Malaysia: Normalising the Unacceptable

By Farish A. Noor

The dangerous thing about sectarian politics is how it becomes normalised so easily and quickly. Taking a leaf from the book of Speer and Goebels, the old Fascist maxim proves itself true time and again: Once the public is made to realise that they are impotent and unable to affect change, the ruling elite can hoist almost anything upon them. One affront leads to another, and the common tactic is to follow-up a public outrage with yet another that is even more outrageous. Hence when politicians issue their sexist slurs and the the media reacts to them, the tactic often favoured by some is to reply with a racist slur even more unpalatable to most right-minded adults.

We have seen this strategy employed so often by now: The rise of the extreme Hindu right in India was a case of leap-frogging from one insulting comment against Muslims, Christians and other minorities to the next. Likewise the shift to the right that is seen in Europe today was occasioned by extreme right-wing politicians vying for media attention and out-doing themselves by playing to the gallery.

Malaysia of course is no exception to the rule and during the last five decades the tone and tenor of Malaysian politics has been set by the standards of racialised communitarian politics that is divisive to the country. Again and again we have seen Malaysian politicians come to power by playing the race – and now increasingly religion – card above all else, pandering to their own communities at the expense of the rest. And over the past three years in particular the country has witnessed the rising of its political temperature thanks to the amateurish pyrotechnics of loud politicians standing on the soapbox to play to the communitarians in their midst. The precedent was set three years ago when the leader of the Youth Wing of the ruling UMNO party – Hishamuddin Hussein – brandished a keris – the traditional Malay dagger – in a symbolic act of defiance that many regarded as frothy bravado and little else. In the context of multi-racial Malaysia where racial sensitivities run deep, such gestures can have the effect of antagonising the non-Malay and non-Muslim communities further and deepening the racial divide that already splits the country in many ways.

At this years General Assembly of the UMNO party the leaders of the UMNO Youth Wing were once again seen playing with their toys in public, claiming that their gesture was intended to symbolise UMNO’s fighting spirit (odd to say the least, considering the UMNO did not engage in armed struggle against the colonial powers of the past but rather opted for a more docile form of negotiation instead) and commitment to the country. Needless to say the expected reaction has ensued, with many members of the non-Malay and non-Muslim communities worried about the growing assertion of Mlalay-Muslim dominance in the country.

Ironically, the spin-doctors of UMNO have been hard at work to justify the symbolic unsheathing of the keris and the hysterical screaming and yelling of slogans that often follows. Cognisant of the fact that the juvenile antics of the party’s leaders are under scrutiny, at this years UMNO assembly the leaders of the party went to great lengths to explain how and why the keris was unsheathed and brandished in public on stage. The UMNO party’s deputy leader Najib Razak went as far as claiming that the waving of the keris should not be interpreted by the non-Malays as a declaration of war, but rather as the party’s defence of the Malay race. Where, pray tell, is the difference?

No matter how hard the spin-doctors of UMNO try to pass off this episode as another harmless escapade in the party’s sorry history, the fact remains that racial and communal tensions are high in the country at the moment. While the ethno-nationalist Malay communitarians of UMNO claim that their party is merely there to defend the Malay race, the fact remains that this defence of ‘Malayness’ is couched in terms of a rhetoric and discourse of Malay supremacy. Furthermore the non-Malays of Malaysia are left with the stark reality that while UMNO caters primarily to Malay demands, dozens of Hindu temples have been demolished all over the country and the non-Muslim NGOs of Malaysia are increasingly vocal in their defence of the rights of non-Muslim citizens.

But UMNO’s hotheads have been caught in a trap of their own making. During a previous assembly the very same leader of UMNO Youth was challenged by an UMNO delegate who asked him : ‘Now that you have unsheathed the keris, when will you use it?’ This is the real context against which such puerile and shameless theatrics are being enacted: of a party that is becoming increasingly insecure, defensive and unsure of its future, edged and goaded by irresponsible politicians who have let the genie of communitarianism out of the bottle and are now unable to put it back in. One is reminded of the likewise violent symbolism of the extreme right wing BJP and RSS in India, whose leaders brandished Indian swords – tulwars and shamsirs – before their supporters and potential voters, and who later claimed that they were not responsible for unleashing the racial and religious terror that swept across states like Gujarat.

