By Syerleena Abdul Rashid
Recently, Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Hamzah Zainudin was quoted to have verbally shared a piece from the hadith during the recent Umno general assembly in which Prophet Muhammad stated: “Verily, it is God who sets prices, who makes things hard, easy and gives out blessings.”
Hamzah interpreted the rising cost of living we currently face as God’s will, which instantly drew a lot of flak.
The recent statement made by our esteemed minister proves that the level of foolish arrogance that is seemingly prevalent within the circles of the ruling coalition reeks of immense denial and pomposity.
A minister of his stature should have provided a better reasoning, perhaps one that entails rational logic and statistics to support his claims.
The implementation of the goods and services tax (GST), combined with the recent abolishment and reduction of both the fuel and road toll subsidies, weakening global economy and dipping currency have worsened the rising cost of living, which is one of Malaysians’ greatest concerns.
According to “Survey Malaysia 2017: Mood of the Nation”, 82% of 4,468 respondents agreed that the GST triggered the rising cost of living.
In another survey conducted by the statistics department, the top three areas where average Malaysian households spent were: housing and utilities (24%), food and beverages (18%) and transportation (13.7%).
While this survey provides an idea of how much Malaysians are spending in general, one thing is clear: Malaysians are simply not getting paid enough.
Factors such as cheap foreign labour, low productivity levels and negative employer attitudes attribute to wage stagnation, which in turn has drastically weakened the Malaysian spending power. This phenomenon has hit single-income families the hardest, and a minister from the ruling coalition should have provided better policies to help alleviate the financial burdens these families face.
What all of this proves is nothing less than the failure of the Barisan Nasional (BN)-led federal government.
While we can agree that Hamzah’s ridiculous statement is far too appalling to be ignored, the use of “God’s will” to justify insensitive and unjust policies is not new and will not go away anytime soon.
Umno frequently uses frames that present “threat imagery” which go into full force at every Umno general assembly. The party and its leaders will exacerbate fears about our nation’s security and values which all play an important part in building up “confidence” in winning the Malay-Muslim vote.
Leadership is best explained as “a dynamic relationship based on mutual influence and common purpose between leaders and collaborators in which both are moved to higher levels of motivation and moral development as they affect real, intended change”.
Therefore, the quality of a leader is often reflected through the standards they set for themselves. Unfortunately, ministers like Hamzah are ever too willing to use religious imagery to mentally divide us and force us into a regressive state where we are conditioned to see the world in black and white.
To paraphrase Rumi, “Before you speak, ask yourself ‘Is it true?’, then ask ‘Is it necessary?’ and lastly ask ‘Is it kind?'”
Clearly, such deliberations were not considered in Hamzah’s conscience. We need political leaders who are thoughtful, those who are able to engage in debates and those who will not blindly bring God or religion into the sphere of political discourse.
Malaysia will continue to face socio-economic stagnation if we continue to allow the arrogant, the superficial and the uninformed to remain in the corridors of federal power.
We now live in an age where interpretations of religious scriptures are so varied and loose that ascertaining what is true, sincere and factual has become a challenge we face as a nation.
Unfettered fascism that is carefully veiled as nationalism and democracy has joined the religious right, directly presenting a clandestine “cause” that binds lunacy and governance.
Bringing God into the narrative to justify our ailing economy and rising cost of living is just another cowardly act to circumvent responsibility and accountability.
Syerleena Abdul Rashid is DAP Wanita national assistant publicity secretary.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.