Terrorism: The New Cabinet Must Acknowledge Risk

by Dina Zaman
13 June 2018


Congratulations, Malaysia. You have voted for a new government, and you have received it.


IMAN Research (IMAN) is now hard at work analysing and finalising a report on the recent General Elections, which we will share once it is completed. However, we would like to share some concerns.

While Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s appointment of Dr Maszlee Malik, Tuan Haji Mohamad Sabu, Dr Haji Dzulkefly Ahmad, and Tuan Haji Salahuddin Ayub can be considered strategic – the appointments of these men from religious-based political parties or backgrounds should allay the fears of Islamists and conservatives – this does not mean that we can rest.

In an opinion piece by Matthew Hays and Daniel Twin, published in the Nikkei Asian Review on May 24, 2018, “Malaysia's triumph of democracy remains precarious. The new coalition government faces the daunting challenge of reforming a political system founded on majoritarian rule, cronyism and corruption. The previous ruling party manipulated political Islamism for electoral advantage, compounding risks posed by returning Malaysian extremists who fought with Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. More broadly, it is unclear whether a democratic transformation can be delivered by a prime minister who previously ruled Malaysia with an iron fist for 22 years.”

“Malaysia's new leaders must be on guard for the potential of interethnic and political tensions to erupt into conflict, undermining the country's democratic path. To build a stable government capable of delivering promised reforms, PH will have to overcome its long history of infighting, reject traditional personality-based politics, and bridge racial and religious divides within Malaysian society. This includes promoting values of pluralism to reinforce community cohesion; supporting initiatives that build trust between citizens of different backgrounds is one way of fostering these principles.”

“The new government must tackle the threat posed by Islamist extremist elements who have seized upon Malaysia's drift toward intolerance. Malaysia is being used as a logistical and financial hub by extremist groups, including the Islamic State, operating across Southeast Asia. The politicization of religion has created fertile ground for IS recruiters to actively target young Malaysians (the country's average age is 28) through social media and at local universities.”


Dear Pakatan Harapan, allow us to give you a quick low down on recent events:


Regional Terrorism

  • During the time of the Malaysian General Elections, a series of bombings struck three churches in Surabaya, the second largest city in Indonesia. The bombings took place at Gereja Katolik Santa Maria, Gereja Kristen Indonesia, and Gereja Pantekosta Pusat Surabaya. The bombings did not end there; a fourth bomb detonated at an apartment complex in Sidoarjo and another one at the Surabaya Police Headquarters. This is the biggest incident of terrorist attacks in Indonesia since the Bali bombing in 2002. Prior to this incident, a deadly riot took place at the Mako Brimob facility in Depok, outside of Jakarta. The inmates, who were identified as violent extremist offenders, took hostage and killed five of Indonesia’s elite counterterrorism squad Densus 88. This series of incidents must be taken seriously by Malaysia not only due to our proximity to our Indonesian neighbour, but also due to the possibility of a shared network among the Indonesian militants and militants here. The perpetrators in Surabaya were allegedly returning fighters from Syria. Since the fall of IS in Syria, the issue of returnees has been one of the major concerns in CT and CVE, especially so in Malaysia as we have porous borders and an open-door policy.

  • The gubernatorial elections in Jakarta last year, is another signpost we need to look out for. Indonesia is becoming a hardline Muslim country, contrary to its previous moderate and progressive image. From our conversations with militant groups and hardliners in Indonesia, Malaysia is seen as an example of a purer Muslim state that practises a more conservative Islam that Indonesia sorely needs.

  • In the Marawi siege which happened last year, hundreds of soldiers, civilians and Islamist militants have been killed and more than 200,000 families were displaced by the clashes. These attacks and many more in other countries in Southeast Asia have shown an increasing presence of ISIS. An estimated of 1,000 Indonesians travelled to join ISIS. In 2017, 240 Indonesians were detained and deported in transit countries en-route to join ISIS - 70% were women and children. IPAC reported 45 Indonesian migrant workers in Hong Kong engaged by ISIS. These women and the recent handful arrests of female terrorist suspects, have confirmed that violent extremism is no longer the field of masculinity. The shift of radicalization trend has led women to become both perpetrators and victims of violent extremism organization. There is robust discussion as to how Marawi fell to ISIS’s ‘charms’ – the marginalisation of the Muslim minority in Marawi had led to this siege.


Islam in Malaysia

  • A survey commissioned by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute last year on the role of Islam and its governance in Johor has shown Malays in the state are becoming more religiously conservative, the Straits Times (ST) reported. It said most Johorean Malays preferred Muslims in key leadership positions, while three in four were supportive of hudud, the Islamic criminal punishment that includes stoning for adultery and amputation for theft.

  • Malays are increasingly identifying themselves by their religion first over their ethnicity or nationality, Merdeka Center said in 2015. 60 per cent of Malay respondents identify as Muslims, while 27 per cent of them identify as Malaysians. In comparison, only 3 per cent of the ethnic Chinese identify themselves by religious identity, while 16 per cent of ethnic Indians do so. Also, Merdeka Centre in 2014 found the highest level of support for hudud among Malay voters under the age of 30, consistent with Merdeka Center’s findings in its 2011 study of Muslim youth sentiments. However, While Malay Malaysians show high support for the hudud — or Islamic penal law — the majority of citizens feel the country is not ready to implement it.

  • IMAN in their ongoing nationwide focus group discussion with youths aged 18 to 30 found that participants agreed that their identity is an important component, but yet at the same time feel that it is a very complex issue. Irrespective of the respondents’ religiosity, all answered that their main identity was being Muslim. A worrying finding was the fact many do not have interaction with non-Muslims. They acknowledge that this limits their understanding of issues and concerns faced by non-Muslims but nevertheless find it difficult to overcome. Lastly, participants agreed that the belief in the concept of an Islamic state was an integral part of being a Muslim. While most had different interpretations of how to achieve an Islamic state, what they agreed most on is that if Islamic State did exist then the current problems faced by the country would be solved such as corruption, unscrupulous leaders.

  • The Islamist Party of Malaysia (PAS) in 2016 has sought to amend the act RU 355. The amendment seeks to replace section 2 of the act with new sections 2 and 2A. The (proposed) new Section 2 provides: “2. The syariah court shall have jurisdiction over persons professing the religion of Islam in respect of offences regarding matters listed in Item 1 of the State List of the Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution.” The (proposed) new section 2A provides: “2A. In the exercise of the criminal law under Section 2, the syariah court is entitled to impose penalties allowed by syariah in relation to offences listed under the section mentioned above, other than the death penalty.” What is more important is the proposed new section 2A. The most noticeable difference between the proposed section 2A and the existing law is that the latter contains a proviso as follows: “Provided that such jurisdiction shall not be exercised in respect of any offence punishable with imprisonment for a term exceeding three years or with any fine exceeding five thousand ringgit or with whipping exceeding six strokes or with any combination thereof.” The State Legislative Assembly may make laws empowering the syariah court to impose punishments permitted by Islamic law (syariah and fiqh) including hudud and qisas, except the death penalty. That is the effect. But, how far the State Legislative Assembly may create offences punishable with such penalties is another matter.

  • In 2016, a Muslim human rights group called for evangelical Christianity to be ‘banned’, while the Selangor State Assembly speaker Hannah Yeoh was accused of using her biography to proselytise Muslims – a legal offence in Malaysia. In Sabah and Sarawak, native Christian parents have repeatedly complained that Islamic religious teachers attempt to convert their children to Islam. Such distrust is evidenced in the public outcry seen after a Muslim religious teacher was appointed as principal of a mission school in Sarawak. 60 years of racist and racial indoctrination have become part and parcel of Malaysia’s DNA. Inter-faith and intra-faith dialogues are still much needed. Engagement with grassroot communities are important, but one community that has yet to be tapped would be the community religious leaders and preachers.

With all due respect to the current Prime Minister who has been away from ruling a country for 15 years, he will have his hands full with the current regional and national security threats. The mentioned events are close to home, and it will need an empathetic, holistic approach to countering violent extremism (CVE) in the region. Malaysia’s role in ASEAN is more than just trade and forging ties with other countries; Malaysia will need to step up on her role as a serious CVE player, and realising her role as a leader of a Muslim country, and that much of the CVE work in the region involves Muslims, Malaysia will have to take charge of regional and global security, and Muslim matters in the region.

Selamat Hari Raya, Tun. And welcome back. We are in for a wild ride.


Dina Zaman
Founding Member, Director
IMAN Research


Dina Zaman is a founding member and director of IMAN Research.


This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.



GE14: No “Malay Tsunami”, Serious Electoral Reforms Needed

by Badrul Hisham Ismail
11 May 2018


IMAN Research, a think tank consultancy based in Kuala Lumpur, has spent the past 10 days observing campaign rallies, on the ground sentiments, and voter behaviours with regard to the recent General Elections (GE).

On May 7, 2018, IMAN released a preliminary report citing some observations, such as the restrained environment prior to polls, which could be attributed to the break of the old alliance of opposition, and although PAS and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) maintained religion-infused campaign strategies, the topics of Hudud and the amendment of Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (RUU 355) have been conspicuously absent throughout the campaign period.

While it is not surprising for Amanah, whose tagline has been “inclusive Islam”, it is noteworthy for PAS as they are the main proponent of Hudud and RUU 355. This can be attributed to the failure of PAS to push for RUU 355 in Parliament. Our team has noted the following observations on yesterday’s GE, which are documented below:

Campaign Day

• In general, the environment was safe, calm, and controlled and there were no reported outbreaks of violence. However, in Sandakan, there was slight tension following the ESSCOM report on four criminals in Lahad Datu. The presence of military and other security forces in that area was a source of confidence and reassurance that campaign and electoral processes were going smoothly, rather than cause for alarm.
• Women’s and young voters’ participation was heavily emphasized in this election — they were involved in both campaigning (i.e. Puteri UMNO) and attending rallies. In Johor, more female and young candidates were introduced than the previous elections.
• There was a huge number of rallies, big and small, particularly throughout urban areas, and turnout was also greater than previous elections.
• Closer to the election day, the campaigning environment picked up speed and became more lively.
• In Sabah, BN was openly using state machinery such as SKMM and MCMC to campaign, and utilizing schools and multipurpose halls. Issues on stateless communities were mostly absent. PAS was more focused on being the “Parti Bebas Rasuah” than on Islam.
• Religious and ethnic campaign rhetoric escalated as voting day approached.
• Gearing up to campaign day, social media, particularly WhatsApp and YouTube, became critical platforms in educating voters on the voting procedures. Getting people to their polling stations was also organized through hashtags such as "#pulangmengundi" and "#undirabu".

Election Day

• Voter turnout of 76%, while still high compared to other countries, was lower than last GE at 85%.
• There were multiple complaints on the mismanagement of polling centres: unclear signage; ridiculously long queues, for instance, some in Putrajaya in Saluran 8 (for the youngest cohort) reportedly had to wait almost four hours to cast their votes; EC officials unclear of procedures leading to confusion; reports that polling stations were only set-up in the morning instead of the night before; two deaths of voters and one SPR official. A huge reform of the SPR and the electoral process is deemed necessary.

Election Results

• All parties did well except for BN who only managed to secure 79 parliament seats and lost Kedah, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, and Johor.
• In contradiction to many polls and analyses, PAS was not wiped out. Instead, they defended Kelantan and regained Terengganu, and maintained a significant number of parliamentary seats.
• The concept of a “Malay tsunami” did not happen: voting patterns changed but core supporters remained within their parties.
• Swing and angry votes went to the most prominent party in the area - PH in west coast, PAS in east coast, Warisan in Sabah.
• As all parties except for BN showed their strength, Malaysia will not be seeing one dominant party anymore, and identity politics is here to stay. Moving forward, to accommodate this pattern of Malaysian voters, we should move away from the first-past-the-post system, and move to a proportional representation system.

Post Election

• Rumours on behind-the-scene negotiations on parliamentary seat affiliations are circulated widely on social media, as well as fear of emergency
• Of note, former Prime Minister Najib Razak, at his press conference, insisted that he will not use the National Security Council powers, and this managed to reduce tensions.
• Political wrangling and back door dealings in hung states for state governments continue to create tensions and uncertainty.
• There could be a short-term knee-jerk reaction (as seen in MYR gyrations since yesterday) but in the medium run, things should return to normalcy once everything falls into place. Once the new government is sworn in and major policies for the first 100 days are announced, it should give a sense of stability, a positive lead for financial markets.
• It is highly crucial for government institutions to maintain neutrality in the time of power transition.

As mentioned earlier, a more detailed report will be published soon. At press time, IMAN would like to stress on these key points:-
1) Identity politics, on ethnic and religious lines, are here to stay
2) Malaysia will not be going back to the days of oneparty monopoly
3) No “voters tsunami”; core supporters remained within their parties, while swing voters and fence-sitters went to the most prominent party in their constituencies, and
4) There is an urgent need for a huge electoral reform. A more comprehensive report will be issued next week.



This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.



No Big Rallies in GE14, Personal Touch Strategy to Woo Voters

by Badrul Hisham Ismail
8 May 2018


Sharing the interest and concern of the general Malaysians, IMAN Research had initiated an observation on campaign rallies running up to the 14th General Election (GE14) beginning April 28, 2018; guided by the international election methodology of observation.

As of yesterday, based on reports submitted by our field observers deployed throughout the country, we found that the environment of GE14 is subdued and orderly, less flags and posters in comparison to previous two elections – a far cry from the euphoric mood of GE13 where parties’ paraphernalia littered the streets.

This restrained environment can be attributed to the break of the old alliance of opposition, and the forming of a new one, the decision of Pakatan Harapan (PH) to use one logo at the eleventh hour, resulting in last minute printing and a less clear picture for voters on who to support, especially for the fence-sitters.

In terms of security, other than the Yong Peng and Lunas scuffle, the overall campaign process has taken place without violence so far. It is also important to note that despite the dusk-to-dawn curfew in seven districts under the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZONE), election campaigns are proceeding smoothly.

Although PAS and Parti Amanah Negara (PAN) maintain religion-infused campaign strategies, Hudud and the amendment of Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (RUU 355) have been conspicuously absent throughout this period. While it is not surprising for PAN, whose tagline has been “inclusive Islam”, it is noteworthy for PAS as they are the main proponent of Hudud and RUU 355. This can be attributed to the failure of PAS to push for RUU 355 in Parliament.

In Sabah, most of the campaign issues have been on local concerns. Current public sentiment of Sabahans is that of neglect by the federal government, and the campaigns have been focusing on securing the rights of Sabahans and to no longer be coerced by Peninsular politics. The issue of statelessness has also been used by some parties as a rallying call for Sabahans to unite against the erosion of Sabahan rights against the Peninsular.

These groups are blaming the Federal government for the failure in addressing the issue on the stateless community, who were blamed for Project IC and the Lahad Datu insurgency. However, the tension has not led to any reported physical violence or targeted attacks towards the stateless community thus far.

Regarding women's participation as candidates, there is a slight increase in general, but it is still a far cry from the desired 30% minimum stipulated in UN’s Committee of the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It is important to note that for most voters, gender is less of an issue, since voting patterns of Malaysians tend to follow along racial and communal lines. Therefore, political parties could have done more in promoting and placing women candidates to represent them, as it would not be a decisive factor.

In terms of strategy of campaigning, there is nothing new on BN and PH side. The former continues with ceramah kelompok focusing on local issues, while the latter continues to employ big rallies that focus on national issues.

The major difference in approach is by PAS, who have not been holding big rallies – their trademark when they were in the opposition coalition – opting instead for ceramah kelompok and house-to-house canvassing. For PAS, big rallies are only attended by the converted, while ceramah kelompok is more useful in disseminating information to members, and house-to-house canvassing is more effective in convincing fence-sitters.

Based on local observations, early vote by uniformed personnel and intense online discussions, voter turnout will likely be high, owing to a conducive election mood nationwide. However, do not expect there to be a 'Malay Tsunami' come election day. One can also say that the ‘Malay Tsunami’ already happened in 1998, and we have entered a new era of Malay voting patterns since then. Against the backdrop of political uncertainty and real life economic challenges, the real task will be in getting new voters out to vote.


Any further queries, please contact our Programme Director at badrulhisham@imanresearch.com. A full report will be issued after the election result is finalised.


This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.



CVE Wishlist for the Malaysian Government in Waiting

by Elida Izani
16 April 2018


The dates of the 14th General Election have finally been announced and with it, big promises come to the fore. Some questions regarding Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) have been brought up in parliament but the general discourse of P/CVE is still somewhat overlooked. Now, when politicians are eager to listen to the public, is a good time to discuss P/CVE more productively.

Effective and sustainable P/CVE programmes are essential to addressing violent extremism issues and preventing them over the long-term. Governments cannot do this work alone, but should pursue a “whole of society” approach that includes civil society and other local actors. Because P/CVE is an individual psycho-social process that requires the engagement and involvement of local communities, families, and other supportive social networks, non-state actors have a unique contribution to make. Non-state actors also often have the trust of and access to the affected individuals and communities in ways that government officials do not.

Throughout our collaboration with a network of P/CVE practitioners around the world, we have compiled a list of recommendations that we wish the next Malaysian government will fulfill.

Firstly, with input from local CVE practitioners, CSOs, local communities, and other stakeholders in CVE, Malaysia should craft its own national action plan on P/CVE. Current action taken by the state are based on mandates from other countries. Instead, Malaysia needs to develop an action plan that is bottom-up and takes into consideration the nuances and complexities of violent extremism in this nation. From this action plan, the new government should be prepared to develop a set of mechanisms (both legal and operational) for the rehabilitation of violent extremist offenders (VEO), returnees, and deportees.

Secondly, the new government should acknowledge the role non-state actors can play in CVE efforts. Non-state actors, such as civil society organisations (CSO), can contribute in all aspects of CVE, including preventive programmes and rehabilitation and reintegration (R&R). Borrowing from post-conflict rehabilitation and reintegration work in the Sahel, East Africa and other parts of Southeast Asia, there is evidence that CSOs are uniquely positioned to engage in community-based R&R programmes. In particular, they are useful in aspects of R&R that complement traditional justice mechanisms, such as community healing and reconciliation programmes and interfaith dialogue, as these initiatives benefit from CSOs’ informal nature and roots in customs and traditions.

Next, we recommend that the government be open to collaborate with non-state actors like CSOs and other relevant community-based stakeholders in the design and implementation of P/CVE programmes. For example, the Nigerian government has published its Policy Framework and National Action Plan for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, which was developed in close consultation with CSOs and other community stakeholders in the country. This kind of collaboration provides a unified direction and coordination for various initiatives to effectively address violent extremism and its related issues. To that end, the next government should be open to sharing information with non-state CVE practitioners in a way that is productive and enhance national security. This can be done by conducting and sharing assessments of the numbers and profiles of VEOs, returning foreign terrorist fighters, and others groups associated with or affected by terrorism.

Along the same lines, our fourth recommendation is to involve local communities in the development of P/CVE programmes and R&R initiatives. It is paramount to actively engage with local communities as they are directly impacted by VEOs, returnees, and deportees. Local communities provide the backbone for effective P/CVE efforts on multiple levels:
● Reducing stigmatization of returnees which would foster successful reintegration of former VEOs into the community.
● Avoiding potential grievances by making sure recipient communities’ needs, concerns, and fears are taken into account so as to mitigate possible tension and community discord.
● Gleaning insights to ensure tailored programming which fulfills the particular needs and requirements of individuals affected by violent extremism and are in line with on the ground realities.
● Providing services, such as assisting in finding employment for released VEOs, guidance, and a network to help VEOs reintegrate.
● Working with existing justice mechanisms whose interventions can be successful with the help of local communities to provide and support guidance where needed and appropriate.

In order to achieve this, the next government should relax laws and regulations that prohibit non-state actors to get involved in the P/CVE process. Laws such as Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) limits possible action taken by non-state actors in issues of P/CVE. It puts entities such as CSOS, local communities, and other groups with capacity to facilitate and manage CVE-related programmes in a precarious position to intervene when they are needed.

The next government must be steadfast in ensuring that the target audience for R&R programmes reflects the wide range of groups associated with and affected by violent extremism. For the most part, violent extremism is seen as a men’s issue, leaving other groups to the wayside in terms of interventions and initiatives. It is shown that families of VEOs, particularly their wives, are the missing link in the rehabilitation and reintegration quotation despite being in a position to break the cycle of violent extremism. Therefore, it is not only the VEOs that we must focus our efforts into, but also the wider network of people who are associated with and affected by violent extremism.

As with the groups, the initiatives developed for P/CVE must also address a wide range of needs, including psychological, vocational, financial, educational, legal, religious, and communication aspects of both those receiving and those facilitating R&R. The R&R process must be seen holistically and take into account all aspects of the VEOs and the people carrying out the programmes. For example, the Indonesian Institute for Society Empowerment (INSEP) has implemented a programme on increasing religious leaders’ participation in the deradicalisation and reintegration of former VEOs. In focusing on this specific constituency, INSEP has managed to tailor their approach, tools, and engagement to particular needs of religious leaders and thus obtain greater ownership of existing R&R programmes as well as develop and implement their own ones. In order for these various needs to be met adequately, specific and sufficient training in each of these aspects must be provided for frontline staff in P/CVE working in R&R efforts.

Lastly, the next government needs to be open to re-evaluating indicators for success of P/CVE and rehabilitation and reintegration. Indicators must focus on the well-being of the recipients of R&R programmes. It cannot only be based on the number of attacks or VEOs caught. Evaluations must be rooted in how well VEOs are integrated within the communities that they eventually settle into and their actual ideological leanings and propensities for violence.

It is important to remind ourselves that P/CVE as well as R&R require collaboration from all members of society. It is not only the responsibility of government or authorities; each of us plays a crucial role in maintaining and promoting social cohesion and inclusivity - the remedy for any form of extremism.

