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Left and right versus the centre

Posted: 26 Aug 2013 06:59 PM PDT

I believe, with the right leadership, the centrist movement can be bigger than the left and right. Umno and PAS will lose a lot of supporters to this centrist movement if it is a credible movement. Then we will see the Ketuanan Melayu and the Ketuanan Islam groups kept in check, which is something Malaysia needs to be able to remain sane.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Christendom went through this 200 years ago. In fact, it started roughly 500 years ago and was more or less finally 'settled' about 200 years ago. Now it is the turn of the Muslim world.

I am, of course, talking about the church 'shake-up'.

For all intents and purposes, you can even say that the same thing started in the Muslim world about 35 years or so ago. I remember people saying things like "The Islamic Revival". Not many took much notice of the events in Iran or considered how this would eventually shape the Muslim world. Most probably just thought that this was an uprising against a corrupt government or an anti-US thing that does not concern the rest of the world.

But my Arab friend had already cautioned me back in 1980 about what we should expect. Iran is 'exporting' the Islamic revolution to other Muslim countries, he told me. They are 'educating' Muslims in other countries so that one day, maybe by the next generation in 30 years time or so, Iran's revolution would be the revolution of the entire Muslim world.

Saudi Arabia, too, is exporting its brand of Islam, a very uncompromising and restrictive form of Islam. The Muslim world has deviated from the true path, say the hardliner fundamentalists. It must now be brought back to the pure form of Islam, which has been contaminated by 'Western ideals' and liberalism.

And, to achieve this, the Saudi government has been quietly funding this 'silent revolution', to the tune of billions of dollars a year, through organisations like the Muslim World League (Rabita) and the World Association of Muslim Youth (WAMY), which is turn finances organisations like Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM).

Anwar Ibrahim, the man who headed ABIM back in the days of the beginning of "The Islamic Revival", knew what he was getting Malaysia into. He not only sent his people to Saudi but also to Iran to 'observe' the Iran-Iraq War that took an estimated one million Muslim lives. (I remember them telling me that their bus was shot full of bullet holes when they went to the frontline).

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad, the man who took over as Prime Minister in 1981, considered Anwar and ABIM (plus their Iranian and Saudi 'allies') too much a threat that he reluctantly agreed to bring Anwar into Umno merely to 'control' him and to 'neutralise' the Islamisation of Malaysia. Dr Mahathir felt that Malaysia's future lay in liberal Islam and not fundamental Islam. And because of that many in PAS and ABIM labelled Dr Mahathir a heretic and apostate and Umno an infidel (kafir) party.

This all happened more than 30 years ago. To be honest, even I was roped in and became a fundamentalist Muslim (which I have written about many times before). I believed in the Islamic revolution and even participated in an anti-Saudi and anti-American demonstration in Mekah back in 1982. I, too, called Dr Mahathir a heretic and apostate and labelled Umno an infidel party. That was how radical I had become more than 30 years ago back in 1980. I even dressed like an Arab to make sure I not only played the part but also looked the part.

I was in my 30s then, half the age I am today. But since then I have changed, as I have also changed regarding my stand concerning the opposition cause -- or rather the deviation of the opposition cause. Well, what can I say, people do change, especially when age catches up with them and they see things differently now.

Many Malaysians perceive the 2008 general election plus the 2013 general election as Malaysians finally 'waking up'. That is only partly true, or true as far as the Chinese and Indians are concerned. As for the Malays, it is more than just that.

What many cannot understand is that Malaysia, as Umno admits, is divided. And I am talking about the Malays here because the Chinese and Indians are very much united, as the 2008 and 2013 general elections have proven. But what many do not understand is that the divide is not so much political as it is fundamental.

Of course, in Malaysia, politics, religion, race, language, education, etc., work hand-in-glove. Hence the reason for my many 3Rs articles and talks -- race, religion, royalty. But it is more than just that. Malays are divided into leftist Malays, rightist Malays and centrist Malays.

