‘I want to touch a dog’ is resistance, not revolution

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The dogs that showed up at the I want to touch a dog event - Combo photographs: The Malaysian Insider

How repressive and stigmatised is our society that something as meek as this can be seen as threatening to a significant segment of the population, wonders Nicholas Chan.

The dogs that showed up at the I want to touch a dog event - Combo photographs: The Malaysian Insider
The dogs that showed up at the I want to touch a dog event – Combo photographs: The Malaysian Insider

Despite relentless efforts by Muslim moderate groups like the IRF and SIS to capture the attention, imagination and discourse of the increasingly fundamentalist Muslim population of Malaysia, it took a two-hour I Want to Touch a Dog (IWTAD) event on 19 October to generate widespread attention, diverse reactions and atypically in-depth discussions any activist in Malaysia would have, metaphorically speaking, killed for.

People are angry, confused, enthused, and most importantly, engaging each other openly, religiously and culturally to process the not-unseen, but ostensibly forgotten imageries of Muslims touching a canine. [Google William Roff’s book entitled Studies on Islam and Society in Southeast Asia (2009, NUS Press) and you will see a handsome Dalmatian sitting proudly next to Haji Abbas, a qadi from Singapore on the book cover.]

The event in Petaling Jaya, attended by 1500 people, and the chatter it spun has not only allowed Malaysian Muslims to confront their long-instilled stigma against dogs, but also to reevaluate their relationship and openness with The Others, even the religiously denigrated. It is also a clash of the sensory with the mind, often a paradox for Malaysians who are accustomed to rote but not constructivist learning, resulting in a feudalistic mindset that is submissive, insular, uncritical and parochial in thought and practice.

To the general populace, thought is what is being taught but not intellectually produced; practice is replication but not application of original knowledge and values that are close to the heart. If our classrooms had adopted proper pedagogical methods that allow for self-learning through experience and reflection instead of exam-based bland knowledge dissemination, this event may not have raised as many eye-brows as it has so far.

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Certainly, this event has created the ripples and space for not only intra-ethnic discourse and reflection, but also inter-ethnic interactions. The dog owners are mostly non-Muslims while the participants are observed to be not your usual “liberal” crowd, but hijab-wearing mothers and youngsters. It was a good mix of Malaysia’s plural society directed by a genuine affection towards animals without the vile contamination of ethno-religious polemics.

Knowing the worsening effects of communal politics which results in the institutionalisation, rationalisation and mainstreaming of intolerance and underhanded thuggish tactics, many were heartened and surprised to see that a seemingly docile, community-based event could take place peacefully and in its wake, take everyone by surprise.

After an assembly by Gerakan Hapuskan Akta Hasutan (GHAH) in Penang’ Speaker’s Square was barbarically disrupted by right wing groups, one is left to wonder, is there any democratic space left for any movement deemed counter-current by the communally minded, religiously (as in its most archaic interpretation) justified ruling elites?

The IWTAD ingeniously and harmlessly, in an auspicious turn of events, provided a firm NO to that question. It has shown that there are still spaces to be carved out in our suffocating milieu – and not all of them have to be confrontational in nature and message.

Perhaps a detour from the usual politically wired forums and ceramahs would be a more effective method in a polarised society, because you don’t have to take sides. You just open up to innocent, cuddly pets and let your senses aand heart do the talking. It offers a choice to experience the unexperienced and it is an experience by choice – a luxury, sadly, in Malaysia’s invasive and religiously and culturally dictating society.

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I don’t know the organiser in person; so I can’t claim to speak on his behalf about his intentions in organising the event. But instead of over-politicising and -analysing the event, like what the religious bureaucrats and Jew conspiracy theorists are ever fond of doing, can we not see this event in a more nuanced and perhaps even mundane manner? It does not mean the analysis cannot be contemplative and inquisitive. Sociologists often derived their interpretations from outwardly unremarkable observations.

What I see from the IWTAD event is that it is not a crusade. It is only another manifestation, albeit one with multitudes and multiplied reactions, of our daily, peasantry resistance against the dominating and assertive powers that have pervaded all circles of our lives, including the privacy of our bedrooms actually. It is something as innocuous as schoolgirls keeping their hair a tad longer than what is being allowed by school rules, or skirts a little shorter above the knee. Graffiti or street art is another good example.

These are forms of resistance we practise happily, creatively and mostly in an unapparent fashion in our routine lives, like a personal hideout from the obligations of work, family and society – because no matter if it is for the greater good or not, obedience will exert a personal, financial or even psychological cost to us. That is why we seek alternative and temporary outlets, which are greatly expanded by the social media, to express and hopefully, entertain ourselves.

Viewed in this light, at best, the IWTAD is a well-intended effort or even escapist endeavour in response to religious parochialism. But the fact that what started like a drizzle can turned into a storm should compel us to ponder for a moment: how repressive and stigmatised is our society that something as meek as this can be seen as threatening to a significant segment of the population?

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Now it would seem that the possibility of replicating future events of this kind is close to zero, because the iron grip of communitarian politics is seeping in. A crackdown might be in the works too, because in Malaysia, every action generates an overreaction. But, the authorities and bigots must remember, popular dissent will eventually find a way of reaching the wider public, no matter how many holes to let some steam off are blocked.

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hari
hari
24 Oct 2014 3.02pm

I would like to comment on classroom learning in schools.I think parents should take note that there is very little time or no time at all to teach students to think or to reflect.what teachers generally do is to teach facts so that students can memorize and do well in their exams. There is hardly any time for students to think, to analyze and to see what is right and wrong.our students lack of reasoning skills.They can’t differentiate between bad and good .They can’t think deep to understand issues around them.so there is tendency to make wrong interpretation.This should be rectified.students behave very unruly and later become trouble makers in society partly because the education system failed to educate them.

charleskiwi
24 Oct 2014 1.06pm

rastav,

… I am not trying to disgrace any one or any religion I am just trying to highlight what the ‘pretenders’ … in Malaysia is doing.
On the one hand the present regime is trying to show he world it supports the Palestine and condemns the Israeli. When … Malaysia outlaws … the shiite muslims … when they seize the bibles of the Christians … just to name a few atrocious actions of this … government.
Do you need to know about Islam what the … government is doing … are wrong? Indonesia is the biggest muslim country in the world yet they don’t do any of these, why ?

charleskiwi
23 Oct 2014 1.17pm

The behaviour of this regime is no better than the Israelis except Israel is trying to protect themselves. Whereas in Malaysia the sunni muslims region , just like the terrorists sunni muslims are creating all sorts of not only terrors in the middle east, for now, they are even invading countries like Iraq and Syria, just to name these two. Who are responsible for all the turmoils and chaos, at the moment in the Arab world, are the sunni muslims just like the sunni muslims here in Malaysia and no body else. Some of them are even fighting along side the sunni muslims there. Soon very soon, if these sunni muslims are successful in their endeavours the sunni muslims who are the tenants of Putrjaya will begin to emulate what the terrorist sunni muslims have done in the Arab world. Right now they are doing the trivial things like criminalizing the petting of dogs in this country. More, a lot more, will come just you wait and see, let us hope and pray hard that the sunni muslims terrorists will be wipe out of existence. No… Read more »

kudinov rastav
kudinov rastav
24 Oct 2014 1.19am
Reply to  charleskiwi

…. if you dont know abt Islam dont disgrace the sunni muslims.

damnyouinternet
damnyouinternet
29 Oct 2014 1.27pm
Reply to  charleskiwi

just dont burst the things that you dont fully understand.oh god, internet just creating stupid people like you and this nicholas chan please study the quran if you have plenty of times to publish this kind of …