Elida Izani is the Programme Executive at IMAN Research.


This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.



Muftiya Malaysia

by Afiq Mohd Noor
9 March 2018


Wacana Islam dan perempuan boleh dikatakan sebagai satu wacana yang agak kontroversial di mana-mana belahan dunia tidak terkecuali Malaysia. Kata orang, perempuan, yang membentuk lebih dari separuh populasi dunia seringkali di anggap sahabat yang sering dimusuhi oleh agama. Benarkah begitu? Jauh sebelum kedatangan Islam ke semenanjung tanah arab, perempuan sudah (terlalu) lama dimusuhi. Adat dan kebudayaan arab sebelum kedatangan Islam telah menempatkan perempuan pada posisi yang paling tidak manusiawi. Perempuan tidak dianggap sebagai manusia selayaknya lelaki, bahkan mereka dianggap seperti barang dagangan yang dimiliki lelaki dan digunakan semahunya. Perempuan dimarginalkan bukan hanya di ruang awam bahkan di ruang domestik, mereka dianggap membawa sial dalam keluarga dan masyarakat serta boleh diwariskan seperti barang. Masyarakat arab juga sangat terkenal dengan praktik ‘wa’dul banat’ atau menanam anak perempuan hidup-hidup kerana takut kecelakaan dek kerana perempuan. Kemudian Allah S.W.T mengutuskan Muhammad S.A.W untuk mereformasikan adat dan budaya yang telah lama berakar di dalam masyarakat arab.


Wawasan Egalitarian Qurani

Gagasan Al Quran dalam mereformasikan budaya dan sikap masyarakat arab dilakukan secara gradual (bi al tadrij). Perempuan mula diletakkan pada posisi yang sepatutnya dan diberikan hak-haknya sedikit demi sedikit. Dalam masa yang sama wawasan Al Quran yang egalitarian untuk memposisikan kesetaraan di antara perempuan dengan lelaki, hamba dengan merdeka mula di perkenalkan lewat firman-firman tuhan seperti – “Wahai orang-orang yang beriman, jadilah saksi yang adil kerana Allah dan janganlah kerana kebencian kamu kepada sesuatu kelompok menghalang kamu dari berlaku adil. Berlaku adillah kerana ia lebih dekat dengan taqwa” [Quran 5:8] dan banyak lagi pesan-pesan universal sebagai acuan reformasi bagi memperbetulkan hubungan sosial-kemasyarakatan, ekonomi dan politik masyarakat arab yang sudah lama rosak.

Tidak dapat dinafikan bahawa konsep Tauhid sebagaimana yang telah di singgung oleh ramai intelektual Muslim merupakan permulaan kepada konsep egalitarian yang cuba diperkenalkan oleh Al Quran. Semua makhluk – perempuan, lelaki, hamba, merdeka, arab atau a’jam (non-arab) adalah sama pada pandangan Allah dan yang membezakan nilai antara kita adalah taqwa atau lebih senang saya ertikan sebagai yang punya nilai kemanusiaan. Ini setarikan nafas dengan apa yang dikatakan oleh Ibn Qayyim – “Sesungguhnya syariah itu dibangun atas dasar kebijaksanaan dan kemaslahatan manusia kini dan akan datang. Semua hukum-hukum syariah seharusnya bersifat adil, rahmat, maslahah dan bijak. Maka setiap persoalan atau tafsiran hukum yang menyimpang dari dasar-dasar yang disebutkan di atas, bukanlah bahagian dari syariah…” [I’lam Al Muwaqi’in, Vol 3, hal.3]


Perempuan dalam Timbangan Syariah

Perjuangan Islam dalam memposisikan kesetaraan perempuan dengan lelaki bukanlah satu tugas yang mudah. Sudah pastilah terdapat resistensi dalam masyarakat yang umumnya sangat patriakal (maaf, saya masih menggunakan istilah ini walaupun ia dibenci oleh segelintir Islamis). Justeru Islam harus berkompromi dan memberikan akomodasi dengan struktur sosial, politik dan budaya masyarakat arab ketika itu. Sebagai contoh, isu kesaksian perempuan sebagaimana yang dinyatakan di dalam Surah Al Baqarah ayat 282 – “...dan persaksikanlah dengan dua orang saksi lelaki diantara kamu, dan jika tidak ada dua orang lelaki maka boleh seorang lelaki dan dua orang perempuan dari saksi-saksi yang kamu redhai, supaya jika salah seorang diantara mereka (saksi perempuan) lupa maka seorang lagi mengingatkannya..”

Perempuan yang sebelum kedatangan Islam tidak dianggap sebagai manusia bahkan lebih teruk layanannya dari seekor unta merah dan tidak diberikan ruang ditempat awam termasuk memiliki harta kini diberikan hak untuk menjadi saksi dalam urusan hutang piutang. Maka rasional Al Quran untuk menyamakan dua orang perempuan dengan satu lelaki dalam ayat di atas kerana ia bukan kebiasaan bagi perempuan-perempuan arab sebelum kedatangan Islam untuk memiliki harta dan terlibat dalam urusan awam. Sedangkan dalam ayat-ayat yang lain Al Quran tidak membezakan kesaksian lelaki dan perempuan, misalnya didalam masalah li’an (suami yang menuduh isterinya berzina) – “Dan orang-orang yang menuduh isterinya berzina, padahal mereka tidak dapat mendatangkan saksi-saksi lain selain dari diri mereka sendiri hendaklah dia bersumpah sebanyak empat kali dengan nama Allah bahawa dia adalah orang yang benar” [Quran 24:6]

Nah, ternyata kesaksian seorang isteri dinilai sama dengan kesaksian seorang suami dalam hal yang cukup berat membabitkan kehormatan dan keturunan. Tetapi sayang wawasan egalitarian Al Quran dalam menempatkan lelaki dan perempuan pada kedudukan yang setara tidak diteruskan oleh ulama klasik dan kebanyakan dari ulama kontemporari. Pengetahuan kepada struktur sosial dan sejarah politik masyarakat arab pra-penurunan Al Quran dan sewaktu Al Quran diturunkan adalah satu keperluan asas kepada ulama yang ingin menekuni teks-teks sacral agama. Al Syatibi di dalam Al Muwafaqat menyatakan – “..Sesiapa yang hendak mempelajari Al Quran dan Sunnah hendaklah memahami tradisi dan adat bangsa arab sewaktu Al Quran diturunkan dan ketika Nabi S.A.W menerangkannya kepada masyarakat. Mengabaikan tradisi dan budaya masyarakat arab ini akan menimbulkan kesulitan di dalam memahami misi besar Islam..”

Saya kira, kita dapat bersetuju bahawa kebanyakkan hukum-hakam fiqh seputar isu-isu perempuan masih berada di takuk lama. Perempuan masih lagi diposisikan sebagai kelas kedua atau lebih rendah dari lelaki walaupun realitinya, bilangan perempuan jauh lebih banyak di insitusi-institusi pendidikan tinggi di dalam dan di luar negara, mereka menyelesaikan universiti dengan nilai yang lebih baik dari kebanyakkan pelajar lelaki. Perempuan juga mengisi posisi-posisi penting di bidang pekerjaan, pembuat dasar dan polisi negara bahkan tidak keterlaluan saya katakan ‘overall performance’ perempuan lebih baik berbanding lelaki. Tetapi dari sudut keagamaan mereka dianggap “complimentary” kepada lelaki. Adilkah begitu?

Pada akhirnya, kita dengan berat hati terpaksa bersetuju bahawa perempuan yang melahirkan semua manusia (lelaki dan perempuan), menyusukan dan membesarkan kita semua dan membentuk lebih dari separuh populasi dunia terpasung kebebasannya di dalam pasungan agama. Benarlah, perempuan yang menjadi rakan baik agama sering dimusuhi oleh rakan baiknya sendiri dengan tafsiran-tafsiran agama yang menyudutkan perempuan di ruang yang tidak selayaknya. Saya tidak menyalahkan Islam, tetapi individu-individu yang merasakan mereka punya legitimasi bercakap bagi pihak Tuhan dan mengabsahkan penindasan berstruktur kepada perempuan.


Muftiya (Mufti Perempuan) untuk Malaysia

Saya cuba mengambil sikap pertengahan terhadap polemik yang timbul di antara ulama progresif dan ulama tradisional (maaf, bukan niat saya ingin mempromosikan istilah ini tetapi sebagai pemahaman mudah para pembaca) dalam isu-isu yang melibatkan perempuan dan syariah. Saya tidak bersetuju sekiranya kita bermudah-mudah dalam mentafsirkan nas-nas syariah semahunya tanpa pedoman dan hanya bergantung kepada kritik budaya masyarakat arab jahilyyah semata-mata dan dalam masa yang sama, saya juga tidak bersetuju sekiranya kita terlalu kaku, rigid dan takut untuk meluaskan dan mengkritik aturan-aturan yang ditetapkan oleh ulama klasik.

Menurut saya, para ulama, selain keperluan menguasai ilmu-ilmu alat dan perbahasan klasik, mereka perlu cakna dengan globalisasi, perubahan masyarakat dan ilmu-ilmu kontemporari supaya wawasan egalitarian Al Quran dapat dijelmakan dalam fatwa-fatwa dan hukum-hukum yang mereka keluarkan. Dr Ahmad Al Raysuni menyatakan – “..tidak diragui lagi, seorang mujtahid harus melengkapkan diri dengan ilmu pengetahuan dan kebijakan kontemporari yang perlu dia gunakan untuk mengeluarkan fatwa dan berijtihad” [Al Ijtihad: Al Nash, Al Waqi’, Al Maslahah hal. 59]

Perempuan di Malaysia telah menjawat pelbagai jawatan-jawatan penting termasuk menteri bahkan tidak canggung kalau saya katakan para mufti, hakim, ulama yang ada sekarang turut terhutang budi dengan guru-guru perempuan yang kerana-nya mereka menjawat jawatan penting dan mengurus umat ini. Kita sudah punya hakim-hakim perempuan baik di mahkamah sivil mahupun syariah. Saya kira sudah sampai masanya Malaysia melantik Muftiya (Mufti Perempuan) kerana saya percaya ramai ilmuan perempuan di Malaysia yang berkelayakan untuk mengisi jawatan ini.

Perlantikan Muftiya di Malaysia bukanlah sesuatu yang mustahil dan tidak ada halangan dari segi perundangan negara mahupun hukum fiqh. Imam Al Nawawi di dalam magnum opusnya Al Majmu’ Syarh Al Muhazzab yang menjadi panutan bermazhab di Malaysia tidak mensyaratkan mufti itu haruslah seorang lelaki. Intinya seorang mufti hendaklah seorang muslim atau muslimah yang mukallaf dan tsiqah (terpercaya), faqih serta berhati-hati dalam membuat keputusan. Nadiyah Al Umari dalam Al Ijtihad fil Islam menyatakan bahawa menjadi lelaki bukanlah syarat utama bagi menjadi mufti kerana sejarah Islam menunjukkan kepada kita para sahabat lelaki dan perempuan mengambil ilmu dan fatwa dari Aishah RH. Bahkan Muhammad Khairat di dalam Markaz Al Mar’ah Fil Islam menyatakan tidak menjadi masalah sekiranya seorang mufti itu adalah seorang hamba perempuan yang hitam dan bisu asalkan dia berupaya menerangkan fatwanya kepada mustafiy (orang yang meminta fatwa) dengan baik.

Satu penelitian akademik telah dilakukan oleh sekumpulan ahli akademik dari Universiti Islam Malaysia (USIM) tentang perlantikan mufti perempuan di Malaysia. Dalam penelitian ini mereka telah menjalankan kajian lapangan dengan mewawancara responden-responden dari Jabatan Mufti Negeri Selangor. Dapatan dari penelitian mereka sangat menarik. Secara asasnya tidak ada halangan dari sudut perundangan dan fiqh bagi perempuan di lantik sebagai mufti dan menasihati Sultan atau Yang Di Pertuan Agong dalam urusan keagamaan, tetapi menurut mereka tugas sebagai mufti mengkehendaki lebih dari urusan fatwa, seperti mengiringi Sultan atau Yang Di Pertuan Agong ke luar negara, berbicara empat mata dengan Sultan dan urusan-urusan di ranah publik yang akan menimbulkan fitnah kepada perempuan sekiranya dilantik sebagai muftia. Menurut mereka lagi, terdapatnya keharusan melantik perempuan sebagai mufti tetapi jawatan mufti secara ‘uruf telah sinonim dengan lelaki, sekiranya peluang ingin diberikan kepada perempuan, mungkin lebih sesuai sekiranya mereka di lantik sebagai timbalan mufti. [The Appointment of Female Mufti in Malaysia: An Analysis on The Views of Fatwa Members, Journal of Fatwa Management & Research].

Mungkin di lain kesempatan, kita boleh meneliti secara kritis fenomena ‘fitnah’ perempuan ini sebagaimana yang difahami dalam teks-teks fiqh klasik dan adakah ruang untuk rekonstruksi makna ‘fitnah’ yang dilihat tidak menindas dan mematikan peran perempuan di ruang publik. Namun, maudhu’ perlantikan muftiya atau mufti perempuan di Malaysia bukanlah sesuatu yang mustahil.

Sebelum saya mengakhiri tulisan ini, suka saya mengingatkan diri saya dan setiap lelaki di dunia ini, walau apa pun pangkatnya pasti dia tidak lebih baik dan mulia dari ibunya sendiri yang kerana-nya lah dia ada di dunia ini. Bahkan Ibn Hazm Al Andalusi menyatakan sekiranya sorang lelaki itu merasakan dirinya lebih baik dari Maryam, Aisyah atau Fatimah kerana dia lelaki sedangkan mereka perempuan, samada dia seorang yang bodoh atau bahkan kafir. Saya juga ingin mengambil kesempatan ini untuk mengucapkan selamat hari perempuan antarabangsa untuk semua perempuan di luar sana dan kepada bakal Muftiya Malaysia.


Afiq Mohd Noor merupakan penyelidik di IMAN Research. Dia sering mengikuti wacana politik tanah air di media social.


Ini adalah pendapat pengarang dan tidak semestinya mewakili pandangan The Affair.



Mahathir’s Second Coming

by Badrul Hisham Ismail
28 February 2018

—This article was first published in Thinking ASEAN, issue 32/February 2018


Politics is an old man’s game, and in Malaysia, it appears to be exclusively so. Most top leaders in Malaysian politics are well over the retirement age, from both ends of the political spectrum. And then there’s Mahathir. Approaching a century old, Mahathir has been active in politics since before Malaysia’s independence, with the climax of his career as the longest-serving Prime Minister. His career did not shy away from controversy, and he was accused of being a dictator, manipulative, etc. He stepped down as Prime Minister of Malaysia in 2003. But even after his retirement, he maintains to be a key and controversial figure in local politics; commenting on current issues and the state of the nation head-on in his trademark caustic way. It would seem that he’s entering another pinnacle in his career post-premiership, as the new leader of the opposition.

Nobody knows the real reason why Mahathir is back (or still) in politics. Some say it is to protect his legacy, some say it is to pave the way for his son’s political career, which is in limbo after being sacked from the Chief Minister of Kedah’s position. There are many who say he is truly honest and sincere in setting the country back on the right path. For the opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH), and their main supporters from civil society groups such as Bersih, Mahathir joining the coalition signals two things: they couldn’t decide on a leader after the absence of Anwar Ibrahim, and they lack the confidence in being able to perform better than the previous election.


Crisis in Leadership

Ever since Anwar Ibrahim was put back in jail, the opposition coalition have been facing a major leadership crisis. The coalition of civil society organizations and politicians, connected by their trust and belief in Anwar, is fraying by the day. Problems have risen, such as the intense disagreement between DAP and PAS, the internal fighting in PAS that resulted in an exodus and the creation of Parti Amanah Negara (AMANAH), and of course the very public quarrels within PKR’s leadership, to name a few.

Then there was the shadow of the previous General Election of 2013. The opposition coalition, known as Pakatan Rakyat (PR) at the time, won more than 50% votes, but failed to takeover the Parliament. More importantly, they failed to garner majority support from the Malay community. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak - how could they take over Putrajaya and rule this country sans Malay support?

This is where Mahathir comes in. Desperate to get someone who can hold the remaining opposition coalition together, and at the same time trying desperately to appeal to Malay voters, Mahathir became their saviour. His background, experience and statesmanship is the perfect recipe for the opposition’s goals. A new coalition was announced in 2015 - Pakatan Harapan (PH) - with Mahathir leading the pact.

While this has been claimed as a pragmatic step by the opposition coalition for the coming General Election, it also signals the unhealthy culture of personality-driven politics that continues to dominate the Malaysian political scene. For many opposition supporters, especially the youth, a vote for the opposition also meant a vote against the personality-driven, patronage culture that is embedded in local politics. PH’s new strategy is considered ‘bonkers’ by Malaysia’s youth, and serious questions on their viability as an alternative force of change have risen.

Whether Mahathir can galvanize Malay support towards PH is something that is yet to be proven. What is already happening, however, is the split among PH supporters. The idea of Mahathir joining the opposition, let alone leading them, doesn’t sit well with many people. This is proven by the fact that up until now PH machinery still has to convince their supporters that having Mahathir is a wise decision and strategy on an almost daily basis. For certain, this does not bode well for PH. They are spending more time and energy on persuading their members instead of promoting their manifestos and future plans for the country.


When Will The Old Man Just Stay Home?

The protest towards Mahathir and his new old crew, the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, is also manifested through the recent call to spoil votes. This is something that has happened during previous elections, but the call to spoil votes was never really picked up by anyone. However, this time there are more serious talks among the youths. The #Undirosak movement is gaining momentum, and is frightening the Opposition parties. The reality is that a huge chunk of opposition supporters are not happy with Mahathir’s presence and they have only themselves to blame.

In the past few elections, the opposition coalition have been focused on unseating the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN), at all costs, on the pretext that they are the better candidate to run the country. As flimsy and turbulent the coalition are, Malaysians long for a change and saw them as a viable option than the current ruling coalition. This is mostly due to the fact that the opposition politicians are not guilty of the crimes that the ruling party are accused of committing.

But with Mahathir and his crew in the picture, the situation is different.

Voters who are looking for a change do not see that Mahathir will bring the change needed. This is the dilemma the voters are in at the moment. As aptly put by the columnist Hafidz Baharom, Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan are like Samsung and Apple. “Apple runs on Samsung chips, and both models using the same batch of chips burst into flames due to a defect.”


Machiavellian Is His Operative

The question on Mahathir’s motivation still lingers. It is important for us to remember that instead of joining the existing political parties within the opposition coalition, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) or Parti Amanah Negara (AMANAH), Mahathir set up his own party - a Malay political party where all the key members are disgruntled UMNO members. BERSATU, as what the party is informally known as, can be seen as just another UMNO. Why did he do this? Does he have no trust towards the other parties? Does he think that by creating this new, UMNO-esque party, he can garner the much needed Malay support for the opposition? Again, we can only speculate. However, what he can do is something that we can ponder on. By being independent of other parties, Mahathir can operate on his own, collaborate and make deals with other groups. He can even leave the opposition coalition post-election, if it’s favorable for him. In Malaysian politics, Mahathir is the father of U-turns.

If this were to happen, it will have an impact that will last beyond the 14th General Election. It will be more than just business-as-usual, status quo prevails. In a study done by IMAN Research, Malaysian youths have a high level of cynicism towards politics in the country. Their trust towards the political process have dropped after the previous General Election. At the same time, youths are feeling more disempowered and lack ability to make any changes. This recent development is only fueling into that perception, which will lead to further disengagement of youth in the political process.

The cynicism and apathy come as no surprise when all political contenders have made very little sustained effort to sell their vision of governance and progress (despite large-scale campaigns ala TN50, or Gabungan Kiri's Manifesto, PH's 2018 Shadow Budget). Beyond the stock pieties on good governance, equitable development, and shariah-compliance, it is unclear what exactly is the vision that voters are supposed to vote for this coming election, that would shift away from the country's still-communal politics.

Mahathir isn't the only one among the old guards who have not been able to position themselves beyond communalism and political patronage, the same line of thinking that affects younger Malaysian politicians. This arguably could be in response to the electorate's wish for change but only in doses that they are comfortable with, but it could also be a sign of the lack of desire for a total political change in the society.

For the upcoming General Election, the Malaysian voting population is expected to make a leap of faith and effectively choose between an opposition coalition increasingly driven by disgruntled former UMNO members, yet newly repented, and startled UMNO members who are trying their level best to protect and strengthen their hold on power. The title fight between Najib and Mahathir, grows increasingly ugly and overshadows the fresh and progressive ideas being expressed on all sides of the political field. This is something ironic, as Malaysia's elections is a parliamentary one, and theoretically to choose the party that the electorate feels best represents their interests. Yet the fight between personalities seem more in line with presidential elections, and basically forcing voters to select the candidate (and by extension party) that will bring less damage to the country.

The repercussion of this pickle that we’re in, is a high possibility of low voter turnout. Malaysia have always enjoyed high voter turnouts, with nearly 85% of registered voters came out to vote in the last General Election. Looking at the development of the current climate, this might not happen. As a result, as analysts have pointed out, we might see the ruling coalition regaining a two-third majority in the Parliament. And, whichever side of the political spectrum one is at, this is not a good development for the country.

Badrul Hisham Ismail is the Program Director at IMAN Research.


This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.



