“If people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda, it is all the more important that the public understand that difference, and choose their news sources accordingly.”
– Thomas Sowell
COMMENT While I realise that Top 10 year-end lists are purely subjective, I thought I would put out my top news story and newsmaker of the year and a little commentary as to why I think they are important, if only to me. By no means is this some sort of final word on the issue but rather something I have always wanted to do ever since I started writing for Malaysiakini.
Top news story – the Rohingya issue
What a difference a year and an overwhelming corruption scandal make. A year ago, when the Rohingya people were flooding our shores and creating a humanitarian crisis that was barely covered by the mainstream or the alternative media, then-deputy home minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said “tough measures” would be taken to turn these refugees away.
He proclaimed (as reported in the foreign media), “We are not prepared to accept that number coming into our shores and those people who are already in, we are sending them home anyway. I would like them to be turned back and ask them to go back to their own country. We cannot tell them we are welcoming them.”
A year later in a crowded stadium crowded with riled up Muslims feeding off the misery of a group of disposed people, the Umno grand poohbah (PM Najib Abdul Razak) and his Grima Wormtongue (PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang) are screaming genocide and world indifference. “I will not close my eyes and shut my mouth. We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have values,” Najib said (again, as reported in the foreign media).
Of this display of Islamic hubris and political opportunism, I wrote about the history of neglect and abuse by the Umno state towards the Rohingya, the dismal healthcare issues they face in Malaysia, the lack of employment and the general disdain displayed towards them by the various other marginalised refugee communities who were desperately trying to carve up territories with the coddling of the state for various purposes nothing of which had to do with altruism.
I said: “So really all this talk about championing the cause of the Rohingya is just a load of horse manure. We cannot even look after our own marginalised communities – correction – we seem to have no problem oppressing our own minority communities, so this idea that Malaysia is now some sort of champion for the Rohingya, is honestly, obscene.”
However, what will really haunt us in the coming years, is not the crime and violence of these marginalised Muslim communities but rather the insidious infiltration by Islamic extremists who will attempt to destabilise the Umno state.
Already counter-terrorism analysts are predicting a new South-East Asian theatre of terrorism and my prediction would be that the Rohingya issue will be manipulated by foreign Islamic actors to spark a wave of terrorism that would blight South-East Asian countries.
The fact that the Umno state has chosen to politicise this issue and create a refuge for the Rohingya and no doubt give these people official documents will make it easier for Islamic terrorists to move around the region not to mention create incidences that spark religious tensions in this multi-religious country. This of course is made worse by the fact that the Umno state has always attacked minority communities when faced with possible ejection from Putrajaya.
As I keep saying, a country can recover from corruption scandals but when it comes to the damage Islamic extremism does and the state’s response to it, that is something that could destroy this nation with no hope of recovery.
Top newsmaker – the hot dog
Doggone – literally – but this was embarrassing. This was the year that the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim) decided to declare war on Auntie Anne’s hot dog. This is why the humble hot dog is my choice as the newsmaker of the year. In a year where there is a host of personalities to choose from, I choose this particular fast food as my top newsmaker because in many ways, it describes the deep doggie doo we are in.
While I think that lawyer Siti Kasim’s activism, not to mention her flipping the bird to unruly Muslim participants, deserves consideration as newsmaker of the year, I think the hot dog symbolises everything wrong with the Islamic bureaucracy in this country, not to mention the overt hegemonic agenda to control culture in this country.
“Please don’t make us look so stupid and backward…,” thundered the unpredictable Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Aziz. Too late, making us look stupid and backward is the only consistent agenda of the Umno state and its various administrative bodies.
However, this goes further than just a quirky religious anecdote. The boundaries are constantly tested and provocations are subtle but the intent is to further divide us as a nation and people. When some obscure religious body mooted the idea of specific labels for “Muslim-produced goods”, this sparked off a turf war with Jakim.
With each corruption scandal and a strongman whose leadership is in peril, covert Islamic extremists choose to flex their muscles and provoke confrontations between the diminishing secular forces in this country and a Muslim polity that seems cowed by these so-called religious guardians.
People who take exception to these provocations are labelled anti-Muslim or suffering from Islamophobia but the reality is that our public spaces, not to mention commercial spaces, are constantly under attack by forces which are anathema to democracy and rule of law.
As I wrote in my piece mocking this latest round of Islamic transgression into our public spaces: “Every time the state pushes the edges of what is acceptable when it comes to social cohesion by coddling interests such as these and it goes unnoticed by the so-called silent majority or voices of change in this country, we draw closer to a failed state that would be the logical outcome, if and when we collapse economically.”
Now of course we have the “halal birthday” cakes ruling for McDonald’s and in the future to “protect” whatever sense of religious sensitivity of Malay customers, we will no doubt have “halal trolleys”, “halal checkout lines” and whatever else the term “halal” could be affixed to, to further segregate Malaysians along racial and religious lines.
The reality is that we are losing this war with the forces of extremism in this country because nobody, certainly not the opposition, is willing to confront Islamic provocations head on. A fine example of this would be DAP’s Teresa Kok subscribing to the idea of gender-segregated buses under the guise of giving women a “choice” of travelling with men.
While I realise that gender segregation happens in some “non-Islamic” countries, the difference here is that Islam has been actively transgressing into nearly every aspect of our lives. The fact that a DAP politician advocates something like this is an act of collusion with the Islamic forces that are attempting to destroy the secular nature of this country.
What we are left with are religious bodies that find succour in the Umno state, creating mischief while the secular forces in this country are paralysed or are indifferent because it is politically expedient to do so.
There was a time when Islam did not intrude into the lives of Malaysians and I am willing to bet that during those times, although we may have had our problems, we thought of ourselves as Malaysians as opposed to what a little box on official documents said we were.
These days, the state sometimes chooses not to act against Muslims who transgress state laws. Certain words are forbidden to non-Muslims. Outsourced thugs are common place and operate with impunity in an environment where anyone who does not support the Umno political party are traitors to the nation.
Everybody has their own pick, but to me, this particular news story and newsmaker indicate where we are heading and unless something changes, it is no place good.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.