The Ugly Face of the Malay psyche on display

March 25, 2015

The Ugly Face of the Malay psyche on display

by Mariam

It takes a brave Malay woman to say what the whole nation is thinking, and it is amazing how many Malay men cannot wait to show the world the ugly face of the Malay psyche.

The threats of physical violence and rape on BFM host Aisyah Tajudin, for her satirical take on the Kelantan hudud law, have proven that despite receiving the ‘best education in the world’, many Malays remain shallow, servile and seriously stupid. Only insecure, egotistical Malay men would feel threatened, not just by the truth, but by a woman, and worse still, a Malay woman.

The rakyat’s problem is that Malaysia’s religious men aspire to become politicians, and its politicians pretend to be religious men.

The latest hudud debacle has very little to do with religion. It is about power. Power over the Malays in Malaysia. Power to overcome any non-Malay resistance. And power to crush any opposition, especially from progressive Malays, who represent the biggest threat.

Aisyah (above) wanted to liberate Malay minds, not conquer their bodies. Her video was for people to reflect and to ponder. She did not force her message on others, if they did not wish to accept them.

Aisyah discussed important issues, so we may understand some of our country’s problems. If she didn’t care for her country, she would have chosen to remain quiet, like 97 percent of the population.

The Malays are creative and in the olden days, songs, sajak (poems) or bangsawan (opera/plays) would relay any messages, from rulers to their subjects. Aisyah is merely continuing a rich Malay tradition. The Malays who reacted badly to her satire, are an uncultured lot.

Aisyah appealed to the Muslims’ faith and their compassion. The Malays who threatened her, revealed everything that Islam does not represent.The BFM host used ingenuity to drive home a message about hudud, in Kelantan. The bigots revealed their stupidity and inability to use their intellect, to counter her point of view. Their threats, to rape and kill, will force more moderate, but silent Muslims, to speak out. These bigots have also stained the moderate face of Malay Muslims.

BFM should not have apologised for making and airing the satirical video. The company probably had no choice. The government issues permits, and can shut down companies. In the past, companies had their computers seized, their editors harassed, their Muslim writers accused of being lesbian, gay, apostate or atheist, and issued with death threats, violence or legal action.

In the Charlie Hebdo massacre of January 7, terrorists used Islam as their excuse to mow down several people, including a Muslim Policeman. Disagreeing with the cartoonists, does not give the men a licence to kill. The terrorists’ actions further tarnished the image of Islam and gave the impression that Muslims lacked the ability to enter into intelligent discussion.

Silencing freedom of expression

The day after the Paris carnage, Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Khalid Abu Bakar said that Malaysia needed the Sedition Law to prevent such attacks on Malaysian soil. The terrorists used bullets, in Paris, to silence freedom of expression, but Khalid uses the Sedition Law, to curb freedom of speech.

The IGP claimed that his role of policing Twitter, was to act like the referee of social media, and stop troublemakers. So, why are tweets from extremist and racist UMNO Baru politicians not censured? Khalid should leave Aisyah alone, and arrest the men who threatened her.

NIK RAINA INTERVIEW Using a slew of laws like sedition and blasphemy to condemn Aisyah, just shows his desperation. The IGP is mimicking the Federal Territories Islamic Affairs Department’s (JAWI) relentless pursuit of the Borders manager, Nik Raina Abdul Aziz (above).

Malays brought up on UMNO Baru’s diet of race, religion and royalty, have had their brains sucked dry. They have long forgotten how to think, to rationalise and to analyse.

By all means, blame UMNO Baru, but do not forget their new partners in crime, PAS. Both parties are desperate to take control of the Malay mind, but more importantly, their votes. It is all about power. Sadly, the late Nik Aziz Nik Mat’s experience of both him and PAS being betrayed by UMNO/Umno Baru, have already been forgotten by the PAS ulama.

PAS President Hadi Awang is desperate to force hudud through Parliament. This is about power. When it comes to absolute power, religion becomes a pawn, and a means to an end.

Hadi has fallen into UMNO Baru’s trap, and we are now being distracted by hudud, instead of tackling major issues like 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), corruption, the goods and services tax (GST) and the flood victims.

Malays can still be pious without having to become wannabe Arabs. Malays are in danger of losing their history and their culture, which go back several centuries, long before Parameswara was born.

If Malays do not reclaim their true identity, the only reference to Malay culture will appear at cultural shows, for the benefit of tourists, and at Tourism Malaysia performances worldwide. The religious indoctrination by power-hungry Malay men, has reduced Malays to a poor imitation of Arabs, and turned multi-cultural Malaysia to a ghetto-nation.

Hudud does not belong in multicultural Malaysia. Aisyah’s video made us think, and that is what the bigots fear most.

Rape, Murder, Hudud?

March 24, 2015


Rape, Murder, Hudud?

by Dr.Azmi Sharom@

Azmi SharomAs I feared – no one can speak against hudud. Non-Muslims don’t have the right and Muslims must just obey because, according to PAS, this is God’s law.

In fact, if you question it, you deserve to be burnt and raped, as has been the threat against a BFM radio newsreader. I thought murder and rape are also against God’s law. But perhaps in the minds of some, two wrongs do make a right. Or perhaps there is a clause that says that murder and rape are OK as long as they are committed in the name of God.

 I am very angry. I am angry for the following reasons:

As usual, when anything about Islam comes up in this country, there is a tendency for all reason to go out the door. This is shameful because Islam has prided itself on being a faith of reason where knowledge and the written word were emphasised in the very first revelation.

The disgusting behaviour of the thugs who threatened Aisyah Tajuddin of BFM Radio for her participation in a video questioning the implementation of hudud is an insult to the religion into which I was born and raised. Yet, I hear nothing from the “defenders of the faith” against these people. Perhaps it is because they don’t like what Aisyah said? If that is the case, then what they are saying is that if you don’t like what someone thinks and says and if another person threatens serious harm to him or her, it is OK to just keep quiet. In other words, consent through silence.

And already some PAS people are making sounds that this is something that cannot be debated and cannot be questioned. This, from a party that claims to be democratic. “Islamic democrats” – some of their number describe themselves. Where is democracy if we can’t discuss the laws which govern us? Where is democracy when a person lives in fear of being demonised, just because his or her ideas differ from those of the “Islamic democrats”?

