Liberty Politics & government Society

[2149] Of there are Malay alternatives to the term Allah and tuhan

I have clarified my position regarding the usage of the term Allah by Catholic group and by extension, any term by anybody. This reasoning forms the basis of my position not to oppose Catholic group’s use of the term. Indeed, I consider this line of reasoning as not only the most convincing for me, consistent with my wider libertarian philosophy that I hold, it is the only line of reasoning that informs my decision not to oppose it. This is the libertarian position. The purpose of this entry is to address another position regarding the lack of alternative.

First, there are other reasons that have been bandied elsewhere. Arguably, the argument I have seen the most is based on historical development of the Malay Bible. As it goes, certain domination of Christianity — and Sikhs — have been using the term Allah well before the 1980s, when the government first interfered in the issue. Furthermore, the first Bible that used the term Allah to refer to the Christian god was first translated into Malay in the 17th century by a Dutchman as part of Christian evangelization effort in Southeast Asia. Notwithstanding the libertarian position, this argument is acceptable because it appeals to historical accident. Moreover, it demonstrates that the use of the term by Christian, obviously, as not a recent phenomenon. Yet, it fails to kill the suspicion that use of the term Allah is really for proselytizing activities, which is one major problem associated with the whole controversy to start with. This failure what convinces me that this particular rationale as imperfect.

I have no problem with propagation of any religion as long as those religions do not violate liberty but in addressing the issue in Malaysia, the suspicion seriously have to be addressed. To say that there is a law to prevent propagation of other religions among Muslims as an answer to that concern is utterly deficient because — ignoring its anti-liberty rationale — would such law work? Do differentiate the normative and positive aspects.

Despite its failure, I reiterate, the argument based on history may have some sway.

The second argument, which is the purpose of this entry, is the point that there is a lack of alternative to describe the term god. Ignore the fact that terms can be imported from other languages, even the Malay language has alternatives to Allah and tuhan. There are more than two words to describe the idea.

While I set out to disprove the argument that there is no alternative to the word Allah and tuhan in Malay, knowing that there are alternatives, my casual research on the language and terms to describe the idea of god really surprises me even.

Consider the fourth edition of R. O. Winstedt’s An Unabridged English-Malay Dictionary published in 1963. For god, Winstedt listed Allah, tuhan, dewa, dewi, dewata, indera and khalik. These words are detailed by Teuku Iskandar’s Kamus Dewan as published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka in 1970. Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka’s Kamus Dwibahasa Bahasa Inggeris-Bahasa Malaysia adds another one and that is betara. This has not even considered other words and phrases like penciptatuan and dato’ which can be made to mean the same as god within specific context.

There are also older words like Hyang or Sang Yang that are rarely used but remains Malay nonetheless.

I personally have never encountered the word khalik and betara but that shows how, even for a native speaker of Malay, the full breadth of the language is larger, as it should typically be, than everyday popular vocabulary bank. In this sense, arguing that there is no alternative is an act of sheer arrogance of one’s pool of knowledge. Arrogance can be justified but when it is based on ignorance, then humility must take its place.

Thus, this renders the argument of no alternative to naught. In fact, I consider such argument as a point in ignorance, if not outright dishonesty.

This requires highlight in political terms. Even I as a person who is generally dismissive of religions and its activities and as a libertarian who actually does not oppose the use of the term Allah by Catholic Church in Malaysia am distrustful of the motive behind the employment of the rationale. Consider what would conservative Malay Muslims would think? The label conservative Malay Muslims is rather misleading. A lot of not-so conservative Malay Muslims feel distressed about the issue. I can divorce the flaw of the ”˜no alternative’ argument from my overall position but the less libertarian Malays would not do so and would use it instead to strengthen their illberal opposition.

Using the ”˜no alternative’ argument will just give more fuel to the opposition fire. Not only it defeats effort at bridge building, it helps to popularly defeat libertarian position on the matter.

So, my advice is, do not use the argument that there is no alternative. It is simply not true. Just stick to the historical accident and libertarian arguments.


[2073] Of busting the myth of the monolithic community

What happened on a Friday in Shah Alam — when a group of individuals protesting against construction of a Hindu temple chose to do it by parading a severed cow’s head knowing full well that Hindus hold the cow sacred — is disgusting. There are ways to protest but the method employed by them is so despicable that it should be unthinkable and, hence, unspeakable. Malaysians who believe in a more inclusive future have every right to be angry at the protesters, whatever their political inclinations may be.

So reckless was the action that it left far too many thinking individuals with a revolting aftertaste that lingers on the tongue, even days after. It reminds too many Malaysians of one of the worst facets, if not the worst, that Malaysia can offer. It invokes all kinds of negative emotion: fear, sadness, disgust, anger. Pessimism reigns.

Regardless of debate regarding the ideals of Malaysia, this is no way to enter August 31, or September 16.
On the other side of the coin is the romantic Malaysia at play however.

