Published as “A Malaysia for All” in Malay Mail Online
The year 2016 has left many of us bruised and battered, emotionally and spiritually, and it is easy to make the mistake of anthropomorphising the year to lay blame at its feet.
There were major celebrity deaths and earth-shattering socio-political upheavals; you would think that 2016 was being unnecessarily cruel to humankind, making it one of the worst years in history.
But alas, 2016 has no mind of its own, nor were the events a deliberate machination of fate. Things just happened.
And in this country, the year 2016 symbolised the start of the deepening fissures that aim to cleave Malaysia in two — a repercussion that we have felt ever since the divisive 2013 general elections.
At the start of the year, I wrote about the rise of Islamisation, and how it has slithered in between the country’s governance — not only in the three branches of legislative, executive and judiciary, but also in the civil service.
Year 2016 has not proven me wrong. Instead, the extent to which Islamisation has spread — to the point of ignorance and apathy — has given more ground for the Islamist lobby to exert its influence.
It was the year when Islamists boldly demanded the country be moulded to suit their whims and fancy, and so many of have not only enabled them, but also facilitated the process.
A huge part of this major shift in influence and leverage has been the unofficial collusion of two of the biggest Malay/Muslim-majority political parties in the history of the country: the ruling nationalist Umno, and Islamist opposition PAS.
On the one hand, you have Umno which seems to have given up on the minorities following their massive rejection in 2013. The front page headline of “Apa lagi Cina mahu?” (What more do the Chinese want?) in Malay daily Utusan Malaysia the day after the polls pretty much sums everything up.
The years that followed saw the ethnic Chinese community become much more vocal; they formed the majority at rallies and protests including this year’s Bersih 5.
Umno has shifted its focus to not only retain the rural Malay votes, but sway the affection of Malay voters who have been smitten by the Islamist ambition of PAS. And that has meant playing the religion card.
The impotence of the non-Malay component parties in Barisan Nasional has left this unchecked. Not only have Umno leaders made unilateral decisions, but component leaders have been openly shamed by their Umno counterparts.
On the other hand, you have PAS that has slowly shed its social justice focus and purged the so-called progressives from the party in 2015. The dominance of the ulama faction ever since means a shift in focus on the afterlife rather than the elections.
But what has made this collusion so successful is the willingness of both parties to collaborate outside Parliament. That was not really there before. Now largely motivated by the need of its leaders to cling on to power, they are working together under the guise of the unity of the Ummah, or the Muslim community.
It is then that the struggle for the Ummah becomes much bigger and more important, rather than the harmony and prosperity of the plural society.
After such a year, surely 2017 will not be any worse?
The possibility of a general elections in this year, sadly, will not allow such positivity to manifest.
I still predict that the next elections will be the most Islamised yet, with the religious card being wielded left and right — and federal opposition pact Pakatan Harapan would be poorly-equipped to deal with such nasty tricks.
You can bet that the road to the elections will be paved with the race to be the holiest, with takfirism — the accusing other Muslims as infidels — being a powerful weapon.
In the end, the obsession to Islamise the country, aided by the selfish needs of political parties that need to stay in power (and grab power), will divide the country further: not necessarily between Muslims and non-Muslims, but those who wish to submit themselves to an Islamist rule, and those who do not.
The rise of Islamisation will see more Muslims who do not wish to see their lives tainted by non-Muslim elements. There is a wish by them to expand their silo, and at the same time achieve a utopia where everybody submits to the ways of just one religion — something that would inevitably result in a backlash from a plural society.
This should not happen in the first place. Malaysia was formed as a federation of many peoples, of different ethnicities, religions, and cultures. We used to treasure this, so why are we now trying to erase our plurality to fulfil the demands of the Islamist lobby?
We need to heal, to reconcile this society that has been broken along so many lines. But first, in 2017, we have to resist the division.
If anything, there is still time for the liberals and progressives of all stripes to band together as a show of strength. There is a need to organise, to strategise, even if for the few months that is left before the elections.
We need to play the long game — for time is on our side. The future waits where progressive ideas are embraced by more and more people. We will get there, but we need to get there sooner. We need to get there faster, quicker than the rate at which the old ideas are dying.
There is always hope for Malaysia. This year, we nurture that hope further.