It would be nice to say that the disgrace of the church fire-bombings was matched only by the gratifying feeling of seeing Malaysians unite in condemnation of the attacks. For a while, and against my better judgment, it seemed like such would be the case; the country appeared to be buzzing with post-traumatic-kumbaya-Come-Together-John-Lennon-esque energy. But of course, I wasn’t looking at the right (or the wrong) places.

At least not until a friend on Twitter posted a link to Akhramsyah Sanusi’s blog post, which he insisted everyone should read. In that and the post that followed a day after, Akhram shared with the world his thoughts on the matter – the main two being that the attacks were fair due to the continued denigration of Malays, and that the Government should not have allocated RM500 thousand to the damaged Metro Tabernacle Church. Wow.

Akhramsyah begins his post titled, “Torched Churches… Reaping What Is Sown”, by unashamedly stating that more churches will be attacked until the issue of the usage of the term ‘Allah’ by the Catholic magazine Herald is “resolved to the satisfaction of Muslims in this country”. Talk about holding peace and the law to ransom! But eh, I’ve got bigger rotten fish on Akhram’s heapful plate of tosh to can.

In positioning his rant about Malay-Muslim simmering dissatisfaction, Akhram claims to be merely conveying the “whispered screaming” – rarely do attempts at oxymora prove so uninspiring – of Malays through gossips at kenduris and the protests of Malay-Muslim NGOs, which he argues “formally represent the majority Malay view”. I hate to beat him down over this (or do I?) but how are screams at protests also whispered? Hmm.

Now, whilst I may concede that Malay-Muslims who oppose the usage of ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims are far more vocal in expressing their view than those who don’t, Akhram is quite simply wrong to infer that the former also believe the church-torchings to be justified in any way. Despite PAS’s latter pronouncements, I will even say I believe most Malays to at least be leaning towards “‘Allah’-exclusivism”, and that this is one of those unfortunate cases where the country is split down racial/religious lines. But contrary to Akhram’s assertions, I’m equally confident that many Malays are willing to engage in informed discussions and dialogue to better learn about one another’s positions, rather than having to resort to violence or, dare I say, seditious acts – after all, contentious issues such as this often expose the poverty of our knowledge, not its wealth.

Thus, Akhram’s ear for kenduri gossips and affinity to reactionary Malay-Muslim NGOs – the most enthused of which is led by the statesman of our age, Ibrahim Ali – really lend no support to his chief argument that Malay-Muslims are being pushed to violent criminal reaction. Most Malays, as indeed do most Malaysians, respect the existence of other faiths than their own; if Akhram were even a tad responsible, he would have contributed to diffusing the current tension by stressing on that point. Instead, he ultimately blamed the incidents on our nation’s quest for ‘equality’ – because of course, ‘equality’ is the most ridiculous of ideals (?), before peddling fear with doomsday predictions of Malay mobs and violence.

As for the RM500 thousand ‘donation’, he provides a host of reasons as to why he holds it to be “unwise”, all of which do nothing but belie either his prejudices or inanity. He first argues that giving public money implies that the Government is responsible for the attacks. I cannot begin to explain how mindless this is – I suppose by Akhram’s reasoning, monetary contributions to orphans equate taking responsibility for their parents’ deaths. He also presents a puzzling analogy about how faulting the Government for the attacks would be akin to blaming the Kelantan Government for flooding the state – except we don’t. It may be that this is part of Akhram’s grand strategy to design the downfall of Kelantan’s PAS Government by convincing them not to spend any money on flood victims since it wasn’t at fault, but I ain’t betting my not sizeable mortgage on it.

He then proceeds to insult the church’s integrity with a string of allegations and insinuations – first claiming that churches in Malaysia value permits so much that simply relocating it elsewhere would suffice to appease the followers. On this point, would Akhram be as prepared to propose the same measures for a mosque should it meet a similar fate, or is he engaging in reckless intimation of Malaysian Christians? Next, he suggests that the arson attack may have even financially benefited the Church, so as to make any donation from the Government wasteful; Akhram even has the mind to contend that arson may be committed for profit and to gain publicity – how any house of worship would benefit from the latter is beyond me, and to suggest, in the absence of any evidence, Christians would burn their own churches is as vulgar as any remark.

But the pick of the rubbish has to be Akhram’s assertion and that even if the church needed any financial assistance, these should come from the Roman Catholic Church. Nevermind that the Metro Tabernacle Church is a Protestant church, Akhram’s idea of seeking damages from the Vatican makes HINDRAF’s reparation claims from the British Government appear much less absurd. In all these ‘musings’, Akhram exposes himself as the bigoted, narrow-minded halfwit that he is. The gesture of the Prime Minister of this country demonstrating leadership and goodwill at a time of uncertainty is lost on him, neither has he learnt from the past two years that from a political perspective, winning the middle ground is not only right, it also pays.

But of course, responsibility and commitment to a new UMNO, nevermind the Malaysian project, is just not Akhram’s game. You see, Akhram belongs to a section within the Malay community, (and yes, within the party I support and serve, UMNO) whose conception of Malaysia is firmly grounded on a distant past and not on the present and immediate future. For them, Malays can do little wrong because we committed the Original Sacrifice at the birth of this nation, which must perennially hold down our entire national narrative until the end of days; by first allowing citizenship to be granted to then (non-Malay) immigrants, then allowing practice of vernacular cultures and allowing multi-racial representation in Government, the non-Malays must be forever grateful to the Malays – any ‘claims’ can justifiably be met with scorn. For them, it is never about the merit of an argument, nor is it the value of having a vibrant multi-cultural society, nor is it the fact that most non-Malay Malaysians only know this to be their country, much less is it about doing “what’s right” – rather, it is about locking our ethnic dialogue into a timeless logic of mutual distrust, contempt and fear.

The trouble and hurt they cause non-Muslims is palpable; but their chief victims are Malays themselves and the very community they claim to represent. Instead of sowing the seeds of confidence and courage, they bring out the worst in our character and intellect when they suggest it is only fair for Malays to be “lobbing Molotov cocktails at churches indiscriminately” or that the allocation of RM500 thousand to be “a load of nonsense” because, as aforementioned, it may lead to “arson for profit”. As a young Malay-Muslim, after numerous false starts, it is most frustrating to see my community being held back time and again – the old doctrine, the old Dilemma, always reappearing at the moment of its apparent political eclipse.

But persist the community must, despite all the negativity and the put-downs, many of which originate from colonial logic only to be reappropriated by post-Merdeka Malays – the Akhramsyahs of the cyberworld. To be sure, there is a wealth of diversity within the Malay experience and perspective; with it come varying strands in Malay political thought; but many of these have been held ransom to the those resistant to change, who slap labels like “liberal”, “pengkhianat”, or “Melayu murtad” to publicly strip any meaningful sense of Malay-ness from these ideas, at once disarming them.

Few dispute the importance Malay political and ideational contestations have upon the larger polity. The story of this generation’s Malays, and UMNO leaders for that matter, is nothing less than a struggle to unchain the contemporary Malay voice – long silenced to the margins of the community’s political identity, at least within this party. Failure would mean UMNO – win or lose – remaining an intellectual black hole (which would ultimately lead to electoral defeat anyhow), Malays busy entertaining misplaced paranoias and a Malaysian State struggling to perfect its sense of Nationhood. Business as usual, eh? Except our kids might not be as lucky…

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