Tyranny of the Malay Muslim majority

In John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty”, he pens his thoughts on individual rights and mob rule. He states that there are 3 types of tyrannies; First being the tyranny of one over the few/many (dictatorships, oligarchies etc.); Second being the tyranny of many over the one/few (e.g. democracies); And third, which he argues is the worst of all, the tyranny of custom.

But what happens when tyranny of the majority is further strengthened by the tyranny of custom?

Anti-LGBT propaganda

You get people who dare to say things like these.

Translation: Our government should create one organisation “lgbt hunter” something like that, then hunt them and make them repent in a camp. Easy. I’ve always been so disgusted by things like these.

The criminalisation of LGBT in Malaysia gives credence to the social custom that anything that does not align with normality (or religion) is considered deviant and that persecution against them is justified.

The Malay Muslim majority have the power to shift conversations to suit their propaganda, like how they changed the narrative and landscape of the Women’s March (dated 9th March) to be an “LGBT Rally” just because there were rainbow flags and LGBT activists, completely forgetting the initial demands of the march.

Source: https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2019/03/09/mujahid-shocked-womens-day-march-was-used-to-promote-lgbt/1730905

This year’s #WomensMarchMY brought up many issues like abortion, economy, orang asli rights, etc. But media has chosen to sensationalise the rainbow flags and LGBT activists. Why? Because they know LGBT issues make a very convenient decoy.

When I attended #WomenAgainstToxicPolitics in 2017, there were people from all walks of life. Even politicians. They stole photos of me with Marina Mahathir, Wan Azizah and Nurul Izzah, uploaded them together with photos of LGBT placards and said “Kerajaan baru support LGBT!” (“The new government supports LGBT!”)

It’s the same old tactic. Upload a photo of people protesting, be sure to get LGBT signs captured in your photos, and then spread propaganda against your target; “Look at these group of people fighting for LGBT rights!” Then, they watch in glee as people bicker about how “wrong” LGBT is. Liberals vs conservatives. Theists vs atheists. Every faction comes out to argue.

Everyone distracted? Good. Now they don’t have to talk about the real, underlying issues that have been raised.

It is absolutely terrifying that this does not only show on a rakyat-level, but even politicians are coming out against this “LGBT rally”.

Translation: The LGBT community should accept the fact that majority of Malaysians oppose their deviant lifestyle. Stop demanding for unreasonable things.

However, the majority do not only have the power to shift narratives and indoctrinate the masses; Sometimes, the tension motivates people to take matters into their own hands.

Lack of empathy

On 15 March 2019, 28 year old Brenton Tarrant live-streamed an attack on a mosque on Facebook. Before carrying out the attack, he had written a manifesto that was riddled with white supremacy sentiments and ethno-nationalist rhetoric.

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/new-zealand-shooting-live-updates/2019/03/16/8f2f75e8-482d-11e9-94ab-d2dda3c0df52_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.2ee68f4742a6

As the world mourns with Christchurch, New Zealand, discussion has once again been raised about the irrational violence perpetrated against Muslims in the West. While this is a topic that is worth scrutinising, I think it is important to acknowledge that in a Malaysian context, the Malay Muslims are the perpetrators.

Two of these are mentioned in the #NewZealandTerroristAttack manifesto. The other two are said by ISMA members. Can you guess which is which?

Snippet A
Snippet B
Snippet C
Snippet D

Here’s a note to my fellow Malaysians: If you condemn the actions of Brenton Tarrant but still spew the same ethno-nationalist nonsense, you’re a part of the problem.

This comparison is not meant to be a personal attack towards ISMA, I only used them as examples. It is to highlight that way too many of us do not realise the irony in our speech when we condemn hostility towards us (as minorities) but have no problem persecuting others when we are the majority.

It is also deeply unsettling that there are organisations and government officials who use the same ethno-nationalist template to “protect their land and their people” from “foreigners”. Protecting yourself does not need to come at the expense of the innocent.

The world has been commending Prime Minister Jacinda Adern recently for rewriting how politicians should mourn during times of terror. Her empathy towards the Muslim community is exemplary.

But even the most noble acts are bound to have their critics. While the world is finding ways to move forwards as a peaceful and harmonious society, there are still people out there who want to vilify those they deem “the other”, even if those they condemn are remarkable people.

Double standards

In Malaysia, you will find people applauding Jacinda Adern for protecting the Muslim minority in New Zealand, but at the same time, throw her under the bus for advocating LGBT rights.

Translation: Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Adern, is an LGBT supporter. Just information for those who have been praising her lately.

We are all heartbroken by what happened in Christchurch, New Zealand. But we need to realise that the seeds of fundamentalism are already being sowed here and it is up to us to acknowledge it and stop it.

2 years ago I wrote “The hypocrisy of Malay Muslims” and I still stand by most of what I have written in it today.

The Malay Muslims who say that freedom of religion is mutually exclusive from Islam, disallowing the propagation or profession of other faiths while discriminating against converts from Islam or apostates, are the same Malay Muslims who use that term to justify the propagation of Islam, to fight back cases of Islamophobia, to encourage adherents of other religions to join Islam and to defend converts into Islam who are attacked by their family or friends.