If one concentrates just barely, one would realize an oft-overlooked but yet obvious and crucial fact in the whole episode. It is a fact that is capable of holding the tide of pessimism as the Hoover Dam to the Colorado.

It is a fact that the one who is standing up for a minority group against the majority is Khalid Samad, a Muslim Malay. It is a hopelessly clichéd romantic narration in which a Malaysian of a different background stands up for another Malaysian of different background.

Nonetheless, this important fact deserves greater attention because it provides a concrete example in combating generalization that leads to the perception that a community is homogeneous in its opinion and that that opinion is one where all Malays are out to oppress the non-Malays. It is especially useful in undoing views that the whole majority population — every Malay — is bent on pushing the minority aside with impunity.

For the action of a very limited number of individuals, there are those who condemn the whole Malay population as they condemned the outrageous protesters. This generalization is unfair and unbecoming of anybody that dreams of an inclusive Malaysia.

That generalization is absurd. More than absurd, it is dangerous because that itself leads to a greater downward spiral into bigotry. While they themselves claim to abhor bigotry, they themselves are falling into the same trap that forms the basis of such bigotry.

It cannot be emphasized enough that one large factor contributing to the racial and religious mess in Malaysia is the perception that ethnic groups in Malaysia are monolithic and that there is no individual but only a unit listening to the hive mind inside each of this group.

This is not a conflict between Muslim Malays against the minority. Rather, it is a conflict between inclusiveness and intolerance. For this reason, for their offence, these barbarians deserve focused criticism with the spirit of inclusiveness. But not with further bigotry and racism.

Any criticism that has with it a hint of bigotry and racism — in this particular case, by equating the whole Malay population with that of the few barbarians — is counterproductive. Such criticism against the protesters only justifies and strengthens the flawed notion of monolithic community because it attacks other Malays and Muslims who are innocent of the appalling act done on Friday in Shah Alam. When these Malays and Muslims are unfairly criticized, the likelihood of them to fall in line with the perceived communal pattern increases to worsen the situation.

The presence of Khalid Samad — not him as a person per se but the fact that he is a Muslim Malay — standing in opposite to the position of bigots forces anybody contemplating to unfairly commit that gross generalization. The role of Khalid Samad makes good the abstract criticism that has been made against the perception of monolithic community for the longest time.

Granted, such roles as that played by Khalid Samad frequently plays out in smaller settings every day around Malaysia and, in fact, around the world. Khalid Samad is not an exception to a generalization. Instead, the generalization of monolithic community is downright wrong.

Unfortunately, those who hastily generalize too often are too blind to see so small a deed. What they need is a big one to convince them.

With the temple controversy becoming a national issue, the role Khalid Samad has assumed provides Malaysians with an opportunity to demonstrate and convince themselves how flawed the notion of monolithic community is. It provides a chance to smash the idea of homogeneity to smithereens.

That is something Malaysians should celebrate and that should be the spirit as Malaysia celebrates its day, be it August 31, September 16 or any other day for that matter.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

First published in The Malaysian Insider on September 1 2009.


[2069] Of barbarians in Shah Alam

One of the worst aspects of Malay conservatism reared its ugly head today.

In Shah Alam, in protest against construction of a Hindu temple, a group of individuals — no, barbarians is a more apt description for only barbarians are capable of committing such an uncivilized act — brought along with them a severed head of a cow with clear intention to insult.

SHAH ALAM, Aug 28 — A group of Malay-Muslim protesters claiming to be residents of Section 23 have threatened bloodshed unless the state government stopped the construction of a Hindu Temple.

Amid chants of “Allahuakbar,” the group also left the severed head of a cow at the entrance of the State Secretariat here as a warning to Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim. [Protesters threaten bloodshed over Hindu temple. Shazwan Mustafa Kamal. The Malaysian Insider. August 28 2009]

They are multiple other more respectful ways to protest. For instance, they can bring the state government to court. Yet, they just had to do it in the most insulting way, given that cows are held sacred by the Hindus. The provocation was utterly unncessary and distasteful.

The group of barbarically educated protestors should be roundly and harshly criticized for what they had done. The most responsible action is to bring these barbarians to shame. Continuous moral pressure must be applied on them unrelentlessly. Condemnation in the strongest terms is in order.

That however is not the worst of the whole episode. They made explicit threat of bloodshed.

That threats must be taken seriously by the authority. Criticism and shaming alone will not be enough to ensure that that threat will not be carried out by the barbarians.

I intend to make myself clear. The protesters, at least the leaders, especially Ibrahim Haji Sabri, should be arrested for making threats. They should not be arrested for the gathering or for savagely parading the cow head, no matter how digusting the act is.

It is imperative that any action taken be grounded on proper rationale, even if the end result is the same.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

p/s — the other side of the story.