Hadi3Haji Abdul Hadi Awang al-Hududu

I have always held the belief that if those in PAS or anyone else wants to implement hudud or any law that they think is so fantastic, then it is their right. If they want to make this a country governed by their Ulama Council, it is their right.

But if you want to change this country, you have to do it by the rules. You must obey the Constitution and you must allow democratic space for full and open discussions. And you must defend the right of people to take part in those discussions.That is the only just way. Or does justice not matter anymore?


Follow the Money

March 24, 2015

Follow the Money

by Tricia

DG of Bank NegaraAT its annual report launch, Bank Negara Deputy Governor gave a relatively healthy assessment of the country’s economy. So glowing was the report, however, that several members of the audience felt compelled to ask his opinion of 1MDB, the proverbial elephant in the room.

He essentially responded by saying that “sovereigns” (meaning government-backed entities) are not monitored as closely as are “corporates” (meaning the private sector) in their respective issuance of bonds and similar financial instruments. This is presumably because a bond or debt obligation issued by a government authority is usually assumed as low-risk, given that they are backed by the taxing power of the said government.

What Bank Negara said was essentially correct, since its responsibility is limited to ensuring the stability of the Banking Sector. As long as 1MDB – which is a government entity, given it is wholly owned by the Finance Ministry – is able to pay back loans owed to local banks (like Maybank and RHB), then the Banking Sector is safe. But ay, there’s the rub.

As at March 2014, 1MDB’s accounts showed a whopping debt of RM41.9 billion. (Which is, by the way, just short of the entire 2015 budgetary allocation to the country’s development, totaling RM50.5 billion. It is also eight times more than what is allocated to safety and security in 2015, totalling RM4.9 billion).

Ultimately, if it is unable to pay off its multiple loans owed both locally and abroad, does it not mean that the government would have to cough up the sum? And this is already happening as events continue to unfold on a daily basis.

Most recently, Putrajaya confirmed RM950 million was given as a standby credit for 1MDB, which is basically when a fixed amount of credit is made available to the borrower as and when required for a given period of time. These are monies that could have been put to better use, surely.

Tengku Razaleigh HamzahWorse, frustration with the powers that be will surely grow if the additional RM5.6 billion revenues collected from the Goods and Services Tax (GST) that is about to be implemented are shown to be used for such unpalatable purposes. Just this week, former Finance Minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah said in Parliament that the people had the right to know if GST “benefited the country or (would be) used only to pay the interest to debtors and bondholders”.

In one of the many conversations I had recently on the “1MDB losses”, a friend reminded me of a joke that is hauntingly relevant. A woman invested RM100 into the bank, expecting her funds to be safe and secure. Upon finding out the money was gone, she screamed hysterically to the bank officer, “You’ve lost my money!” to which he politely replied, “Your money is not lost, ma’am. It’s just somewhere else.” Likewise, the question we ought to be asking ourselves is: Where did the money go?

That is something the Auditor-General’s office will have to answer as they dutifully scrutinise the accounts of the much talked-about entity over the next few weeks.

Even if some of these funds can be restored, the concern still remains: How should government finances remain sustainable over a long-term period? IDEAS, in a policy paper released this week makes some suggestions, pertaining to an existing but very little-heard of national trust fund called the Kumpulan Wang Amanah Negara (or KWAN).

The KWAN was set up in 1988 with the original intention of saving for the future, especially from our depleting national resources. However, its total wealth for all of its 26 years of existence comes up to only RM9 billion. This is a relatively meagre amount when compared with the Norwegian Global Pension Fund, which has more than double that amount despite having started later than the Malaysian KWAN. In fact, it only represents 1.5% of the total petroleum revenue accumulated over the last 26 years.

Although our dependence on the oil and gas sector has fallen slightly over the last few years, its revenues still contribute some one-third to our overall national income. Credit is due to the non-resource sectors (manufacturing and services), given their continual growth as a proportion of total GDP, which is encouraging.

But given the spendthrift tendencies of our government of late (our operational expenditure expanded on average 11% annually from 1971 to present, and more alarmingly by more than 20% in 2011), it is important to strengthen existing infrastructure.

For instance, we propose that the KWAN governance mechanism needs to be made much more robust in the way the fund is managed, how deposits and withdrawals are regulated, and finally, how it is accountable to taxpayers.

Some of the key disciplines of a well-governed fund (as outlined by the Natural Resource Governance Institute and the Columbia Centre on Sustainable Interest) are that it should have clear and well-enforced objectives, fiscal rules, investment rules, division between the authority and various managers, and finally have regular and extensive disclosure to the public whilst ensuring independent oversight bodies exist.

Many of these governance mechanisms do not exist for the KWAN. For instance, the deposit and withdrawal rules are too general and need to be more quantifiably specific. Other oversight agencies ought to be brought in; currently only the Finance Ministry and Bank Negara are involved – parliamentary committees should also be included as an additional measure.

Finally, its reports should be publicly downloadable online and a website should be dedicated to publish all relevant details of the fund.

It is not just 1MDB or Pembinaan PFI or KWAN that must be examined closely; all other state-owned enterprises and funds (and there are many) ought to be monitored with a fine-tooth comb. The adage is true: it really is your and my money. As taxpayers, we should demand nothing less.

Tricia Yeoh is the Chief Operating Officer of a local, independent think-tank. Comments:

PAS’ Hudud Folly–PART 2

March 19, 2015

PAS’ Hudud Folly–PART 2

by Bridget

Bridget-Welsh-2COMMENT The introduction of the hudud amendments today in Kelantan have yet another origin beyond democratic dynamics within the party. They are based on a calculated effort to win votes, namely to strengthen the support of PAS’s core supporters and to strengthen the position of PAS vis-à-vis the coalition partners inside Pakatan.

Ironically, the hudud measures do neither, and potentially undermine the party’s standing as a national party and within its own electoral base. In this second piece, I lay out how misguided the revitalized hudud initiative is for a political party whose stated aim is to hold national power.

