All talk on Islamic States is just an empty dream. No man in his right sense would accept a nation which bases its political administration on religion, and in a country like Malaysia with its multi-racial and multi-religious people, there is no room for an Islamic State.Tunku Abdul Rahman, First Prime Minister of Malaysia
First off, Happy New Year 2023 to everyone!
2022 was an interesting year, for several reasons. Not least among them was the 15th General Elections on November 19th, resulting in a hung parliament but eventually returning Malaysia’s governance to Pakatan Harapan, spearheading a coalition government – or Unity Government, as it’s officially being called – which includes BN, something that very few would have expected.
But such is politics, and the strange bedfellows it makes. What will be interesting to see is if the negative narratives against DAP, a key component of PH, can be countered with BN being a part of the government. Why? Simply because UMNO was where the demonization of DAP began, a stratagem now taken up with gusto by Perikatan Nasional (PN), primarily comprising Bersatu (an UMNO offshoot) and Islamist party PAS (another UMNO offshoot, historically).
There are many challenges that the Unity Government faces, as the Malaysia it has inherited isn’t exactly one that was well managed post-Sheraton Move back in 2020. Thus far, the assurance given is that the primary focus for the present will be the economy and helping Malaysians tackle an ever escalating cost of living.
A month plus in, the government has so far been doing just that. But as we’re all too familiar with, band-aids may help in the short term, but what Malaysia needs moving forward are well thought out policies in all areas of governance and life. It’s early days still, and how the government fares will be something every Malaysian will be paying close attention to in 2023 and beyond.
There are a few things that Walski would personally like to see happen this year. Frankly, it’s a long wishlist, so he’ll just mention a few in this post.
One of the things that has suffered greatly in recent times is personal liberty, and the freedom to be. Overall, Malaysia has slowly but surely become more conservative, primarily due to religion being increasingly forced upon contemporary Malaysian society. And the push for “Islam” to be the base consideration for everything, affecting everyone regardless of creed, even if the ‘official’ spiel is that it will only affect Muslims. So does that mean a religious apartheid with heightened Muslim-policing best case, or worst case, a comprehensive religious police state?
That Walski has written “Islam” (in quotes) is by no accident – what he’s referring to is a very narrow officially sanctioned interpretation of a tenet that ironically has a long and rich history of divergent viewpoints and interpretations. And this officially sanctioned “Islam”, too, has (d)evolved over the years, a lot more puritanical today compared to a few decades ago.
For instance, every time we approach a non-Islamic religious, or even non-Malay cultural celebration sometimes, without fail injunctions on wishing well those who celebrate will magically emerge on social media. And this year, also without fail, emerged a lovely Christmas prohibition message, from none other than Malaysia’s favorite dissident religious persona non grata, Zakir Naik.
Granted the Facebook posting this image was sourced from has since been taken down, how did this kind of divisive messaging become so commonplace in multicultural, multireligious Malaysia? The quick answer, from Walski’s POV: over-empowerment given to the religious right to push their ideologies into almost every aspect of life in this country, under the guise of Ketuanan Islam (Islamic Primacy/Supremacy), which is, in effect the new Ketuanan Melayu.
And it is upon this new reality that Perikatan Nasional made much gains during the recent GE15, support for PAS being the main contributor of votes, building upon GE14 momentum, and almost resulting in PN taking the reins of power (which, thankfully, didn’t happen).
What comes with an inordinate amount of religion in the public sphere? Quite simply ANYTHING that doesn’t jive with the Islamist establishment is suppressed and/or outright banned. Worse, anything found to be “insulting to ‘Islam'” (as defined by these Islamists, as and when and how they please) will land folks into hot soup. We saw this happen for real in 2022, by the way. Case in point: what happened to Rizal van Geyzel.
Walski’s hope is that we see no more of this similar Islamist-influenced BULLCRAP. And not just for 2023 either. Because the joke that Rizal van Geyzel made was something based on a FACT that didn’t sit well with trigger-happy Islamists: racial discrimination in favor of Malays/Bumiputera. And by some strange magical linkage that only an Malay Islamist could appreciate, this translated to an “insult to Islam”. Yeah, go figure.
Related to this is Walski’s ardent wish that Islamists should no longer be allowed to dictate public policy exclusively. Sure, their opinions may be sought – and since we’re still a democracy, should be heard – and if these opinions are constructive they may very well be adopted, but not to the extent of blanket yes/no based on their opinions alone. Malaysian Islamists (maybe any Islamist) tend to be prohibitionist by nature and action. If they don’t like something, then NOBODY can like that something.
