by azly rahman
Is there a link between the Terengganu government’s hysteric fascination with the Mumbai-based Indian radical Islam televangelist Zakir Naik, the menteri besar’s generosity in gifting the not-so-liked preacher an island, and the coming of 1.5 million Bangladeshi workers over a period of three years?
Seems that there is no connection. But first let me talk about the absurdity of live-on-TV public conversions as happened in the recent tele-dakwah tour of Zakir Naik - to give a sense of the implantation of Islamic radicalism in multicultural Malaysia. A connection there could be, through a complex system of meanings and representations.
Did the stunt of conversion cheapen religion into a showbiz spectacle? Or is it done in sincerest honesty? Or to antagonise other religions?
I am reminded of the case of preachers on TV playing with rattlesnakes in the Mid-West of America, walking on water in Nigeria, mass conversions in the Unification Church in South Korea, and mass conversion of the Orang Asli in Malaysia - these perhaps gladly televised.
I am also reminded by the idea of IS beheadings on TV.
We live in a world of televisuality, of ‘technopoly’, or the mediated world, of the need to project something that is sacred and deeply spiritual inside onto a large screen on the world outside and turn ourselves into beings that have the boundary of ‘us versus them’ and that this or that belief is better than the other.
Some become euphoric and hysterical knowing that their famous artistes have ‘converted’ to this or that religion. The world will rejoice or have rejoice if Mike Tyson or Hulk Hogan or Snoop Dogg or even The Rock converts to this or that belief system. One tries to find scientific proof in religion but is it possible, giving paradigmatic and ontological difference? Is it possible given different realities and the use of language that defines the boundaries of reality?
But phenomenologically - what do all these mean?
I don’t know. Maybe on-TV conversion is good for people with certain level of class consciousness and celebrated with tears by those in a similar class. I thought religion is about deeply personal connectedness, from the Latin ‘religio’, not the public display of ego. I thought religion is not showbiz?
Has religion been devalued and cheapened by this society of the spectacle - who now delegates learning and the acquiring of wisdom to yet another class of people, i.e. the showbiz capitalist televisualised class or the mullah with the microphone?
Zakir Naik’s Islamism
Reading recent reports on the 27 Bangladeshi nationals arrested in and deported from Singapore for suspected links to the Islamic State (IS) or the terrorist group Daesh, the murder of two journalists in Dhaka of a newspaper sympathetic to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), the murder of a university professor by Islamic militants, and the failure of the prime minister and her government to address poverty and Islamic extremism, I am worried of the coming of the 1.5 million workers from that region.
I am worried of the intensification of the influence of radical Islam made excited by the phenomena of Zakir Naik-ism. I am worried of the extreme polarisation of Muslims itself and the growing number of those supporting the establishment of an Islamic state in due time.
Radical Islam is a reality and generalisable, the consequence of the trans-cultural flow of radical ideas will be felt decades from now, and when a population of people (1.5 million, mind you) is to be brought into the country, without regard to the impact on this fragile nation-state called Malaysia, and without understanding the internal politics of Bangladesh (as a producer of the world’s cheap labour as well), we have a problem for the future generation.
This is the anatomy and chemistry of internal cheap labour, poverty, and how radicalism can spread when basic needs are not met, and when violent ideas derived, partly too from the history and teachings of the Quran, cannot be monitored. Besides, do we need 1.5 million workers? Cui bono? Who benefits? What will be the fate of Malaysian workers?
Generalisable is the idea of radical interpretation of Islam, the antidote is liberal democracy and its progressive ideals. An Islamic state if put into place will be a threat to a pluralistic state that can promote good multiculturalism.
To deport or not to deport the workers already here - that is the question. I’d say just don't bring in millions of them. Re-orientate our economy. Elect a socialist-worker-based government maybe? Retrain local labour, reconfigure our education system, give our people a good deal vis-a-viz wages, don't get addicted to foreign labour (not a form of human trafficking we are supporting), and educate people on the dangers and the violence of today’s capitalist system.
These are amongst the suggestions. But if bringing in millions of workers so that they could eventually become citizens, and so that one big capitalist can benefit, and that this is beyond the control of the rakyat - I rest my case. We will see doom - for our children and grandchildren.
We can never know the truth entirely, unless we have a full investigation into the inner-workings of voter registration. Truth gets hidden behind power these days - everywhere.
Our home-grown culture
As a society yearning to build a ‘true Malaysia’, we have a serious national-soul searching to do. Look into the Peranakan or Baba-Nyonya culture primarily in Malacca. This might be the best clue to a new society against Talibanism. Malaysians need to work on as a possible framework of cultural hybridity with a strong sense of philosophy, grounded in a historicity that celebrated the beauty of tradition, ethics, the arts and humanities - not to bring in totally foreign cultures, especially ones that have the seeds of cultural and religious destruction.
The ‘Malaysian’ culture need to be re-engineered, redesigned, reloaded, and deployed in schools. Its intellectual history need to recast and transformed into a systemic agenda of curriculum redesign. The non-denominational ethic of each major religion need to be extracted, documented, written, and presented in all forms of educational media to be made the principles of the ‘panca-sila’ of a new Malaysia.
Maybe a new philosophy of a nation can help create a bastion against radical Islamism or any kind of religious extremism bordering in terrorism, disguised as ‘dakwah and missionary work’?
But where do we begin? Is our Education Ministry interested in this radical and social reconstructionism at a time when our beloved country is inching towards Talibanism?
Let us not further develop two polarities of Islam in Malaysia - one radical and one liberal. Radical Islam is one that cannot tolerate Liberal Islam and Liberal Islam is one that cannot stand the look of Radical Islam - as Rudyard Kipling would say of East is East and West is West...
But we must have a dialogue.