Over-reacting to UMNO pressure

In the defensive mode of the PAS party leadership, the party have been responding to others rather than setting its own course. The most effective actor influencing PAS has been UMNO.  Opting for offensive attacks, UMNO has successfully convinced PAS that is it losing ground among Muslims.

Despite winning more of the popular vote nationally in G-E13 and winning more seats and gains in their vote share in Malay heartland seats (except Kedah and Perak where party infighting affected results), many in PAS have the perception that they lost ground.

They have also been made to believe that the have lost their core support base among devout Muslims and rural Malays, as they have taken to heart the UMNO propaganda and concentrated on developments in Kelantan and Kedah, where the losses were most evident. The numbers for PAS’s performance are much more positive than the public framing of their performance.

najib-razak-Nik-AzizCollectively PAS lost 3 percent of Malay support, considerably less than in most of the elections historically except 1969, 1999 and 2008. In most of the states their gains were among Malays in termsof numbers. Significant gains in support were also gleaned from non-Muslims, ranging over 7 percent. Of the 21 seats PAS won, 14 of these would not have been possible without non-Muslim support.

But in politics, it is not reality that matters, but perception. Malaysian politics still centres around Malay politics, and for PAS there has been a growing sense that it is not winning Malays. In fact, there is a deep-seated fear that they are losing their core supporters. In fact, in some ways, they are right. PAS did lose among some devout Muslims, it lost in some rural areas, and it lost among women.

Part of the explanation lies with the appeal of other Pakatan parties for Malay votes, as PKR and even DAP has won over support. The main reason is UMNO’s successful efforts to infiltrate PAS’s core through support for religious education, funding to religious organizations and more effective engagement with young voters on the issues that matter to them, notably with a concentration on bread and butter issues.

For some analysts there has been a focus on UMNO’s confrontational race and religious campaign as the decisive factor undermining PAS, with PAS portrayed as betraying Islam. My own view places greater emphasis on UMNO’s calculated efforts to cut off PAS from its social networks, the critical use of resources and the ineffectiveness of PAS’s electoral campaign on a national scale.

These issues remain open for debate, but what is relevant for the revitalisation of hudud is that PAS believes it needs to appeal to its core – devout Muslims and rural Malays.

Standing tall, winning respect

In going back to hudud, PAS is also responding to another set of insecurities, the Democratic Action Party in particular and its discomfort in Pakatan more generally. The issues here are complex – racism, religious differences, style, strategy and personalities.

All the parties in Malaysia are grappling with an electorate that is less race oriented, but a political context that continues to be racially analyzed and framed. Racism is still deeply embedded, and had been stoked intensely in the past two years as UMNO fans discord for political ends.

Pakatan parties are also not immune from the issues of race as well, with considerable misunderstandings and cultural differences. The challenges of bridge-building on religion are even more challenging, particularly for PAS.

The G-E13 campaign and its aftermath has left an imprint on PAS, who has been portrayed as weak vis-a-vis its Pakatan partners.  It is seen as the weakest link. PAS was blamed by some for ‘not performing’ in the last election and it has been consistently portrayed as ‘the problem’.

This has fed insecurities. The image of PAS in the Malay language press has fanned these sentiments by building up the portrayal of the ‘weakling’. As the hudud issue has evolved the non-Muslim mediums have moved to portray PAS as the ‘villain’, with ‘aggressive’ DAP seen to be leading the accusations.

This has not sat well in PAS, even among the more progressive elements. PAS wants respect, it wants to be treated fairly and many feel that the response of its Pakatan partners have crossed lines. Hudud is in part about fighting back, for the party to be seen out of the shadow of others. Thus hudud has become yet another political tool to show UMNO, DAP and PKR that it is its own party.

Hudud is push, not pull

Sadly, this is a counterproductive strategy. By going forward with the hudud amendments, PAS has neither secured its Malay core nor secured its electoral gains. To explain my argument, I draw on surveys on hudud and focus groups.

Let me unpack my analysis. First of all, hudud is not as important a pull factor for Malays and even devout Muslims as PAS believes. Second, hudud is more alienating for some Malays and non-Muslims than PAS believes. Third, hudud serves to showcase PAS’ shortcomings as a party in national government, with a narrow focus that excludes and portrays negativity.

There have been two surveys conducted on the hudud issue, the Merderka Centre’s Survey of April 2014 reported in the press and the Asia Barometer Survey last September-October, coming out in a book later this year and outlined here. The findings are reasonably consistent.

I draw from the ABS findings, as I have run a series of tests to examine how hudud compares to other electoral issues such as the economy and corruption and importantly this survey includes East Malaysia.

Some observations:

  • The majority of Malaysians do not agree that the country is ready for hudud.
  • While a majority of Malays do agree the country is ready for hudud, there is a large share of Malays – 30.6 percent, who do not and many who have a lukewarm support for hudud, 28.8 percent. This is by way of saying only a third of Malays strongly support hudud.
  • Overwhelmingly, non-Muslims do not support hudud, with a larger share of non-Muslims strongly disagreeing with hudud than Malays who strongly support hudud.
  • A small share of non-Muslims believe the country is ready for hudud.
  • Females, including Malay females, disproportionately do not believe the country is ready for hudud.
  • There is considerable regional variation in the support for hudud, with support in the Eastern states of Kelantan and Terengganu considerably higher than the northern (Kedah, Perlis and Penang) and southern regions.  Strong support in the Eastern states for hudud does not translate into a majority.
  • East Malaysians have the least support for hudud.

Returning to the argument about why hudud amendments hurt PAS electorally, let me draw from the survey and my other analyses. To the point of attracting voters, numerically, the core strong support for hudud remains a minority nationally and even in the Eastern states of Kelantan.

Importantly, however, when these voters were asked – as they were in The Malaysian Insider survey and multiple other surveys such including the ABS – what is important in voting and whether hudud is important vis-à-vis other factors, hudud is less important. Religion generally only ranks high as a determinant for voting for a small share of the electorate, less than 15 percent, with this divided equally among Muslim and non-Muslim voters.

Hadi3To put this differently, hudud is not a vote-getter – resolving problems, bread and butter issues, good governance, honest government, good respected leaders and much more count more. Hudud does not win votes – good policies and good government do!

