Early Skirmishes Of A Malay Civil War

by M. Bakri Musa

Recent attacks on churches are not a sign of an impending religious war in Malaysia. There is no doubting that in a plural society like ours those incendiary incidents could easily explode out of control. That notwithstanding, these recent ugly acts are merely sub-plots of a much larger and more dangerous drama that is now unfolding, one that is far more consequential and destructive. These are the early skirmishes of an explosive, protracted and very ugly civil war among Malays.

There is a definite pattern between these recent events and earlier ones involving only Malays, specifically the whipping of a young mother for consuming beer and the call for apostasy to be a capital offense. Connect the dots and you have a Malay community in deep conflict.

What struck me most with the recent spate of church attacks were the relatively muted responses from the victims. This reflected not merely a charitable “turning the other cheek” reaction, rather an intuitive realization by non-Muslims that they were not the target but merely innocent victims of a much larger conflict raging under the surface: a vicious Malay civil war. Those poor Christians were caught in a cross-fire in a conflict they did not realize was going on around them.

Contrast the reactions of non-Muslims to those of Malays. No, the Malay vitriol was not directed at non-Muslims rather to fellow Malays. On one side were those who view those attacks as debasing our great faith, and the other, those who consider them as the purest jihad. When commentators use epithets like “idiots,” “racists” and “pengkhianat” (traitors), we know this is a serious matter, beyond the reach of sensible dialogs.

The issue of the use of the word “Allah” is merely a symptom. Today it is over that, yesterday over Ketuanan Melayu versus Ketuanan Rakyat, while much earlier it was the use of English to teach science and mathematics. Tomorrow, God (or Allah) knows what else. Already some of the sultans are weighing in on this Allah issue. Expect another battle soon over the sanctity of the sultan’s titah (command) versus a court decision.

I do not mean to belittle the seriousness of those arson attacks on churches. Indeed it was hard to describe the sinking feeling in the pit of the my stomach as I watched CNN News, and the ticker tape kept blip-ping the latest news break, “Fourth Church Attacked!” and then, “Fifth Church Arson Attack,” and now the eleventh, and realizing that those were happening not in war-torn Lebanon or strife-ridden Sudan but in our own “Truly Asia” Malaysia.

A more sickening feeling was seeing Home Minister Hishammuddin smugly ‘reassuring’ us that everything was ‘under control.’ That was after the third or fourth arson attack. He could hardly refrain from patting himself on the back for (presumably) a job well done. His “government’s commitment to maintain peace” had averted a major religious catastrophe, he asserted. Obviously to him, the damage wrecked was only the burnt buildings and scorched church doors.

Somebody ought to tell Hishammuddin to wipe the grin off his face, and make him realize that the enormous damage wrecked upon the nation went well beyond the physical defacement of those churches. Those can be readily fixed, with or without government grants. With simple technologies like surveillance cameras, those attacks could also be prevented.

Hishammuddin could not see beyond his broad nose the inevitable enormous economic fallout, as in scaring away potential tourists and investors. Even a taxi driver realized that, but not Hishammuddin. If he cannot make that connection, I have little faith in his assurance of “everything under control.”

Deeply Polarized Malay Society

Bluntly put, what we are witnessing today are the external manifestations of a deeply divided and conflicted Malay society. This divide is already irreversible and unbridgeable; meaning, expect continuing turmoil with increasingly ugly and brutal skirmishes.

Civil wars are always much more brutal and difficult to resolve. Look at Indonesia. The Aceh insurrection, pitting essentially ethnic Malays against fellow ethnic Malays who are also Muslims, was more protracted, more vicious, and more difficult to resolve then the Irian Jaya conflict of the 1960s and 70s, or the anti-Chinese pogroms of the 1950s. The scars of those later conflicts, which began way after the Aceh rebellion, have all healed, but the wounds of Aceh are still raw, ready to flare up at any moment.

I do not anticipate Malaysia having another May 1969 race riot. Malaysians have come a long away since those dark days. Non-Malays in particular realized that the constraints of the NEP notwithstanding, they could still thrive in Malaysia. There are enough examples of successes to discredit those who would assert otherwise.

For Malays, gone too were the days when we would meekly and almost as a reflex follow our leaders or their dictates. When they tell us that the Christians have nefarious motive in using the word “Allah,” we scoffed at our leaders. Our leaders – hereditary, political, religious, and others – face unprecedented cynicism and scrutiny, and rightly so especially after they have failed us all these years.