A protester said that the temple was supposed to be moved to Section 22 instead of 23 from Section 19. I am interested in the truth behind the statement and if it is true, the reason why the state government decided to do so.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

pp/s — after some desktop research, I stumbled upon Khalid Samad’s explanation:

Ada pula yang menambah Seksyen 22 adalah tapak cadangan kerajaan BN dulu, majoriti masyarakat Hindu. Hakikatnya tapak cadangan BN adalah kawasan kilang, jauh dari mana-mana penduduk, Muslim mahupun Hindu. Terlalu jauh dan amat tidak sesuai. Kalau betul ingin membantu, biarlah ikhlas, biarlah adil. [Respon pengunjung: Persoalan Kuil Seksyen 23. Khalid Samad. August 19 2009]

I encourage others to read Khalid Samad’s full post.

Liberty Mudslinging Society

[1531] Of it must be reciprocal in nature

At Mahaguru58, there is a failure to understand that relationship is reciprocal in nature. If one does not wish for others to interfere in one’s life, one should not interfere with others’.

The blogger wrote:

This is the concluding part of my dialogue with MENJ recently. I discussed with him regarding the current situation where Christians in Malaysia are prone to interfering into Islamic and Muslims affairs here since the change of leadership in the BN Government.

We who are Muslim Bloggers feel that this interference ought not be left to run its course by the Muslims of this land especially those from JAKIM who seem oblivious to all the growing number of Islamophobes here in Malaysia. [MENJ – MAHAGURU58 Dialogue Part 2 Final. Mahaguru58. January 30 2008]

He laments about Christians interfering in Muslim affairs. I say the issue is a non-starter and applies double standard. He would only have a moral authority to say such thing when he stops interfering in others’ individual affairs. That, of course, includes refrain from interfering in others’ religious freedom, be the individuals are Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, etc.

Respect goes both ways. Once the interference in individual liberty ceases, I am sure outsiders will stop interfering in Muslim affairs.

Politics & government

[1518] Of Ayatollah Huckabee lost

Mr. Mike “I-want-to-change-the-Constitution” Huckabee lost the South Carolina’s primaries. Just days before the South Coralina’s primaries, Huckabee said this (via):

I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view. [Huckabee: Amend Constitution to be in ‘God’s standards’. The Raw Story. January 15 2008]

Though it is hard to say how his call for God’s standard affected his odd of winning the primaries, I am sure we will find out soon. But why his loss in South Carolina is so important?

Mr. Huckabee’s loss in a Southern state with a strong turnout of religious voters was a setback to his campaign as it heads toward potentially less hospitable states. [McCain Has Big Win in South Carolina; Huckabee Falls Short. NYT. January 20 2008]

As for Iowa where he won earlier (before the Ayatollah expressed his desire to undo secularism in the US), his appeals to the Christian right might actually put the Catholics off:

One of the commenters to my post below suggested that Mike Huckabee was unlikely to do well among Catholics. Philip Klinkner (who is really blogging interesting stuff on the races) has some county-level data from Iowa suggesting that this is true. [Huckabee, Romney and Catholics. Crooked Timber. January 7 2008]

The Crooked Timber has graphics to show how Huckabee fared in Catholic-dominated countries in Iowa.

And yes, Ron Paul has outdone Giuliani for four out of six times now: Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, and South Carolina all prefer Paul to Giuliani. In Nevada, Ron Paul is second!

I am not the only one whom are excited of Dr. Paul’s consistent performance against Giuliani:

In case you’re wondering how fringe candidate Ron Paul has fared against “front-runner” Rudy Giuliani, here are the approximate popular vote totals for both candidates so far this primary season (including 93% reporting from South Carolina):
Paul: 105,848 votes
Giuliani: 60,213 votes [Go Ron Paul. Daily Kos. January 19 2008]

As a result so far, Paul has approximately 6 delegates behind him. Giuliani has only abot 2. The front runner is Romney with possibly 68 delegates.[1]

I used to have high hope for Giuliani but as time progressed and as I learned more about each Republican as well as Democrat candidate, it became clear that his position on the question liberty and security does not match mine. With other candidates possibly mirroring his more palatable positions, it was not hard to remove him from my list.

I know that Ron Paul has no chance of winning but I think, like all that support him, it is mostly about principles and issues rather than a bandwagon effect that plagues many observers and voters alike. David Brooks may have described many voters succinctly two days ago:

In reality, we voters — all of us — make emotional, intuitive decisions about who we prefer, and then come up with post-hoc rationalizations to explain the choices that were already made beneath conscious awareness. ”People often act without knowing why they do what they do,” Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner, noted in an e-mail message to me this week. ”The fashion of political writing this year is to suggest that people choose their candidate by their stand on the issues, but this strikes me as highly implausible.” [How Voters Think. David Brooks. NYT. January 18 2008]

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — See Results of the 2008 Republican presidential primaries at Wikipedia. [↩]