Introducing hudud does however lose votes for PAS as a party. There is serious trust deficit for this Islamist party, among non-Muslims, women and among some Malays. Focus groups identify the main source of distrust as hudud. It is not religion specifically, as many Malaysians across faiths want a moral government, but the perception that hudud is about ‘restrictions and control’, ‘unfairness’ and ‘backwardness’ – the respondent’s words.

When voters were asked why they voted for PAS that never had before, the reasons were ‘Pakatan,’ ‘ABU’, ‘Change the government’. The affinity to PAS specifically was weak. Hudud never came up.

When it was broached and voters were asked how they would vote if hudud was implemented, the response that emerged as ‘ABP’ – Anything but PAS. This provoked much stronger negative reactions than support for hudud among even the strongest PAS supporters.

The take-away is that hudud pushes away the voters that offer PAS an opportunity to move out of its core political base or even to strengthen its base within its core. With hudud, at this time based on these surveys, PAS, would not be elected on the national level and definitely not on its own.

Allah Issue SupportersA final finding is that by moving forward with hudud PAS has reinforced a negative image of itself among the electorate. It is seen as a one-note party – hudud, hudud, hudud – with many people not liking the rhythm or the song. The image of hudud remains significantly negative among the majority of the electorate who see this about punishment rather than empowerment, backwardness rather than the future and inadequate as a basis of government.

The Kelantan amendments may change this perception, but based on the studies to date, negative perceptions dominate.

The Kelantan and ulama leaders in PAS are going ahead. There has been little in-depth study of the impact of the hudud messaging on voters and this will be crucial as the situation evolves. The message sent so far is that the PAS leadership seems to prioritize their core support base rather than being a national party, and may not even bring them the gains they hope for.

Part I: PAS’s hudud folly – a political putsch

Part III will look at the implications of hudud for Pakatan and PAS’s longer term, highlighting that this experience offers opportunities to strengthen PAS and Pakatan.

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

Dr. Clive Kessler remembers Nik Aziz bin Nik Mat (1931-2015))

February 22, 2015

Dr  Clive Kessler remembers Haji Nik Abdul Aziz bin Nik Mat (1931 – 2015)


We go back a long way together, Tok Guru and I. To the beginning, each of us after his own prior apprenticeship, of our ensuing public careers in our closely intertwined fields of work.

Two synchronous starts

His work, that is, of pursuing and exemplifying an identifiably “traditional” and committed Islamic life within the modern political world; and mine —— born of a conviction, held against the grain and bias of prevalent academic attitudes at the time, that efforts such as that of Nik Aziz to “make Islam real in modern political life” needed to be understood —— as a scholarly analyst of and commentator upon such things.

I was convinced that the new, and newly assertive, politics of Islam within, and even against, the modern world had to be studied, not dismissed as a mere relic of an earlier, now waning pre-modern political era. He, on his part, believed that that kind of Islamic politics needed to be pursued and deepened. Both of us took the matter seriously, and each of us was committed to his own part of that task.

The two parts were complementary, but not symmetrically so. His side of the challenge did not need me or mine; my part made sense, and could only exist, in relation to his.

Our careers came together as they began. As we began those two public journeys and careers, he as a noted Islamist politician and I as a student and observer of Islamic politics, in Kelantan in 1967.

By then I was at last getting down to the project of field research that I had begun to think of in about 1962: a ground-level village-based anthropological study of the sources of the then unusual, even paradoxical, mass support that the Islamic party PAS had managed to mobilize and retain in Kelantan from shortly after Malaya’s achievement of national independence.

In 1959, PAS had dramatically won —— at the expense and to the great discomfort of UMNO and its Alliance Party coalition —— 28 of the 30 seats that then comprised the Kelantan State Assembly. In defiant opposition to the national federal government, PAS had captured state power in Kelantan.

And, after many delays and setbacks, I was by July 1967 beginning what was to become about two years of field research centred in Kelantan’s Bachok district, leading up to and beyond Malaysia’s fateful 1969 elections.

1967, a busy year for PAS

And 1967 was to be a big year for Islamic politics in Kelantan. PAS had survived the 1964 elections, held at the peak of Indonesia’s Konfrontasi against the new, expanded Malaysian Federation, and, though with a significantly reduced majority, retained its control of Kelantan. But, with its improved position, UMNO was now hopeful of defeating PAS, and “seeing it off” from the national political scene, at the next elections due in 1969.

This guaranteed that politics in Kelantan between the two rival parties competing for popular Malay support (and the political credibility and legitimacy that it provided) would, in the interim, be keenly, even tenaciously, contested.

The entire Malaysian opposition, especially the parties of the radical left, had been accused (notably in a government “white paper” entitled A Plot Exposed) of sympathy with and complicity in Indonesian confrontation and —— based upon the connection of PAS through its President, the pre-war radical leader Dr. Burhanuddin Helmy, with the “old Malay left” —— PAS too was under enormous pressure. In him, the radical or “populist nationalist” side of the PAS leadership was “put out of play” and detained as a risk to national security.

Meanwhile, the more Islamically-minded (or “ulama”) side of the PAS leadership had also been dealt a savage blow from which it had not yet recovered. The party’s pre-eminent Islamist political intellectual, Ustadz Zulkifli Muhammad (born 1927), rising from his connection with the new Kolej Islam in Kelang, and while serving as the federal MP for Bachok, had been killed in an automobile accident in 1964.

The party had fallen into the crisis custodianship of the Islamically educated radical nationalist Kelantanese politician, Mohamad Asri bin Haji Muda (1923-1992).

As 1967 began, the religious side of the party’s leadership was, if not in disarray, then in eclipse. There was a gap there be filled, an opportunity to be seized.

Two more events in 1967 were soon to shape dramatically the political contours of Kelantan and PAS. First, in July, the “firebrand” PAS MP for Pasir Mas was murdered outside the PAS headquarters in Kota Baru. There were murmurings of political conspiracy, but personal animosities may well have been the main motivation. A heated by-election was held to replace him.

No sooner was that by-election completed than the member for Kelantan Hilir (or “down-river” Kota Baru), one of the old PAS ulama (religious scholars) also died, and in November a by-election was held to replace him.