Malaysia’s politicians would do better to grow up and behave like matured adults who can deal with real issues such as corruption, abuse of power and the crisis of confidence in the judiciary rather than playing with knives on the stage. The growing income disparity in Malaysia, the low ranking of Malaysia in the press freedom index, the brain drain which is leading to the loss of thousands of intelligent and educated professionals; are all real problems that need real solutions put forward by sincere politicians with real intelligence. Leave the knife in the kitchen, and try to manage the country instead: That would be sage advice to Youth leaders who should have grown up long ago.

  1. #1 by Jamesy on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 2:12 am

    At last year UMNO General Assembly :-

    UMNO Youth Information Chief Datuk Azimi Daim said, “We should also look at why questions on the rights and privileges of the bumiputras are being raised by certain quarters now, even those from the BN family, when these are enshrined in the Federal Constitution…When certain issues come up, it is natural for the warrior blood in the veins of the Malays to become heated.”

    One Mr. Razali Idris from Terengganu even more dare to say, “This wide disparity will create unrest and an incident like May 13 might repeat but this time, the parang will not fly.”

    UMNO Youth Chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin at last year GA said, “We must remember that creating a Malaysia nation will not possible on narrow thinking and chauvinism. Don’t gamble the future by championing race politics. We know them, we know where they are and we know what they are saying. We are not afraid to face these opportunist leaders and will not compromise with them…This is a warning from the youth movement. Do not raise any issues in relation to Article 11 and Article 121(1A) of the Constitution. If negative efforts like this are not stopped, the implication are going to be BIG.”

    Then Hishammuddin brandished and waved the Kris, and one person said, “We want to ask Datuk Hisham when is he going to use it.”

    This year UMNO General Assembly :-

    The damaged has already been done, no amount of pacification and explaining are going to repair the damage.

    Talking about taking action against Namewee and the person who burn the national flag, what happened to the investigation of these seditious speeches by the police after the DAP made a police report?

    The rakyat will translate your last year speeches into votes in the coming General Election.

  2. #2 by Richard Teo on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 2:12 am

    As long as we have these goons running the country, there is no likelihood of any change in the policy.That UMNO youth Head wielding the keris has some inferiority complex inherited from his father.he has now to show that he is more assertive than his father and that explains why he has to brandish the keris to prove his manhood.Inside him is a timid man using the keris as his shield to protect his jelly heart.Pray forgive for he needs the impotent keris to boost his ego.

  3. #3 by Tulip Crescent on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 2:40 am

    Somehow, the continual use of the keris at party meetings tells me that the Umno struggle is not based on love, but on hate.

    Maybe, that is why more and more Malays will vote against the Umno in the coming election, despite the electoral rolls being suspect.

    Shame on the perpetrators of the keris-waving incidents. They betray the jihad of their forefathers.

  4. #4 by limkamput on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 2:45 am

    Just to share this. May be Indonesia will one day overtake us. I think Indonesia’s reform – political, economic and social – are more genuine and sustainable. We shall see.

    News @ AsiaOne

    Indonesia’s three divas fix the nation’s finances
    Wed, Nov 07, 2007

    JAKARTA – THEY’RE called the three divas but the three most powerful women in Indonesia are anything but prima donnas.
    They’re economists who together are setting Southeast Asia’s biggest economy on track for its fastest growth in 11 years.

    Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Trade Minister Mari Pangestu, and the central bank’s Senior Deputy Governor Miranda Goeltom form an unusual clique in a country where the establishment is dominated by men.

    ‘We know each other very well. The chemistry is always very good between the three of us,’ said Ms Sri, a former International Monetary Fund director, in a recent interview with Reuters.

    While the three play golf and do lunch together, Ms Sri said she values the fact she can discuss economics with the other two, particularly given the isolated nature of her job.

    ‘It’s something we can enjoyably share,’ she said. ‘Being a minister of finance you feel really lonely and alone. If you are mingling too closely with the business community they will accuse you of being too close, and if you are mingling with the political parties they think you are busy politicking. I have to keep a distance.’

    Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, has had relatively few high-profile women in its government.

    Its first female president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, owed her position in part to her pedigree, as her father Sukarno was the independent nation’s first leader.

    But while the former housewife kept a low profile, the three divas are familiar faces on the IMF, World Bank and international trade circuit – though some nationalists say they are too cosy with these institutions.

    In contrast to many of her tight-lipped foreign counterparts, central banker Miranda, 58, is regularly quoted in the media, most recently on the economic impact of high oil prices.

    She often speaks in public, and is famously late – a trait that saved her life in 2003 when she was stuck in traffic and arrived late for lunch at Jakarta’s Marriott hotel, missing a bomb attack by minutes.

