Friday, April 11, 2008

End of Mahathirism and the Last Keris Standing?

The impending fall of the Abdullah Badawi empire is a symbol of the strong winds of change that continue to be fuelled by the advent of Internet technology, the widening of democratic spaces, and the growing threat to the dominance of Pax Barisan-Nasionalisma.

Dr. Azly Rahman

More than 20 years ago when Francis Fukuyama wrote about the rise and dominance of American-styled liberal ideology, he was partially correct in his proposition that global politics will see the rise of the American Empire and the break up of the Soviet Union. He titled his work on deconstructionism as "the end of history and the last man".

I recall this theme of deconstructionism eulogised by the German rock group Scorpions in their song 'Winds of Change'. Fukuyama, then an analyst with Washington-based neo-conservative think-tank RAND Corporation, became an American idol in political science, thanks to Time magazine and the American corporate media sympathetic to the cause/civilising mission of the American Empire.

Partly incorrect and one not so visionary of an analysis however, was his prediction that the world will not see any more 'struggles via revolutions' as the thesis-antithesis or the dialectical-materialism of international relations will see the triumph of the 'forces of democracy'. What eventually happened was not the end of history but the beginning of another form of history, one analysed by a prominent political scientist Benjamin Barber as 'Jihad versus McWorld'.

The world is seeing the growth of anti-globalisation forces as a threat to the empire. A 'Balkan-isation' of international relations was in progress instead of Fukuyama's prediction of the total hegemony of the American Empire. Small states continue to revolt against the McDonald-isation of American ideology and the inscription of its totalitarianism onto the landscape of the modern world, giving rise to the idea of the continuation of dialectical and historical patterns and not ones that signified the end of all histories.

End of Mahathirism?

Here at home - are we witnessing the end of 'Mahathirism'? I see a parallel to this syntagmatic idea in the current happening in Malaysian history. The continuing implosion that is destroying UMNO and the rise of progressive forces of Malaysian politics in the post- March 8 2008 era, represents the symbolic end of Mahathirism's dominance and the beginning of the 'total rupture' in Malaysian politics. We are witnessing the end of an epoch and the beginning of deconstructionism. It is an exciting time looking at it from postmodern perspectives, analyzing it from the worldview of postmodern sensibilities.

The impending fall of the Abdullah Badawi empire is a symbol of the strong winds of change that continue to be fuelled by the advent of Internet technology, the widening of democratic spaces, and the growing threat to the dominance of Pax Barisan-Nasionalisma.

I see the metaphor of 'tearing down the wall' in Malaysian political ideological scenario and see the image of Mahathir as metaphor of 'the last man' and the end of 'history as we have learned to be shaped by'. One speaks of 'isms' as process-oriented ideological march founded upon the hegemony of an idea whose time was made to come. I see it as a 'monad' or a 'moment in history' or as Antonio Gramsci would say, a 'historical block' that has come about as a consequence of a crystallisation and sub-crystallisation of an idea promoted as 'intellectual and moral leadership'.

Because Mahathir articulated well his interpretation of the Malay Dilemma and because the Malays in general see it as a document that analysed the past, present, and future of the Malays, the writer of the banned book subsequently gained ascendancy as prime minister. Dilema Melayu/The Malay Dilemma, as scrutinised by the anthropologist Dr Syed Husin Ali for example, was flawed in its analysis of Malay socio-culture and 'genetic-based' argument on the inferiority of the Malays.

It became popular because Malay politicians did not read enough to critique the presentation of the dilemma and that the time was ripe to counter any effort to establish a multi-cultural political front to divert the nation off the entrapment of race-based politics. Like Reaganism, Thatcherism, and other forms of 'isms' associated with the primacy of corporate-capital nexused in a post-Fordist form of corporate-industrial-political-intellectual complex, Mahathirism is an ideology.

While many may disagree with the 'personification' of a neo-colonialist agenda in that term 'Mahathirism', and in fact one that might further glorify the person, I see it necessary to continue to have it 'named' so that one may deconstruct and rename it.

Total power

Mahathirism, is a symbol of the dominance of one person whose political life- history revolves around the maintaining of, acquiring, sustaining, consolidating, and homogenising total power through a clever crafting of a succession of hegemonic formations. It rests on the philosophy of 'we versus them' and the dichotomisation of political forces and on the practices of a more sophisticated version of the colonialist divide, conquer, and rule strategy.

