If self-righteousness that demeans others is the frame into which political Islam in Malaysia will now proceed, then we are in for some troubling years ahead, reflects Ahmad Fuad Rahmat.
This Ramadan must rank as the most hateful in recent memory. None of the virtues of solidarity and empathy so often associated with fasting could withstand the plague of enmity.
Fear is in the air, and it is spreading faster than we can describe our discomforts. Insecurities can creep in moments as quiet as a mother’s preference for the religion of her children’s friends.
In less than four weeks, the list of villains expanded to include Chinese, Indians, Communists, Christians, beauty queens, NGOs, Shias and now a dog lover who is being investigated for sedition over a harmless video she posted three years ago. Sad to say, it appears as if Islam in Malaysia cannot be affirmed without first marginalising others.
But those fuelling the resentment would not desire so much power – and desire to display and exercise it so often – if it did not feel so powerless in the first place. And this is what makes our situation now so tragic, for it is the privileged who think that they are the victims.
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They can still insist that it is non-Muslims who are insulting Islam, that whatever harms committed by Muslims are merely defensive, in a world where Islam is under siege. In their victimhood, they take it for granted that their plight will always be worth more.
Thus they can demand human rights for Palestine and Guantanamo Bay while denying the religious freedom of their own Christian neighbours. They condemn global hegemony only to strengthen the hegemony of their own, at home.
This is why those Muslims cheering the recent vilifications could preach about the moral corruption of individual freedom, or the threat of pluralism, without ever having to argue their case. Their pain is explanation enough.
Edward Said once said, that the victim has little need for moral justification. In his pathos of indignation, the victim is always already feeling wronged. Said wasn’t referring to Palestinians in that statement, but rather the Zionist exploitation of genuine sympathies towards the Holocaust, whereby those sympathies often serve as a convenient diversion from Israel’s expansionist ambitions.
Said’s point is that suffering, however understandable, corrupts when we hold our pain to be so special that it blinds us from the pain of others.
Pain is always a tempting source of self-righteousness for those who are so shackled by their sense of loss. Pain is simple as much as it is profound: it is always just there and within reach, with certainties safer when weighed against the daunting task of healing and overcoming in a very harsh and judgemental world.
This self-righteousness will only breed illusions of freedom and security, for it seeks relief not out of its own integrity but from a readiness to demean others. If this is the frame into which political Islam in Malaysia will now proceed, then we are in for some troubling years ahead.
In the meantime, there is still the last week of Ramadan, where everyday we are urged to practise what is effectively the first step towards non-violence: to check and arrest our most base desires and to extinguish the temptations of anger, lust and appetite.
There is no grand wisdom here, just what we’ve been taught since small: that the loudest grumblings of our sentiments are not always true, or even important, and thus must be confronted and disciplined.
To fast is to heal our pain lest we be dictated by it. It is to remove the noise and restlessness of our hearts and understand when enough is enough. It is to demonstrate that we can indeed find peace in letting go. Let’s hope this message rings louder next year.
Ahmad Fuad Rahmat is a member of the Islamic Renaissance Front and the projekdialog.com collective. He works for the Centre for Independent Journalism and is a co-host for Night School on BFM radio.