Make it a tale of 3 Malays

I refer to the article by Tajuddin Rasdi entitled “A Tale of 2 Malays” which was published by FMT on Dec 5.

I am drawn to respond to the article because it concerns two protagonists, both of whom I hold in high respect and regard for their sense of uprightness and political convictions. The article is also about Malay-Muslims and national unity, subjects that have always been close to my heart.

Coincidentally, on the subject of Malay-Muslim preoccupation with politics, including the planned ICERD rally on Dec 8, I wrote an article about it in Sinar Harian on Dec 5.

Tajuddin is a respectable and prolific writer, and an avid political commentator; one who partakes with obvious pleasure and delight in intellectual discourse on many current issues.

I have been following his writings, and to my pleasure, I have found many of his views and thoughts to be very much in sync with mine. His moderate and measured approach in his take of things jives well with me.

But I have some reservations in relation to his present article, and the views he articulated. I look upon him as another Malay, the third Malay, in addition to the two Malays he referred to, namely Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the “respected” mufti, scholar and academic, Asri Zainul Abidin, as described by Tajuddin.

Of Mahathir and Maza

What more can I add to the litany of accolades and praises heaped by Tajuddin on Mahathir? I can only add here that we are talking about a great statesman who God, in His infinite mercy, has given a second chance to correct the many ills and wrongs that have beset our nation for so long, some of which were partly contributed by him.

Asri, better known as Dr Maza, in my reckoning, is a cleric and scholar par excellence. Not only in terms of the religious knowledge he possesses but also for the moderate and measured approach he takes in matters of religion which are premised and founded on sound religious precepts and principles.

From my perspective, I think the two Malays whom Tajuddin examined and described in his “tale”, have always been in the forefront in articulating and advancing progressive thoughts, ideas and views that generally strike common ground and the right chord with the approach taken by moderate intellectuals like him.

And the worthy point to note is that both Mahathir and Dr Maza are generally in agreement in their thoughts and approaches in the interpretation of, and resolution to, the many issues of nation building, religion and race politics.

Perhaps there is a slight divergence and contradiction in the approaches taken by the two honourable men in relation to the related issues of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the Sri Maha Mariamman temple incident and the planned ICERD rally.

Tajuddin argues that Dr Maza has shown uncharacteristic intolerance towards the Hindus and has given harsh pronouncements on the illegal Hindu temples which have sprouted all over the country, while at the same time appears to have encouraged the ICERD rally. Tajuddin compares it with the stand and approach taken, and the “exemplary leadership” shown, by Mahathir in the said matters.

Such a difference between the two men is rare and exceptional, but I can accept it as something normal and in perfect order. It is impossible for two persons having strong and independent minds to share the same thoughts and approaches all the time and to be in perfect unison on all occasions under all circumstances. Even God in His infinite wisdom creates identical twins with some differences in their DNA.

Tajuddin, however, acknowledges that he admires Dr Maza for his academic and religious views framed in an intellectual stand on many issues.

On the arguments and position taken by Dr Maza on the ICERD rally, I have also expressed my dissenting views, rare as it is, as stated in my write-up in Sinar Harian.

But the disagreement with the position taken by Dr Maza does not alter or affect in any way my regard and respect for him. I remain convinced that in Dr Maza we have the best mind of an Islamic cleric and scholar to advance the right interpretation and approach of a true Islam – one that appeals to a large section of the progressive Malay-Muslim intelligentsia.

So I would whisper to Tajuddin to take and view things in a larger and broader perspective and to scale down his level of expectation from a perfect benchmark to a more realistic level.

Given the said scenario, the tale of the two Malays, becoming a tale of three Malays with Tajuddin as the third Malay, is really not a tale of divergent views between the three men but essentially a tale of three Malays with the same cause, same theme and same inspiration. The bits of differences here and there are just minor aberrations to the larger pursuit of a common cause.

Let’s celebrate the common ground that we share and let’s live with a bit of diversity to enrich our common pursuit for truth and justice.

The ICERD rally

Coming back to the ICERD rally, I believe that whatever the scenario might be, in the end, it will only work out to the benefit of Mahathir. In this instance, I do not share Tajuddin’s view that the manner in which Mahathir dealt with the Sri Maha Mariamman temple issue will cause him loss of credibility, goodwill and support from among the Malay-Muslims. This has to be also viewed in the context of the government’s approval of the ICERD rally. They are interrelated. Now, insofar as the said rally is concerned, let us imagine the following scenarios:

(i) If there is a huge turnout and the rally goes peacefully, then Mahathir can use it as a basis and leverage against the vociferous voices of those who are questioning the special rights of the Malays, the official position of Islam and the institution of the monarchy. A forceful argument could be made against them not to be too hawkish and provocative in their demands lest they invite a violent backlash from the Malays, much to the detriment of the nation and people.

(ii) If there is a huge turnout but the rally turns out to be violent and unruly, then Mahathir can use it as a basis and justification to come down hard on Malay extremists who have been equally vociferous in advancing their racial stand and views.

(iii) If there is a poor turnout at the rally, then Mahathir can turn around to PAS and Umno to say that despite the government’s approval, the people are not for such a confrontational show of force and do not endorse the racial card being played by the said parties.

Whichever way, Mahathir will come out tops and win in the gambit. Trust the wily grandmaster and consummate strategist to prevail in an intriguing game of chess and art of war.

Wan Haron Wan Hassan is a senior practising lawyer who writes regularly on politics for Sinar Harian and The Edge.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.