Redefining Malay culture

art-harun-malaysBy Azhar ‘Art’ Harun

I had written before that those who define and then, control, the narratives and create symbols and logos that are etched in the minds are the ones who would often win an election.

Of course, there are other dynamics at play too, such as defining the physical boundaries of the constituencies and putting fear in the populace. However, essentially, once a party manages to define the narratives and its language and then control them, victory would almost be assured.

In history, Herodotus tells of the story of Darius, King of Persia, who invited the Greeks and an Indian tribe known as Callatiae to a conference.

He asked the Greeks how much money would it take for them to eat the corpses of their parents. The Greeks said they would not do that for any amount of money.

The Callatiaeans apparently were people who ate the corpses of their parents and did not believe in creamating or burying their parents’ dead body. Herodotus asked them how much would it take to make them bury or cremate their parents’ dead body.

The Callatiaeans of course “cried in horror and told Darius not to say such appaling things”.

“Each group,” says Herodotus, “regards its own [values] as being by far the best.”

Herodotus concludes, “Custom, is king of all.”

Administered reality

Looking at the socio-political developments in Malaysia over the past few years, it is obvious that the ruling party has been busy redefining the Malay culture.

This is what Herbert Marcuse had written about in his “One Dimensional Man”, namely, the creation of an “administered reality” that will soon blur the people into confusion between his own morality and ethical belief and that which actually surrounds him day and night.

Finally, he would surrender and immerse himself in the administered reality and be reduced to a one dimensional man.

It is frightening really. It is like an episode of the Twilight Zone or The Matrix, where we are controlled and yet we believe we are all free!

The easiest way of redefining culture is to utilise religion and to embolden certain institutions that society have long recognised. And it seems to work.

What we fail to realise is that once these are created or fortified, it is very difficult to dislodge the new mentality or psyche from the section of the populace that is the most vulnerable to these mind-games.

For example, we have seen tens – probably hundreds – of Malaysians who voluntarily leave our country to fight alongside the Islamic State (IS). During a survey, if I am not mistaken, a large percentage of Muslims here had expressed their support for IS.

On the economic front, we are told – and many do believe – that without help, the Malays would suffer and be overtaken by the Chinese. This would make them beggars in their own land, just like the Malays in Singapore.

There are many more examples for all of us to see and list down. On a daily basis, the whole machinery is working real hard at redefining the culture, coming up with new narratives and controlling their definitions and understanding.

To have any chance of winning or performing well in the coming election, this cultural redefinition, or re-creation, must be neutralised.

Shouting and screaming about 1MDB, corruption, injustice and inequality as well as constitutionalism will not be enough.

Azhar “Art” Harun is a lawyer.

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