Deklarasi Kuala Lumpur dan “Hak Kepada Bandar”

by Badrul Hisham Ismail
22 February 2018


Pada 7 ke 13 Februari yang lalu, Kuala Lumpur dengan gayanya telah menjadi tuan rumah kepada World Urban Forum (WUF) ke-9. Forum yang diadakan oleh UN-Habitat ini adalah satu perjumpaan global di antara penggubal dasar, pemimpin kerajaan tempatan, badan-badan bukan kerajaan serta para pakar daripada bidang pembangunan bandar dan penempatan manusia, untuk berbincang tentang perkara-perkara berkaitan dengan urbanisasi dan pembangunan mampan. WUF9 bertemakan “Bandaraya 2030, Bandaraya untuk Semua: Melaksanakan Agenda Perbandaran Baharu”, dan menitik beratkan Agenda Perbandaran Baharu sebagai satu alat dan langkah yang penting dalam mencapai matlamat pembangunan mampan. Hasil perbincangan di antara semua pihak berkepentingan yang hadir pada WUF9, sebuah deklarasi yang digelar Deklarasi Kuala Lumpur telah termeterai, sebagai bukti komitmen mereka ke atas perlaksanaan Agenda Perbandaran Baharu tersebut. Secara langsung, deklarasi ini akan memberi impak kepada penduduk Kuala Lumpur serta bandar-bandar lain di Malaysia, dan boleh membuka ruang-ruang pendemokrasian yang harus dimanfaatkan para aktivis dan rakyat Malaysia.


Deklarasi Kuala Lumpur dan Agenda Perbandaran Baharu

Seperti yang disebut di atas, deklarasi yang disediakan oleh peserta WUF9 yang terdiri oleh pihak kerajaan dari pelbagai negara, badan-badan bukan kerajaan, warga tua, wanita, anak muda, golongan berlainan upaya, sektor swasta, golongan akademia, organisasi-organisasi internasional dan regional, serta pihak-pihak berkepentingan yang lain, menunjukkan komitmen mereka semua untuk melokalisasikan dan mempercepat perlaksanaan Agenda Perbandaran Baharu sebagai pemangkin untuk mencapai pembangunan mampan. Komitmen ini secara terang-terangan tertera di dalam deklarasi tersebut, di mana peserta WUF9 sebulat suara “menggalakkan perumusan rangka kerja perlaksanaan Agenda Perbandaran Baharu pada setiap peringkat.”

Agenda tersebut merupakan dokumen yang terhasil daripada persidangan Habitat III yang berlangsung di Quito pada tahun 2016. Dokumen ini adalah hasil daripada perundingan 197 buah negara di dalam Pertubuhan Bangsa-bangsa Bersatu (PBB) yang bertujuan untuk memberi garis panduan yang menjodohkan proses perbandaran dengan pembangunan mampan. Di Malaysia, Menteri Kesejahteraan Bandar, Perumahan dan Kerajaan Tempatan Tan Sri Noh Omar, sewaktu melancarkan dokumen ini di Kuala Lumpur, berkata “Agenda ini menawarkan satu anjakan paradigma dalam cara kita berfikir, membina dan mewujudkan rantaian rakan pembangunan dalam menguruskan bandar- bandar pada masa akan datang secara holistik dan mampan. Dokumen Agenda Perbandaran Baharu ini berbentuk kenyataan politik yang akan mencorakkan hala tuju berkait dengan kemampanan bandar dengan menjadikannya lebih inklusif, selamat, berdaya tahan dan sejahtera.”

Selain itu, agenda yang mendapat sokongan penuh daripada Deklarasi Kuala Lumpur ini juga menitik beratkan perkembangan demokrasi dan pemeliharaan hak asasi manusia sebagai aspek penting dalam mencapai pembangunan mampan. Perkara yang paling menarik perhatian di dalam agenda ini adalah perkara 11 yang merujuk kepada berikut:
“Kami berkongsi wawasan bandar untuk semua, merujuk kepada penggunaan dan keceriaan bandar dan penempatan manusia yang sama, yang cuba menggalakkan keterangkuman dan memastikan semua penduduk, generasi masa kini dan masa depan, tanpa sebarang bentuk diskriminasi, dapat mendiami dan menghasilkan bandar dan penempatan manusia yang adil, selamat, sihat, boleh diakses, berpatutan, berdaya tahan, dan mampan, untuk memupuk kemakmuran dan kualiti hidup untuk semua. Kami perhatikan usaha beberapa negara dan kerajaan tempatan untuk menyemadikan wawasan ini, yang dirujuk sebagai hak kepada bandar, dalam perundangan, perisytiharan politik dan piagam mereka.”


Hak Kepada Bandar

Penting untuk kita melihat dengan lebih terperinci apa yang dimaksudkan dengan hak kepada bandar serta implikasinya ke atas penduduk. Konsep yang digubah oleh Henri Lefebvre, seorang ahli falsafah dari Perancis ini bermaksud “tuntutan terhadap transformasi dan pembaharuan akses kepada kehidupan bandar.” Konsep ini diperincikan lagi pula oleh David Harvey, professor ulung dari City University of New York, yang mengulas “Hak kepada bandar adalah lebih daripada sekadar kebebasan individu untuk mendapat akses kepada sumber-sumber di bandar: ianya adalah hak untuk mengubah diri dengan mengubah bandar. Ianya bukan sekadar hak individu tetapi merupakan hak rakyat bersama kerana transformasi ini tertakluk kepada kuasa kolektif untuk membentuk semula proses urbanisasi.”

Menurut Harvey, kebebasan penduduk bandar untuk melakukan perubahan positif ke atas bandar yang didiami mereka merupakan hak asasi yang sangat penting. Penduduk bandar berhak mendapat kuasa untuk membentuk proses perbandaran, melalui proses-proses demokrasi yang bergariskan keserataan dan hak asasi manusia. Hak-hak ini juga yang telah diiktiraf oleh 197 buah negara melalui Agenda Perbandaran Baharu, termasuklah Malaysia.

Harvey, Agenda Perbandaran Baharu, dan Deklarasi Kuala Lumpur mengiktiraf betapa pentingnya peranan kerajaan demokratik dalam mewujudkan bandar yang berfungsi penuh dan mampan, dan melalui konsep hak kepada bandar, semuanya juga mengiktiraf hak penglibatan penduduk bandar dalam memastikan proses ini berlangsung dengan adil dan saksama. Persoalannya, bagaimana caranya untuk penduduk bandar menggunakan hak ini?

Terdapat banyak cara untuk melibatkan warga kota dalam proses pembangunan bandar, samada daripada sudut penggubalan dasar nasional, atau juga daripada intervensi-intervensi peringkat komuniti. Antara pendekatan yang sedang sohor kini di banyak kota adalah melalui participatory planning atau perancangan bersama. Ada juga yang melalui aktivisme seperti pergerakan penduduk di Greenwich Village, NY yang membantah pembangunan lebuhraya yang direncana memotong masuk kawasan perumahan mereka. Seperti di Kuala Lumpur pula, usaha-usaha daripada Think City untuk memberi nafas baru kepada bandar KL dengan mendanai program-program yang diajukan oleh warga KL merupakan satu langkah positif dalam memberikan hak penduduk kepada bandar.

Walau bagaimanapun, satu aspek yang sangat penting dalam hak kepada bandar, yang tidak dimiliki oleh warga Kuala Lumpur, adalah hak untuk memilih pemimpin yang mengurus dan mentadbir bandar ini. Jika kita lihat semula, antara perkara yang dimaksudkan oleh hak kepada bandar adalah hak kepada penduduk untuk mengubah bandar, serta hak untuk membentuk proses perbandaran. Sudah tentu, ciri utama dalam merealisasikan hak ini adalah dengan memberi hak kepada penduduk bandar untuk memilih siapa yang akan menjadi pemimpin mereka. Dan sudah tentu juga, satu-satunya cara untuk memberi hak memilih ini kepada penduduk bandar, adalah dengan menjalankan pilihan raya kerajaan tempatan.


Pilihan Raya Kerajaan Tempatan

Pilihan raya kerajaan tempatan bukanlah suatu bendasing dalam sejarah Malaysia. Sebelum merdeka, Tanah Melayu pada ketika itu telah menjalankan pilihan raya ini di Pulau Pinang pada tahun 1951 dan Kuala Lumpur pada tahun 1952. Kedua-dua pilihan raya ini dijalankan untuk memilih ahli-ahli Majlis Perbandaran di kedua-dua bandar tersebut. Pilihan raya ini kemudian diteruskan di negeri-negeri lain sehingga tahun 1964, di mana ianya tidak lagi dijalankan atas sebab-sebab tertentu.

Menyentuh sedikit tentang pemberhentian pilihan raya kerajaan tempatan, antara alasan yang diberikan oleh kerajaan persekutuan adalah dengan membuat perlantikan ahli majlis secara langsung, pengurusan negara dapat dilakukan dengan lebih lancar kerana tidak akan wujud ketidak sefahaman antara kerajaan persekutuan dengan kerajaan tempatan. Dalam erti kata lain, pihak kerajaan persekutuan lebih mementingkan ahli majlis yang akan menjalankan agenda kerajaan persekutuan berbanding ahli majlis yang memperjuang kehendak penduduk tempatan. Dari sudut pandangan pemimpin politik barisan pembangkang pula, pilihan raya kerajaan tempatan juga boleh menggugat kedudukan dan mengganggu agenda mereka di peringkat negeri, khususnya di negeri-negeri di bawah pimpinan mereka di Selangor, Pulau Pinang dan Kelantan. Oleh kerana itu, walaupun ada sedikit usaha dan gesaan untuk mengadakan pilihan raya kerajaan tempatan oleh pemimpin politik pembangkang, ianya masih dielak daripada dilaksanakan oleh pemimpin politik di segenap pihak.

Akan tetapi, dengan pengiktirafan kerajaan Malaysia ke atas Agenda Perbandaran Baharu ini, serta pemeteraian Deklarasi Kuala Lumpur yang juga disokong oleh pihak-pihak antarabangsa, usaha ini harus diberi nafas baru dan disokong penuh oleh pemimpin-pemimpin politik di seluruh negara. Pentingnya untuk diadakan semula pilihan raya ini adalah kerana ianya merupakan satu kegiatan yang secara langsung dapat melibatkan penduduk bandar dalam pembentukan dan pembangunan bandar yang didiami mereka. Seperti pilihan raya umum, kegiatan ini juga dapat memastikan pemantauan ke atas siapa dan bagaimana bandar itu ditadbir, sambil menjamin ketelusan dan kesaksamaan. Ianya sejajar dengan aspirasi Agenda Perbandaran Baharu, seperti yang dinyatakan oleh Menteri Kesejahteraan Bandar, Perumahan dan Kerajaan Tempatan sendiri, “akan mencorakkan hala tuju berkait dengan kemampanan bandar dengan menjadikannya lebih inklusif, selamat, berdaya tahan dan sejahtera.”

Dengan mengadakan semula pilihan raya kerajaan tempatan, bukan sahaja ruang-ruang pendemokrasian akan terbuka. Selain daripada mewujudkan suatu persekitaran yang sihat dan mampan untuk penduduk bandar dalam menjalankan kehidupan seharian sebagai warga kota, ianya juga akan menjadi satu simbol komitmen kerajaan Malaysia ke atas Agenda Perbandaran Baharu dan Matlamat Pembangunan Mampan, lebih daripada hanya menjadi tuan rumah untuk WUF9, yang boleh menjadi contoh untuk negara-negara lain, dan memperagakan Malaysia sebagai sebuah negara yang progresif dan inklusif.

Badrul Hisham Ismail adalah Pengarah Program dan penyelidik di IMAN Research.


Ini adalah pendapat pengarang dan tidak semestinya mewakili pandangan The Affair.



Tourism Terraforming and its Insidious Consequences

by Aziff Azuddin
31 January 2018


Travelling has become the touchstone of modern middle-class aspirations. It is present everywhere: on social media feeds with enticing photographs and films that speak about escapism of the local mundane and into uncharted adventures. To travel is be enlightened and to broaden one’s perspectives through invaluable experiences. While swimming in this euphoric ocean, we often overlook the consequences of travelling, and whatever we choose to label ourselves as when we travel when we visit a land foreign from ours – we’re tourists. And as tourists, we engage with a state-constructed economic project that has both material and abstract consequences.

Tourism can transform a nation or localities’ economy. In 2017, tourism contributed RM73.3bil to Malaysia, making the industry the country’s third-largest economic contributor. And in an economy where the locals’ highest concern is economic security and cost of living – a reliance on foreigners to generate national income can be a promising policy. This tourism tax introduced last year is a realisation of that, with the Ministry of Tourism estimating an annual revenue of RM210 million. Apart from enriching both the local and national economy, it also provides its citizens with a source of pride. The investment in local landmarks, museums, entertainment, food, and culture can boost one’s sense of identity, history and belonging and become a social currency that can be presented to external parties.

We see this in the promotion of often mundane local landmarks such as lighthouses, alleyways, and homes that to “outside eyes”, holds little significance beyond superficial cultural appreciation and an Instagram photo. But embellish it with historical context, then it suddenly becomes a source of lore and pride. Suddenly, it means something. Sometimes, sites of tourism are artificially manufactured; a contemporary landmark to draw in visitors. We see this materialise in theme parks or the countless shopping malls that mushroom throughout the Klang Valley – monuments that hold limited social benefits to locals but provides tourists with a site of entertainment or leisure. Tourism then, beyond pride, offers little for the local landscape that it is built on. This brings me to reflect on my recent observation in Venice, Italy.

In the middle of the high street Rio Terà Lista di Spagna, there was graffiti, spray-painted in blood-red: TURIST FUCK OFF! in a haphazard and angry scrawl. The canvas it was spray-painted on was an ancient landmark undergoing restoration. Incidentally, passing tourists, to whom the message was directed – saw the public declaration, simply laughed and either took a photo or dismissed it entirely. This spectacle encapsulates in entirety the relationship and response foreign tourists have towards the locals. Tourism reaps undeniable economic benefits, but what it also imposes is a terraforming effect onto the locality. For this terraforming to occur, there must exist two factors: 1) an economy driven by tourist needs and expectations, and 2) material and symbolic icons.


Tourism-driven Economy

Tourism terraforming has consequences for the local cultural and economic landscape. Take an observation in Venice again, for example. Behind its muted stone walls and spaces are hotels, apartments, trinket stores and restaurants aimed at tourists. Rarely does one find business institutions serving the needs of locals. We see this happening as well in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur: where luxury brands in high-end malls, the Middle- Eastern-inspired Arab Street and clubs and bars are intended to draw in tourists, expatriates and affording locals. This terraforming involves importing elements that are foreign into the locality, i.e. clubs and bars, which before tourism intervention, would have been cordoned or rejected themselves by the locals.

One would imagine that clubbing, bars and alcohol, decades ago – did not occupy much space in cities and were limited to specific enclaves. But the influx of Western tourists, with demand for entertainment and cultural comforts so used to in their own countries, forced local states to establish and reproduce these “foreign culture” institutions. One, to accommodate tourist culture and their wants. Two, to find more ways to drive the economy by extracting profits from financially-abled tourists. What this does is also carve out new occupations residing in these foreign cultural institutions to accommodate tourists. The darker side of this economic drive produces a vice economy, populated by prostitution and drugs. Kuala Lumpur’s flesh trade, as it is termed, is targeted towards expatriates, tourists and the local wealthy. There are tangible negative social impact onto locals, but both their livelihood and concerns are secondary to the profits of tourism. Even police crackdowns can do little to contain this flesh trade that reacts to the growing tourism industry.

Moreover, foreign cultural institutions like bars, pubs and clubs introduce an alternative lifestyle and open up the locals to the social consequences that come along with it. This is a widely-debated argument that has been discussed publicly over the decades, attached with the term, budaya kuning, negative culture brought about by the incorporation of Western liberal values, culture, and lifestyles. An example was the conservative backlash towards the 2017 Better Beer Festival. The opposing parties drew a religious and cultural line against what was perceived to be a Western-inspired alcohol-focused Oktoberfest, citing moral indecency that follows alcohol consumption.

To return to cost of living, while Kuala Lumpur recently ranked a low-212 in the list of expensive cities for expatriate living, a monthly expenditure between RM2000 to RM7200 monthly (depending on your marital status), is still a hefty price to pay. There is no coincidence then, that cities and central living can only be afforded by wealthy locals, expatriates or short-term tourists; those with capital to spend. In the end, locals are driven out by the very economy that was intended to benefit them Of course, tourism terraforming should be acknowledged not as the sole cause of rising cost of living, but certainly plays a contributing factor.

If we cast our attention away from the middle and upper-class, tourism terraforming, and its construction of foreign institutions introduces working-class migration. It is not unusual to observe that both cities and sites of tourism have migrants employed within a service or sales capacity. These working-class migrants are usually from lower-economic tiered nations, and as argued by locals – transform the cultural and social landscape of the locality by introducing customs and cultures from their home countries, in a way different than traditional tourism terraforming does. These migrants come with a promise of economic opportunity where their home country has denied them – and often willingly relegate to social and economic positions even locals consider below their pride and dignity.

One only needs to walk through the Petaling Street market in Kuala Lumpur and haggle prices with Indonesian migrant workers who peddle counterfeit shoes and bags, and later during lunch nearby be served by a Bangladeshi waiter. The tourists’ general point of on-the-ground interaction will likely be with the working-class migrants. Is it then any wonder that locals would become hostile towards immigration, and consequently, an industrial and tourism economy that produces these consequences? This overlaps with another issue of how capitalism, exploitation, abuse, and migration intersect in modern Malaysia, an explorative subject for another time.


Material and Symbolic Icons

A consequence not often discussed is the caricaturising effect of tourism, or what we can identify as easily-recognisable material and symbolic icons. These icons and images are often state-constructed, and often feature local landmarks or commemorative items that one-dimensionally represent the localities’ culture. The epitome of this representation is present in Central Market, once Kuala Lumpur’s main community wet market converted into a one-stop tourist hub. Its shops peddle mass-produced rattan baskets, batik fabrics, Orang Asli masks, or Petronas Twin Towers laser-etched into glass paperweights. Even if the items are genuine crafted and artisanal, it is still nonetheless created to fulfil a representational role. This also extends to cultural experiences and localities curated by the Ministry of Tourism and their contracted agencies.

While these are tangible economic, cultural, and historical features – it does not capture, nor fully represent the locality. The state constructs them as a representation. A simplistic symbol for tourists to engage and believe they have then engaged with the locality in its entirety. There are parallels between these representations and what Franz Fanon argues in his postcolonial magnum opus, The Wretched of the Earth. Fanon argues an insidious form of subjugation where the colonial subject constructs an image of themselves, as how the colonisers would want to see them. In other words, we further encourage and play into the stereotypes of what foreigners expect of us. Tourism Malaysia’s 2017 “Malaysia Truly Asia” television advertisement is a media package of how the state constructs the Malaysian national to foreigners. It features luxurious resorts, golden beaches with azure waters, a woman meditating in a temple, an India-inspired train ride scene with happy locals, and elderly Malay men playing sepak takraw by a nondescript jetty to name a few. These are representations often not accessible to the average Malaysian, but one that presents a one-dimensional, if not almost deceptive illustration of the country – constructed for the benefit of tourists.

The consequence of this is both caricaturisation and crystallisation; trapping the locality within the confines of a defined boundary dictated by the state and economic-tourism demands. This approach lacks a more nuanced and finer reading of local culture and community. It is no surprise then that there is nowadays a contemporary strand of tourists who call themselves travellers or backpackers, and instead direct their objectives to genuine interactions with local culture and community. These neo-tourists define themselves by an anti-tourist identity and seek to escape the curated landscape dictated by both state and other community of tourists. This is reflected in Airbnb, the global accommodations platform announcing that it generated RM200.4 million in 2017 for the Malaysian economy, a company known for giving locals the autonomy to rent their properties to travellers and encourage engagement between the two.

There is a growing layer within the tourism industry that recognises this new breed of tourists and is readily accommodating to the change, selling local connections and non-curated experiences. But is this engagement by neo-tourists any different? Does their attempt to escape symbolic and constructed representations simply situate themselves in a meta-representational landscape that is itself a construction? In that perspective, no engagement can be truly claimed to be “genuine” as the landscape, both within and at its outskirts have been defined by both state, and unwittingly, its local community against their will. We see this in the many North Korea travel vlogs that attempt to interact with local community and culture, and “demystify” the constructions, but instead only continue to perpetuate it using language and imagery that suggests they’ve become insiders or have walked on a path not often charted.

In Edward Said’s Orientalism, he argues that knowledge-collection of the Eastern subject through academic study or even travelogues perpetuate the image of the Oriental; disregarding the subject as possessing dignity, history, and culture equal to their colonial knowledge-collectors. The Oriental becomes a subject for the West’s ends and goals. There is no better example of this than the recent outrage caused by the infamous YouTube vlogger Logan Paul whose recent video travelogues of Japan illustrates how he constructs the nation: the Japanese people as caricatures and the customs and cultures as an oddity. His foray into Aokighara, the Japanese suicide forest, is further example of the neo-tourist who seeks an uncurated experience outside the confines of state-constructed tourism, but ultimately perpetuates the iconography and symbolism. Logan, having committed all these faux pas for YouTube view counts and subscribers, further punctuates this point.


Where Next?

While we cannot deny that tourism plays an essential role in globalisation, and its benefits in economic gains, industrial development, and opportunities for cultural exchange – we can’t ignore the consequences of tourism terraforming that comes in the form of material (economic and social) and conceptual (identity and abstraction) repercussions. As one who enjoys travelling and finds pleasure in immersing in new cultural experiences, I believe that travel contributes to growth and exposure beyond one’s state and national borders. Occasionally, we cannot escape from participating in the tourist construction. But it is worth thinking critically about our impact as travellers or tourists to overseas nations who themselves view us as foreign, and potentially avoid contributing to tourism terraforming’s more insidious effects.