Here’s a current example: the Ministry of Health is embarking on a pilot project to provide PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) to prevent the spread of HIV, targeting people deemed to be most at risk, which includes intravenous drug users and sexually active male homosexuals. It’s no surprise that our Malaysian Islamists (i.e., ISMA et al) are campaigning against it, on the grounds that it will “promote homosexual activities”.
Instead, not unlike their Christian far-right counterparts in the US,, they promote Abstinence. Perhaps they should read research that has found abstinence-only strategies to not be effective. Or perhaps they’re aware but simply don’t care because it goes against their so-called beliefs, and so continue to promote what they believe to be the only acceptable way. Again, very much like their US-based Christian far-right counterparts.
Be that as it may, their opinions alone shouldn’t be the benchmark to create and implement public policies. And that’s another one of Walski’s hopes for the nation, this year moving forward.
Will the current PH-led government be able to last a complete term, or will it once again implode under the weight of political sabotage? There are many opinions about this, and quite frankly, at this stage, many of these opinions are mere speculations. After all, the government has only been in place for a mere month and a half, and for the most part is only now really getting down to business.
One thing, however, is clear: the Anwar-led Unity Government needs to deliver to a population that generally wants a better Malaysia, and after a fairly lackluster almost two years, wants that better Malaysia sooner rather than later. At the same time, however, Walski believes there is a real need to temper hopes and/or expectations, and to not expect the impossible.
At the year’s end, there is promise and potential for change, but cynicism and fear of disappointment reduce expectations and dampen hope. Not least of all is the reality that old forces remain in political power, despite the overwhelming call for change.Dr. Bridget Welsh, “Malaysia’s year of yearning: Reflecting on 2022“, Malaysiakini, January 1 2022
As Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben once never said, “with lower expectations come fewer disappointments”.
Walski would ideally want to see Malaysia change for the better in all areas, but he realizes that changes to a “business as usual” governmental machinery cannot be achieved overnight. Even if those changes are for the better, because that’s just the nature of governments and bureaucracies – lots of inertia and lots of resistance to change. Sure, there are political pitches, promises, and all that, but never forget that animal called realpolitik. And overcoming that beast takes time.
The hands that work these bureaucracies, lest we forget, are real, living, breathing human beings. And we all know, despite putting up a façade to indicate otherwise, the operative thoughts will be, to varying degrees, “how will I be affected by all this change?”.
But Walski is hopeful that this time around, the PH-led unity government can and will deliver. The only question is how much and how soon. Walski is of the opinion that the government needs sufficient time and room to produce results, and not succumb to pressures to rush things heedlessly.
And in some areas, if Walski may remind you, effects of changes will only materialize after a period of years, and not weeks or months. Realistic change is not fast food, or pizzas that appear at your doorstep in 30 minutes or less (or your money back).
And if any politician tries to convince you otherwise, they’re lying. And if you actually believe said politicians, you’re a bigger fool.
So bottom line, fellow Malaysians, we will need to exercise some patience on our part as well. At the risk of sounding like a broken record: change takes time. More importantly we need to observe what are the steps being taken to exact that change we so desperately want? Personally, as long as things are moving in the right direction, Walski is happy.
Perhaps the one good thing (and maybe only one) about growing older is that one learns how things really work in this world. Well, Walski has, at least. And with that knowing is the realization that a lot of things take time. Just like the cliché about building Rome.
These aren’t the only hopes Walski has for 2023, of course, but let’s just say they sufficiently encapsulate the gist of things on his mind.
To close, on a more personal note, there is the question of New Year resolutions. And while some people’s resolutions are currently at 4k, Walski’s remains at full 1080 HD. A bit behind the curve, perhaps, but certainly clear enough to see what’s what, who’s who, and… where is that damned pizza he ordered an hour ago?
Kidding aside, though, Walski hopes to write more this year. And for this blog to not be neglected like it was in 2022. And in order to write more – which also means needing to read more – Walski needs to manage his time better. So yeah, that would be the other resolution he has for this year: better time management.
Apart from writing for work (i.e. his real-world business), as you may or may not know, Walski also writes – 280 characters (or less) a pop – on Twitter. Yeah, yeah… he’s sticking around despite the mess Mr. Musk has made. So if you think Walski’s slacking off updating myAsylum, please remind him – nay, bug the heck outta him – on that bird app.
In the meantime, enjoy your Monday off, and once again, Happy New Year 2023!