Islamophobia and its disturbing parallel in Malaysia

Next month, the world commemorates the first anniversary of the Christchurch mosque killings.

One day after the March 15 massacre, leaders, organisations and the media around the world expressed horror, sorrow and disgust.

The gunman opened fire on a peaceful gathering of Muslim worshippers, on Friday, at the al-Noor and Linwood mosques. 51 unsuspecting men, women and children were mercilessly murdered. 39 others were injured.

It is clear that Hitler’s irrational fear of the “genocide of the white race” did not die with him that fateful day in 1945.

While cyanide and a shot to the temple resulted in his successful suicide, Hitler’s destructive nationalist ideology has survived through the decades.

A persistent, common language of nationalism and racial supremacist ideas has survived, even in post-GE14 Malaysia.

The Christchurch shooter’s 74-page manifesto contains words and phrases like cosmic war, threat to race survival, and genocide due to immigration and inter-marriages.

Twisted meanings of racial integration are deliberately presented as euphemisms for genocide.

Also, key phrases stand out in the manifesto, such as “invaders in our lands will never be their lands” and “our homelands are our own”.

Such supremacist ideology also transcends national borders.

For extremist Muslim groups like al-Qaeda and IS, this belief is articulated as a global “war on Islam”.

There is a disturbing parallel in Malaysia’s current socio-political narratives.

Lately, there has been a plethora of over-indulgent and exaggerated phraseology, bordering on extremist language used by our leaders and civil society. The trend is also to insult and ridicule dissenters, without articulating intelligent facts or arguments. Attacks are superficial and over-emotional.

The New Zealand gunman, too, resorted to emotional imagery in his manifesto. He drew on the popular culture of Fortnite, an online game, to capture an audience. He drew a parallel between the imagery of world conflict, factions and violent plots used in Fortnite, with what he thought the White race should strive for, globally.

When it comes to matters of Islam and the Malays, certain politicians and religious leaders cannot accept any form of intellectual challenge. They too resort to imagery.

They imagine that their entire ideological view of race and religion is doomed amidst such challenges, and that a quick fix is imperative.

The quick-fix narrative among our leaders is to “protect” and “defend”, and in the process, “save” Islam, the Malays and Malaysia.

For the Christchurch shooter, his quick fix was to murder innocent people. For PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, he had to quickly save Islam and the Malays from illiberal groups, like the G25 Group of Eminent Malays.

Hadi feels that G25 is a grave threat to Muslims. The president of the Malaysian Islamic Organisations Consultative Council, Azmi Abdul Hamid, too, has also accused G25 of trying to polemicise the issue of Islam.

These leaders claim G25 wants to “undo the status of Islam” in Malaysia. The implication is that G25 has put Islam and the unsuspecting Malays under severe threat.

They strongly believe that both Islam and the Malay race need to be saved from this civil society organisation. The bigger picture is that the cosmic identity of the Malays, which is integral with universal Islam, should never be challenged or watered down, least of all by G25, whose members seem “too progressive”.

PAS and Mapim have their own twisted versions of reality. First, they believe G25 has dissenting views that will mislead the general Malay community. Second, they have chosen not to engage the group in intellectual dialogue.

Hadi and Azmi have to date, avoided any open discussion on the points of contention about the Federal Constitution, the legality of the Islamic Development Department (Jakim), and apostasy.

Third, they have resorted to use social and mainstream media, including Youtube, Whatsapp, Twitter and Facebook, to disseminate lengthy tirades against G25.

This will not do. It is an insult to the ordinary Malaysian, especially when the majority knows that much of the anti-G25 sentiments are polemical, politicised, defensive and devoid of detailed research.

It is also a massive abuse of our free media. By avoiding dialogue, and resorting to a packaged deal of victimisation, a superiority complex grounded in superficiality spreads over our society.

Some Malays are riled up into a frenzy because they hear the words “threat” and “survival”. What has resulted is an increase in our bodoh-sombong culture.

These are enough to cause panic and insecurity among peace-loving Malaysians.

Is this not similar to the inferiority complex that many white supremacists suffer from? Does this not demonstrate an acute sense of irrational victimisation?

Such false consciousness is dangerous, because it appeals only to the emotional and not to the rational. New Malaysia should have graduated from such backwardness.

We Malaysians must be serious about toning down the racist and bigoted language we use in public. Our leaders should be careful not to play on the volatile emotions of the ordinary masses.

On the contrary, they should guide the masses by taking G25 to task, for example, in a rational and matured dialogue. Before such a dialogue, they should read, study the arguments and present them logically and systematically. We should stay clearly away from emotional outbursts and stick to measured engagement.

Muslims around the world have reacted to Islamophobia, precisely because it has been perceived as an emotional outburst by non-Muslim racists and bigots, with selfish agendas. Islamophobia is defined as anti-Muslim racism. It is about a dominant group of people aspiring to seize and widen their power by defining a scapegoat—real or invented.

Islamophobia operates by constructing such a scapegoat, which is a static Muslim, attributed with a negative identity.

Since Malaysians reject Islamophobia, our leaders should be consistent in rejecting irrational responses to differences of opinions.

When leaders fail to participate in rational dialogue, and instead use provocative imagery, this could provoke an increase in Islamophobic feelings from quiet, but nervous observers, who are also quite amused at the intra-Muslim bickering that persists.

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