The candidate that PAS, somewhat surprisingly, produced was Nik Abdul Aziz bin Nik Mat, a well-known and widely respected religious teacher in the area but, until then, not a man publicly identified with PAS.

On the contrary, he came to PAS candidature from his previous employment as a co-ordinator of programmes of rural extension (“adult education”) religious teaching offered by the UMNO-led federal government through Kemas, the Jabatan Kemajuan Masyarakat (or Department of Social Development), generally seen as a kind of government-housed UMNO rural outreach instrument. All Kemas employees, it was assumed, were either explicitly pro-UMNO or else decidedly neutral and non-political.

With his emergence as candidate, Nik Aziz —— to the surprise of many, since he had been a conscientious but politically undemonstrative servant of Kemas, but amid grumblings about disloyalty and deception from some UMNO functionaries —— declared his true political colours and allegiances.

Starting gradually, Nik Aziz, or simply “Tok Guru” as people would come to refer to him, over the following years became a major political personality in Kelantan, a high-profile PAS identity nation-wide, and a powerful force and focus of the reassertion of the ulama presence and their power within PAS.

Nik Aziz and Bachok politics, 1968-1969

From the time of his election to parliament and as the 1969 elections approached, Kelantanese politics became increasingly heated. Partly this heightening of tension reflected national-level developments, as Malay discontent grew and found expression in agitation over such issues as Malay as the national language, education policy, and the obstacles to Malay bumiputera economic advancement.

But it was also in response to local, village-level developments too. In Bachok district it certainly was. In 1968 the State Assembly member for North Bachok died, and another by-election had to be held.

As I have noted elsewhere, “In this, the third by-election caused within a year by the death of a PAS incumbent in Kelantan, the UMNO was again eager to capture a PAS seat and thus promote a flood of defections to its side before the approaching general elections of 1969. Though it had twice increased its share of the vote in PAS strongholds, the UMNO had been denied the dramatic victory it sought. Rating its chances better in North Bachok than in the earlier contests, the UMNO decided to pursue victory aggressively” (Islam and Politics in a Malay State: Kelantan 1838-1969, Cornell U.P., 1978, p. 151). And it proved brutal.

UMNO deployed enormous power and resources in this third contest, now concentrated within a small, state assembly constituency area. It brought to bear a full range of government instrumentalities, an enormous government-provided “war-chest” to fund offers and inducements, and overbearing social pressure as well.

Humble villagers were approached on a near daily basis by teams of UMNO operatives and “grandees”, who sought politely to “win their hearts” but also socially to cajole, shame, humiliate and overwhelm them. To pressure them to say, just once, as a way of getting some relief from the sustained onslaught, that, yes, they would vote for UMNO.

Once they did that, they would find it difficult, under unrelenting daily reinforcement, not to deliver their vote on the day; and, meanwhile, having promised to do so, they would often find themselves cut off and shunned by their fellow villagers who, having resisted such blandishments, still supported PAS.

And, when PAS people tried to persuade those who had wavered and wilted that they might still vote their own minds and consciences, they would find the prospective defectors surrounded and protected by young UMNO supporters and “enforcers” who were determined to keep the “new recruits” isolated from their own village friends and to keep PAS operatives away from them.

In these circumstances, interpersonal tensions rose rapidly, and soon escalated into overt violence. When that happened it was generally the UMNO side that found its position upheld by the Police, and the PAS partisans found themselves on the wrong side of the law.


Things became very ugly. Especially in certain villages identified and targeted by UMNO as “ripe” for breaking open and capture.How was PAS to respond to this onslaught? It lacked UMNO’s vast material resources, its access to government infrastructure, and its ability to rely on police support.It could turn only to what we might term “moral resistance”.

To hold the situation, and hold their supporters together (and out of UMNO’s easy reach), PAS sent out to those “beleaguered” villagers a number of its religious teachers and ulama operatives —— not just for an afternoon’s pep talk but to stay and live with them, in their houses and villages, for days on  end, until polling day.

These men would stay with the PAS-supporting villagers, provide a focus of attention and activities, talk with them and tell stories, lead prayers, give religious lectures and offer personal assurance and advice. They came to be and also stay with their party’s local supporters, holding them together in tight social and political cohesion, bound together in exemplary Islamic terms by what many were ready to regard as “the rope of Allah”, of divinely encouraged Islamic solidarity.

The Nik Aziz political paradigm

Under the guidance of the party’s ulama emissaries, the Kelantan villagers came to see and experience themselves as part of the core drama, and moral paradigms, of Islamic politics and Islamic struggle, not just in Kelantan in the 1960s but at all times and places. They became, in their own eyes, true believers engaged, in full standing, in the defining drama and struggle of Islam itself.

As I have noted: “What had happened in their parish, they were instructed, was no obscure dispute in a remote village on the fringe of the Muslim world, but part of the whole fabric of Islamic history, woven from the warp of unending oppression and the woof of a responding intransigence. Islamic history was not simply the ancient, almost legendary events of distant Arabia, but a process in which, through unyielding commitment, they had participated on a basis of salvationary equality with all who have suffered for Islam. ‘What is Islam,’ mused one villager, ‘but a community of suffering? We here in our own way have been fully inducted into the ranks of the Faithful’” (Islam and Politics in a Malay State, p. 155).

And it was —— in the year or so following his election as Kelantan Hilir MP and based upon his experience as the programme organizer for the Kemas adult education and outreach activities —— Nik Aziz who conceptualized, devised, headed, developed and promoted those live-in ulama teams, their modus operandi and techniques. And what we would today call their persuasive “form of discourse”.

Nik Aziz did not just devise and personally oversee this programme of Islamically-informed “moral resistance”, of modern Malay politics in a locally accessible Islamic idiom. In doing so, he created or recreated himself as Tok Guru. As the prototype and archetype of the Kelantanese and Malaysian Islamic politician. As the persuasive template and identikit of the Islamic man of faith in action: not in the madrassah or in party political conclave but “out in the world”.