Aziff Azuddin is a freelance journalist passionate in engaging, documenting and dissecting the Malaysian sociocultural landscape. He is currently pursuing a Masters in sociology.


This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.



Blasphemy on Facebook: Challenges of Managing Sensitivities Online

by Lutfi Hakim
24 January 2018


Last year, there was an incident involving the local chapter of the atheist group Atheist Republic in Malaysia posted up a photo from their gathering in Kuala Lumpur on their Facebook page. The post attracted the attention of people outside that community in Malaysia. Their reaction shows us how potent sensitivities surrounding religion can be. The group’s page was inundated with comments and threats against their perceived apostasy, and the photo received prominent coverage in the Malay-language media. This was followed by official announcements by government ministers on the opening multi-agency investigations to track down the group.

The increasing degree of influence that social networks have around the globe today mean that issues such as these have to be given due attention, not only by academicians and civil society, but also governments and the companies that run those networks. The challenge lies in the fact that these networks operate across national boundaries which today means that they would have to ensure their compliance with the diverging national laws, including those that hamper the right to freedom of expression. To say that this poses a challenge, would be to grossly understate the situation, and definitely warrants further discussion and creativity for managing the many sensibilities and sensitivities that exist around the world.

Facebook offers us many opportunities for the study of the impact of algorithms that the company uses to present content to users. The huge amount of content uploaded by individuals, groups, companies and organisations mean that it is impossible for the increasing number of human moderators contracted by Facebook to sift through all of them swiftly within a reasonable amount of time. To ensure that the content that ends up in users’ content streams, Facebook’s ‘Newsfeed’, is appropriate, legal, and effective in sustaining users’ attention, the company uses algorithms to continuously rank, make visible, flag, and remove content based on data points that are generated by users’ and existing database of removed content.

It is obvious that it is no easy task for Facebook to keep its billions of users happy. There are vast cultural differences and sensitivities that need to be respected, yet at the same time the service has to be seen as a home for conversations to happen, free from the accusing eyes of a censor. This task is further complicated by the political complexities and pressure from governments that make the job of keeping the service of welcoming and safe place for users a monumental challenge.

The magnitude of this challenge can be seen in the sensitivities surrounding the issue of religion and belief. Blasphemy is a particularly contentious example. Statements that are considered blasphemous is still considered a crime in fifty-nine countries and statements that are seen as blasphemous can trigger strong reactions online and off, even when no official action is involved. Incidences related to blasphemy has led to the service being made accessible for short periods in Bangladesh and Pakistan in 2010. These threat of service interruptions weigh heavily on the company, and blasphemy related requests by governments are taken seriously even if they do not breach the service’s community guidelines.

It is not only countries that have a strong response towards content considered blasphemous, but users too react very strongly towards them. Besides online and offline outrage that has led to violence and loss of lives and property,users also organise themselves in some instances in a concerted way as vigilante moderators through public reporting campaigns. Content that are seen as blasphemous are frequently reported, and even when they do not clearly breach Facebook’s speech standards (i.e. not hate speech, demonisation), are removed from the service, and accounts that post such content can be suspended. Blasphemy can include strong insults to deities and practices, and rational arguments about the inexistence of god, or the mere expression of atheism, which means that potentially a wide range of expression can be circumscribed because it causes offence to religious individuals.


An example of a Facebook page set up to report anti-Hindu pages

Instructions for reporting Facebook pages on from a page set up to report anti-Islamic pages


India’s experience with blasphemy laws is an illustration of how laws can impact how Facebook decides on content on the website. India has laws on its statute that makes it a crime to make blasphemous comments, and the law has been invoked to remove and filter content from being made accessible in India without a proper hearing. Known instances of content removal and blocking of content include against groups that promote atheism and critical views on Hindu beliefs. The Supreme Court of India decided in 2016 that the proper interpretation of the Information Technology Act of 2000 that was in line with the protection of freedom of expression as enshrined in the Indian Constitution, required that governmental requests for removal of content need only be complied with if there is a court order, or if it was requested by an authorised government agency.

In the two-bench decision, the Supreme Court found Section 66A of the Act, which includes outlawing the communication of information that is meant to purposely cause annoyance and inconvenience. The Court ruled that the law failed to define terms such as annoyance and inconvenience, which could potentially impair the expression of “a very large amount of protected speech”.

The option for judicial review is not an option available in all jurisdictions. In authoritarian countries like Pakistan, where the will of the executive is not easily challenged, Facebook will have to comply with government requests for removal of content, on the basis of blaspheming, or other offences. Failure to comply will lead to a threat of a disruption of access to the service, which results in millions of users losing access to the service. Outside of China, North Korea, and Iran, Facebook is available and used by users in countries all around the world and despite these difficulties, has been valuable to minorities and disenfranchised communities to communicate with each other, and the wider public.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s 2018 pledge to ‘fix Facebook’ lists abuse, hate and interference by nation states as issues that require his personal attention, which suggests that Facebook has been listening to critiques on how the service currently operates. There is no easy solution to issues such as blasphemy when the service counts among its users both fervent believers and ardent non-believers. Zuckerberg had previously suggested that one solution was the adoption of default regional filters that would keep specific content away from users’ newsfeed in specific regions. However, as mentioned above, users do not only chance on content they disagree with, but also actively seek them out to report them for removal. Whether a more sophisticated filtering approach can mitigate the effects of such active reporting remains to be seen.


Lutfi Hakim is research lead at IMAN Research. His areas of interest include political thought and movements in Southeast Asia, community-based organisations, and digital media use in the region.


This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.



Mekong Review: Southeast Asia’s New Narratives in Old Media

by Mohd Izzuddin Ramli
17 January 2018


I was invited for a visit to the official venue of the George Town Literary Festival 2017 by Gareth Richards, an editor, bookseller and the co-curator for the festival. The festival’s director, Bernice Chauly and the co-curator, Pauline Fan were also present.

I arrived a bit later and was greeted by Gareth himself. There was a newspaper-sized paper folded under his armpit. I could not exactly guess what it really was. All I could see was part of an illustration that looked like Angkor Wat with a half revealed title, and that was enough to arouse my interest.

We toured the rooms in the old colonial building that is located at Gat Lebuh China for a few minutes just to get a clearer picture of the festival that took place later in November. We finished the tour and went outside for a puff. That was the moment when Gareth unfolded the paper he was holding and proudly showed to us, “Mekong Review”, as written on the front page.

“A quarterly literary magazine from the mighty river of Mekong” he introduced. “It is available in my bookshop for RM20”. I looked passionately at the magazine while he was describing and slowly flipping each page, scanning all the essays, book reviews, poetry and interviews. “This is a magazine that covers political and cultural issues in the Southeast Asia region, particularly Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, look at it!”.

My curiosity towards the magazine grew bigger not because of its contents that I had not had a chance to look at, but because of the physical presentation of it; the size, artworks, type of font, etc, all of the aspects that had contributed to the elegance of the print. I went home to dig for more information from its website. The next day I dropped by at Gerakbudaya bookshop and happily got myself a copy of each available issue.
“Penang literary scene would be more exciting with the existence of this magazine”, I thought as I walked out from the bookshop. “At least we have more stuff to read and more importantly, we can get to know our neighbours rather closely. The neighbours that we hardly ever talk to”.




A few months passed, I met a guy in his early fifties during a photo exhibition in Penang. He was sitting alone at a corner, unenthusiastically finishing his black coffee, though soon I found out that he had not yet found his real drink. He was dressed in a blue t-shirt with a red-patterned Cambodian scarf wrapped around his neck during the scorching hot afternoon, the kind of style that would be donned by mad writers. As I approached and greeted him, he stood up and introduced himself in Australian accent as Minh Bui Jones.

A former journalist, co-founder of The Diplomat and a beer aficionado, Bui Jones now edits the rising Phnom Penh-based magazine. He lives in Sydney, Australia but frequently finds himself sitting in Penang’s Antarabangsa-liked ‘bars’ and cafés everywhere in Southeast Asia and Europe. He drags his luggage full of Mekong Review, crossing streets and alleys, finding bookstores to place the magazine. Now the magazine has reached its international audience in prominent cities like Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi, Saigon, Singapore, Sydney, London, Stockholm and Los Angeles.

I pulled a stool and sat beside him. A small crowd of attendees were coming in and out, chitchatting while observing the photos that narrated the Malaysian underground punk music scene displayed on the wall. A ska-punk song was playing softly from another corner, cheering up the attendees. The rest of my visit at the exhibition was spent with him, talking about the magazine that I had just fell in love with, writing and our favourite drinks.

“Readers are becoming more technology savvy. E-books and digital publications are getting popular. Why did you choose to print while it is economically impractical?”, I asked Bui Jones after a few words of self-introduction.

“I love print.”, he answered.

“As a reader I love its physicality, the fact that I can hold it, take it with me wherever I go and pass it on to a friend. I love it also because it's uncomplicated, like it doesn't require electricity and I don't need to turn it on - it's just there.”

I took another sip of my coffee which started to taste bland. I nodded and let him share his thoughts. Conversations around us turned into white noise as I found myself listening to him. “For myself, I absorb better what I read when it's on paper. It's partly habit and partly the medium - there are no ads and distractions. When I read things off the screen I tend to skim read and I tend to rush through it, so sometimes there is pleasure in it at all”.

Bui Jones paused for a moment. His eyes were fixed on one of the pictures, I assumed his mind was elsewhere.
“As an editor, I love print because it's a medium that I understand and can relate to. Creating a print magazine comes naturally to me. It's like cooking your favourite dish; you don't have to think about it”, he said passionately.

“What I also love about the magazine is the history behind it. How many magazines were cultural products of their times, organs for political and social causes, often progressive ones. A magazine ought to embody a cause, a belief or at least a sentiment. As a journalist, I see a magazine as supplementary to a newspaper. The latter tells us what happened, the former why it happened.”

“But every time I cook without thinking, my dish would turn into a disaster!”, I interrupted jokingly.
Today, when mostly everything, from newspapers to books are digitalized, Mekong Review boosts our excitement of reading printed words on papers. This is even more obvious when Leonid Bershidsky in his article titled “How print beat digital in the book world” published in The Sydney Morning Herald summarizes that in 2016, the unit sales of printed books in the US increased by 3.3 percent while e-books appeared destined for an even bigger decline than the 14 percent drop registered in 2015.

The rise of print book sales and decline in e-books in the past few years is a good news for kindle-naïve readers like me. In Malaysia, despite the irony of censorship law that has been practiced since before the independence and the government attempt to adapt to a modern knowledge-based economy, the number of publication of materials in print form shows an increasing trend every year and accounting for more than 99 percent of total annual sales worldwide, as reported by Malaysian Book Publishers Association.

Started as a magazine with a relatively small editorial team, with the help of family and friends, and money was always brought up as the main constraint to run the magazine like other mega loaded fashion magazines, Bui Jones had to find his own ways. While subscription for digital version helps to pay the contributors, he still relies on friends to “smuggle” the printed magazine, crossing borders by land and sky to its destination, pro bono. Sometimes he delivers himself and words of mouth is the main method of advertisement.

“But you are now living in Australia. Why choose Southeast Asia as the focus of the magazine?” I wondered curiously.

“It is simply because of who I am and where I was living at the time when the magazine was created. I'm Vietnamese by birth and Australian by nationality. And although I have spent four-fifths of my life in Australia, the Vietnamese heritage has always been there and seems to grow stronger by the day”, Bui Jones dug deeper into his past.

“And I have lived and worked in Thailand and Cambodia, and travelled to Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia frequently. Each of these countries mean something to me. For instance, Malaysia was the country that my family and I landed in when we left Vietnam as refugees, as boat people. The Mekong Review was conceived and created when I was living in Cambodia, in 2015.”

“Is it a medium to connect countries, particularly writers in the region?” I asked. I wonder whether he has a bigger reason than just holding a physical copy, or if he aims to connect Southeast Asian countries and hunt local writers out of their hidings, the young and the established.

“That I can't say, because I don't know. I think Mekong Review, like other publications and cultural endeavours, by simply existing we are doing something, though what that something is it's hard to know. I get asked this question quite often and I really don't have an answer for it. Maybe if we're still around after 10 years I might have a better idea.”

For Bui Jones, creating the magazine that is getting well-known is not a walk in the park. He looks for potential contributors himself and let their creativity churn as the writers themselves decide what to write instead of assigning them with topics. This requires him to read and research on topics that he is unfamiliar with. The process excites him more than the final result.

“All I can hope is that people find us useful and interesting.” he added.

“Yes, you are!”, I praised.




After 3 years of its founder travelling around the region, shaking hands with people who have turned into the very building blocks of the magazine, now Mekong Review is found in every corner of Southeast Asia. Its horizon has expanded beyond mainland Southeast Asia to include Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, and its readers are scattered, waiting eagerly for the next issue, all across the globe.
And after a month of idle, I bumped into him again, crossing Kapitan Keling street walking towards Gerakbudaya bookshop. This time, he dragged a bigger luggage of Mekong Review, readied to be restocked at the shop.


Mohd Izzuddin Ramli is a writer and a translator. He works as an analyst at Regional and Urban Studies, Penang Institute.


This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.



Reflecting on The Curious Case of Siti Aishah

by Nicholas Chan
3 January 2018


The latest season of TV Thriller Homeland began with an ex-CIA officer trying to defend an American of Nigerian descent, Sekou Bah, who was arrested for terrorism-related charges using the controversial method of entrapment.

While Sekou is not guilty of what he is accused of, he is certainly not an inane bystander either. As a religious person angered by America’s foreign policy, he spewed hatred against America on the Internet, posting pictures of slain American soldiers, and appears to be implicitly supporting suicide bombing in Afghanistan and Iraq.

One can see that there is a lot of moral conundrum involved for the officer and it is commendable that a TV show did not try to sugarcoat any of it.

In fact, the series never gave a complete picture as to who Sekou Bah is. Is he a terrorist sympathizer, potential recruit, or just someone exercising his freedom of speech on questionable government actions? That is all left to the viewers.


Balancing ‘Checks and Balance’

The same conundrum was placed on Malaysians in the case of Siti Noor Aishah Atam, who was charged for a terrorism-related offence in court, first acquitted in 2016, but then re-arrested, re-trialled, and ultimately sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment by the Court of Appeal in December 2017.

The biggest controversy was her immediate re-arrest after the initial acquittal by the high court. It sparked an outcry by civil society organisations and political parties as on the surface, the case built by the prosecution that Siti was a ‘terrorist’ based on her alleged possession of 12 books appeared to be a weak, if not facile attempt.

But as more information surfaced, it was revealed that Siti was linked to at least two identified Islamic State (IS) operatives.

One was former University Malaya (UM) lecturer-turned-militant Dr Mahmud Ahmad, who was reportedly killed during the siege of Marawi in Southern Philippines in October 2017. Dr Mahmud was said to have helped secure funding and recruit Malaysians for the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) faction led by Isnilon Hapilon that has pledged allegiance to IS and had joined the fighting the Marawi with militants from ASG and the Maute group.

The other was Muamar Gadaffi Mohamad Shafawi, sentenced to jail in 2014 for providing military training to IS recruits.

The former was an academic mentor to Siti during her time as a Masters student in UM, while the latter at one point had wanted to marry Siti but was rejected by her father. The couple may have planned to travel to Syria, sources said.

Given such information, there is indeed much to reflect on what should be deemed a terrorism offence and more importantly, how should such cases be handled to neutralise any potential physical threat that can be posed by the individual and his/her associates, and prevent more cases of radicalisation into violent extremism like this happening.

A major takeaway from Siti’s case is that a high degree of public exposure can result in a polemical situation which on one hand complicates the authorities’ work and on the other, stigmatises the family involved.

Also, the failure to prosecute that was followed by the re-arresting of a supposedly acquitted individual would risk encouraging the individual’s further retreat from public life and the growth of more anti-establishment thoughts in isolation.

However, this should not be taken as the indication that Malaysia should move back to the Internal Security Act (ISA) days where detention without trial was conducted with very little information available to the public and recourse for those detained, be it rightly or wrongly so.

Instead, considering that successful CVE efforts require strong police-public cooperation, it is vital that the authorities maintain a high standard of forensic stringency as well as adherence to the rule of law to gain the confidence of the courts and the public.

To be fair, Siti’s initial acquittal is an exception rather than the norm as the Malaysian courts have convicted over one hundred suspects of terrorism-related offences, according to Malaysia's anti-terror chief Ayob Khan.

The public, while rightly pressing for more transparency from the authorities, should also be mindful not to over politicise such issues because lowering the morale of the police and pushing them towards more obscurity in their work is a ‘no-win’ situation for everyone. There should be a degree of maturity in accepting and discussing the complexity of such cases.

Police work needs checks and balances no doubt, but the acts of checking and balancing have to be based on balanced reasoning too. Martyrs should not be made just for sensationalism’s sake.


Rethinking Radicalisation

Nevertheless, preventing future radicalisation cannot be solely dependent on law enforcement. After all, if that works, Malaysia’s relatively heavy punishment on terrorist-related offences would have been a good-enough deterrent. For instance, Gadaffi, one of Siti’s associates, had his jail sentence tripled to 15 years in 2016.

Yet, that has not been the case. An upward trend of arrests by the police is recorded on a yearly basis.

Hence, there is a need to reexamine some of our simplistic assumptions about the radicalisation process. Some still place the blame on reading ‘wrong’ religious books.

In the aftermath of Siti’s case, I believe the more critical question to ask is, what prompts a person to venture so deep into such materials, especially in Malaysia where the average person only read two books a year (Siti was accused of owning 12 terrorism-linked books)?

True that on the surface, Siti looks like your typical gullible subject; coming from a poor family, shy, later encountering what appears to be charismatic and driven men.

Yet, this idea of the passive female subject that is coerced, deceived, and charmed into joining Islamist militant groups is increasingly challenged in terrorism studies.

While it is true that gender-stratified roles exist within jihadist groups, the finding of female participants in active roles such as combatants, suicide bombers, facilitators and fundraisers in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and even neighbouring Indonesia makes examining radicalisation with a male-bias anachronistic to recent developments.

Similar proactive-ness can be seen in Malaysia. In 2014, a housewife and a widow were found to be recruiting females to join IS in Syria. Solo female travelers have been caught in their journey to join the self-proclaimed ‘Caliphate’ in Syria. One of them was a 14-year old who almost boarded a plane with the intention to marry another radicalised Malaysian student in Cairo before setting off to Syria. 

The usual patriarchal standpoint tends to portray these women as being love-struck and tricked into a circumstance they often found too late to reverse. But it is also as likely, if not more likely, that these individuals, taking the risk of being lone travelers to a foreign and dangerous land, are people wielding considerable agency of their own lives. For the 45 female Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong said to be linked with IS, choosing the ‘radical’ path might be the only agency they could ever wield living a marginal, lonely, and exploited life.

Siti could be another case of an agentic person. Unlike the typical profile of a jihadist whose religious training are meagre at best (and that includes the now deceased infamous Malaysian IS militant, Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi), she was a graduate of a religious school at the secondary level, then went on to an ‘Islamic’ college in Kedah before starting her Masters in Usuluddin (Islamic Studies), most likely where she met Dr Mahmud.

While such claims will need more evidence to substantiate, Siti appears to be an individual who’s driven to active (religious) knowledge seeking rather than a mindless imbiber of information from others. Her said possession of the books is an indication of this.

Even if one does not wish to downplay the influence of Mahmud or Gadaffi, it is also not helpful to treat them as larger-than-life puppet-masters who can radicalise anyone, anytime they like. Predisposing factors must have been present already, and the mentor-disciple relationship is likely to be more towards mutual-attraction and reinforcement rather than the one-way traffic we are prone to believe.

To be sure, this article’s invitation for us to accept and ponder the complex is not meant to foster inaction and indecisiveness about the situation. It is, rather, the prying open of a window to ask difficult but necessary questions.

Perhaps, instead of asking what is wrong with them, we should also ask, what is wrong with us as state, society, and nation? How has the ‘enemy’, one of the most vilified groups in the Muslim and non-Muslim world, manage to win our youths over?


Nicholas Chan is a co-founder of and now an associate at IMAN. He is currently a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge. He is interested in the intersection of authoritarian politics and political violence, as well as modernity and iconoclasms.


This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.



*Free (*Conditions Apply) — Unraveling the Curtains
Over Urban Privilege

by Benjamin Loh
27 December 2017


As scholar, I’ve always been keen to understand how regular people make sense of the entertainment media they consume. I look at how media piracy’s persistent presence in the average Malaysian’s media diet has changed the way people see and place value on their entertainment. From interviews conducted with local consumers from urban areas, I’ve encountered a variety of characters including someone who’s perception of piracy was so skewed, she considered legitimate services like Netflix to be pirated media.

While I was not particularly surprised by how candid and open my participants were with regards to their use of pirated media, quite a few opined that entertainment media was effectively “free” due to the presence of piracy. If you wanted to watch something, someone out there would have graciously made it available on the Internet for anyone to access with no fees. Yes, the power of the Internet has democratized the modes of access to entertainment and in a way removed the barriers of cost and made it into a public good.

The findings from these interviews yielded interesting data for my own work, as it shed some light into common media practices. Yet, upon closer inspection, I noticed some glaring flaws in this understanding of the entertainment media ecology that revealed the extent of not just my participant’s privilege, but my own as well.

Pirated media is not truly “free”, nor will it ever be. While the media product itself may be acquired without an exchange of funds, reaching this point requires a sizeable list of structural and material scaffolds to enable this act. This article presents how the simple act of watching “free” pirated TV shows varies greatly between people in an urban environment and others who live outside these urban centres. This act is achieved in two parts: getting the equipment to watch it and using an access method to acquire it.