    Now Ms Miranda and central bank governor Burhanuddin Abdullah are in the limelight again as economists await further easing.

    The benchmark interest rate has fallen to 8.25 per cent from a high of 12.75 per cent in April 2006 after 13 rate cuts, as inflation has eased.

    The cut in rates has boosted domestic consumption, spurring economic growth which is set to hit 6.3 percent this year.

    Exports are bouncing back, and foreign direct investment, which faltered on worries about corruption, red tape and legal uncertainty, is close to its 2000 record of US$9.86 billion (S$14.3 billion).

    Reform fever
    One reason for the recovery, Ms Sri says, is because reforms are starting to have an effect.

    President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former general, was elected in 2004 on the back of promises to boost growth, create jobs, and tackle graft in a country which year after year ranks among the most corrupt.

    When Ms Sri, 45, was appointed finance minister, she embarked on a clean-up of Indonesia’s notoriously corrupt tax and customs departments in a bid to raise state revenues.

    The former academic, whose PhD was on how men and women respond to tax policies, has a tough job ahead of her as only one Indonesian in 170 pays tax.

    For years, tax bills were often settled by greasing palms, but now it’s getting harder for the well-heeled to keep the tax office at bay.

    Ms Sri has replaced corrupt officials and raised salaries for staff so they are not tempted to steal or solicit bribes.

    Her officers are investigating firms which deliberately understate their profits in order to pay less tax, and are tracking down wealthy lawyers, bankers, property owners -even platinum cardholders – many of whom get a nasty shock when officials phone or drop by to check up on them.

    Restoring public trust in government departments and institutions has become an ‘obsession’ for Ms Sri, who says she feels she has at least inspired ‘a positive and contagious disease, a reform fever’ among many tax and customs bureaucrats.

    Wile Ms Sri tackles tax issues, Trade Minister Mari wants to raise the profile of Indonesia’s exports.

    ‘Where would the world be without Indonesia?’ she joked recently, pointing out that it makes a substantial portion of the world’s zips, Barbie dolls, and false eyelashes.

    Ms Mari is a rare breed in the cabinet, not just because she’s female, but because she’s the only ethnic Chinese.

    While the minority Chinese account for a disproportionate share of the country’s wealth, their success is sometimes resented.

    An anti-communist coup in the 1960s led to their suppression, and their language, writings and customs were banned or discouraged until relatively recently.

    Ms Mari has lived in boomtown Shanghai where many Indonesian Chinese, including some of the country’s wealthiest tycoons, keep homes and run their businesses – valuable first-hand experience for an economist charged with turning Indonesia into a roaring Asia tiger once again. — REUTERS

    Copyright ©2007 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.

    Privacy Statement Conditions of Access Advertise

  5. #5 by undergrad2 on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 4:33 am

    “That UMNO youth Head wielding the keris has some inferiority complex inherited from his father.he has now to show that he is more assertive than his father and that explains why he has to brandish the keris to prove his manhood.”

    Psyhoanalysing political leaders in this way has no purpose whatsoever other than filling up empty spaces of one’s mind.

    So he suffers from an inferiority complex. So?

    The continued brandishing of the Malay keris is an act of defiance and arrogance. It has to be stopped. It is akin to the looney right in America like Hal Turner brandishing the noose to show the power of white justice. Who is Hal Turner?? Go here

    It is time to stop being defensive, like looking for reasons to explain it away – like having talking heads in pint striped suits fathoming the Malay mind to try to look into it and find why a Malay brandishes his keris. In the not too distant past, a keris was never unsheathed unless you intended to use it. UMNO Malays have made light of this by brandishing the keris and say “Justice for the Malays” when what they meant to say is “Winner takes all” refering to themselves as incumbents in the coming elections. The corrupt and the powerful will continue to rule which is the real meaning behind the brandishing of the keris.

    Join the March on November 10th! It’s power to the people! It is time to take back the government. It is now or never!

  6. #6 by lbn on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 4:40 am

    When will they ever learn! I’m very sad indeed. Malaysia is a very beautiful country – my very own home. But sad to have idiots running it. Let us pray and do what we can by utilising our voting rights and hope for the best.

  7. #7 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 8:51 am

    Making the unacceptable, acceptable is an UMNO Youth tradition, in fact at its core its main function ever since May 13, 1969. When they lied and cause May 13, that is when they realized they can keep doing it again and again.