A lot of facile nonsense is uttered these days about “public intellectuals”. Well, Nik Aziz was something similar but also entirely different. And, of that specific social type, he was “the genuine thing”. He was the living epitome of the “public alim”: an exemplar of “ulama politics” who personally embodied and projected a powerful vision and doctrine about how the everyday challenges of Islamic politics —— of “being and doing Islam in the world” —— were to be faced as a single, coherent, ubiquitous and paradigmatic form of struggle.

How did he do it?

From Ustadz Nik Aziz to Tok Guru: it was a remarkable transformation or image “remake”.How did he do it? My answer to this key question comes not from talking to the man or any similarly close and privileged insight into him in those years but from observing him publicly. From watching and being fascinated by his presentation of himself and by his projection, through his austere persona, of his political outlook and message.

And I was not alone in seeing him as this often remote, aloof and ascetic yet compelling man or living symbol.  A leading international journalist who stumbled upon one of his political rallies in a Kelantan kampung during the 1986 national election  was similarly struck —— but in his published report greatly offended his admirers by likening Nik Aziz, his aura and demeanour to “Uncle Ho”, Ho Chi Minh.

It has become a commonplace for people to tell their stories of how modest, open and approachable —— often to their great surprise —— they found Tok Guru on meeting him.But, early in his public political career, I did not find him easy to approach. Though generally of gentle and withdrawn demeanour, he could be fierce, even terrifying —— especially when denouncing UMNO and inveighing against what he saw as the arrogance and abuses of those who represented it and projected it into village life.

In those days, to be honest, I suspected him of being a committed but quietly spoken fanatic. When our paths crossed, as they often did, in the Bachok villages, I suppose he wondered what I was doing there, suspecting that, whatever my purpose, I was (from his point of view) up to no good. And I also recognized that, given his politics and attitude to the kind of thing that I was doing there, he was probably right to think so. Hence I always felt awkward in his stern and forbidding presence.

So I did not pester or intrude upon him. I simply observed and listened to him, watchedKessler-C his “performative” social presentation of himself and attended closely to his words, their patterning, their subtly calculated and accumulating, even cascading, effects.

Until his election to Parliament in 1967, Nik Aziz was what was technically known at the time, via the standard Arabic term, as a mubaligh, meaning not just a religious teacher or “propagandist” but an exponent of balaghah —— of the arts of rhetoric, argument and persuasion.

Balaghah has always been a key component of the curriculum of the so-called Sekolah Arab religious schools in Malaysia, as elsewhere. Mastery of the traditional skills and art of public speaking and argument, of balaghah, has always been fundamental to PAS campaigning, and has long been the basis of its persistent ability to “out-argue” and “out-persuade” UMNO on the ground in kampung-level Malay politics. In its title, one famous prewar guide to Kelantanese argument characterized this verbal jousting as Tikaman Bahasa, as stabbing with words, or verbal dagger-work.

Ustadz Nik Aziz was a master of those verbal skills.  These, in his own case, had been further sharpened by his overseas studies, in this aspect more significantly at the formidable Dar Ul Uloom Deoband Academy in India than by his later studies at Al-Azhar in Cairo. As he now emerged as Tok Guru, he created and defined himself through their masterful deployment within the brutally uncompromising intra-Malay politics pitting PAS against UMNO in Kelantan in and from the late 1960s.

Rhetorical style and technique

When Tok Guru addressed a Kelantan village audience, he did not only speak in the local Kelantan dialect. He also adopted a “folksy” —— replete, elaborated and locally accessible —— narrative style. (Some insight into these processes is provided by Farish A. Noor, “The Localization of Islamist Discourse in the Tafsir of Tuan Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat …”, in Virginia Hooker & Norani Othman, eds., Malaysia: Islam, Society and Politics, ISEAS, Singapore, 2003, pp. 195-235.)

As he talked about, and drew political lessons from, the life of the Prophet, the stories that he told became “real” and immediately apprehendable in local terms, to local audiences. Related in a recognizably Kelantanese Malay “verbal register” and style, the struggles of Mekkah and Madinah centuries ago became recognizable to Kelantanese, in ways familiar to them.

This narrative technique not only had the effect of placing his Kelantanese listeners in the midst of the conflicts that shaped the Prophet’s career in Arabia; it also, as he told those stories in richly Kelantanese idiom and style, brought the Prophet and the whole cast of characters from his life-story into Kelantan. They became people just like the neighbours of these Kelantan villagers. It made sense in a new way to many Kelantanese, a familiar and recognizable Kelantan kind of sense.

This narrative technique produced —— as in that villager’s comment about the impact of the brutal North Bachok by-election —— a merging, a collapsing and folding together, that worked in two directions, not just one. It transposed the painful and harrowing conflicts of a small and remote Kelantan village into the heart of the Islamic world and experience, into the formative events and meanings of Islamic history. And, as presented by Tok Guru, it also brought that history, its events and validating meanings and messages to the PAS-supporting faithful in those far-off villages, making those struggles coherently graspable and endowing the lives of those caught up in them with rich Islamic meaning.

Sacred history and local anecdote became one. Ancient Arabia and Kelantan —— Mekkah and Madinah and Bachok —— were fused together by a unifying narrative. What was happening in Kelantan occurred, or so it was made to seem, in the same time, place and moral space as the careers of the Prophet and his companions. Accounts of their travails and triumphs were made to provide object lessons, parables, and instructive precepts and action-paradigms for Tok Guru’s listeners. He made what was happening in Kelantan seem a part, or a refraction, of all that had happened elsewhere at other times, notably in the life of the Prophet himself.

Mekkah and Madinah became, for Tok Guru’s listeners, places whose challenges were not altogether unlike those faced by them in their own villages and state. And, not that Tok Guru was in any way an image or model of the Prophet, through his example and words people felt they might begin to imagine how the Prophet might have lived and conducted himself.

It was powerful stuff, that, to be up against. If you didn’t believe it you had only to ask UMNO, whose more locally attuned leaders and operatives saw how hard this process was either to crack, on PAS’s side, or to replicate on UMNO’s. And how hard, in fact near impossible, it was for them to undo the profoundly adverse effects these processes had for UMNO’s hopes of ever winning and holding onto Kelantan by ordinary electoral means.