The basic equipment that you use to watch TV shows is the most obvious form of privilege that comes from having access to wealth. The more money you have, the bigger your viewing screen with even more pixels to make your viewing experience as crisp as possible. You can further embellish your viewing experience by investing in a home theatre setup or soundproofing your room so you can burst your eardrums at your own whim. Less obvious forms of privilege are just the fact that your choice of devices to purchase are often the result of having access to shops and marketplaces. Living in a populated urban environment gives you great access to shops that sell a huge variety of TVs, computers, smartphones, tablets, and media players. While online stores are bridging this gap, it still doesn’t beat being able to just go to a physical store, browse their selection and make an informed purchase there and then.

Another form of privilege is just the level of tech savvy that is needed to operate modern day media devices. Growing up in an urban environment exposes you to high tech devices from a very young age as you get exposed to modern day interfaces of computers, smartphones and the Internet. This base knowledge, which many take for granted, has been inculcated through years or decades of indirect learning via osmosis and presence. Folk in the periphery, enjoy no such background and have an uphill battle to learn and use modern devices. There’s a reason why these Android streaming boxes are growing in popularity as it levels the playing field for piracy between savvy and non-tech savvy consumers.

The access methods available for media varies greatly depending on where you live. Internet penetration in the country is steadily growing. According to our own department of statistics, the digital divide is slowly diminishing as the number of internet users has grown from just a little over 58% in 2013 to a rather respectable 71% by 2015. While impressive, the devil is in the details: the vast majority of people still use wireless Internet and are generally reliant on the use of mobile phones to stay connected. This is important because most wireless broadband plans often charge lower subscription fees with rather limited data caps as opposed to fixed Internet broadband services that are usually more expensive but allow unlimited access. Access to fixed Internet is also limited to the availability of these services (based on infrastructure and population density) which makes it even more of an urban boon. This has an effect on piracy since the preferred method to view pirated media online is through pirated streaming sites (which are easier and more accessible than regular download sites), and when one is counting the number of downloads they have per month, that is a luxury they can’t afford to use despite it being free online.

These two steps aren’t the only forms of privilege as another more subtle form exists as a result of the large divide between urban and non-urban: pure exposure. Being in an urban environment allows one to be directly and indirectly exposed to a multitude of media, especially foreign. Not just limited to Western media, these include the ever popular media from India, China, Japan and more recently South Korea. Whether they be discussed over the Internet or social media, or easily accessible through various online services, urban audiences can easily immerse themselves into each of these genres with ease.

Audiences outside the urban centres do not get that luxury, and when combined with their lack of access and equipment necessary, makes just finding entertainment a laborious task. In a study conducted by Princeton University, they found that impoverished households often have higher levels of stress as their thoughts are often filled with worry and concern over their financial situation, which greatly burdens their mental ability to engage in anything else, especially hedonic entertainment. As my participants mostly noted, entertainment is rather frivolous and optional in your life; if finding entertainment is going to be onerous, then whatever’s available on regular television is going to be enough and non-urban media user diets will stagnate or revolve only around what is available over local terrestrial television.

So what has engaging in an illegal form of media access have to do with privilege? Well, to be frank, everything. When you have privilege, it indirectly influences even the most simple and trivial of activities such as watching something “for free over the Internet” - this activity is the net result of privilege that most people take for granted. It is these simple things, that urban folk take for granted that is slowly, but surely, increasing the divide between the highly urban, globalized liberals with the rural conservatives.

The Trump presidency and Brexit are two examples of how those with the privilege of access and knowledge fail to account for those that do not share those same privileges. Without these privileges, old ideas and values will persist and any attempt to change them (especially with disdain or condescension) will just make them hold on to it closer. I cannot help but notice a similar situation happening in Malaysia with the general elections playing out like a game of tug-of-war between the urban opposition and the rural incumbents. It can be easy to blame those who lack knowledge or exposure for voting against their own interests, but again, that kind of talk betrays this very privilege. Just visit one of the many forums or comment sections of various Malaysian sites and the blame game is strong with people accusing voters from rural areas including that of Sabah and Sarawak (which have their own set of issues with privilege as well).

Being aware of your own privilege is not just about acknowledging that you have it, but understanding how it has affected your way of thinking and behaviour. Further reflection is also needed to understand how the lack of this privilege may influence your world views and opinions. While I provide the example of accessing “free” pirated media here, the presence of privilege has great impacts in how people think about their next meal, the clothes they buy, what time to wake up in the morning or even just deciding to use public transportation. It’s easy to think in absolutes about the less fortunate, but it can be downright shocking if you think about it in just the day-to-day activities.

In other words, it’s not just about imagining yourself in someone’s shoes, but includes their socks, pants, and lives. There should not be a divide between urbanites and those from rural areas, but rather it should be a growing process to ensure that the benefits are not just reaped by the few in cities but shared with all.

This is the reality that we as Malaysians face, but that is not fixed, nor is it determined by our government; we can break out of it and it starts with each of us taking a cold hard look at our own lives and finding ways to consolidate with our fellow countrymen.

Benjamin Loh is an avid scholar, part-time writer, and all-time computer gamer. From his love of computer games and visual media such as films and television, he has always had an interest in understanding how media technologies shape the cultures of people that use them which in turn changes society at large.

His current PhD research looks at how pirated media affects how regular people make sense of their media and how it affects their use of it. By understanding how Malaysians make sense of their use of media, Benjamin believes that will reveal better insights into contemporary society that will eventually bridge the digital divide of privilege.


This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.



We Can’t Talk About the Terrorists:
An Ethnography of Silence in the East Coast of Sabah

by Vilashini Somiah
20 December 2017


As an anthropologist, I see my work as necessary in gaining deeper and more insightful perspectives of how communities work and find meaning in their own existence which includes its inherent tensions and contradictions. It is an employment that requires thorough, objective observation, and simultaneously expects the ethical preservation of agency of those you study. And although I’ve always acknowledged the importance of studying Sabah’s suppressed narratives, it was only as an anthropologist that I found the intellectual fulfilment I so desired. It is a field that I’ve been in keen apprenticeship of for over seven years. This article highlights one of those narratives from my most recent time spent in the field.

My good friend Indah* and I were lounging on the veranda of her beautiful colonial home in Sandakan one hot April afternoon in 2016 when the conversation of alien danger began; the idea that foreigners are themselves the biggest cause of danger and malice in their host country. Although both of us were mostly unconvinced by this premise, our talk was solely inspired by the recent Abu Sayyaf sightings in Sabah waters, linked to the presence of hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants in Sabah.

Indah tells me her frustration on the matter boils down to how badly the matter is handled, which is due to the lack of trust authorities have for locals in the East coast of Sabah. “Vils” as she often calls me, “decent people live here. Real people just trying to survive. This town isn’t the danger zone but it’s been labelled one. Politicians think they’re protecting us, but we just get brushed aside. We should be involved too, you know.” I have always appreciated how Indah speaks so passionately about Sandakan. She, like many other residents I’ve met, feels deeply for the town, one that is rich in natural resources and history. I am empathetic and ask “Why can’t something be done about agency and leadership here?” Indah clicks her tongue in irritation.” No one wants to listen to the east coasters, Vils. They just think we’re sleeping with the enemy.”

Something in her tone made me believe her. In retrospect, I must have heard it on repeat from a variety of voices. My time spent conducting ethnographic fieldwork in the town had introduced me to many other participants that had in one way or the other highlighted the frustration of being politically invisible despite the active roles they take in combating possible extremism in their home. The conversations that follow were not easy to capture; not for the participants lack of eloquence, but simply due to their inability to openly trust, and thus, such frank exchanges about terrorism in Sabah are rare. It is my sincerest hope that this article is able to capture just an essence of the honesty and pride of the participants I’ve met.


Teaching for Safety

Teacher Mir*, a 31-year-old Sabahan of Orang Sungai descent, has dedicated almost a decade of his life to the education of undocumented children in Sandakan. Every morning before sun break, Mir has his breakfast at the church mess hall and bids his family goodbye before heading off 15 kilometres by van into the palm oil estates within the district. The journey takes much longer than it should as roads are potholed by lorries and hardly ever fixed.

Similar in vein to hundreds of learning centres throughout the east coast of Sabah, Mir’s learning centre aims to provide the most basic of elementary education for children otherwise rejected from our local schooling system. This particular learning centre hosts over 200 children and, together with Mir, are taught by 11 other teachers from the Sandakan and Kinabatangan district. One Tuesday morning sometime February this year, he invited me for an after-school tea session at the canteen. Conversations with Mir were always so engaging because he never self-censored and I appreciated that. As the discipline master, Mir has a reputation of never mincing his words and a stern demeanour. On his way over to the canteen, he waves his rotan (cane) at the children to behave but because school was over, the children run away from him, giggling.

We talked mostly about his students; sustaining children through the six years of education requires plenty of effort on the parent's part but job losses, village raids or deportation can hinder them from ever returning the following year. Before gulping the last mouthful of cold tea, I ask how he finds the motivation to continue teaching in such unpredictable conditions. He tells me, “I teach here to fight off terrorism for Sabah”. I found his dramatic answer surprising but altogether humbling. How does teaching counter the violence from the sea, I ask. By now our jovial chatter has given way to a strange heaviness and Mir continues:

“Aku bilang sama anak-anak, jangan durang jadi pangganas. Berabis kami cikgu-cikgu mengajar di skolah, ada pulak dia mau main timbak-timbak? Bardosa bah. Pangganas jadi bagitu krana teda durang dikasi pendidikan atau paluang dalam hidup. Walaupun sikit sja pemberian kami, biar ikhlas mau kasi anak-anak ini masa depan. Tapi Puji Tuhan, segala keringat kami ada juga untungnya. Teda budak-budak kami pernah terjebak dengan racun sabagitu.”

(I told the children, don’t become terrorists. The teachers here give their all to educate them and they want to go around shooting people? That’s a sin. People become terrorists because they weren’t provided education or opportunities. We can’t offer much, but at least these children now have a future. Praise God, our hard work has paid off. None of our students have ever joined such a poisonous act.)

Several of the teachers feel the same way. They see their work as an effort in countering terrorist activities in Sabah that have grown significantly present with the years. I acknowledge the importance of this view and suggest the teachers spread the word to other willing Sabahans, but they are hesitant. Mir’s 25-year-old colleague, Yasmin*, shares with me her thoughts:

“Di Sabah, paling sensitip punya isu ini lah- Abu Sayap atau ISIS. Pasal urang takut kalau-kalau durang sudah disini kah? Anak- anak di skolah mimang ndak salah, tapi mana tau kalau kawan atau kaluarga durang yang pendatang mungkin terjebak? Lagipun, kalau cakap kuat-kuat pun, nanti ditangkap krajaan bah. Jadi, diam-diam sajalah kami.”

(In Sabah, the most sensitive topic is that of the Abu Sayyaf or ISIS. Perhaps people are afraid if they're already here. The children here are innocent, but who knows if family or friends who are also irregular migrants might be involved? And if we talked about it publicly, the government might arrest us. It’s better to just keep quiet.)

Learning centres for undocumented children are constantly under the monitor of the state and will receive regular visits for an update on local problems and information on parents. This is to be expected and the teachers have always complied and given their fullest cooperation where it is ethical. Yet, Mir and his colleagues feel that no matter how they may contribute to the safety of Sabah, no one else, including himself, is brave enough to discuss the terrorist problem openly. “I want to talk about the kidnappings or Abu Sayyaf, but I don’t dare. Because we teach these children, we might be accused of knowing inside information, but I don’t. I’m frustrated because we feel we cannot discuss this openly in our own state.”


One Town, Two Worlds

I encountered a similar stance from Sakinul*, a 42-year-old Suluk businessman, and one of the first friends I made when I began work in Sandakan. For over 26 years, he has made a living from buying cheap fish and shellfish from the market and reselling them in estates and slums on the outer periphery of town. Communities that he frequents are that of irregular migrants, many of whom would not dare venture into town for fear of getting arrested.

On a daily basis, he is assisted by his second wife, an irregular migrant from Zamboanga and although he himself is Malaysian, their four children were given foreign birth certificates and told to return to the Philippines if they ever wanted to be documented. Sakinul tells me he worked very hard to make it happen but the costs (and risks) were too high. Thus, the children continue to live with the same irregular status as their mother. Due to this predicament, they are teased by their documented neighbours for being potential terrorists and this never fails to break their father’s heart.

Sakinul is in no way an isolated case. In fact, my time in the field has introduced me to a large number of Malaysian Sabahans who have or are currently cohabiting and leading domestic lives with irregular migrants or undocumented persons. On a cultural level (despite religious practice), a town like Sandakan is able to accept such union despite knowing the repercussions. However, the legal implications have not escaped them and I find many marriages between citizens and irregular migrants often living low-key lives, in hopes of avoiding the prying eyes and directed questions of the authority. However large these numbers may be, these family units remain vulnerable to accusations of threats and state security. Yet fascinatingly, it is these very same Sabahans who seem most invested in ridding Sabah of its terrorist problems. Similar to that of teachers at learning centres, their effort to combat extremist activists is a result of their close relationships with members of the irregular migrant community.

As such, Sakinul, one of my more trusted informants, would tell me via text of activities in town that I might be interested in. In the most recent of news, an Abu Sayyaf leader and his members were captured in Kuala Lumpur and never one to hide his disgust towards terrorism, Sakinul is frank about the lack of elucidation in the news. “I personally believe the reports are not complete,” he says, “people have so many questions about them. Can you believe they were from Sandakan? I’m suspicious of this! But we have to be careful with what we say around the market, or we might look suspicious too.” “But you could open a good discussion about this.” I mentioned over the phone. Exasperatedly, he tells me:

“Apa bulih bawak barbincang oh? Kau pikir pulis mau kami bising-bisingkah? Ini Sabah style bah, kalau barang ndak bagus, jangan bukak mulut kau. Duduk diam-diam, tapuk-tapuk sampai round two. Kalau kau Suluk, berbini pandatang macam aku, kau cakap-cakap, di tangkap lagi kamu. Tapi, bila datang lagi pangganas mau putung kapala, start lagi lah - “Sabah bahayalah, kami bangsa abu sayap lah”. Urang pikir kami ni mau kah macam ni?”

(What can we ever discuss? Do you think the police want us making noise? This is the Sabah style, if things aren’t good, don’t open your mouth. Sit quietly and hide till round two starts. If you are Suluk, and married to a migrant like me, and you talk openly, you will be arrested. But when the terrorists come to behead people, then the labels start again: “Sabah is dangerous, we share the same race as the Abu Sayyaf”. Do people think we like this?)


Deserving A Say

With Indah, Sakinul, Mir and Yasmin in mind, I must stress a respect for the counter narrative to this claim; that militant terrorism has had very little impact on the state of Sabah and will only succeed if we live in fear of the foreign ‘other’. In fact, despite recent headliners, towns throughout the east coast have done better than expected in its efforts to continue in normalcy. During my fieldwork from 2016- mid 2017, there were approximately five incidents involving terrorists in Sandakan and even with that, the chances of a local or tourist becoming a victim of terrorism was still rather slim. With its thriving ecotourism and maritime industry, Sandakan has attracted many from other districts to eke out a decent livelihood despite ongoing militant activities in the water borders. And on top of everything else, the state has repeatedly reminded Sabahans in the east coast that their safety against terrorism will continue to be a priority of the Malaysian government.

Regardless of political affiliation, many Sabahans tell me they sincerely appreciate the Malaysian government’s initiation of the ESSCOM (the Eastern Sabah Security Command) which protects the most vulnerable of areas from Kudat to Tawau. Yet, residents particularly in the east coast tend to suspend trust till the next major incident occurs, in silence. Throughout the years of researching irregular migrants in the east coast of Sabah, I’ve observed how discussing terrorism with poorer, working class local Malaysian residents reveals an array of unsaid insecurities that come across more powerless than most.

As it seems, the bigger issue to this is not why Sabah is a hotbed for terrorism but more so why there isn’t a greater collective ability to do more about it? Despite many state structures in place, and some grassroot attempts at eliminating future terrorists from emerging in Sabah, the already poor and sidelined Sabahans in the east coast lack the belief that there is an avenue to voice their concerns and anxieties openly and safely. Further exacerbating this is of course the social closeness between legitimate residents and their irregular ones, raising even more suspicion and distrust amongst security forces monitoring the ESSZONE.

From my conversations with Sabahans’ in the east coast, they see the state as dismissive and even punitive in addressing any criticism (constructive or otherwise). Even with the various state endorsed security apparatus in place, these communities still feel most at risk in the event of an attack or kidnapping. This is further exacerbated by the fact that these Sabah communities, both irregular and legitimate are never in isolation. Notwithstanding the mainstream narrative, Malaysian Sabahans particularly in the east coast have not and cannot lead a life separate nor distinctively different from that of their migrant neighbours, which makes vocalising these concerns and insecurities even harder and more dangerous.

Sabah shares with the Philippines one of the more volatile corners of the Malay Archipelago and coupled with the taboo subject of hosting approximately two million of Sabah’s irregular residents has not made solving the impending terrorist problem any easier. When public conversations are held on desires and intent for safety and security, they are usually held amongst the more privileged of us. But for thousands of non-urban, working class Sabahans living simpler lives, this freedom is imaginary and their agency is in needing to say more about their insecurities whenever and however necessary.

The first and most necessary step to figuring out the considerable human problem in Sabah is for the promotion of grassroot discussion. As long as we privilege more powerful and louder views than theirs, we dismiss ideas, knowledges and experiences from Sabahans like Mir and Sakinul that can and will assist in combating a slew of other neglected social issues including that of violent extremism.

*Names have been altered as per requested by participants.


Vilashini Somiah is a scholar, writer and filmmaker. Born in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, she has always had a keen interest for underrepresented narratives in Borneo and has focused a great amount of time understanding the different perspectives of these voices and their motivations.

Her Phd research is centred on issues of deportation, irregular migration and socio-political mobility surrounding the Sulu Sea. 


This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.



Malaysia, with or without IS

by Badrul Hisham Bin Ismail
13 December 2017


To date, we have an estimate of 140-150 Malaysians who have joined the war in Syria; around 90 returnees; and more than 30 individuals arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). Quite recently, our very own Amin Baco, the 31 year old Sabahan was announced as the new “emir” or leader of Islamic State (IS) in Southeast Asia, replacing 51 year old Isnilon Hapilon who was killed during the long conflict in Marawi City. There is no doubt that IS has had an impact in the country and we are faced with the rise of violent extremism among Malaysians.

Before we go further into the rise of violent extremism and the impact of IS, let’s have a recap of an overview of the country.

Malaysia has a 31.7 million multi-ethnic population, in which the dominant group is the Malay/Bumiputra (68.6%). It is a relatively stable country, which has enjoyed uninterrupted elections since its independence from the British. It is relatively secular (although this may be arguable), with positive economic growth over its history. In 1958, one year after independence, 60 percent of the country’s population lived below poverty line, and in 2016, only 0.6 percent population remained below poverty line, which is quite an extraordinary achievement. On top of that, Malaysia provides universal access to basic education and healthcare, and it does relatively well in gender equality - female students are the majority in higher learning institutions, and 32.3 percent of decision-making positions in public service are held by women. Looking at all this, one would wonder why would Malaysia have a violent extremist problem?


Extremism in Malaysia

In case it has slipped from our memory, Malaysia has had quite a long history with violent extremism. More specifically, Malay-Muslim Malaysians have been involved in violent extremist groups for quite some time. For example, a few local groups that have popped up since the 1960s: there were Tentera Sabilullah (1967), Gerakan Rohaniah (1971), Koperasi Angkatan Revolusi Islam Malaysia (1974), Kumpulan Mohd Nasir Islam (1980), Kumpulan Jundullah (1987), Kumpulan Mujahidin Kedah (1988) and Perjuangan Islam Perak (1988). Then there were Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Kumpulan Militan Malaysia (KMM), a network of Malaysian and Indonesian alumni from Afghanistan and Bosnian war. Both of these groups were linked directly to Al-Qaeda, and after coming back to this region, they continued their fight first by aiding insurgencies and getting involved in sectarian conflicts in the region, in places like Mindanao, Ambon and Poso. Later, they started carrying out attacks in public places, such as the bombing in Bali and JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta. These groups and networks were eventually cracked down by our authorities. After the 9/11 tragedy, efforts to crackdown violent groups were heightened, and ultimately, the local network of JI and KMM were crushed and pushed out of the country. As a result, for about a decade since the mid 2000s, there was a quiet period in violent extremism in the country, other than a few Malaysians getting involved in operations outside Malaysia, such as Yazid Sufaat, Azahari Husin, and Noordin Mat Top.   

However, things started to change after war broke out in Syria, where a new player emerged. The emergence of DAESH (alternatively known as ISIL, ISIS or IS) out of Iraq was a result of the US invasion and the widespread instability post-Saddam. The organisation later exploited the conflict in Syria to expand its movement, and asserted itself as a new force to be reckoned with. Its massive propaganda effort gave new life to Muslim violent extremism, and many regional groups and individuals pledged their allegiance to IS, including many Malaysians. Meanwhile regional groups such as JI in Indonesia as well as Abu Sayaf, Ansar Khalifah Philippines, and the Maute Brothers in Philippines have pledged their allegiance to IS, and many Malaysians have joined these groups too. The most high profile Malaysian who joined the conflict in Mindanao was Dr Mahmud Ahmad, a former lecturer at Universiti Malaya.