What Malaysia faces today is an entirely new and novel challenge: conflict among Malays. We have never experienced that. We are used to considering ‘outsiders’ as enemies, beginning with the colonialists and later the ‘pendatangs’ (newcomers). We therefore cannot fathom much less anticipate this new ‘internal’ danger; it has yet to enter our collective consciousness. This lapse is most noticeable among our leaders; hence their continuing to egg on their followers, oblivious of the dangers.

Malay leaders have also failed to prepare us for the modern age. Instead of acknowledging and learning from their mistakes, these leaders resort to the oldest tricks, of creating phantom external enemies. Today the new enemies are those who would infringe upon our faith, or so our leaders would like us to believe.

There are still sufficient numbers of Malays who believe in rallying around their leaders especially during times of crisis, real or manufactured, the old circling-of-the-wagon instinct. These leaders, specifically in UMNO, are bankrupt of ideas on how to improve our lot. These manufactured enemies help divert our anger away from these leaders, so they hope. Their frequent and misplaced calls for Malay ‘unity’ are also part of this strategy.

As a society we have not learned to disagree agreeably. Again this is the deficiency of our leaders for they too have not demonstrated the ability to disagree among themselves civilly. The Mahathir-Anwar disagreement for example, nearly ripped our society apart, and we have yet to recover from that.

Our leaders lack the intellectual capacity or leadership qualities needed to solve the myriad problems facing our people, from the lack of jobs to rampant crimes, from our failing schools to corrupt institutions. About the only activity they are capable of is to engage in such puerile activities as worrying how the Christians address God.

There is not much that we can do about these leaders; they will continue their ineffective and destructive strategies until they are relieved of their leadership positions. In a democracy, that power resides only with the people. Thus the more we can let our people see through the hollowness of these leaders, and the hoax they are attempting to perpetrate upon us, the faster will these leaders reach their day of reckoning.

In these days of Internet, twitters, blogs and cell phones, the avenues for reaching and educating our people on the emptiness of our leaders are limitless. Thus it behooves us to enlighten our people, and we do this one person at a time. We need not convert everyone, only a sufficient critical mass. Once we reach that, the momentum will carry us through.

Only by getting rid of these incompetent and useless leaders could we ever hope of finding more enlightened ones who could diligently work through our many problems. This is the only route. The alternative would lead us to a civil war and a path of continued destruction.

  1. #1 by dawsheng on Monday, 18 January 2010 - 12:09 pm

    If there’s a war it will be between the royalist and kleptocrats Vs. the republicans and democrats, this will happen in 5 years time should BN declares the state of emergency after they lost the next general election.

  2. #2 by changeforum on Monday, 18 January 2010 - 12:34 pm

    The notion of a Malay civil war never occurred to me. This is easily the most enlightened piece written in recent days.

  3. #3 by taiking on Monday, 18 January 2010 - 12:55 pm

    Catalyst to greater racial division, if there is one, has been averted by PAS’s timely pronouncement that it is ok for non-muslims to use the word.

    If there is escalation of the issue it would almost certainly be due to jibby’s encouragement (“cannot stop people from protesting in mosque” something like that). Fortunately, despite the encouragement no widespread protest or mindless fire-bombings took place. So jibby is clearly off-track there with his encouragement. In fact, he had misjudged the base of his support by a very very large margin. He ought to be sweating now over the precise extent of his support!

    And worse. The issue back-fired on umno, internationally. Could it be an oversight by jib? Maybe. Desperation? Yeah. That could be a possibility as well. The tuans who are accustomed to big-headedness and as a result of which believed that malaysia is all about umno and umno represents malaysia forgot that malaysia is part of the world at large. Because of this jib and umno omitted to factor into their bully (err terrorising) ploys the proper international dimension. Foreign investors’ confidence could be adversely affected boys. And tourism too. In other words, money in the country will dwindle.

    Wot to do then. Downplay the matter. So only a few churches were affected, they said. Only one was burned. Only the administrative office was damaged. Only doors were damaged – not serious. Only acts by opportunists. Only a few people involved. Not co-ordinated acts. Well and bla-bla-bla.

    Back home, they continue with umno’s fear mongering. They appeal justice lau’s decision. Basis for appeal – nazri said – violent reaction against churches. Huh? Wot? But I thought you people said it is only small issue. Oh well. Dont bother. That is umno. One word to describe them.