These Machiavellian-formulations rest upon a more advanced system for capitalist formation fondly called 'the Asian-style democracy'. It is understandable then that the current administration called the nation to embrace the concept of Ying Yang in a nation that dances the hip hop and the elected representatives doing the be bop while the teenagers are going back to doing the rock and roll.

Mahathirism is a moment in history that benefited from the pre-War on Terrorism period of global economic boom, pre-9/11 historicity, and one that helped fuel the economy through borrowed monies and borrowed paradigms of economic development, and one that gave a blank cheque till the year 2020 (Wawasan 2020) to the ruling party.

Mahathirism, psycho-socially is a paradigm that recast the thinker Syed Hussein Alatas' thesis of the image of indolence, dullness, and laziness amongst the natives. This time, the 'ills' are remedied by the imposition of Japanese work ethics, productivity, non-unionisation laws, and other structures of control imposed to turn the Malaysian labour into better human-machines. This in turn will help the national engine of growth run well, so that foreign owners, in collaboration with the new 'glocal capitalists', may exploit it more efficiently.

In the now world-renowned political-anthropological study of 'the lazy natives', the colonialists painted the image of indolence amongst the Malays, Indonesians and the Filipinos. In today's analysis, the image of the native is the industrial and modern agricultural worker transformed into lazy thinkers and happy consumers through the structurations of the hypermodern capitalist system.

In Mahathirism, technology shapes consciousness and changes the social relations of production, transforming landscapes of nature into huge real estate projects such as the Multimedia Super Corridor - changing the way we live, transport/teleport ourselves, and the pattern of consumption and leisure. Those who own the means of importing technology from abroad, with paid advice from International Advisory Panels, own the means of transforming consciousness and hence will define the existence of the natives, through the hyper-modern Asiatic mode of production. I think of Frank Sinatra's 'My Way' as a symbol of the theme song of this historical block and quite incidentally a favourite song of many of the Cabinet ministers and Chief Ministers.

Mahathir the author of Mahathirism, through his authorship, created autocratic systems that automate the minds of the natives so that they may become automatons in a system that continue to this day to embrace and celebrate authoritarianism, Asian style. There are many other areas of Mahathirism that I think can be of research interest to Malaysian scholars, especially to those from the Institut Pemikiran Tun Mahathir, Universiti Utara Malaysia itself.

But I suggest these scholars equip themselves with the tools of critical cultural analyses, critical ethnography, radical anthropology, or reflective sociology in order to produce commendable work on Mahathirism - to understand what makes Malaysians afraid to think and speak up and how they have become, as the American sociologist Herbert Marcuse calls, 'one-dimensional' beings.

Tearing down Mahathirism

Spaces of dialogue are being created, a symbol of the tearing down the walls of Mahathirism. The deafening call for an inquiry into the award of Approved Permits, the setting up of the Malaysian Institute of Integrity, the repeated calls to provide the academic community with signs and symbols of academic freedom, the boycott of campus elections, and the growing demand of the economically marginalised to be attended to - all these represent the possible end of Malaysian history as we know it. All these culminated in the major rupture of the empire of the National Front. The end of Mahathirism signalled the beginning of three fronts-- Barisan Nasional, Barisan Rakyat, and Barisan Bloggers -- vying for power in a world increasingly mediated by digital communication technologies. The Axis of Contradictions (National Front-People's Front-Bloggers' Front) present an interesting synthesis out of the dialectical materialism of the evolution of Malaysian radical-alternative politics. Mao's theory of knowledge can be tested here if one wishes to study the cognitive aspects of the "Malaysian Revolution" or "Asian Implosion and Evolution or Implovolution" of March 8 2008.

'The centre cannot hold' goes the cliche for post-modernism borrowed from the words of WB Yeats, one apt to be applied to this Fukuyama proposition in Malaysian politics. Speaking of the incapacitation of our thinking and reflecting capacity, I am reminded of the lyrics of Pink Floyd's 'Brick in the Wall' which goes, 'all and all we're just another brick in the wall..' as we look at the condition of human existence in the world of the global production system.

Mahathirism represents that world - of silencing the masses so that they may work and produce with unquestioning devotion/bakthi and dharma to the new colonial masters of Japan, the United States and Europe. The slogans Kerja Sebagai Ibadat, Kepimpinan Melalui Teladan, Bersih, Cekap, Amanah and I.T. untuk Anda represent the slogans for the monad/Gramscian historical block/Asian Despotism that characterised the socio-political milieu of the Mahathir era. This is the sangsara of the philosophy of economic development based on the pursuit of artha (harta= material wealth). The system creates the Duryodhanas (durjanas=corporate pirates and raiders) of the global capitalist system that become 'glocalised' in the neatly but hegemonistically explained language of Friedmanian economics.