There are also other concerning data that could have indicated the rise of extremism in the country. A survey conducted by Pew Research Center found that in Malaysia, 11% Muslims are sympathetic to IS, 18% found suicide bombing justifiable, 86% believe that Sharia should be the official law of the country, and 39% believe that violence is justified against so called “enemies of Islam.” Meanwhile, a local polling agency Merdeka Center have found that 60% Malay Muslim identified themselves as Muslim first, 71% support Hudud law, while 30% believe that the country is ready for its implementation. If we are to consider the outcomes of these surveys, the experience of increased religiosity among Muslims in Malaysia is not without its nuances. While overwhelming support is voiced for ideas that conform to orthodox Muslim belief, there is a lot of disagreement when it comes to its actual implementation. However, the idea of a struggle against “enemies of Islam” has some appeal.


Profile of Recruits

Looking at the above, IMAN Research went on to investigate to understand the driving factors towards the apparent support of violent groups. Since Malaysians who were recruited or involved with violent extremist groups were overwhelmingly young Malay-Muslims, the study was focused on members of that community of both genders, living in both urban and rural areas in Peninsular Malaysia, and coming from middle to working class backgrounds with a mixture of those who had religious education and those who didn’t. The findings of the discussions can be summarized as follows:

  1. Perceptions of disempowerment – Youths feel that they lack ability to make any changes in the society, and perceive the  problems the society is facing are so monumental that nothing can change.

  2. Political cynicism – There was much hope after the 2008 General Elections that a new kind of politics would emerge, but trust towards the political process dropped after the 2013 General Election.

  3. Identity – Participants agreed that their identity is an important component, but yet at the same time feel that it is a very complex issue. When asked to define what was Malay, many if not all were stumped by the question. Irrespective of the respondents’ religiosity, all answered that their main identity was being Muslim.

  4. Ignorance of The “Other” – A worrying finding was the fact many do not have interaction with non-Muslims. They acknowledge that this limits their understanding of issues and concerns faced by non-Muslims but nevertheless find it difficult to overcome.

  5. Ideal or utopian view of the concept of Islamic State – All agreed that the belief in the concept of an Islamic state was an integral part of being a Muslim. While most had different interpretations of how to achieve an Islamic state, what they agreed most on is that if Islamic State did exist then the current problems faced by the country would be solved such as corruption, unscrupulous leaders.


Fathali M. Moghaddam, a professor of psychology at Georgetown University, in his study on the spectrum of extremism, have listed out indicators to an extremist mindset, which is as follows:

  1. Perceived deprivation is a broader dissatisfaction with the world

  2. Perception that one has no voice in decisions and no way to improve the deprived, dissatisfying, and unjust situation

  3. An aggressive attitude toward an external enemy (in Moghaddam’s view, displaced aggression) with the belief that a certain external enemy is the source of all big problems

  4. A belief that the ends justify the means, which means doing anything to destroy or weaken the enemy, including killing civilians

  5. A ‘‘We must kill or we will be killed’’ style of thinking, as well as an ‘‘us versus them’’ style of thinking

  6. A belief that the cause is all that is worth living for

  7. A felt obligation to conform to all norms set by one’s group or cause and

  8. A conviction that one heroic act will improve the world


The indicators stated by Moghaddam’s do not necessarily only occur in a minority group. It can also be experienced by a majority community who through consistent “teaching” and/or sudden change in social and political stability feel that they are under threat. This is compounded further with the influence of external factors that are deemed as threats, pushed to a corner with no alternative in sight – group mentality (how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors) will start to manifest. And in the context of Malaysia, the group in reference is the Malay-Muslim population which also happens to be the majority.


And Then Came IS

Different from other violent extremist groups that came before it, IS designed their recruitment campaign for the general public. Following the trend of the occupy movement, IS propagated a structure-less and non-hierarchical movement that attracted disenfranchised Muslim youths all around the world. There were no Ustaz or usrahs that you needed to follow first, before pledging your allegiance. There was no need to prove your religiosity and faith or Iman before doing work for the organization. By doing this, IS repainted the landscape of Islamic militancy. This very public campaign, utilizing the internet and mass communication strategy, brought their form of narrative into every Muslim household without any filters and caught the imagination of the Muslim public. As a result, hundreds of Malaysian youths have joined their war in Syria, and more recently, in Mindanao.

But the real impact of IS, particularly in Malaysia, is beyond that. What they have truly succeeded, other than misleading disenfranchised young Malay-Muslims into joining their violent movement, is that they were able to put their agenda and values in the mainstream, within the larger Malay-Muslim community.

In Malaysia, extremist values no longer stay in the fringes, underground cells, but have jumped into everyday Malay-Muslim lives. IS have also “democratized” violent extremism, providing accessibility to those in the spatial periphery into and independent of strict membership. They opened a pandora’s box by taking the ownership of violent Jihad from the hands of a selected few and put it in the hands of Muslim youths all over the country (if not the world), no matter what background they come from. The result of the continued growth of extremist discourse in Malaysia has given birth to two types of extremist groups; violent and nonviolent. Consequently, what we also see now is the rise in the assertion of identity politics, where many Malay-Muslims are no longer willing to compromise and tolerate so-called un-Islamic worldview and lifestyle. Unfortunately, this is a situation that is difficult to reverse. And it will come to a point where it will no longer matter if IS itself is still around or not. Any other group, new or old, that upholds the same values and agenda will be supported, which is something that we can already see happening in Mindanao during the Battle of Marawi.


So What Now?

Based on the evidence it is without doubt that extremism is taking hold of the Malay-Muslim community. This is not to say that all is lost and the future of the country is bleak. There are steps and measures that can be taken to curb and mitigate the rise of extremism.

First and foremost, there is a strong and urgent need to shift the trends by winning back the Malay-Muslim community, especially the youths. Malay-Muslim youths are losing their faith and confidence in the country’s leadership - from both sides of the political spectrum - and it is important to gain them back by truly allowing our youths to take part in the political process. Second, there is a great need to challenge pro-IS narratives, not only through promoting counter narratives, but also by taking out and eliminating opportunities for extremist groups to organize and exploit vulnerable communities. This means that members of the society need to be able to address their grievances, either personal, economic or political, and are given the support needed to mend them. Besides that, the country also needs to address its lack of social cohesion. Policies that can nurture social interactions need to be promoted and implemented. This can be done not only through education and interfaith dialogues, but also through arts and culture, and urban design.

In conclusion, while there is a rise in extremism in Malaysia, there is still a large middle ground that can still be swayed from drifting further to the right. There is significant room for independent community leaders, scholars and civil society in general to fill in, and a large number of youths who are willing to engage in dialogues and community building. However, the window to address this demographic is closing fast.


This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.


On Rehabilitation and Reintegration

by Badrul Hisham Bin Ismail
20 November 2017


The Syrian government's declaration of victory over the Islamic State brings the issue of foreign terrorist fighters returning to their countries to the forefront yet again. The much publicised number of Malaysians who went over to Syria to join IS and the war would mean that the problem of returnees will also be something that Malaysia needs to manage. This then leads to the question on rehabilitating and reintegrating (R/R) these individuals, who have committed violent acts and are/or were a part of a violent extremist group, back into Malaysian society.

The issue on R/R of violent extremists has recently emerged up in public discourse in Malaysia, albeit in a different light. The Malaysian media has been following a religious personality involved in R/R, and much of the discourse has been lopsided, if not ill-informed to say the least. Instead of conversations on how to manage the potential returnees , the debate was on the person in charge of rehabilitating these individuals, his series of statements on issues that were unrelated to violent extremism, which in turn has the public question his ability to “de-radicalize” and rehabilitate violent extremist offenders. The question now is how should we rehabilitate and reintegrate violent extremist offenders, and who should do it?


Current Scenario

Managing the return of Malaysian citizens who have travelled to conflict zones and were active participants in violence, requires programs that are effective and sustainable. This is essential not only for the returnees, but also crucial in preventing further incidences of violent extremism in the long run.

Currently, the Malaysian government, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), has an Integrated Rehabilitation Module for Detainees, administered by the Ministry of Home Affairs (KDN), Prison Department of Malaysia and the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM). The module outlines a rehabilitation program that involves three phases: orientation, reinforcing Sahsiah (good personality), and self-development courses. The module that is available for the public doesn’t explain much on the content of the program, only topics of discussions which range from anger management to positivity that will be held, and how each session will be conducted. However, the module suggests that the program applies a top-down approach whereby the facilitators will “correct” the religious understanding, thoughts and behaviour of offenders, and in the end the returnees will be evaluated based on how much have they internalized the teachings of the program. And this is where the problem lies.


Talking To Extremists

To have an effective R/R, we must first understand the individuals who were involved in violent extremism. There are many factors that contribute to persuading regular people to agree or believe in violence, and some more to make them actually commit them. As the wealth of research on preventing and countering violent extremism (C/PVE) has shown, there are a range of push and pull factors that make people join violent extremist groups. From personal grievances and history of violence, to ideology and disenfranchisement, people are motivated by different reasons. Therefore, efforts to rehabilitate them require programs that are tailor-made based on each individual's history and needs. A one-size fit-for-all module is a little ill-suited.

The top-down, correctional approach to R/R has another problem. According to Iqbal Husaini, a former militant from Indonesia who is now involved in R/R programs in Indonesia, one of the problems of this approach is that the rehabilitators tend to patronise offenders, and they tend to be condescending. If we look at the R/R module that we have in Malaysia, a lot of effort or focus goes into correcting or restoring aqidah, or creed. Violent extremists, especially the ones who are ideologically driven, are very proud people with a very strong conviction to their beliefs. Starting off and emphasizing that their beliefs are wrong and that they do not understand the faith is not a good start in building trust and nurturing a healthy relationship between offenders and rehabilitators, which is a key aspect in having a successful R/R.

Then there’s the question on who should do the R/R. Will violent extremists be more receptive to conservatives like Ustaz Zamihan Mat Zin, liberals like Dr Farouk Musa, or academics like Dr Maszlee Malik?

First we need to differentiate and draw the line between violent extremists, and mere conservatives or so-called extremists of social morality, as it risks labelling anyone who doesn’t hold a liberal or plural worldview as violent extremists. They might be extremists, but definitely not violent extremists. Secondly, the public’s understanding of moderates and extremists might differ quite significantly from the State’s. For the State’s, the two ends of the religious spectrum are violent extremism, and liberalism (lumped together with human rights activists, the LGBT community, heterodox forms of Islam, secularists, and other dissenters against Malaysia’s official Islam). In this regard, conservatives are seen as moderates, and very well qualified to rehabilitate violent extremist offenders.

The point being is that dwelling on the qualification of rehabilitators will only lead to unnecessary debates on liberalism versus conservatism which in the end will not address the issue at hand. Of course, the worldview of rehabilitators is important. We surely do not want a violent extremist to be in charge with rehabilitating other violent extremists. But the process of rehabilitating and reintegrating violent extremists back into the society is a complex effort that requires a “whole society” approach that includes civil society and other local actors, not just the government and appointed individuals. Because R/R is an individual psycho-social process that requires the engagement and involvement of local communities, families, and other supportive social networks, it shouldn’t be left solely in the hands of the authorities.


What R/R Programs Should Be

Efforts in strengthening R/R programs all over the world are ongoing, and experts are looking into this matter more seriously, and looking for more creative and non-traditional ways in rehabilitating and reintegrating former fighters into mainstream society. Many programs that have been created differ from each other, as they are tailor-made and localized to fit the context, culture and condition of each community. However, there are a certain set of shared principles that contribute to a program’s success.

A good R/R program should include an understanding of basic legal and policy frameworks that respect human rights and are anchored in multi-stakeholder approaches that articulate clear roles and responsibilities such as the following: Local communities need to be included to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and socialize them to the need to reintegrate successfully those associated with and affected by violent extremism. Women and youth representatives also need to be involved in program design and engagement to ensure that the voices of all affected demographics are reflected. It is also vital to address the needs of all victims for broader community cohesion and support for the program, and to ensure support for the families of those who are detained or incarcerated, in order to facilitate the eventual R/R of their family member.

Most importantly, in order to successfully rehabilitate and reintegrate these members into our society, we need to regain or rebuild trust and confidence. Not only among society members, but also between governments, civil societies and communities to ensure strong collaboration and cohesion across all levels. As mentioned above, R/R as well as preventing violent extremism require collaboration from all members of the society. It is not only the responsibility of government or authorities, but each of us do play a crucial role in maintaining and promoting social cohesion and inclusivity - the remedy for any form of extremism.


This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.



Jihad Terlarang: Gerakan Militan dan Peranan Pesantren Merawat Radikalisme – Bahagian 3

by Admin
18 October 2017



Menarik apa yang dikatakan: pesantren itu menjadi landasan menyekolahkan anak-anak mereka dan langsung membawa generasi selanjut dari lingkaran radikal untuk kembali kepada lingkaran baru – iaitu, Islam yang damai dan toleran. Ini jelas berbeza dengan wacana yang pernah kita dengar, yang sering dilaungkan dari Amerika contohnya, bahawa pesantren adalah ‘sarang radikalisasi’. Jadi, wacana dari luar ini tidak memberi gambaran yang betul.

MT: Ya. Justeru, saya secara peribadi, mengalami deradikalisasi ketika saya kenal pada pesantren. Saya menjadi lebih toleran ketika saya mendekatkan diri kepada pesantren. Buat saya, di pesantrenlah saya belajar bagaimana bersikap lebih dewasa, menjadi toleran, dan menghargai keragaman dan perbezaan yang ada. Sebelumnya, saya bukan seorang yang pernah memijakkan kaki di pesantren kerana saya bukan dari kalangan pesantren. Saya orang jalanan!


Apakah yang unik di pesantren sehingga membuat kamu merasa damai dan kembali berdamai dengan perbezaan yang ada?

MT: Ketika ada masalah, Pak Kiyai bersedia menjelaskan – baik dengan cara memberikan dalil-dalil al-Qur’an dan hadis, mahupun secara logikal. Contohnya, pernah ada orang yang mendiskriminasi terhadap kaum Syiah. Pak Kiyai bertanya kepada orang yang membenci kaum Syiah itu: ‘Syiah itu salahnya di mana? Bukankah mereka itu juga percaya pada Nabi Muhammad, mengangkat Allah sebagai Tuhan Semesta Alam dan mempercayai al-Qur’an? Jadi, di mana perbezaan yang asas yang membuat kita harus menyisihkan mereka?’ Pak Kiyai justeru mengatakan bahawa orang-orang Syiah tetap saudara kita. Jadi, jangan sampai kita terjebak ke dalam perbezaan-perbezaan yang sangat remeh. Lebih baik kita mendahulukan persatuan daripada mendahulukan perbezaan. Di pesantren, budayanya seperti ini – mengetepikan perbezaan yang remeh dan menyisihkan sikap ‘siapa yang paling benar’. Itu yang saya lihat dan pelajari di pesantren.

Islam di pesantren, bagi saya, jelas penuh bijaksana. Mereka sedia menerima kedatangan tamu dari mana jua pun, termasuk dari Amerika yang sering menuding pesantren sebagai ‘sarang teroris’. Sewaktu orang Amerika datang, mereka akan tetap dihormati oleh warga pesantren. Maka, terjadilah dialog. Akhirnya, pesantren juga menyedari bahawa tidak semua orang Amerika itu anti-pesantren; dan orang Amerika tidak melihat semua pesantren sebagai ‘sarang teroris’. Akhirnya, hubungan akan menjadi lebih baik.


Bagaimana dengan harapan saudara untuk bangsa Indonesia di masa hadapan?

MT: Harapan saya, persoalannya di Indonesia ini bukan lagi apakah Indonesia ini berganti ideologi atau tidak, tetapi Indonesia harus dipimpin oleh orang-orang yang bebas dari dinasti penguasa masa lalu; bebas dari anak-cucunya Sukarno, Suharto mahupun Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Ini kerana pemerintahan yang berdasarkan kronisme dan nepotisme, akan selalu merugikan rakyat kecil. Impian saya ialah Indonesia – walaupun masih jauh perjalanannya – masih terus damai.

Sebenarnya, Indonesia ini sangat luas. Saya juga berharap orang-orang yang ada di hujung kepulauan Indonesia, seperti di pelosok Papua, mempunyai akses yang sama – di dalam kebebasan mengakses informasi dan memberikan informasi akan apa yang mereka lalui di wilayah mereka. Pada saat ini, itu belum terjadi. Di Kalimantan, misalnya, akses internet itu belum ada atau mencukupi; saya pernah menyebutnya ssebagai ‘fakir bandwidth’. Walhal, Kalimantan mempunyai sumber alam yang dieksplorasi dan dikaup hasilnya untuk kekayaan orang lain. Tetapi, kenapa untuk bandwidth sahaja tidak sampai? Jadi, ini persoalan pemerintah yang tidak mengendahkan kebajikan penduduk di sana. Tanpa akses menerima dan memberi informasi, kondisi mereka tetap akan tersembunyi dari mata umum. Saya mahu suatu saat di mana Indonesia dari Sabang sampai Merauke, ada pemerataan bandwidth dan akses untuk semua orang supaya bebas berekspresi melalui media-media yang trennya sekarang adalah internet.


Bererti, kamu menyatakan harusnya ada kebebasan informasi supaya ekspresi hidup itu akan menjadi lebih rancak; dan dengan informasi yang lebih, ianya dapat mendewasakan kita melalui keragaman berfikir.

MT: Benar. Dan akan terjadinya lebih banyak dialog.

Juga, kita akan tahu mengenai kes-kes yang terjadi di daerah pedalaman. Selama ini, kita hanya tahu kes-kes yang terjadi di kota-kota besar, seperti di Jakarta, Yogyakarta dan Surabaya. Tetapi, kita tidak tahu apa yang terjadi di pedalaman – sama ada rakyat atau petani-petani di sana ditindas oleh penguasa atau pengusaha setempat. Dengan pemerataan informasi, kita akan tahu dan akan muncul gerakan yang dapat membantu para petani, nelayan dan rakyat kecil. Itu yang saya cita-citakan. Jadi, kita melakukan aksi langsung terhadap kerja pembaikan dan merespon terhadap hal-hal yang nyata, dan bukan lari kepada ideologi yang mungkin bersifat utopia.


Ini juga merujuk kepada buku kamu yang satu lagi, berjudul ‘Guru Kehidupan’ – mengenai suara orang-orang kecil dan cara mereka menghidupi diri mereka di tengah-tengah pembangunan negara Indonesia.

MT: Buku kedua saya ini, Guru Kehidupan, berisi cerita dan profil orang-orang miskin: pengemis, tukang-tukang jualan, tukang parkir (penjaga kawasan meletak kereta), dan orang-orang jalanan. Semuanya saya wawancarai, tetapi mereka tidak sedar mereka sedang diwawancara supaya pandangan mereka lebih autentik. Ada tiga puluh orang yang saya wawancarai. Lalu, hasil wawancara itu saya bukukan dengan sebuah pesan: masing-masing mempunyai pandangan hidup yang lurus – dan meskipun mereka miskin, mereka tidak akan melakukan hal-hal yang tidak bermoral untuk mendapatkan kekayaan. Mereka juga tidak akan mengeluh akan kemiskinannya, kerana mengeluh akan membuat mereka patah semangat dan merasa sakit di jiwa mereka. Jadi, mereka ini punya daya tahan yang kuat dan masih punya harapan untuk menjadikan kehidupan mereka lebih baik. Bagi saya, itu penting, kerana jika seseorang itu sudah tidak punya harapan, lebih baik dia menjadi batu.


Harapan itu penting. Dan itulah juga yang menjadi ubat di dalam masa transisi dari sudut kehidupan yang gelap kepada kehidupan yang lebih baik. Semoga MT terus memberi inspirasi dan membawa pesan-pesan damai dan toleran di tengah-tengah masyarakat. Terima kasih!

MT: Terima kasih kembali.


Nota: Mataharitimoer kini aktif bergiat di dalam bidang advokasi kebebasan berekspresi dan ikut bergerak di sebuah badan bukan pemerintah (NGO), Indonesian ICT Partnership Association atau ICT Watch.

Wawancara dan transkripsi dilakukan oleh Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib, aktivis yang bergiat di kelompok anak muda The Reading Group, Singapore. The Reading Group pernah berkunjung ke Pesantren Darul Uloom pada 31 Mei, 2010, dalam rangka silaturrahmi sambil kenal dengan dunia pesantren di Indonesia yang menggerakkan misi kemanusiaan dan gerakan Islam toleransi. Pesantren ini mempertemukan The Reading Group kepada program deradikalisasi yang dipimpin Kiyai Nasrudin Latif dan Mataharitimoer. Kunjungan ini diselenggarakan oleh Pusat Studi Pesantren di Bogor, pimpinan Sdr. Achmad Ubaidillah.


Kembali ke Bahagian 2 | Bahagian 1


Ini adalah pendapat pengarang dan tidak semestinya mewakili pandangan The Affair.



Jihad Terlarang: Gerakan Militan dan Peranan Pesantren Merawat Radikalisme – Bahagian 2

by Admin
15 October 2017



Kamu menyebut-nyebut mengenai peranan pesantren dalam proses rehabilitasi kamu. Apakah ini semacam dukungan yang kamu terima setelah keluar dari gerakan radikal ini?

MT:        Ya, saya mendapat dukungan kuat dari Pesantren Darul Uloom di Bogor. Semenjak saya mula memprotes terhadap gerakan radikal, saya sering datang ke pesantren ini untuk mendapatkan nasihat. Pesantren merupakan pusat pembelajaran Islam. Waktu itu. saya tidak mempunyai pemahaman Islam yang kukuh kerana latar saya adalah manusia jalanan. Makanya, setiap kali ada masalah, saya akan meminta nasihat dari kiyai (KH. Nasrudin Latif). Semenjak saya mula mendapatkan nasihat di pesantren, mereka (di pesantren) sering mendukung saya. Mereka mengatakan bahawa protes yang saya lakukan terhadap gerakan radikal, tidak salah. Kiyai mengatakan bahawa protes saya betul, dan asalkan saya terus berani, kuat dan sabar.