    Look at the leader of the next generation, the SIL. A person given everything on a silver platter all his life and he think being a hypocrite is what it takes to succeed and finds nothing wrong with it. I would not be surprise if he feels, its unfair to him to attack him for it, forgetting that the founder of his party Onn bin Jaffar and Tunku, never did those things.

    This is what the future holds for Malay leadership in this country – ever more hypocrisy for the next level of ambitions. After all they seem to equate a space tourist to Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong when he is but like kampung aunty going on Star Cruise..

  8. #8 by shortie kiasu on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 9:06 am

    With naivette attitude, myopic vision of the “leaders” of the said political party playing to the gallery, there won’t be any positive change in their thinking and vision and physical change for the next thousand years to come as long as they can command the mind of the rest of their followers.

    With all the hidden agenda involving wealth and power, who wants to give the life of luxury at the expense of the powerless and deprived minority?

    Tell us how they would ever change?

  9. #9 by shortie kiasu on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 9:12 am

    ‘At this years General Assembly of the UMNO party the leaders of the UMNO Youth Wing were once again seen playing with their “toys” in public’ – by the writer.

    As you have aptly put in, that is what we should all treat it as such, a ‘TOY’.

    A toy is only good for a kid or a child. Only kids and children are interested in toys!

  10. #10 by pwcheng on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 9:25 am

    We read their message when they unsheathed their keris. All those explanations are just a farce. We know their tactics, we know UMNO. A rose by any other name smells the same.
    Their rise in power and playing with the keris to send a message of hate as a warning to the Chinese is loud and clear but the question can we do anything about this? They condemned the Orang Puteh but I think they are worst than them.

  11. #11 by k1980 on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 9:34 am

    The Malaysian Chinese should buy an atom bomb from Pakistan’s dying Musharraf regime and display it the next time Hissmuddin unshealthed his keris.

  12. #12 by hkh on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 9:38 am


    MONDAY, 31ST . MARCH , 1986 , AT 2.30 P.M.
    *1. Tuan Lim Kit Siang : To ask the Minister of Nome Affairs to state whether
    public rallies are still banned in the country. and if so why the Prime Minister and
    Barisan Nasion ^l President is allowed to hold countrvWwide rallies
    21 years old question

  13. #13 by lupus on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 9:55 am

    Datuk Hishamuddin can unshelathed and do the mambo with his keris… can his friends at UNMO……..I will just introduce them to my M134 electric gun.

  14. #14 by sotong on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 9:58 am

    Until the criminals who incite/threaten aggression, hatred or violence are put away for good, the country and her ordinary people will not live in peace and security.

    Where are the leaders from all races to express their outrage and distance themselves from these grossly irresponsible statements???

  15. #15 by Godfather on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 11:08 am

    Who is to say that the waving of the keris is unacceptable ? It becomes unacceptable only when it is an election issue, when there is overwhelming revulsion towards the act.

    The thieves have obviously weighed the pros and the cons of waving the keris, and they must have come to the conclusion that winning the hearts and minds of the UMNO faithful is more important and more beneficial than winning the hearts and minds of the infidels.

    Get used to it, folks. Get used to it or apply for citizenship in Singapore.

  16. #16 by Libra2 on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 11:57 am

    What Malay right is there to defend? Their rights are solidly entrenched and unshakable. How can a dominant race feel threatened when the entire government machinery ( the police and judiciary to boot) are under its beck and call.
    The real threat to existing Malay rights is actually coming from the greedy Malay elite, the UMNOists.
    The keris is being used by that UMNO lunatic to fight an imaginary, non-existent enemy to give that ‘orgasmic’ feeling to gullible delegates.

  17. #17 by hkh on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 12:39 pm

    This braindead leader cannot think of anything new to do, that he has to recycle his cousin’s ancient act for 3 straight years.
    His lackey deputy declared that he is learning quick the same trick from this copycat. What to do? IQ only 100. EQ negative.

  18. #18 by kerishamuddinitis on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 1:48 pm

    ‘Defending Malays?’ Against what? What in the world is threatening Malays that a keris needed to be unsheath once before, and now again? And this action too at a Malay national communal gathering. What can Kerishamuddin possibly mean ‘under the protection of Keris Melayu’? Now, are Malays threatened, or are the other races threatened? Which is which? For non-Malays to need the ‘protection under the Keris Melayu,’ there must be something threatening us. Since we ourselves have not unsheathed any weapons, spirited away any C4 or raised any defensive barriers, and definitely NOT ASKED FOR ‘protection under the Keris Melayu,’ Kerishamuddin is talking rubbish yet again. This is the intellectual disability of our Education Minister – he cannot even get his story right.

