Rhetoric of fear and the invisible elephant in the room

Real empowerment lies in openly embracing our own ideas of the truth with those acquired from books and from people who are not like us

Image: Malaysiakini.com

In recent weeks, Pas president Hadi Awang has made several claims about the “minorities” racing for political power, about “colonialists’” conspiracies and about “demons” who have weakened the Malays.

He has also recommended replacing the secular laws we have now with harsher religious laws, as steps to address graft.

His remarks are not only out of touch with the 21st Century but are also extremely insensitive and insulting to a significant group of his fellow Malaysians. They are also strategic attempts to dehumanise anyone who does not think like him.

Has anyone asked him if graft is something that never happens in Pakistan or Iran? Clearly, his remarks require clarification and proof. They should be examined for flaws against scientific theory. Or I wonder if science too is an irrelevant colonialist creation.

When Tommy Thomas’s book came out, we were at once overwhelmed by protests, denials and recriminations. So, what is it about our society that is so totally accepting of some ridiculous rhetoric and then so dismissive of others? Have we become a society unable to accept opposing viewpoints?

Politicians like Hadi magnify racial and religious biases, wedging divisions between Malays and non-Malays for their own political mileage. Dragging religion and race into politics is a powerful card to use that instantly polarises communities by preying on the faith and loyalties of their followers.

And so, are Hadi’s religious recommendations workable solutions to the problem of graft?

Laws, both religious or secular, are not magical elixirs. It is absurd to expect harsher laws to create resilient values.

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All laws are external pressures that modify behaviour. In the end, they are more likely to develop a culture of evasive dishonesty and deception than genuine values.

Hadi has also suggested that graft in the country be treated holistically with the application of religious indoctrination in all areas of life. He claims this application would act like doses of vaccine that induce resistance to immorality.

Minds are not empty vessels into which we can pour doctrine and expect them to be eternally fortified against sin. Forging a resilient moral compass requires more than laws, rules and doctrine.

As a professional educator and a parent, I know that exploration and questioning in ‘safe environments’ are crucial to learning, thinking and developing meaningful values.

Yet, to keep a steady following, politicians need to keep their followers uninformed and disempowered by sowing fear of ‘colonialists’ and ‘demons’. It is a powerful political strategy. Our ignorance is their power.

To sustain these power bases, people have to be kept in cycles of fear, ignorance and disempowerment. But situations of disempowerment create social issues and poverty. So, the politicians now tell us that poverty in our country is all about race.

Common sense tells us that poverty is about the gap between the rich and the poor, between those who have knowledge and those who are denied knowledge. It is about those who are allowed to spread their wings and those who are deliberately kept in the dark.

The golden age of Islam could never have come about if the culture had only looked inwards. Ironically, it was the East that sparked the initial fires of the Renaissance when the crusaders brought the wealth of knowledge and science gleaned from the East back to the West.  

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And yet, the politicians’ rhetoric suggests that religion and Western knowledge are incompatible. When we question a ‘popular’ religious recommendation or consider an alternative proposition, we are shamed as a Western colonialists or demons.

In seeking more, we do not become any less of a Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu or Christian, but the rhetoric suggests that we do.

So, the real cancer is not in our current laws or in the lack of doctrine, or in our race or in our religion. It lies in the political rhetoric of fear and suspicion. And that affects our capacity to see.

This rhetoric paralyses us from thinking rationally for ourselves. It affects our capacity to question critically and to speak fearlessly. It makes us incapable of healthy discussions and dialogues. It keeps us physically and intellectually poor. This is the elephant in the room that no one acknowledges.

When I was a child, I was told a children’s tale of a few blind men who came together to conceptualise an elephant by touch. Each touched a different part of the elephant and, knowing only his singular experience, falsely believed that his own experience was the absolute truth. This is when one is in danger of being totally blind. 

Truth needs to be teased out, studied, explored, discussed and negotiated. We need to learn that real empowerment lies in openly embracing our own ideas of the truth with those acquired from books and from people who are not like us.

Other people’s perspectives are crucial to our understanding of our own perspective. This is when we learn to respect some boundaries and cross others, when we become more knowledgeable, successful and empowered to address that invisible elephant in the room.

READ MORE:  Just words at the moment

So, I wish to ask the Pas president now: who is really weakening the Malays?

Sukeshini Nair, a former school principal, lives in Klang

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Moderate Malaysian
Moderate Malaysian
17 Feb 2021 9.14am

Hadi is delusional. He is using his position as a so-called authority in Islam to hoodwink the uneducated & naive Muslims.

loyal malaysian
loyal malaysian
16 Feb 2021 4.40pm

I have no wish to discuss any issue of substance with that hypocrite Hadi.
It is evil, I know, but I accept responsibility for that evil thought – may his physical condition continue to deteriorate.