When I say 'leftist Malays' I do not mean socialist or communist Malays. I mean the Islamists. Hence maybe 'leftist' would not be the most accurate label to use. 'Rightist' would mean the nationalists while centrists are those who oppose both the Islamists and the nationalists and feel that Malaysia needs to be more liberal and non-racial.

I would like to believe that I fit into the centrist category.

The rightists support Barisan Nasional mainly because Umno is the dominant partner in that ruling coalition. The leftists support Pakatan Rakyat because PAS is a member of the opposition coalition. The centrists like me, however, do not really have a 'home'.

Many centrists support Pakatan Rakyat, like how I used to, because of PKR, the perceived lead partner in Pakatan Rakyat. That may have been true before. However, today, PKR can no longer be considered the lead partner even though Anwar Ibrahim may still be the opposition leader. In fact, PKR is rapidly turning into a liability rather than an asset for the opposition coalition.

We from the centrist community need a new home. And PKR, which once used to be that home, has become a disappointment of late. PKR is rapidly emerging as just another Umno with its very strong Umno culture and Umno-style politics.

The centrists need a new party to call home. I personally had high hopes for DAP being that centrist party when I campaigned for it exclusively in the 2008 general election. Unfortunately, DAP is unable to shed its Chinese identity and image as much as we had hoped it would. If not, then DAP would be that ideal home for the centrists.

In 2009-2010, I spoke to Haris Ibrahim about turning PSM into that new centrist party. I believe Haris did have discussions with the PSM leaders but I do not know what went wrong. Somehow PSM was not too receptive to our ideas (meaning the Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement or MCLM) and nothing much came out of those discussions. In fact, PSM appears to be emerging as an Indian-based party, which is a crying shame.

I believe if a new party emerges that can give an appearance of being a centrist party then the centrists amongst the Malays would support it -- at least I hope. And that would be good for Malaysians, in particular the non-Malays, because the centrists can then keep the leftists and rightists in check.

Currently, there are only two choices, the rightist Barisan Nasional (meaning Umno) or the leftist Pakatan Rakyat (meaning PAS). There is no 'middle' in spite of many believing that PKR (or DAP) is this middle.

Hence the centrists either support Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat. There are only these two choices and no other choice. The problem, however, is that Malaysian politics is divided into Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat. So, even if a new centrist party emerges, it would have to align itself with either Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat.

In short, Malaysia is not yet ready for a third force. Even if a third force does emerge it needs to pledge loyalty to either the left or the right. It cannot stand in the middle and declare that it is neither with Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat.

And because of that the Malays will forever be divided between the left and the right with the centrists having no say or no voice. It is not that we did not try back in 2009-2010 but I must admit that we failed probably because we were just too early for our time.

But that was three to four years ago back in 2009-2010, soon after the 2008 general election and before the 2013 general election. But has that now changed? Are there enough Malays who do not want to be on the left or the right but would like to be in the centre? I really do not know but maybe we should, again, try what we tried in 2009-2010 and see how far we can succeed this time around.

But first we need a leader, a centrist leader. I cannot be that leader because I am not a politician and do not wish to be one. Someone like Zaid Ibrahim can probably be that leader if he can resist the temptation to be wishy-washy and inconsistent in his political stand. But Zaid must first decide what he wants to be and stick to it. He cannot keep swinging to the left and then to the right while claiming to be in the centre.

I believe, with the right leadership, the centrist movement can be bigger than the left and right. Umno and PAS will lose a lot of supporters to this centrist movement if it is a credible movement. Then we will see the Ketuanan Melayu and the Ketuanan Islam groups kept in check, which is something Malaysia needs to be able to remain sane.

Or maybe this will never happen in our lifetime. Maybe this is something that will happen by the next generation when people like Zaid and I are no longer around. I really don't know. But whether it will happen now or later it will eventually happen. And when it does that would be when many of Malaysia's ills will be cured.

Until then expect the race and religion politics to get worse before it gets better. Let us hope that it never needs to deteriorate to the level of many other Muslim countries where disagreements are settled in bloodshed. Malaysia's politics is dominated by Malay politics. And until and unless the Malay division can be settled and the centrists can check the leftists and rightists, Malaysian politics will continue to be volatile and unstable.



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