    By the way, Malays need not feel threatened in any way by the non-Malays. In about 50years from now, the continuing depopulation of non-Malays will reduce the total non-Malay population to about 20%. We have stopped making big families. We have started sending our children for overseas education and exposure to the global community. Many of the young non-Malays can no longer take being repeatedly reminded, even chastised that they are ‘migrants’ and live here at the pleasure of the Malays, on borrowed time. So, by 2050, Malays will make up 80% of the population, by which time, unsheathing the keris yet again would be so, so stupid. So, do it one more time next year and watch the non-Malay population shrink yet again. In due time, MALAYSIA will indeed be the LAND OF THE MALAYS literally – enough of us will have left that those remaining would rather be invisible than have the keris waved at them by another utter imbecile. Then, KETUANAN MELAYU will truly, truly reign unchallenged!

  19. #19 by akarmalaysian on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 3:03 pm

    excuse me for saying this…i am malaysian who also use a kris…its a divine weapon i shud say cos i bought it for my ” kong natok”.in no way whn i do my prayers will i utilise the kris to harm others.i only unleash the kris whn i ask for empat ekor.once its done i will keep it back and hide it secretly in the natok kong’s altar.i love malaysia as it is with friends of different colors and cultures…thats what makes malaysia so special.or else i wont get to use the kris if not for the natok kong.thats what mix cultures in this country lead us to understand each other with freedom without restrictions of watever so that we can really “harmonised” and truly call ourseves “brothers of malaysian”.this ruling party is making life hard on everyone cos of their racial and religious intergration.they emphasised more on their skin colors rather than the whole of malaysian people.worse still…they can even cheat on their own colors.they take for granted what our genuine past leaders fought for.a country for everyone regardless of their u see them sweet talking but next and behind what they say…they can be very fickle minded.why come up with islam hadhari….why shud a kris be waved in an assembly…being a leader he has no say abt all this sensitive things.shows that he doesnt care abt the other races.thrs no other country i wud ever think of migrating to…cos i was born in this soil…i am a malaysian…i will fight for wats right like everybody else in this country for the sake of my children so that i can make sure my children will and always wander freely with friends of multi colors without fear.i dun think we really need idiotic leaders who will always make use of watever “thing” to wave around to garner for support and championing a single race rights.we can really do without leaders like that.cos they will only make matters worse.thrs no priority given for those who really work hard for this country…those priorities are only given to those lazy and greedy scumbags.look around ….if i am wrong then correct me.

  20. #20 by borrring on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 8:36 pm

    The keris as the party’s “defence” of the Malay race? Defending against who exactly? The non Malays who are in fact the minority here? Or are they afraid of their own shadows? They might as well take out the tombak as well…

  21. #21 by AhPek on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 11:16 pm

    Tell me commenters of this blog— Why is black Americans in America who only make up 12.5% of America’s population can hold their heads very high today?In fact their representation in the cabinet at the recent past far exceeds BLACK PERCENTAGE POPULATION oF AMERICA.
    It was not so long ago that the whites whenever they feel like it would slap and kick them,rape their wives as if it’s their god damn right.The KUKLUX KLAN would lasso them, tie them to their cars and drag them thro the streets.
    Don’t tell me the whites have suddenly become remorse and give them share of power??

  22. #22 by AhPek on Thursday, 8 November 2007 - 11:19 pm

    Should read-“Don’t tell me the whites have suddenly become remorse and give them share of power and treat them as equal in all aspects.”

  23. #23 by pwcheng on Friday, 9 November 2007 - 12:55 am

    k1980 , please do no buy the atom bombs. All of us will be killed. It is better to buy the smart bombs.

  24. #24 by Jimm on Friday, 9 November 2007 - 10:14 am

    POWER , the word that eventually take down any giant.
    The greed fo gaining them rather than managing them are clearly demonstrate by UMNO especially their leaders whom needed to ‘protect’ their own interest.
    Our land owners are merely ‘watching’ their asset being ‘taken out’ each day and nothing can be done about these.
    Everything that comes into these lands (without judging color,size,shapes or presentation) have its proposal to deliver some form of goodness to those owners.
    However, owners that failed to value each existence will soon suffer losses because the eco system have not been completely cycled for the coming future.
    POWER is a word of greatness when stand alone , however , greed will turn it to the dark side that doomed each good deeds that supposedly grows.

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