The Malay Muslims who are against pluralism and expect religious minorities to respect the needs and wants of the Muslim majority are the same Malay Muslims who would be appalled at the news of abuse or killings of Muslim minorities in foreign countries, saying, “We should respect other religions! We have to learn to live in peace and harmony!”

How does one condemn Uyghur concentration camps in China and the terrorist attack in Christchurch but still condone discrimination and promote violence in your own land? Your humanity shouldn’t be selective. I will never understand how people can stand against the oppression of Muslims in other countries while in the same breath, promote violence against minority groups in their own.

There will be those who say “Bad things will happen wherever, regardless” as an excuse to sweep our problems under the carpet, but for years now many of us have said that we need to rid our nation of its creeping fundamentalism or else we will spiral.

Don’t think “it” will happen in Malaysia? Well, New Zealanders thought the same.

Political religion

Tyranny of custom, unlike tyranny of majority, is wired by fear of ostracism and disgrace. People are still allowed to deviate from societal norms, as long as they are willing to pay the price of disapproval. The social and psychological pressure and human desire to belong is what makes people feel obligated to “obey” customs. However, what ensures obedience is political force. Our lovely Malaysia has both.

The persecution of Muslims in the West is a prime example of how tyranny of custom or majority can birth “vigilantes” that feel they are doing a service to the rest of the people by attacking those they deem “the other”.

There are templates all over the world to show you the harms of discrimination and oppression; They’re all the same story, just different characters.

Time and time again we have been given anecdotes and have seen real-life occurrences that proof that there is more bad than good in coalescing religion with politics. When will we ever learn?

Our superiority complex leaves us so disconnected from the realities of the world; We think we are the only ones who are worth saving, forgetting the fact that we share this planet with millions of other sentient beings.

One might call me a “self-hating Malay Muslim”, but I’d rather be self-aware of our hypocrisy than see myself be complicit to injustice.

Translation: If you have experienced living as a Muslim minority in western countries, you have felt the pain of being viewed suspiciously, made to feel The Other, becomes the target of phobias that can end in violence like in NZ yesterday. So let’s respect minorities everywhere.

#IStandWithBrunei?

At the end of March, Brunei introduced the death penalty for homosexuality. This has caused a lot of stir internationally. Many companies and high-profile individuals have come out to boycott this decision, and unsurprisingly, a lot of Muslims have also come out to show their support of it. Just go through the #IStandWithBrunei hashtag on Twitter.

I find it extremely ironic how just a few weeks ago everyone was standing in solidarity with Muslims and now Muslims are defending Brunei’s decision to stone LGBT people. It’s like they completely forget that the people who defended them after the New Zealand terrorist attack also comprise of people from the LGBT community as well.

One step forward, two steps back.

The world empathised with us when our community was attacked, irrationally and unnecessarily, because we’re “different”. And now here we are trying to justify murdering a minority group because they’re… “different”.

This is a hypocritical gesture of the highest kind.

Many use the reason that Brunei “is standing up for Islam’s principles…”, but they did not stop to think that the world did not defend our right to practice our religion just so we can use it to kill whoever we please. We really lack the empathy that people have shown us.

Also, there is nothing “Islamic” about legislating laws but exempting yourselves from it so you get to enjoy your hedonistic lifestyle unquestioned.

It is extremely easy for someone to say “Sharia Law is the responsibility of the Sultan to his people but what he does behind closed doors is between him and God…” Our persistence in choosing rulers based solely on their religion and not on their qualities is one of the reasons why leaders so easily can play their citizens like puppets. And also the reason “Why should you be scared when you have done nothing wrong?” Have we suddenly forgotten about all the times people have misused political Islam for their own agendas?

Many would use the reason “It’s their country, they can do what they want! It’s their law!” If that were the case, then there shouldn’t be global outcry against China’s oppression of the Uyghur Muslims because they have the right to curb terrorism in any way they deem fit. Right?

Unfortunately, Brunei is not the only country in which homosexuality is considered a criminal offence. There are also those who use the reason “Brunei isn’t the only country” to get people to stop speaking out against Brunei’s decision. While technically true, they fail to realise that enacting such draconian laws in our contemporary world is an act of regression.

We always forget that we inhabit this world along with many others. There is no room for a superiority complex in a world that is constantly moving forward and finding ways to eradicate discrimination. We band together in times of terror and injustice. It is time that Muslims get on that train as well before we become the cause of our own demise.

Extra reads:
[1] Why I am against institutionalised religion
[2] Are we falling into religious fundamentalism?
[3] The hypocrisy of Malay Muslims
[4] Is history repeating itself?
[5] So who is the real enemy here?

Shafiqah Othman Hamzah

Shafiqah is a Singapore-born Malaysian who is best known for her advocacy on social and human rights issues. She is notably known for her tweets and for being a columnist on Malay Mail.