In this way, via Tok Guru’s artful balaghah, the Kelantanese were made to sit four-square within the formative and recognizable history of the ummah generally; and that history, centering upon the life of the Prophet —— thanks to his narrative ingenuity and agility —— was brought to bear upon and sit with them in the midst of their tribulations in confronting the massive and intimidating force mobilized against them by UMNO. Tok Guru brought these often demeaned Kelantanese into the paradigmatic history of Islam, and he brought that grand history to them, in locally comprehensible verbal and moral idioms, to clarify, dignify and in that way also to strengthen their struggle.

If Tok Guru could do this, could invoke and “make real” for these poor Kelantanese the very essence of Islam —— make it an immediate and almost palpable presence in their often deprived lives —— then who might possibly and plausibly deny that PAS, through Tok Guru, was making Islam real for them, literally making it “come to life” with clarity and compelling coherence, in their lives?

Certainly not UMNO, with its all too “political” politicians (so dramatically unlike the master “anti-politician” Nik Aziz) and its legions of politically ambitious and self-regarding party-religious ideologues.

UMNO leaders and operatives never quite grasped that, for the PAS-supporting villagers of Kelantan, the struggle of PAS was the struggle of Islam itself: not (as UMNO always imagined) because of some lies or misrepresentations or simply verbal tricks that PAS offered; but because experientially, in those unrelenting village conflicts and through the power of that narrative technique (identified above all with Nik Aziz), those villagers came experientially to “know” and become part of and “at one with” Islam through PAS. Hence they came to see PAS not just as toying with or “conjuring up” the presence of Islam but in fact representing it. PAS somehow made Islam real, for them, in their lives.

Focusing on Kelantan

Many of the accounts of Tok Guru’s career that have appeared in the days since his death suggest that in 1986 he opted to abandon federal politics and to focus exclusively on Kelantan. This is inaccurate.

The 1986 elections —— held when Dr. Mahathir had risen high in his early ascendancy, and before any of the major problems of his prime ministership had asserted themselves —— was also the first election held after the young Shari’ah-minded Islamists around Hadi Awang had seized control of the party from Datuk Asri Haji Muda.

It was not a good campaign for PAS, and it was made worse by the fact that it offered a strenuously Shari’ah-minded platform that owed much to recent revolutionary events in Iran. And still worse, unprecedentedly, it was held during the “haj season” when many devout PAS-supporting Kelantanese were away overseas and unable to vote.

PAS had assumed that it could hold onto Nik Aziz’s parliamentary seat (the old Kelantan Hilir, now known as Pengkalan Chepa) but it wanted to make sure of winning neighbouring Bachok with a strong candidate. So the party found a new candidate for Pengkalan Chepa and Nik Aziz stood for PAS in Bachok where he was widely known, respected and liked. But strangely, in that very strange election, he lost, by a small margin but (despite the absent pilgrimage people) on a huge voter turnout. Many newly enrolled military voters may have been added, for the first time, to the Bachok rolls.

Nik Aziz lost in Bachok. Sad, but no matter. He did not greatly like federal parliament, where his presence was largely decorative and suited his adversaries’ purposes, not his own. So he was content to be the state assemblyman for Semut Api, now named Chempaka, and to concentrate on Kelantanese matters.

UMNO ended up paying a heavy price for defeating Tok Guru in Bachok. With his energies now exclusively focused within Kelantan, he did the groundwork that enabled PAS —— which had ruled Kelantan from 1959 to 1978 and then been ousted from power by high-level UMNO manoeuvering using a disaffected faction within PAS —— to return to power in the state. UMNO had won Kelantan in 1978 and then held it, in Dr. Mahathir’s first two national election campaigns in 1982 and 1986. But now, Nik Aziz was back on the case. PAS once again won control of Kelantan in a stunning victory in 1990 —— and so began Tok Guru’s 23 years as Chief Minister (and also Mubaligh-in-Chief, as it were) of Kelantan —— and it has held onto the state through the succeeding elections  of 1995, 1999, 2004, 2008 and 2013.

While many in PAS these days, along with powerful elements within UMNO, eagerly look to the imminent possibility of a rapprochement between UMNO and PAS to establish together a “Malay Bumiputera Islamic government” whose preferred terms all other parts of the nation will have to accept, within PAS Nik Aziz was an adamant and powerful opponent of any such initiative.

Nik Aziz with Anwar

He had basic disagreements within the Pakatan coalition with the late Karpal Singh over the implementation of hudud law punishments. But they were allied in resisting the clamouring from some elements within PAS for it to leave Pakatan and make common cause once more with UMNO. Nik Aziz not only remembered all too well the bitter partisan rivalries throughout the Kelantan countryside of the 1960s. He also recalled with pain the treachery, as he saw it, of UMNO’s co-opting and then betraying of PAS in Kelantan in 1978 and the years that followed.

Asked why he opposed pursuing any second rapprochement with UMNO, his pointedly bitter reply was that it would be stupid “to allow oneself to be bitten twice by the same snake coming out of the same hole”. A pithy Kelantanese village locution once again.

Whether such a rapprochement will soon become irresistible now that both Karpal Singh and Nik Aziz have departed from the mundane field of political battles is one of the large questions of the present moment and immediate, pre-GE14 future.

Tok Guru, my teacher too

Tuan Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat, or Tok Guru, will likely prove unique in Malaysian political history. He was the product of a complex combination of historical circumstances that are unlikely ever to recur.

He stands there, seemingly alone and on his own. As so many people have said lately in so many different ways, you did not have to agree with him to recognize his personal modesty and courtesy, his self-evident integrity and his own authenticity —— all of them grounded in the Kelantanese Islamic politics, society and culture of his time.

He became known almost universally as Tok Guru, and he was my teacher too.  He taught me a lot (though I am sure that it was not what he would have wished me to learn from him and his commitments) that has stayed with me throughout my life and career as a scholar for almost half a century now, since I first began observing him and how he operated.

Above all, I learned from him, from his example and by watching him carefully, about the great force that —— when effectively personified and presented, performed and projected —— Islam can be and can generate within, and also against, the modern world: against the distinctive “package” of benefits and challenges and “trade-offs” that “modernity” may present.