As a keen student/observer of totalitarianism and hegemonic systems created by human beings, I am interested in analysing how these struggles for a cosmopolitan, cosmotheandric, and 'conscientisation'-ised pattern of struggle continue. I am reminded by the theme of an essay 'Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism' by American literary theorist Frederic Jameson as I write about the ruptures, the waning of affect, the sense of fragmentation, and the clich├ęs and subalternisation of the Grand narratives in Malaysian politics in general, and in the deconstructionism of Mahathirism in particular.

Will the events after April 14, 2008 tear down the wall completely? Or a second 'mental revolution' to debunk and revise Sanusi Junid's thesis in Revolusi Mental, produced in the late 1970s do that?. But Sanusi Junid's thesis is also well-debunked as it is derived from the paradigm of Mahathirism and the urge to promote the ethos of Reaganomics and the ideology of Asian corporate capitalism. Sanusi Junid in fact need to read Lacan and Derrida to deconstruct his own worldview on mental revolutions. I suppose the "utopianism" conjured by the intelligentsia will always contain the seeds of dystopianism that have germinated as evident by the destruction that has happened in the four years of the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi rule. A nation does not live on borrowed ideology of JD-Rockefellarism alone.

I suggest Malaysian social scientists interested in deconstructionist theories study these developments - so that we may construct newer theories of hegemony and totalitarianism, inspired by and in honor of the work of Syed Hussein Alatas. Let us explore what the new myth of the lazy natives mean through our analysis of 'the end of Malaysian history and the last man', or rather to analyse the end of Mahathirism and the last keris standing.
After Mahathirism and the end of history, what must we expect? Will the perfect society organized around truly egalitarian principles with transcultural philosophy as the guiding light be the end of it all? Or will we see perpetual peaceful, Internet-inspired revolutions laced with creative and ethical anarchism be the feature of this Malaysian state?

Let us talk about this.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

So Is Islam Hadari To Be Enforced By Whipping Now?

But it is in the ranks of UMNO and the UMNO-led institutions of the state that we see the mental quagmire of the elite at its worst. IKIM and the Shariah Judiciary Department are both institutions that were created under the auspices of the UMNO-led government.

By Farish A. Noor

I am having a tough time writing this particular article as I am absolutely consumed by anger at the moment. In fact, I am livid as I have never been for such a long time.

The reason for this sudden rise in my blood pressure level is that after a two-day seminar organised by the Institute for Islamic Understanding (IKIM) and the Shariah Judiciary Department of Malaysia, it was suggested by some of those who took part that ‘non-Muslims found committing khalwat (close proximity) with Muslims (will) also be held liable’ and that they too will be under threat of punishment. (The Star, Proposal to Persecute Non-Muslims for Khalwat, 3 April 2008) According to the report ‘Syariah Court of Appeal Judge Datuk Mohd Asri Abdullah said the seminar had proposed that non-Muslims committing khalwat with Muslims should also be sentenced accordingly, but in the civil courts.’

Furthermore the participants of the seminar also proposed ‘to impose heftier penalties – of up to four times the current penalties – on Muslims caught for khalwat, prostitution, consuming alcohol and involvement in gambling activities.’

And what might these heftier penalties be? According to the same report ‘Ikim and the department were proposing that the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (Amendment) 1984 be amended to impose stiffer penalties of RM1,000 fine, or five years’ jail or 12 strokes of the rotan for Syariah Lower Courts and RM20,000 fine, or 10years’ jail or 24 strokes of rotan for Syariah High Courts’. It then added that ‘there was also a proposal for Syariah judges to enforce whipping for these offences’ and that ‘another proposal calls for the establishment of a rehabilitation centre for those convicted of offences related to morals and faith such as prostitution and effeminate men, and enforcement of Section 54 of the Syariah Criminal Offences Act (Act 559) to set up such centres’.

