Malay leaders, post-truth and alternative facts

I can empathise with those who feel that Pakatan Harapan (PH) has let us down on international treaties like the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (ICERD) and the Rome Statute.

It’s not so much that we lost the battle to counter arguments; the main worry is when you are bested by groups of people who have manipulated public opinion to further their political agenda.

It was reported that a group of students stumbled upon a summary paper prepared by four academics to convince the Conference of Rulers to reject ratification of the Rome Statute. The students claimed that the arguments in the summary were one-sided and had sinister motives.

The academics who wrote the summary are now being challenged by legal minds and are even being accused of treason.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said critics of the Rome Statute were engaging in a political move to pit the country’s monarchy against the new government.

In November 2018, ICERD was abandoned because of Malay sensitivities. Umno’s Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said then that the Malay-Muslim community would “run amok” to protest if ICERD was not withdrawn.

Malay-Muslim groups organised a mass protest at Dataran Merdeka, spearheaded by the two largest Malay opposition parties, Umno and PAS.

With ICERD and the Rome Statute, the Malay opposition played on the usual rhetorical deceit, that the Malays would lose their special rights, the position of the Malay rulers would be eroded, and the Malay language and Islam would be undermined.

Post-truth

Filmmaker Robert Kane Pappas in an interview once said, “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. It really is public brainwashing and misinformation.”

In 2016, the Oxford dictionary named “post-truth” as the word of the year.

Post-truth is related to or denotes circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotions and personal beliefs.

In simple terms, many a time our opinion is swayed by emotions and personal beliefs rather than hard facts or empirical evidence.

Malay leaders with ulterior motives have peddled post-truth and Trump-like alternative facts to further the political concept of “ketuanan Melayu” or Malay supremacy to rule the country.

Post-truth has a lot to do with the derailing of the ratification of ICERD and the Rome Statute.

We can explain in objective terms why we as a nation have agreed to sign these international treaties, but when the Malay opposition leaders play up Malay rights issues, you are appealing to emotions and personal beliefs rather than sound reasoning.

As George Orwell lamented, “The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.”

How can Malay rights be threatened when the education ministry says it will stick to its original policy of allocating 90% for Bumiputera and 10% for non-Bumiputera students for the matriculation programme?

Like NEP, there is always a legitimate question of fairness, equality and even human rights when such a policy is peddled at the highest levels of government.

But then, the Malay argument would be that Malays are still behind in all aspects of the economy and education, and they need to be given a handicap to even the playing field, as in the game of golf.

But how long before they can be competitive and stand on their own? If there is no time limit to the handicap, we will be forever perpetuating the idea that the Malays are weak and need to be spoon-fed.

Donald Trump has used a combination of post-truth, alternative facts and fake news to further his agenda. By creating false fear that Mexican criminals and illegals are flooding the country and painting a picture of crisis at the border, he declared a state of emergency to build the wall in order to appease his power base.

In the same vein, Malaysia has arrived at a post-truth era, where, as philosopher Lee McIntyre said, alternative facts and feelings have more weight than evidence.

Malaysia is on dangerous ground when truth is challenged as a method for asserting political dominance.

McIntyre, author of the book “Post-Truth”, states: “Post-truth amounts to a form of ideological supremacy, whereby its practitioners are trying to compel someone to believe in something whether there is good evidence for it or not.”

Malaysia is among 14 countries in the world yet to accede to the ICERD, a convention which has been ratified by numerous Muslim-majority countries such as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Jordan.

People like PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang like to emulate Saudi Arabia by dressing like Arabs and implementing shariah laws. But when it comes to ICERD, Hadi comes up with post-truth to dissuade the Malay populace, tugging their heartstrings with mumbo-jumbo that the Malay race will be forever threatened.

Hadi is the expert on false propaganda. He can say things like Muslims should place their trust in Muslim leaders regardless of their wickedness, claiming that believers will end up in hell if led by non-Muslims, and that it’s dangerous for non-Muslims to touch on Islam and the rulers.

On religion, I would agree – we should not comment on each other’s religions or beliefs, especially in public space. On the current debate on the role of constitutional monarchy, it has nothing to do with Islam but concerns the law of the land.

It’s good to see Mahathir’s debate with Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim of Johor, as it brings the issue of the powers of our constitutional monarchy into the open.

The PH government inherited a host of problems from the Barisan Nasional government. After failing to ratify ICERD and the Rome Statute and losing three by-elections in a row, and now with the constitutional monarchs flexing their powers, the headwinds are strong.

It’s good to take note of McIntyre’s warning: “Our inherent cognitive biases make us ripe for manipulation and exploitation by those who have an agenda to push, especially if they can discredit all other sources of information.”

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