tata Negara courses told Malays that they were under siege. This is not a defensive posture. In reality, this is exactly what extremist groups like IS need. They need young, foolish men filled with a sense of superiority fuelled by unearned self-righteousness to carry out barbaric acts in the name of promulgating their scared religious beliefs. This, coupled with the rampant corruption and all-consuming hypocrisy, is fertile ground for groups like IS.
So the more disturbing question is: Is BN a boon for the Islamic State?
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.