How a name of a whisky could snowball so fast into a national controversy in Malaysia clearly reveals the convoluted mindsets in the country.
The government may now seem to pat itself on the back for reaching an amicable settlement with the manufacturer of the made-in-Malaysia Timah whisky. After all, the manufacturer has agreed to consider changing the name and image on the label of the whisky.
The tailspin on the controversy included an opposition MP claiming that the name of the whiskey alludes to “drinking a Malay woman”.
Some stretched their imagination even further. They postulated that the label insults Islam and confuses Muslims as the Prophet’s (Peace be upon Him) daughter was called Fatimah.
In Malaysia – like in almost all cultures elsewhere, names are often shortened or nicknames are used. So, naming the whisky Timah may allude to Fatimah, they claim.
Why are we so often whitewashing controversies with political quick fixes? Sweeping controversies away using the broad broom of a ‘multiracial country’ and “safeguarding religious sensitivities” seems to be the bravado solution often dished out in our increasing fragile society.
If the Timah whisky rebranding is the way to go to appease racial and religious demands, then perhaps even bijih timah (tin ore) may have to be reworded in all school textbooks, as one day that too may be seen as more vulgar than “drinking a Malay woman”.
The Timah whisky saga has been a litmus test for the country’s future. Much as we may scream to be a progressive society, we have failed that test of rising above drummed-up sentiments peddled feverishly under the wool of “multiracial harmony” and “religious sensitivities”.
Much as we keep whitewashing controversies with the claim that Malaysia is unique in the world with its fragile multicultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic society, we have hoodwinked ourselves politically for far too long.
The truth is almost every nation in the world today is a potpourri of cultures, religions and ethnic groups.
Much as we swear to protect the Malay-Muslims when dust storms are raised over such instances like the Timah whisky, we have only imprisoned the souls of believers.
Perhaps the right approach would have been for those appointed to be vanguards of the believers to educate and enlighten in order to strengthen the believers’ iman (faith). A change of name to appease and quell “religious sensitivities” does not heal but could blow up in other ways in the future.
The country needs to reinvent itself or it may soon go the way of those regressive nations torn apart in battles over “sensitivities”. We need leaders who can allow the people’s faith to strengthen without hiding behind political rhetoric and using sensationalism to whitewash controversies invented for political mileage.
We need to ensure that the country’s physical development matches the foundation of a society that can reason and live as humans first. In short, a mature society is what we need to ride over controversies, not whitewashing.