  4. #4 by Bigjoe on Monday, 18 January 2010 - 1:11 pm

    A very good perpective to view the issues.

    Just as the Americans fought a war over slavery the Malays must fight a civil war over racism to define the future they want to built. The civil war move American from a agri-based economy to one of industrialisation. Without slaves, the American agri economy had to rely on higher productivities that pushed it to industrialisation of its agriculture and higher value added economy. Similarly, without legal racism, Malaysia will be forced to upgrade its economy and move it forward.

  5. #5 by Bigjoe on Monday, 18 January 2010 - 1:25 pm

    Najib think what is happening is a ‘minor’ abherrent. We officially have an ostrich for a PM…

  6. #6 by Jong on Monday, 18 January 2010 - 2:01 pm

    He lighted the match and stayed away!

  7. #7 by waterfrontcoolie on Monday, 18 January 2010 - 5:46 pm

    If one traces the history of Haiti, then we can realize what bad and corrupted leadership can lead a nation into. This country had declared Merdeka in 1806!! And today, it needs support from everywhere just to survive! Even if it had progressed @ 1% annually since independence, it would have had improved by more than 250%!!!
    Well the US might be happy that they have something worthwhile to do with the quake. Using Haiti as a yardstick – where would Malaysia be in 2216??? Without any change of direction, maybe we would join Haiti on that date.
    Yes, CNN has poured out all the sadness of such a poor country but it had never highlight the atrocious political leadership until the quake provided them the news. And the US prefers to bother countries who are a little shortage of their brand of freedom and democracy while the poor souls of Haiti would only be interested in their next meals of the day!!

  8. #8 by monsterball on Monday, 18 January 2010 - 6:00 pm

    When you need to be so tough to control Muslims.. in Malaysia…it really means…UMNO is afraid to see Malays believe in other faiths.
    When you are afraid your followers are running away…you are actually saying Islam is getting weaker.
    Mind control is cruel for a country……..like Malaysia.
    No freedom for Malays on religion is out dated and stupid.
    That’s why..we have so many Muslims hypocrites in Malaysia……starting with PM and DPM.

  9. #9 by alwaysfair on Monday, 18 January 2010 - 10:04 pm

    “””Those poor Christians were caught in a cross-fire in a conflict they did not realize was going on around them.”””
    We are fully aware of what is happening with the religious rows.To unite the malays against an imaginary enemy is very important for the regime to protect their voting base. Everything they do and have done for all ages since 13th May was to increase their seat of power. Otherwise how can Malays be equated as Muslims??

    And then the consolidation of the power and their elevation to bumi status. Even immigrants if Muslims/Malays are given priority. For votes of course.I think the Malays are being manipulated by the govt for far too long.

    If the chinese don’t reject BN and kick them out, one day if a civil war should happen, they will most likely be the scapegoats again.

    As a chinese christian I have been marginalised all my life and I am very confident of this regime’s utmost capability in diabolical schemes. But we turn the other chhek because we don’t believe in violence and we trust in God who said,”Vengence is mine and I will repay.”

  10. #10 by HJ Angus on Monday, 18 January 2010 - 11:02 pm

    Change is difficult especially for those who have ruled the manor without question.
    But change is inevitable and if you do not change with the times, then the times will change you.
    For the BN it could be the dust-bin of history. Of course, some people will force EMERGENCY rule – but this will only defer change and not prevent it once most Malaysians realise their solemn duty to rescue the nation from crooks and cheats.

  11. #11 by ktteokt on Tuesday, 19 January 2010 - 2:38 pm

    Why do you think TDM and the rest of the Malaysian PMs were screaming “MALAYS! GET UNITED!” for? But did they ever realize that by doing so, it amounts to a silent admission that UMNO should not display this four letters “UMNO” above the rooftop of PWTC? It will only bring disgrace, given that UMNO was formed in 1946 as the UNITED MALAYS NATIONAL ORGANIZATION, an organization that is still “begging” for Malay unity after so many decades!

  12. #12 by good coolie on Tuesday, 19 January 2010 - 5:36 pm

    Those days one could incite racial riots and get away with it (e.g. May-13). Nowadays you could be arrested in England when you go to collect rent from your tenant in some plush English neighbourhood. Same if you go to Switzerland to repair your expensive watch.

    Remember how Tzipi Livny (that former acting- Prime Minister and sexy Israeli woman, who always tosses her hair from her forehead)? See how she had to cancel her visit to England for fear of being arrested over the Gaza killings?

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