I learned from Tok Guru how, in the name of a faith and a sacred history “made real” for everyday folk, the agenda of an over-confident and heedlessly advancing modernity may be decisively obstructed and resisted.

Clive Kessler is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of New South Wales. He is the  author of Islam and Politics in a Malay State: Kelantan 1838-1969, Cornell U.P., Ithaca NY, 1978.


Acrimonious Split Rattles Malaysian Premier’s Family

February 12, 2015

Acrimonious Split Rattles Malaysian Premier’s Family

By John Bethelsen

The announcement last week by top Malaysian banker Nazir Razak of his intention to file defamation charges against bloggers believed connected to a close friend of his brother, Prime Minister Najib Razak, has laid bare what has been whispered about for months in Kuala Lumpur.

Razak Boys and Tun RahahThe Razak Boys and Tun Rahah

There is a growing, acrimonious rift in the Razak family, much of it over the deeply indebted government-backed investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, and Najib’s siblings’ relationship with the Prime Minister’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, partly because of her ostentatious flaunting of enormous wealth.  Rosmah, in addition to concerns about her behavior, is believed to have convinced her husband to initiate the 1MDB fund, which is backed by the Ministry of Finance.

One of the questions circulating in Malaysia’s business community is whether the family feud might result in problems for CIMB, the fast-growing Malaysia-headquartered bank that Nazir heads and which has become one of Southeast Asia’s leading financial institutions. Observers say CIMB owes at least some of its rapid growth to its connections to the family and hence to UMNO. “Its political connections are probably no longer a slam dunk asset for Nazir,” a business source with connections to the government told Asia Sentinel.

“The brothers openly criticize Rosmah at dinner functions and family events,” a well-wired source told Asia Sentinel.  “I have heard them myself. Nazir’s family has moved to Oxford, where he spends 60 to 70 percent of his time. His elder brother Nizam spends time with his family in Boston. The two elder brothers Johari and Nazim also cannot get along with Rosmah.”

Malaysia's PM Razak and wife Rosmah Mansor arrive at the Bali Nusa Dua Convention Center before the opening ceremony of the ASEAN Summit in Nusa Dua, BaliThe Powerful Rosmah Mansor

It was Nazim, according to two sworn declarations, one by a business associate of Rosmah and the other by the late private detective Perumal Balasubramaniam, who played a role in forcing Bala, as he was known, out of the country in 2008 after he issued an initial statement that Najib himself had been the lover of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a Mongolian woman murdered in 2006 in one of Malaysia’s most notorious killings and who was peripherally involved in a massive bribery case involving the sale of French submarines to Malaysia.  After Bala made the statement, he was told to get out of Malaysia and was given a hefty bribe to do so. Allegedly it was Nazim, a Kuala Lumpur architect, who took Balasubramaniam to the Hilton Hotel in Kuala Lumpur to write a statement recanting his version of the relationship between Altantuya and Najib. 

The acrimony is so bad that some of the family have spent their Hari Raya holiday – the celebration at the end of the fasting month – in Phuket and Singapore to avoid going to the Prime Minister’s obligatory open house, the source said.

The squabble has broken into the open at a time when Najib is underMahathir and his wards attack from a wide variety of sources including former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who pushed out Najib’s predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in 2009 to replace him with Najib.

1MDB and the Penang-born tycoon whose brainchild it was – and his connection to the Najib family – were the subject of a long and critical New York Times article on February 8.  The article has since  served as red meat to the Mahathir forces and Muhyiddin Yassin, the Deputy Prime Minister who is said to be eyeing Najib’s job.

Hints of the rift began in January 2014 ,when Nazir wrote a long article in Kinibiz, the business edition of the widely read independent online publication Malaysiakini, which is highly critical of the government.

In the article, Nazir wrote a remembrance of his father, Tun Abdul Razak, Malaysia’s second Prime Minister, titled “Remembering My Father, Tun Razak.” Among other things the father was said in the article to have refused to use public funds to build a swimming pool for his children at the government-owned Prime Minister’s residence. He personally paid his family’s expenses on government trips, Nazir said, and was committed to national unity between the three major ethnic groups, the Malays, Chinese and Indians.

The article stood as an obvious public rebuke to the Prime Minister, who has been accused of remodeling the Prime Minister’s residence (Seri Perdana in Putrajaya) at vast public expense at the urging of his wife, using the government’s public jet for private junkets and refusing to rein in Malay superiority NGOs such as PERKASA and ISMA, whose strident rhetoric has led to a poisonous racial situation.

“Nazir has long worried about the negative influence of Rosmah, in particular, on Najib and has complained to friends and associates about it,” said a longtime western political analyst in Kuala Lumpur. “Of course, Rosmah knows this and despises Nazir in return and badmouths him to Najib.  So it goes.”

Riza AzizIn another article, printed last week in Kinibiz, Nazir said that after the first article appeared  anonymous attacks began on his family and his children from bloggers believed to be connected to Taek Jho Low, the flamboyant young Penang-born financier who has parlayed his UK school connections into what appears to be a vast fortune – and embroiled Najib in government debt generated by 1MDB, the subject of an extensive Asia Sentinel report on Dec. 8, 2014.

Jho Low, as he is known, became a friend of Rosmah’s son Riza Aziz during his school days in the UK at Harrow, while Riza was at nearby Haileybury.  After first vainly approaching the Sultan of Terengganu to use the state’s oil revenues to start a sovereign investment fund, Jho Low turned to Najib, then the defense minister. On Jho Low’s advice, 1MDB appears to have invested vast amounts in a series of misguided adventures.

In Kinibiz last week, Nazir said the attacks, constituting “lies andNazir Razak slander,” cross the line. His statement follows a series of comments by businessman and publisher Tong Kooi Ong, who had also been subjected to anonymous blog attacks that Tong claimed were due to The Edge Malaysia newspaper’s extensive and biting coverage of 1MDB.

The Edge Malaysia is part of The Edge Media Group, which Tong owns. On Feb. 6, Tong said he had ascertained the identity of the blogger going by the name ‘ahrily90’ and had served a legal letter to Jho Low, who has previously denied any links to the attacks.