Sewaktu buku Jihad Terlarang terbit dan saya mendapat ancaman, pesantren itulah yang melindungi saya. Beberapa tokoh pergerakan masih memandang hormat terhadap kiyai dan pesantren, jadi mereka tidak berani mengusik saya. Pak Kiyai mengatakan bahawa sesiapa yang mengganggu saya, bererti dia telah mengganggu pesantren; dan sesiapa yang melukai Mataharitimoer bererti dia juga telah melukai kiyai. Semenjak itulah, ancaman terhadap saya dari kalangan underground dan radikal berkurangan.


Ancaman seperti apa yang kamu terima?

MT:        Ancaman paling biasa saya dengar ialah, ‘Darahnya halal, dan boleh kita bunuh!’ Tetapi, seiring dengan perjalanan waktu, saya mulai melihat ancaman itu sebagai kosong belaka. Mereka tidak benar-benar berani untuk melakukan ancaman mereka; hanya gertak sahaja.


Pasti mereka lebih marah setelah ‘Jihad Terlarang’ terbit kerana membongkar semua rahsia mereka serta cara mereka beroperasi. Apakah contoh operasi mereka yang kamu bongkar, yang menurut kamu, membuat mereka benar-benar marah?

MT:        Di buku ini, saya menjelaskan bagaimana mereka melakukan pendekatan terhadap sasaran dan bagaimana mereka melakukan brain-washing – daripada seorang yang tidak tahu apa-apa kepada seorang yang siap mati. Prosesnya itu melalui pendidikan dan latihan – semacam ‘pesantren kilat’ (latihan perkhemahan) selama tiga hari, dua malam. Para peserta tidak dibenarkan tidur, dan hanya boleh istirehat sekejap untuk makan dan solat. Saya jelaskan juga bahan-bahan yang digunakan untuk proses indoktrinasi ini. Nah, ini semua adalah rahsia gerakan dan tidak seharusnya diketahui umum. Tetapi, saya menulis mengenainya kerana saya ingin orang lain tahu bahawa itulah caranya mengubah seseorang – dari seorang yang tidak berani kepada seorang yang berani mati.


Biasanya, bagi mereka yang bergiat di dalam kelompok radikal seperti itu dan lantas keluar, mereka bukan hanya menjadi sasaran mantan teman-teman radikalnya, tetapi juga dicari oleh pihak perisik negara. Apakah kamu punya pengalaman didekati pihak perisik negara dan bagaimana reaksi kamu?

MT:        Ketika buku Jihad Terlarang ini terbit, saya tidak hanya dicari oleh kelompok radikal, tetapi juga oleh pihak perisik negara atau state intelligence. Tetapi motifnya mungkin berbeza. Bagi pihak perisik, kadang-kadang saya didekati secara tidak sedar – seperti sewaktu saya diundang menjadi pembicara atau menjadi narasumber (resource person) di dalam diskusi-diskusi terbatas.

Saya pernah diundang oleh Pusat Penelitian dan Pengembangan Agama, untuk mendiskusikan buku ini secara tertutup. Pada saat itu, ada beberapa orang berlatarbelakang agensi keamanan negara. Saya terperanjat; kenapa mereka turut hadir? Tetapi, saya tetap lanjutkan diskusi. Cuma, saya tetap batasi bahawa saya tidak akan mendedahkan dan saya tidak akan memberitahu di mana orang-orang yang saya ceritakan ini berada. Ini kerana sasaran mereka satu: mereka ingin tahu di mana tinggalnya orang-orang yang saya ceritakan, dan apakah mereka masih bergerak di dalam kelompok tersebut. Itu yang tidak dapat saya berikan. Ini kerana, buat saya, orang yang saya ceritakan harus saya lindungi juga.


… kenapa?

MT:       Itu fasa di mana saya merasa tidak ada dendam lagi dan saya sudah mulai cair – justeru saya merasa berterima-kasih kepada mereka. Dengan merekalah, akhirnya, kedewasaan saya dibentuk dan dibina; walaupun saya harus melewati fasa merasa diri dibodohi, fasa amarah, fasa sakit emosi… Pada akhirnya, seburuk apapun seseorang itu, dia adalah “guru” saya. Sekejam apapun orang yang pernah saya temui, saya belajar kekejaman dari dia.


Jadi, kamu mempunyai semacam prinsip bahawa cara menangani radikalisme ini bukan dengan cara yang radikal juga, tetapi dengan cara yang lembut seperti memujuk mereka untuk kembali ke jalan yang damai dan moderat. Apakah kamu pernah cuba melakukan cara khusus seperti ini, sebagai kaedah deradikalisasi?

MT:        Ya. Untuk cara deradikalisasi, kita harus mempunyai prinsip seperti itu. Selama ini, negara sering menggunakan pendekatan yang sangat keras, seperti Densus 88 (Detasemen Khusus 88, sebuah unit anti-terorisme di bawah Polis Indonesia) – menangkap, dipukul dan tanpa dialog. Pendekatan-pendekatan yang sifatnya dialogik atau pembujukan, hanya dilakukan terhadap mantan-mantan aktivis radikal. Kalau dulu, kami di gerakan radikal memanggil mantan-mantan aktivis sebagai “anjing pelacak”, yang tugasnya melacak di mana lokasi musuh negara. Ke manapun kita pergi, kita akan tetap dilacak kerana pihak perisik curiga bahawa kita akan bertemu kembali dengan orang-orang yang radikal. Itulah yang membuat saya berfikir: saya tidak mahu menjadi “anjing pelacak”! Saya sendiri tidak suka dengan para mantan yang menjadi “anjing pelacak”. Lebih baik saya menjadi orang biasa yang menebus kesalahan diri dengan mengajak orang-orang yang dulu saya ajak menjadi radikal, untuk kembali berdamai dengan masyarakat dan negara, dan diawali dengan berdamai dengan diri sendiri.


Saya melihat satu sisi penting. Terjadinya radikalisasi juga adalah sewaktu zaman Suharto yang sangat represif di dalam menindas kelompok Islamis. Jadi, kerana pemerintahan Orde Baru sangat represif, mereka menjadi lebih radikal. Kamu melihat kesilapan seperti itu dan ingin mencuba strategi yang baru – iaitu dengan cara yang halus. Apakah ada keberhasilan di dalam percubaan kamu membujuk mungkin satu atau dua teman yang radikal?

MT:        Hanya sedikit yang tidak berhasil saya pujuk. Tetapi, keberhasilan yang saya dapatkan memerlukan masa yang agak lama. Dulu, ketika saya masih aktif di dalam kelompok radikal, saya hanya memerlukan tiga hari untuk mengubah pemikiran mereka melalui brainwashing. Tetapi, sesudah saya keluar, dan berusaha membawa yang lain keluar, proses ‘normalisasi’ memakan masa yang terlalu lama. Mungkin tiga tahun pun belum tentu cukup.

Mungkin banyak faktornya mengapa memerlukan waktu yang lama. Pertama, kita harus sedar mereka sebenarnya punya keperluan hidup. Mereka punya keluarga yang harus dinafkahi. Juga, semakin tua, minda mereka semakin keras. Ibarat tulang, yang mungkin patah, maka harus diluruskan dengan perlahan-lahan.


Tetapi, menurutmu, hanya memerlukan tiga hari untuk merekrut orang ke dalam gerakan radikal. Apakah teknik yang memudahkan seseorang itu terekrut secara tidak sedar?

MT:        Yang paling mudah adalah melalui provokasi. Kita mengatakan bahawa negara yang dipimpin Suharto adalah negara kafir, dengan bukti banyaknya korupsi dan semakin banyak orang yang miskin. Jurang antara orang yang kaya dan orang yang miskin semakin luas. Dan banyak ulama serta ustaz-ustaz yang ditangkap. Nah, dengan cara itu saja, tanpa mengangkat idea-idea Islam, orang sudah tertarik untuk masuk – terutama mahasiswa-mahasiswa yang pernah berhubungan dengan gerakan Kiri. Mereka mudah ditarik. Kepada golongan ini, kita tidak akan berbicara mengenai konsep-konsep Islam; yang kita bicarakan ialah konsep ‘perlawanan’ – terhadap penindas dan golongan ‘borjuis’. Maka, kita menyebut diri sebagai golongan ‘proletar’.


…dan bagaimana kemudiannya mereka dimasukkan ke dalam ideologi Islam?

MT:        Itu secara perlahan-lahan. Ketika mereka masuk, mereka akan diberikan pelatihan tiga hari. Selepas pelatihan, mereka punya kewajiban untuk bertemu sekali dalam setiap minggu. Ini adalah proses pembinaan atau pendidikan. Perlahan-lahan, sehingga enam bulan, mereka dipersiapkan untuk masuk ke dalam tahap pengantara (intermediate). Ketika berada di tahap ini, barulah mereka tahu siapa mereka sebenarnya – iaitu anggota ‘Darul Islam’.


Tapi dari aspek ideologi itu sendiri, apakah pemikiran-pemikiran yang dimasukkan, sehingga mereka merasakan perlu berjuang untuk Islam?

MT:        Pertama, adalah konsep ‘iman’. Kedua, konsep ‘hijrah’. Dan ketiga, konsep ‘jihad’. Bagi konsep ‘iman’, kita menggunakan sebuah hadis ‘al-imanu ahdun bil qalb, wa ikrarul bil lisan, wa amal bil arkan’ (“iman melalui hati, dan dilafaz secara lisan, dan diamalkan menurut rukunnya”). Iman, atau keyakinan, adalah satu hal yang berlembaga di hati, harus dideklarasikan, dan dilakukan secara zahir.

Bagi konsep ‘hijrah’, proses mendeklarasi adalah ‘hijrah’ itu sendiri. Ini kerana ketika kita mengangkat keyakinan kita secara lisan, kita yakin bahawa kita akan berubah dan akan mengubah orde negara ini.

Kemudiannya, ‘jihad’ adalah kesungguhan untuk mewujudkan iman. Menggunakan konsep ‘la illaha illallah’ (“tiada tuhan melainkan Allah”), kita menafsirkan ‘la illah’ sebagai penghancuran pemerintahan yang ada, lalu ‘illallah’ adalah pembinaan pemerintahan Islam yang baru.


Jadi, ada semacam pemahaman yang sangat menyeluruh mengenai konsepsi ‘Islam’ itu sendiri. Tapi yang direkrut itu dari kelompok mana sebenarnya?

MT:        Beragam. Ada yang latar belakangnya sama sekali kosong tentang pemahaman Islam; ada juga yang dari kalangan Nahdlatul Ulama, Muhammadiyah dan Persis (Persatuan Islam); ada yang Syiah… Jadi, kita merekrut dari segala macam latar belakang.


Kalau dari aspek umur?

MT:        Rata-ratanya, dari SMP (sekolah menengah pertengahan) hingga umur yang tidak terbatas. Ada yang dari kalangan orang-orang tua yang menjadi office boy atau janitor; selagi boleh, kita akan menarik mereka masuk. Gerakan kita juga memerlukan orang-orang tua yang bekerja. Walaupun penghasilan mereka kecil, tetapi wang mereka tetap boleh disisihkan untukinfaq. Bahkan, ada juga dari kalangan tentera dan anggota polis yang kita rekrut.


Kembali kepada isu deradikalisasi. Bagaimana cara kamu memujuk kelompok radikal untuk meninggalkan ideologi garis keras ini?

MT:        Saya cuba mengajak mereka berfikir secara realistik: tentang kehidupan dan tentang apakah yang dibanggakan anak-anak terhadap ayahnya. Seorang anak akan bangga apabila ayahnya itu dapat memberikan segala keperluannya, baik dari segi kesihatan mahupun pendidikan, disamping makanan sehariannya. Contohnya, seorang anak akan merasa bangga dan berkata, ‘Oh, ayah saya yang menyekolahkan saya!’ Rata-rata, para aktivis adalah orang-orang yang kurang memiliki perhatian terhadap tanggungjawab seorang ayah. Nah, saya cuba mengajak mereka kepada persoalan itu: jangan sampai anak kita tidak menghormati kita. Kita sebagai seorang ayah dan suami, jihadnya adalah bagaimana memberi kehidupan kepada anak-anak kita. Cara ini memang terkesan ‘sekularistik’ dan ‘materialistik’, tetapi buat saya, itu persoalan yang nyata. Apakah kita dapat makan melalui idea sahaja? Tidak, anak kita harus makan nasi. Anak-anak kita tidak mungkin makan ‘iman’.

Cara lainnya, kita juga bekerjasama dengan pesantren. Anak-anak mereka, yang dari kalangan yang tidak berpunya, kita sekolahkan dengan percuma. Sehingga, beban dia sebagai bapa berkurangan dan dia dapat bekerja sebagai apapun – seperti menjual ikan, jadi petani kembali, sebagai tukang basuh, atau menjadi pegawai administrasi di sekolah, dan lain-lain – yang mendapat hasil untuk diberikan untuk keperluan seharian anak-anaknya, bukan kepada gerakannya. Akhirnya, dia akan fokus di situ, sambil secara perlahan-lahan, diajak berdialog terus-menerus. Saya akan berkata: ‘Sudahlah. Jangan fikirkan lagi bahawa negara Indonesia ini adalah musuh. Orang-orang yang memimpin Indonesia sekarang sebenarnya sama dengan kita. Mereka manusia juga, dan punya cita-cita yang baik. Mereka juga ingin Indonesia menjadi negara yang baik, sama seperti kita. Pada masa yang sama, kita juga belum tentu yakin bahawa orang-orang yang memimpin kita dahulu – yang berlandaskan ideologi Islam – akan benar dalam memimpin negara Indonesia yang sangat plural dengan banyaknya suku, bahasa dan agama; sulit untuk mengelolakan bangsa ini.’ Jadi, dengan perlahan-lahan, mereka mereka melihat kenyataan ini. Ya, proses begini memerlukan waktu yang lama tetapi hasilnya lebih kekal.

Ke Bahagian 3 | Bahagian 1


Ini adalah pendapat pengarang dan tidak semestinya mewakili pandangan The Affair.



Jihad Terlarang: Gerakan Militan dan Peranan Pesantren Merawat Radikalisme – Bahagian 1

by Admin
8 October 2017


Wawancara bersama Mataharitimoer

Mohamed Imran Taib is known among the activist circles in Singapore and Malaysia as a public intellectual, and bridge builder in multicultural Singapore. He is an active member of The Reading Group, Singapore.

The Affair is serialising his interview with a former radical, in Bahasa Melayu.

Persoalan radikalisme agama sering mendapat perhatian di dalam wacana Islam kontemporari serta menjadi soroton di media-media massa. Tidak kurangnya, isu ini menjadi pergumulan politik, sama ada di peringkat lokal mahupun geopolitik. Namun, suara para aktivis gerakan militan jarang didengar melainkan apa yang dipapar oleh agensi keselamatan dan kepolisian, ataupun dari para pemimpin gerakan yang mengeluarkan ancaman dan pernyataan ‘jihad’ terhadap apa yang mereka anggap sebagai ‘musuh-musuh Islam’. Di sebalik keriuhan wacana radikalisme agama, masyarakat secara senyap sedar akan penyimpangan ideologi garis keras yang menyisihkan sisi damai dan semangat toleransi di dalam agama Islam itu sendiri. Namun, tidak ramai yang mungkin sedar akan persoalan bagaimana ideologi garis keras dapat menular di dalam masyarakat tanpa disedari sehingga berjaya menarik segelintir anak-anak muda untuk melaungkan ‘jihad’ (dalam erti ‘perang’) terhadap apa yang mereka anggap sebagai aspek-aspek ‘jahiliyah’ di dalam masyarakat – dari konsep ‘sekularisme’ kepada ‘dominasi Yahudi’ hingga kepada ‘ancaman Kristian’. Matlamat gerakan garis keras ini tetap satu: meruntuhkan orde pemerintahan sekarang yang dianggap ‘kafir’ dan mewujudkan ‘daulah islamiyyah’ (yang ditafsirkan sebagai ‘Negara atau Pemerintahan Islam’).

Semenjak beberapa tahun yang lalu, beberapa suara mantan aktivis garis keras sudah mula dimunculkan melalui bentuk memoir ataupun biografi. Namun, kebanyakannya di dalam bahasa Inggeris dan memenuhi pasaran global. Antaranya ialah buku The Islamist (2007) oleh Ed Hussain. Suara-suara mantan aktivis ini penting di dalam memahami proses radikalisasi seseorang – dari aspek ideologi kepada sudut psikologi, sehingga ketegangan jiwa dan kekacauan minda yang akhirnya membuat dia keluar dari gerakan militan dan kembali hidup di tengah-tengah masyarakat secara damai.

Pada 25 Julai 2013, The Reading Group telah menemui seorang mantan aktivis gerakan militan ‘Darul Islam’ untuk diwawancara. Beliau ialah penulis dan blogger yang menggunakan nama pena Mataharitimoer, atau singkatnya MT. Lahir pada tahun 1971 di Jakarta, MT (nama sebenarnya, Eddy Prayitno) telah menulis kisah perjalanan hidupnya dalam bentuk novel yang berjudul Jihad Terlarang: Cerita Dari Bawah Tanah. Novel ini mengisahkan seorang watak bernama Royan yang menyimpan dendam terhadap Tuhan dan tentera Indonesia atas kematian bapanya di dalam peristiwa Tanjung Priok. Akhirnya, Royan bergabung di dalam gerakan bawah tanah yang dikenali sebagai ‘Darul Islam’ dengan cita-cita mendirikan Negara Islam dan menggulingkan pemerintahan Indonesia yang dianggap sebagai ‘taghut’ atau ‘berhala’. Namun, Royan mula sedar bahawa gerakan militan ini tidak seindah apa yang difikirnya. Kerosakan moral di kalangan pemimpin atasan, termasuk korupsi dan penindasan terhadap anggota-anggotanya, membuat Royan meninggalkan gerakannya.

Kisah Royan merupakan pengalaman benar yang dilalui MT. Selepas meninggalkan gerakan ‘Darul Islam’, penulis hidup bergelandangan tanpa arah tujuan. Akhirnya, beliau menemukan kembali kedamaian melalui sebuah pesantren dan tokoh kiyainya (Pesantren Darul Uloom di Bogor) yang merawat jiwanya dan mengenalkannya kembali kepada Islam yang sebenarnya – Islam yang damai, ramah dan penuh toleransi. Dari situlah beliau mula menuangkan segala pengalaman hidupnya melalui tulisan, sehingga terbitlah buku Jihad Terlarang pada tahun 2007.

Berikut ialah wawancara yang mengisahkan pengalaman jujur hidup MT yang menjadi latar buku Jihad Terlarang.




Boleh ceritakan sedikit mengenai konteks buku ‘Jihad Terlarang’ ini?

MT:        Awalnya, beberapa kisah dari buku ini saya tulis di blog. Kemudian, ada seorang perwakilan dari penerbit yang menghubungi saya. Dia ingin saya menuliskan ini dalam bentuk buku. Itu tahun 2005. Akhirnya, sekitar tahun 2007, buku ini terbit – tetapi dari penerbit yang berbeza dari yang meminta. Saya sudah tandatangan perjanjian penerbitan dengan penerbit awal, tetapi ketika mahu layout, ketua penerbit menghentikan projek ini. Menurut informasi yang saya terima dari editornya, mereka takut ada kesan negatif buat perusahaannya. Ini kerana buku ini akan membuat ramai orang marah, terutama kelompok radikal.

Buku ini merupakan pengalaman peribadi saudara MT. Apakah cerita disebaliknya?

MT:        Di dalam buku ini, saya menciptakan watak utama yang bernama Royan. Beliau adalah watak yang sebenarnya mewakili pengalaman saya, selama lebih kurang sepuluh tahun bergiat di dalam gerakan ‘Darul Islam’ (DI). DI adalah sebahagian dari gerakan ‘Negara Islam Indonesia’ (NII). Saya mula bergiat pada tahun 1988 sehingga saya keluar dari DI pada tahun 1998. Jadi, bagaimana proses watak utama bernama Royan ini terekrut – konflik batin yang dialaminya ketika baru masuk, sehingga dia dapat menerima ajaran baru, dan ketokohannya meningkat atas kebolehannya mendekati dan merekrut orang lain, sehingga dia masuk ke tingkat tinggi, iaitu membuat dasar-dasar pergerakan, dan akhirnya dia menyingkirkan diri – ini semua saya ceritakan. Hujungnya, watak ini menyingkirkan diri kerana dia melihat banyak kontradiksi di dalam kelompok dia. Banyak hal yang membuat dia ragu sehingga dia memerlukan empat tahun (semenjak keraguannya bermula) untuk dia benar-benar merdeka dan keluar dari gerakannya.

Saya tertarik dengan proses merekrut itu, terutama apa yang dilalui oleh watak Royan ini.

MT:        Kalau dalam kes Royan, dia terekrut kerana dia melihat persaudaraan yang akrab dengan orang-orang yang baru dia kenal di dalam kelompok remaja masjid. Latar Royan ialah dia seorang anak jalanan dan juga tidak mempunyai hubungan baik dengan keluarganya sendiri. Jadi, dia seperti menemukan keluarga yang baru. Saat itulah, apa yang dia terima dari keluarga baru itu dianggap sebagai suatu kebenaran. Selanjutnya, Royan dan teman-temannya melakukan recruitment yang disesuaikan dengan objek atau sasarannya – dari pelajar sekolah menengah pertengahan (SMP), sekolah menengah atasan (SMA) hingga ke para mahasiswa, pedagang dan juga preman (orang jalanan). Semua cara dan pendekatannya berbeza-beza. Sebagai contoh, jika ingin merekrut preman, kita tidak akan membahaskan dalil-dalil agama; kita akan berbicara secara mudah sahaja. Saya akan mengambil kayu dan membuat garisan di tanah. Di bahagian kiri, ditulis ‘kafir’. Dan dibahagian kanan ditulis ‘Islam’. Maka ditanyakan, ‘Nah, yang mana anda pilih?’ Tentunya tidak ada orang yang mahu memilih ‘kafir’. Dari situ, kita mengajaknya mengambil bai’ah (perjanjian) untuk berjuang dengan nyawa untuk Islam.