So this, apparently, is what the great minds of IKIM and the religious departments have been cooking up and intending to serve to us, the Malaysian public, all along. While Muslims are angry about the portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the film ‘Fitna’ by the right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders, one is left with the question: As long as Muslim leaders and intellectuals remain stuck in their morass of outdated conservative thinking, would it not remain the case that Islam is seen as a religious of violence? How, pray tell, can scholars like me defend the image of Islam and Muslims when Muslim governments like ours allows such outlandish and dangerous ideas to spread, and harbour such proponents of conservative-fundamentalist Islam in the very same institutions that were meant to open up the minds of Muslims and lead us – and Malaysian society – to a more modern, progressive and liberated understanding of Islam and religion in general?

The fact that such proposals could have been made at all speaks volumes about the state of Muslim thinking in Malaysia today. Worse still is the total disconnect between reality and ideals, and the fact that some of these Muslim thinkers fail to see just how unjust, inhuman and dehumanising these proposed punishments are in the eyes of millions of other Malaysians and foreigners alike. Whipping? In this day and age? And what would happen to the image of Malaysia as the so-called bastion of moderate Islam when the international media gets a glimpse of this non-so-moderate Islam at work? Is Islam Hadari to be enforced by the whip today?

The results of the recent general elections have shown that the Malaysian public has reached a level of political awareness and maturity that is unprecedented in our history. It also points to an increasingly urbanised, well-connected, better-informed and more politically-conscious electorate that will not be satisfied with empty slogans of a more ‘moderate’ Islam and theme parks with crystal mosques. Why, even in the ranks of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) there are more and more progressive voices who are calling for real economic and structural reform, and contemplating the possibility of creating a new social contract based on a welfare state model for all Malaysians.

But it is in the ranks of UMNO and the UMNO-led institutions of the state that we see the mental quagmire of the elite at its worst. IKIM and the Shariah Judiciary Department are both institutions that were created under the auspices of the UMNO-led government. Yet the so-called reforms we have been presented are not intended to open up the minds of Muslims, but rather to add yet another layer of moral policing on Muslim society today.

More worrying is the fact that now the scope of UMNO’s Islamisation policy has extended to cover non-Muslims as well, and this can only be read as yet another attempt to impose Islamic legal and political hegemony on the non-Muslims of Malaysia. How and why should a non-Muslim be taken to court for simply being in love with a Muslim? And why, for that matter, should a Muslim be punished for simply loving a non-Muslim? Furthermore the non-Muslim partner in such a relationship may not even regard it as wrong to simply be in love with another. Yet the advocates of this reform are suggesting that he or she has committed a sin even if he or she has not done anything wrong according to his or her belief system.

This in turn points to the slow erosion of respect for diversity and pluralism in Malaysia, where a group of Muslim communitarians do not seem realise the fact that Islam is simply one of many belief-systems in Malaysia and that the values of Islam may not be relevant to those who are not part of that faith community. Yet by calling for these legal reforms, these sectarian leaders seem to be implying that what constitutes an offence for Muslims must also constitute an offence for others too. How does this communitarian slant fit with the universalist and pluralist claims of Islam Hadari then?

That such a conference could have been held so close after UMNO’s disastrous showing at the recent elections would indicate that this UMNO-led government is totally bankrupt of ideas and can only shore up what little support it has left by playing the Islamic card and pandering to the gallery yet again. Moral policing of any kind is just one further layer of policing on society, and this is fundamentally part and parcel of the state’s attempt to remain in power at all costs. The net result would be the further control of Malaysian society as a whole and the costs will be borne by those Malaysians who are Malaysian-minded enough to see beyond race and religion, and to cross these cultural-religious frontiers by falling in love with others. Instead it is those very Malaysian-Minded Malaysians who are under threat now, by laws and regulations that make it virtually impossible for us to love one another and live with one another.

Finally, this is further proof that the so-called ‘moderate and progressive’ brand of Islam that was sold to us as ‘Islam Hadari’ was little more than another UMNO propaganda device; serving to placate the concerns of the international community while in fact serving only to extend the power and hegemony of the state at home. Should these reform measures come to pass, it is our duty to remind ourselves, our fellow Malaysians and the international community that what passes under the label of Islam Hadari is really a conservative brand of statist Islam that promotes imprisonment, detention, moral policing and whipping. Let the cameras of the international media come to Malaysia to film the spectacle of Malaysians being arrested, detained in rehabilitation centres, whipped and injured for life by the morality police and religious authorities. Let the whole world know that ‘Islam Hadari’ has never opened up the minds of Muslims. Let us expose this lie once and for all, and the liars behind the lie as well.

Dr. Farish A. Noor is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University of Singapore; and one of the founders of the research site.