Address terrorism, not flimsy sedition

By Azly Rahman
Sep 19, 2014

‘Dewan ulama delegate pays tribute to slain militant, saying he was a martyr’ – The Malaysian Insider

That was what I read yesterday – a most dangerous symbolic act Malaysia is seeing from an influential political party- the romanticising of diabolism, and if a political party can do this, imagine what we will be facing in these immediate years to come – home grown ISIS!

We ought to be afraid and to be very afraid – when the modus operandi of ISIS is to strike global fear through the broadcasting of beheadings, rape, mayhem, murder. My question to the government is, what are you going to do about this celebration of martyrdom and diabolism?

What is martyrdom or “shahidism in jihadism…”? I am still grappling with these words.

It might be the most misunderstood concept in the Socratic maxim of the life examined. My questions are:

Who or what would you die for and why? is the question…

Who decides whether one has died for god and paradise awaits…? and

Which god is worth dying for in all its validity?

I don’t know.

I am more interested not in the question of what to die for but what kind of life have you lived to the fullest with the wonderful gift of life giveth – because my question is – must religion have enemies if ‘religio’ (from the Latin) means ‘connectedness to a universal higher force of life that will not require warring factions’?

Then there is this story of ISIS handing out its new curriculum in Mosul, Iraq – removing the arts, humanities, and liberal ideas to the schools to impose a theocratic paradigm of teaching and learning, echoing the vision of society in what the Boko Haram of Nigeria and the Talibans of Pakistan hold.

Critical to Malaysian education is the equal emphasis given to music, the arts, humanities, cross-cultural studies and philosophy to be structured into the curriculum, across all subject matters, across the lifespan of the mind, and the monitoring of all formal and non-formal religious schools .

Taken seriously by the Malaysian Education Ministry, this might even be the most important advice for preparing bastion against religious militancy in schools and a peaceful and sustainable weapon against the country’s takeover by ISIS-inspired groups. We must remember what Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Afghanistan were like before what they are now, (and not all hell that broke loose is the fault of the Americans, mind you…)

In the late 1980s in Malaysia I have been in schools that mirror what is being promoted by the curriculum of the Islamic state – girls and boys separated in class, even in group discussions requiring intermingling, English Language arts and drama activities sabotaged by religious groups, music lesson discouraged, students given the free hand delivering all kinds of khutbahs/sermons and talks inspired and fuelled by religious and politically-motivated teachers – all those that ISIS is promoting. I don’t know how things are these days.

Religious martyrs?

I cannot understand why there are Malaysians who still think that those who died fighting alongside ISIS is a ‘shahid’/religious martyr when they are killed. I must say that even God will not accept the reason for this ‘struggle’ when beheadings and forcing Christians to convert to Islam at gunpoint, and raping women are the modus operandi of this ultra-mega-global terrorist group.

I cannot understand why our education system has not prepared its citizen to choose what is right and what is outright wrong, even in matters of religious belief.

We must ponder on this proposition: stop sending students to those troubled Middle Eastern countries.

Find more peaceful places where they teach liberal ideas, humanism, diversity of opinion, and how to respect women; that’s where our students should go to study and not in countries such as Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, or any other countries as such where students will bring home ‘fiery’ ideas they cannot truly understand their cultural context only to be coming home with those ideas and messing up the lives of others in Malaysia.

The same situation applies here. Why should international students come here to study in Malaysian when the universities are not conducive to intellectual freedom and when academicians are not free to free the minds of students? What quality thinking education are they getting learning from the idea of democracy a la Malaysia?

We have to suspend our bickerings that do not add value to the evolution of a progressive, tolerant, and intelligent, and civil society we harped so much upon when we craft the Rukunegara of Principles of Nationhood.

We have a bigger threat affecting all races and religions.

The 1980s ‘Islamisation Project’ (transplantation of the radicalism of the Islamic Brotherhood/Ikhwanul Muslim of Egypt, and strands of Wahhabi-ism, laced with ideas of Muhammad Abduh, Syed Qutb, or al Maududi, embraced by some Islamic youth groups ) is bearing a poisonous fruits, as seen from a perspective of Complex Social Systems. We might be seeing our own half-baked Islamisation gone wrong turning into fully-cooked chaos.

