Malaysia: Avoid the Arabisation Trap


October 24, 2018

Malaysia: Avoid the Arabisation Trap

by  |  Phar Kim Beng

@www.malaysiakini.com

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“Come what may, Malaysia should not be enmeshed in the geo-political, even petty morass of West Asia. Whether or not Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS photo) was directly involved in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2 at the its Istanbul consulate, the fact is Malaysia lacks the strategic depth to contain or constrain the behaviour of Saudi Arabia”.–Phar Kim Beng

Anyone familiar with the Middle East will know the phrase “a friend of my enemy is my friend”. It is also a testament to how dangerously fluid the tribal dynamics in the Middle East can be.

Just a few decades ago, Qatar was a friend of Saudi Arabia. Qatar is now its enemy, as well as that of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, all of which appear to dislike the warm and receptive attitude of Qatar to Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey, Iran and other groups that the first four countries dislike.

In the Middle East, the literature of Orientalism is wrong on many things but not necessarily flawed on the other: when a group of people or nation hates you, they hate you forever. Obversely, when they love you, they love you forever too; at which point effusive expressions like “habibi” (my love) will come sprouting out from their lips, like honey that oozes non-stop.

But then the line that separates love and hatred is a fine one in the Middle East – what we Asians called ‘West Asia’. When you fail to appreciate their kings, crown princes, perhaps even their austere concept of culture, you are considered an “outsider” who cannot truly appreciate the internal elegance, beauty and structure of the Middle East.

It is not without some truth, to be sure. The late Professor Fred Halliday, who taught International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, used to say that the Middle East is seen through the optic of sheer desert and sands. Yet, the Middle East is actually surrounded by many strips of water, such as the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Aden, the Straits of Hormuz, all of which lead to the Indian Ocean. There are more seas around the Middle East, it appears, then in the whole of Asia.

When the optica are skewed, as Edward W Said (author of ‘Orientalism’, a book that discusses the West’s patronising representations of “The East”) once said, it lends itself to a corpus of travel writings, literature and travelogues that focus on all things on the land, not everything else which the Middle East can offer. Thus, the Middle East is seen through the lens of a fixed framework.

One of these fixed frameworks, sadly, has proven to be true: the Middle East nations appear bent on going on a war path against one another, especially against Iran, and lately, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fortress of the Ahl Sunnah Wal Al Jamma

The reason, once again, appears simple. The four countries mentioned earlier seem to believe that they are the fortress of the Ahl Sunnah Wal Al Jamma (a Sunni Islamic sect of Islam), which can withstand the pressure and manipulation of Iran.

Qatar, the Houthis in Yemen, even Lebanon too, have fallen under the influence of the Shi’ite.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Palestine and Syria are considered the defenders and fronts of Iran, albeit doing the biddings of Iran in Qatar, Yemen, Syria, and last but not least, Turkey.

But Qatar, Yemen, Syria and Turkey are not necessarily pro-Iran or pro-Shi’ite. Almost all of them want a region that is peaceful, with the exception of President Bashar Al Assad in Syria.

Come what may, Malaysia should not be enmeshed in the geo-political, even petty morass of West Asia. Whether or not Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS photo) was directly involved in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on October 2 at the its Istanbul consulate, the fact is Malaysia lacks the strategic depth to contain or constrain the behaviour of Saudi Arabia.

Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu made the right decision to pull back Malaysian peacekeepers from there. It was also wise to cancel the King Salman Centre for International Peace (KSCIP) in Putrajaya.

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f Malaysia is further entangled with the Middle East/West Asia, Malaysia would not have one any leeway to escape the spillover effects of their radicalism. It is better to be safe than to be sorry.

Look at businessperson Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low. He allegedly swindled 1MDB to work with false companies in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Tens of billions of US dollars have been lost, and will not be recovered.

All such madcap adventures began with the fawning of the yacht and wealth of the Middle East or West Asia, many of which were allegedly rented to mislead the Malaysian and other governments.


PHAR KIM BENG is a multiple award-winning head teaching fellow on China and the Cultural Revolution at Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

One thought on “Malaysia: Avoid the Arabisation Trap

  1. What is fundamentally wrong with Saudi Arabia? MBS is ambitious, brutal BUT details of him show he is actually intelligent excelling in school and other activities. So how to convince MBS, not educated in the West, who grew up in the environment of scheming royal court and politics of Saud that there is a better way than what he has only known most of his life?

    Fact of the matter, given MBS background, to have done what he has done up to now is remarkable. Like it or not, this is a man who think power, his power most of all, is supreme above all else – no matter what the idea, no matter what the cost. He is highly dangerous and he need to be educated.

    The west should demand the MBS spent time with truly global intellectuals of the world to challenge his ideas of what power should and can be. Unless MBS idea of what power is for and how to use it, then all we see in Saudi Arabia could just be a mirage in the dessert that could turn into hellfire ultimately..

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