In the case of these useless political bickering, dark-clouding of good political discourse, and endless media coverage given to personality bashings, and the ridiculousness of the over-abuse of the useless Sedition Act, let us resolve these and form some kind of collaborative governance and deal with the emerging issue of the ISIS threat and rebuild this nation, emotionally, economically, culturally, and socially.

Re-embrace your own culture

Most importantly I submit, especially for the Malay-Muslims – leave Arabism behind – particularly the disabling values of Arab tribalism that is now an epic of endless troubles borne in antiquity and globalised with such magnanimity to the current phenomena of the spread of this ‘Khalifahdom-propagated ideology in which beheadings, rape, and Attila-the-Hun-styled mayhem’ is the leitmotif of ‘Islamic millinearistic movement of global dominance and forced supremacy’. The disabling strands of it are deadly.

My plea for the Malays: re-embrace your own culture and relearn the essence of its beauty and the profundity of its philosophy. The wave of the Islamisation project of the 1980s has swept it to the middle of our own ocean of mercy.

Yesterday, thinking of all these I lamented the state of things entire with these verses as I think of my time growing up in Johor Baru back in the late 1970s.


when things were fine and dandy
when my teachers were groovy
when there was no ISIS nor Muslims that went crazy
when there was just you and me
and a dog named boo and no cellphones to do selfies
when life was just carefree
and you could roam around the village and the city freely
when puppy love and monkey love and sewel love were true love actually
when one could just pluck your neigbour’s rambutan and not get arrested unnecessarily…
when sepak takraw and sepak yem were cool games to make you happy daily
when girls do no wear the tudung and you could see genuine smiles as they ride their Chopper bikes around the kampong endlessly
when you tell seditious jokes with your friends and not get arrested immediately…
when P Ramlee was king of comedy
and Latifah Omar was the real beauty
and Si Tora Harimau Jadian was a Halloween tiger you wouldn’t want to hold lovingly
TODAY is a time when many Muslims are going mad crazy…
with beheadings as modus operandi
no longer at peace with themselves not feeling kind of groovy

when a truly multicultural feeling and a sense of unity goes well with bell-bottoms and dungarees and smiles all day and people are mad happy! –

DR AZLY RAHMAN, born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in four areas: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and has written more than 350 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He has edited and authored six books; Multiethnic Malaysia: Past, Present, Future (2009), Thesis on Cyberjaya: Hegemony and Utopianism in a Southeast Asian State (2012), The Allah Controversy and Other Essays on Malaysian Hypermodernity (2013), a first Malay publication Kalimah Allah Milik Siapa?: Renungan dan Nukilan Tentang Malaysia di Era Pancaroba (2014), and Controlled Chaos: Essays on Mahathirism, Multimedia Super Corridor and Malaysia’s ‘New Politics’ (forthcoming 2014). He currently resides in the United States where he teaches courses in Philosophy, Cultural Studies, Political Science, and American Studies.

  1. #1 by Noble House on Sunday, 21 September 2014 - 4:53 am

    Is PAS for ISIS? This question is enough to send shivers up your spines.

    Seriously, these mullahs with their 19th century mentalities have no place in a civilized society today where the emphasis is on science and technology in this progressive world we live in. Men who still have this idea that women are less equaled to them – unable or unwilling to separate politics from religion. Not fit to run a government.

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Monday, 22 September 2014 - 8:41 am

    Malaysia can learn a lot from Indonesia how to deal with militancy – there have been recent stories of how Indonesia has successfully countered the likes of Jemaah Islamia by forcing these people to be exposed to the multi-cultural and multi-religo world and through dialogs with their victims/intended victims.

    There is no simple solution to the likes of Isis and what is scary about any support from Malaysia even the opportunistic who can’t help spinning anything, current PM, is that there is no realization of the multiple and high cost of even just apathy, silence and tacit support.

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