Tadi, anda mengatakan bahawa setelah bergiat di dalam kelompok ini, anda melihat adanya kontradiksi. Apakah kontradiksi-kontradiksi ini?

MT:        Yang pertama dan yang paling terusik, kita menyedari bahawa tugas utama kita adalah menegakkan din-ullah, iaitu ‘agama Allah’ di muka bumi. Itu adalah sebuah cita-cita yang mulia dan suci. Tetapi, pada kenyataannya, kita sering melihat para pemimpin gerakan melakukan hal-hal yang sangat bercanggah dengan tujuan mulia itu. Contohnya, korupsi. Dan juga bagaimana mereka bersikap seperti diktator terhadap jemaahnya sendiri dan tidak memberikan kebebasan terhadap wanita untuk memilih calon suami. Wanita sering dikekang dan harus mengikuti lelaki. Buat saya, itu kurang memuaskan kerana menurut saya, wanita itu mempunyai haknya sendiri, termasuk memilih calon suaminya. Di dalam konteks kami dahulu, wanita itu harus menikahi lelaki yang dipilih walaupun beliau tidak menyukai calon suaminya itu – kerana itu sudah menjadi perintah dari atasan… Jadi secara jujurnya, kehidupan para anggota gerakan sering ditindas oleh atasan secara sewenang-wenangnya.

Bagaimana dengan ideologi gerakan terhadap Republik Indonesia, termasuk persoalan penegakan negara Islam?

MT:        Pada mulanya, saya keluar dari gerakan tersebut bukan kerana saya mencintai Pancasila atau menolak ideologi negara Islam. Saya masih tetap percaya pada waktu itu. Tetapi apa yang membuat saya keluar adalah kerana saya melihat moral mereka yang sudah rosak dan hancur. Jadi, saya keluar bukan kerana sedar secara ideologi, tetapi atas dasar moral.

Apakah ada perubahan di dalam pemikiran ideologi setelah kamu keluar?

MT:        Ya, setelah itu, perjalanan saya mungkin terpengaruh dengan buku-buku yang saya baca, yang membuat saya berubah menjadi lebih moderat. Lama-kelamaan, saya melihat bahawa ternyata kita tidak perlu menghancurkan Republik Indonesia dan menggantikan dengan konsep negara yang kita sendiri belum tahu bentuknya seperti apa. Saya sedar kita hanya merupakan orang yang tahu merekrut sahaja tanpa memahami persoalan negara dan masyarakat. Saya sendiri ragu akan kebolehan teman-teman underground dan kelompok radikal untuk mengelola negara. Mungkin sahaja negara Indonesia akan menjadi lebih rosak jika dikelola oleh mereka. Itu yang saya alami secara konflik jiwa. Akhirnya, sekian tahun, saya mula berdamai dengan diri sendiri, saya berdamai dengan negara Indonesia, dan saya berdamai dengan lingkungan sekitar saya. Saya mulai cair dan menjadi sebahagian dari masyarakat Indonesia.

Boleh ceritakan apa yang terjadi ketika kamu keluar dari Darul Islam dan sebelum kamu ketemukan kedamaian hati melalui Islam yang ramah dan berbeza dari apa yang kamu pelajari dari golongan radikal?

MT:        Waktu saya meninggalkan ‘Darul Islam’, saya memasuki satu fasa hidup di mana saya menjadi seperti ‘anti-Islam’. Waktu itu, saya kembali ke kelompok preman kerana masa lalunya, saya juga seorang anak jalanan. Saya melihat teman-teman preman ini, hampir setiap malam akan mengunjungi pusat pelacuran dan mabuk-mabuk. Saya sendiri tidak minum dan tidak mencari pelacur; saya hanya menemani mereka di luar sambil merokok. Saat itu, saya di dalam kondisi sudah tidak percaya kepada Tuhan. Tetapi, kerana sering bergaul dan duduk di situ, lama-kelamaan, saya berfikir: kenapa saya tidak melakukan perkara (iaitu, mabuk dan melacur) seperti teman saya? Di situ, saya menyedari, mungkin kerana di hati saya masih ada Tuhan. Maka Tuhanlah yang melindungi saya untuk tidak menjadi seperti teman-teman saya itu. Jadi, saya simpulkan: Oh, saya menemukan Tuhan di tempat pelacuran! Di tempat maksiat, saya mengenal kembali bahawa Tuhan itu wujud! Hari kemudiannya, saya pulang dan solat… Saya tidak lagi sakit mendengar azan, tidak seperti sebelumnya.


Nah, tetapi, mungkin apa yang saya lalui tidak harus sama dengan orang lain. Pengalaman saya tidak dapat kita generalisasikan, walaupun mungkin ada orang lain yang mengalami perkara yang sama dengan saya…

Boleh lanjutkan: bagaimana kamu merasa damai kembali selepas mengalami kekecewaan dan sikap anti-Islam itu kerana merasa dibohongi, dan akhirnya keluar dari kelompok radikal?

MT:        Saya mendapatkan kedamaian itu dari realiti kehidupan. Saya melihat bagaimana orang-orang biasa menjalani hidup: sebuah keluarga yang harmoni, seorang ibu yang bekerja untuk memberi makan kepada anaknya, dan sebagainya. Buat saya, mereka itu lebih nyata. Di Indonesia, majoritinya Muslim. Itu mempengaruhi saya dan saya berfikir bahawa lebih baik menjadi Muslim seperti mereka – tidak perlu memikirkan perang, revolusi – cukup untuk hidup biasa sahaja, menjalani ibadah seperti biasa, penuhi kewajiban terhadap anak dan isteri seperti biasa, bertetangga dengan baik… Jadi, melihat masyarakat inilah yang secara perlahan-lahan, membuat saya berubah dan berdamai.

Pada satu sisi, kamu melihat realiti kehidupan yang mendamaikan kamu. Bagaimana pula peranan agama, seperti apa yang diajar oleh kitab suci al-Qur’an? Apakah itu juga memainkan peranan, iaitu secara teologinya?

MT:        Secara teologi, saya mendapatkannya dari pesantren, setelah saya keluar dari ‘Darul Islam’. Pesantrenlah yang memberikan saya banyak masukan tentang dasar-dasar keislaman. Ketika saya sedang mencari Islam secara teori dan akademik, pesantrenlah yang memainkan peranan – terutama ketika saya mahu mempelajari ayat-ayat Tuhan. Dari situ, pesantrenlah yang memberikan pemahaman yang baik dan benar. Tetapi, peratusannya mungkin kecil berbanding apa yang saya dapatkan dari kehidupan.

Apakah dapat disatukan proses seperti ini, di mana apa yang dipelajari secara formal di kelas-kelas agama, seiringan dengan apa yang dilihat dan dipelajari dari realiti kehidupan?

MT:        Saya seorang yang sedari kecil, belajar melalui dialog. Ijazah saya hanya sekadar SMP (sekolah menengah pertengahan). Saya tidak pernah berkuliah di universiti. Tetapi, dahulu, saya pernah ke kampus-kampus universiti untuk berdiskusi dengan para mahasiswa dan para pensyarahnya. Saya juga akan beli buku untuk dibaca dan dipelajari; dan apa yang saya tidak faham, akan saya tanyakan. Saya tidak punya wang untuk memasuki universiti. Melalui proses dialog, saya belajar dan saya akan tapis informasinya. Menurut saya, kebenaran apa pun, ianya harus diuji. Dan diuji di mana? Di realiti masyarakat. Jadi, apa yang saya dapatkan dari kiyai, misalnya, saya akan persoalkan: Pak Kiyai mengatakan ‘A’ tetapi saya lihat ‘B’ di masyarakat. Dan Pak Kiyai akan terpaksa menjelaskan lagi sehingga saya benar-benar puas dengan ‘A’ dan ‘B’ yang tidak mempunyai jurang antara teori dan kenyataan.


Satu contoh. Ketika kiyai menceritakan mengenai toleransi dan Islam sebagai agama universal, saya harus menguji itu. Bagaimana? Saya akan bergaul dengan teman-teman saya dari kelompok berbeza keyakinan seperti Nasrani, Hindu dan yang beragama Buddha. Saya akan bersahabat dengan mereka dan berbicara mengenai perdamaian; di situlah saya melihat bahawa pada dasarnya, keinginan kami (untuk berdamai) sama. Barulah saya merasakan apa yang dikatakan kiyai itu terbukti di tingkat realiti kehidupan. Pak Kiyai sendiri tidak pernah memprotes ketika dia tahu saya sedang mengunjungi biara (monastery), gereja ataupun kuil. Kiyai tidak pernah marah sama saya.

Buat saya, kiyai ini mempunyai pandangan yang sangat luas – sama seperti Gus Dur (Abdurrahman Wahid). Malah, kiyai saya mengagumi Gus Dur. Beliau juga dekat dengan tokoh-tokoh berjiwa besar seperti Nurcholish Madjid. Oleh kerana pergaulannya luas, pandangan beliau lebih bijaksana. Saya simpulkan begitu.

Dalam perjalanan saya, ketika saya melihat sesuatu yang berbeza dengan lebih dekat, saya akan mendapatkan bahawa ternyata anggapan orang lain terhadap orang yang buruk ini, salah. Contohnya: pernah orang ramai mengatakan orang Kristian itu jahat terhadap orang Islam. Saya datang kepada teman-teman saya yang beragama Kristian, tetapi mereka itu sangat baik – sehingga saya dapat menumpang solat di bilik mereka. Mereka sehingga menyediakan ruang untuk saya solat. Ini satu contoh bahawa orang Kristian tidak jahat, malah mereka begitu toleran. Kalau mereka begitu toleran, kenapa kita tidak? Itulah realiti yang saya temukan di ruang kehidupan.


Ke Bahagian 2 | Bahagian 3


Ini adalah pendapat pengarang dan tidak semestinya mewakili pandangan The Affair.


Are We Problematising “Malay”?

by Nicholas Chan
11 September 2017


As a researcher, a guilty conscience is not something I encounter regularly. This is not because I don’t have a conscience, but that I firmly believe in the objectivity, good-will, and ultimately the usefulness of my work.

Most of the time they are fact-finding missions; whether the truth is good or bad or even ugly is not the point. My job is to uncover them, and to the best of my abilities try not to distort them.

But lately, I do sense the haunts of this guilty conscience in certain aspects of my research that can be generalised as ‘Malay studies’.

Perhaps I am still new to researching anthropology and sociology. Or perhaps the guilt comes from me being a Chinese (not a very easy position to begin with to do ‘Malay studies’), especially for one that grew up in a rather homogenous environment.

That said, the impetus to perform the study in what I would call the “scholar-activist circle” is never too hard to understand.

More often than not, the attempt is seen as one that seeks to bridge the two Malaysias, between one that is relatively internationalised and subscribes to the Western ways of logic and reasoning; the other that looks to be actively rejecting it, with a different set of values and arguing logic that is often mystifying and baffling to the other.

In other words, the relationship is almost dialectical, and sadly in the case of ethno-religiously divided Malaysia, even dangerous. This should be rather obvious now after the Low Yat incident, where a seemingly harmless case of theft turned into a full-blown case of collective violence.

The talk of Bersih 4 resolves more on what race participated than how many did, although that is to me, a fair question within the present context. It is a sad but necessary question to ask.

To better understand the Malays, at least to a lot of people, holds the key to defuse this.

And herein lays my sense of guilt and discomfort. Unlike in the colonial era where Malay studies (the idea of ‘Malay studies’ is most likely founded by Stamford Raffles) were conceived as a serious-but often misguided-anthropological attempt to classify “the natives”, this is the contemporary framework Malay Studies is subjected to.

Studying the Malays is treated as an act of problem solving.

Certainly, the sheer ludicrousness of the narratives raised by certain interest groups claiming to be representing the community isn’t helping. But to embark on a research endeavour that feels like racial profiling is deeply unsettling.

When Malaysia achieved its independence, we are in many ways led to believe that we are then liberated from the colonial structures that were grappling the Malaysian society. Many will now observe that this is not entirely true. In this case, for example, we can see that the colonial framework of ethnic classification still lingers. Not in how we perceive the others, but also in how we perceive ourselves.

I can’t help but to ask, in this supposedly noble attempt to understand the Malays better, are we not also problematising them? This scrutinisation of an ethnic group, be it from a historical, sociological or anthropological perspective, often places the researcher (and reader) at a higher vantage point. However, this position that is supposed to offer clarity and objectivity is also an alienating one.

While some may argue the position’s necessity for research purposes, have we ever thought of its implications on our conceptualisation of the communal group? Are we at the risk of treating some of our brethren as an exotic species, one that runs off-course (or even worse, backwards) from our understanding of the world and modernity, as if being Malay is a problem in itself?

How is that any different from the paradigm heavily criticised by Professor Syed Hussein Alatas in his seminal work, The Myth of the Lazy Native? Both the aspect of the ‘myth’ and the ‘lazy native’ is seemingly being reproduced and reinforced, even at this day and age.

This happens not only in Malaysia as a recent survey conducted in Australia still saw 37% of its non-indigenous respondents opined that the indigenous are “lazy”[1]. How telling.

Similar problematisation can be seen in the discussions about Islam these days, about how it is linked to terrorism and countries in turmoil. Islam is often placed at the centre of these brutalities and hostilities that one is often tempted to draw a quick conclusion that Islam itself is the problem.

While any serious research attempt cannot be shunning a full examination of all possible variables, including theology if religion is a facet to be explored, one has to bear in mind that the research process itself has its implications, if not carefully tend to.

A subject of study could easily be rendered, even without any objective proof, as a specimen of error or an inferior creation. The researcher could easily be misled into thinking he/she is on a ‘civilising mission’, not unlike the problematic thinking of our former colonial masters.

This is not helped by fact that every sphere of life in Malaysia is highly racialised. Even successes and failures can be defined in racial terms[2].

To be fair, the Outsider is not entirely to blame for the matter of problematising the Malays, or any other races, for that matter. Members within the group itself are also actively contributing to the reinforcing of the same colonial judgment.

See for example the exhortations by Tun Dr Mahathir in telling the Malays to leave their ‘old ways’ or the rhetoric of Perkasa, which usually carries a self-discriminative tone by implying the Malays are by default a weaker and more needy group as compared to the Chinese.

One can also refer to the emotional callings made by certain groups after the Low Yat incident, which bore the message that while the Malays are docile people by disposition, they are not to be challenged. If not, they will go into frenzy. Here lies the fuel for the “only Malays will go amok” theory.

Sweeping statements like this only breathes life to the idea that being Malay itself is inferior and ’out-of-place’ in the modern world. For the record, we all know that there is no biological truth to the ‘amok’ theory.

As a scholar, I can’t help but also notice my uneasy participation in this process. The vocabulary of the ‘lazy natives’ is so pervasive that it seeps into our mindsets naturally and unknowingly.

Perhaps the problem lies not in race itself, but how society is obsessed with it. And for that, I suppose a good dose of guilty conscience is healthy to remind everyone not to take things only at the skin-deep level.


Nicholas Chan is a researcher of IMAN, a boutique research outfit that strives to understand Malaysia through society, religions and perceptions, the key signifiers of Malaysian identities. A healthy guilty conscience keeps our research process and outcomes dynamic yet grounded amidst the oversupply of hollow, grandstanding narratives that besiege the public discourse.

[1] http://www.smh.com.au/national/these-six-charts-show-the-state-of-discrimination-towards-indigenous-australians-20140730-zy6fa.html

[2] See an engaging discussion about it in Sloane-White, P. (2008). The Ethnography of failure: Middle-class Malays producing capitalism in an ‘Asian miracle’ economy. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 39(03), 455-482.


This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.


Is Our Education System Truly Reforming?

by Altaf Devivati
8 August 2017


The critical role that education plays in creating human capital is what makes investment towards education an economic study on its own. Adam Smith in his book “The Wealth of Nations” published in 1776 stated the importance of education in raising the productive capacity of society. Today, human capital is recognized as a main component in the engine of economic growth.

The power of education is undeniable. Numerous academic papers have been written on the importance of education, how it reduces social and economic disparity, allowing progress to be shared equally. In developing countries, education is viewed as a means to alleviate poverty and engineer social change.

However, education is not just about studying and getting straight A’s, nor is it about getting into the Ivy League or Oxbridge, those are merely effects of a good education. Education provides not only critical skills and tools that help people better provide for themselves and children but also gives a person the ability of differentiating between what is right and wrong or good and evil.

Therefore it is the responsibility of society to ensure that citizens are educated. According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2011, the production of University degrees and R&D activities of educational institutions are related towards the growth of human capital in the areas in which they are located. So clearly, education is not only good for the individual but also the success of communities. So when a person is educated, he not only gains knowledge or skill but he will also inadvertently contribute to the socio-economic growth of a nation. This is why education is so important. It is the basis of a civilized and structured society.

It is no surprise that education is a critical issue in Malaysia where every citizen has an opinion on. Since her independence, Malaysia has invested heavily in education until today. Not only is it the biggest expenditure of the national budget but we are among the top countries with highest investment on education. Which is why it is rather distressing to know that based on the 2010 World Bank report, our returns on the investment has been low. For the past few years, the debate on the quality of education has been a heated argument. However, most agree that the quality of education has severely dropped. This is based on our poor international performance in three consecutive TIMMS and PISA assessments as well as the high number of local graduates who are not industry ready or marketable and of course the drop in our command of English. Numerous explanations have been given but with no solid empirical data to support. In response to the public out-cry on the state of national education, the Ministry of Education has recently finalized and published the National Education Blueprint which will now be the guiding document on improving the national education situation. This document is part our governments numerous attempts in addressing our education quandary.

In summary, the National Education Blueprint is a document driven by international best practices and the 11 programmes known as shifts that were proposed are those that have worked in other countries. In essence the document is a “politically correct” document, what it proposes in theory look good and sounds reasonable. Therefore, one cannot really find fault in the document. However, it is assumed by implementing these 11 shifts we will be able to fix our education system. We will see better quality students which will result in better human capital. At a glance, it seems that there is nothing wrong with this but there is definitely more than meets the eye.


To Consider

The reaction towards the blueprint by all side in Malaysia is riddled with emotions and political leanings and with very little positive and constructive comments. Some quarters are accusing the Blueprint of quietly killing off Chinese and Indian vernacular schools while others are condemning it for not having any Bumi agenda in it. It is accepted that the Blueprint would not be able to appease everyone. However, there are a few issues with the Blueprint that needs to be highlight and taken seriously. Firstly, while the Blueprint made clear the challenges and problems in our education system, it does not however, support it with empirical evidence. This leads to the solutions that it proposes, which seems more assumptive rather than evidence based. A good public policy must be driven by evidence and not short-term political pressures. Policies should be forward-looking and really deal with problems but how do we do this without strong supporting data. Public policies implemented which are not based on evidence can cost billions yet fail to address critical social problems and can end up victimizing more people then is intended.

Reviews conducted by UNESCO and the World Bank on the Malaysian Education system have stated that the problem with the Malaysian Education system is structural and this is mostly due to the complex nature of how the Ministry is run and policies implemented. It has become apparent that policies and new initiatives are undertaken by the Ministry with little references to empirical data and there is a lack of concern about long-term implications of this. The Blueprint in no-way explains or justifies why the 11 shifts were seen as key criteria’s to improve our education system. For instance, where are the empirical data’s that shows; Shift 3: Develop value-driven Malaysians or Shift 4: Transform teaching into a Profession of choice are important factors? The Blueprint states that international best practices shows that teacher quality is the most significant school-based factor in determining student outcomes and this we can all agree on. It continues to show that only 50% of current lessons in Malaysian schools are being delivered in an effective manner and the Blueprint goes on to state that shift 4 will result in:

“Teaching will be a prestigious, elite profession that only recruits from the top 30% of graduates in the country. Teachers will receive the best training possible, from the time they enter their teacher training programmes, through to the point of retirement. They will have access to exciting career development opportunities across several distinct pathways, with progression based on competency and performance, not tenure. There will be a peer-led culture of excellence wherein teachers mentor one another, develop and share best practices and hold their peers accountable for meeting professional standards”

However, what the Blueprint fails to explain is, what the current problem with our existing teachers is, resulting in them failing to meet their basic requirement in teaching. The Blueprint further fails to explain how long the situation has been festering and how many cohorts of children have been victimized by this. If this has been going on for more than 10 years, then the situation is dire and a structural change is needed, more than just add on classes to upgrade already overworked teachers.

Structural changes must be done in tandem with a shift in the paradigm mind-set of existing workforce. Malaysia’s education policy as well as its workforce is entrenched in the old New Economic Policy (NEP) mind-set even after the introduction of the New Economic Model (NEM). Under the NEP, the objective of education was to increase access to education as well as narrow the gap of racial inequality. We have made enormous strides in providing access to education which is commendable but today our education system may no longer be congruent with current realities. We need to shift from increasing access to improving quality which means stressing more on merit-base with limited targeting to ensure that the bottom 40% of the population is not left behind. This inadvertently requires a whole different skills-set and perspective not just by employing the brightest to become teachers but to review our whole teacher training and staffing system as well as management policy. We need to address some long-standing structural weaknesses in the system as well as the negative side-effects of the NEP such as inequality, dependency and racial polarization through-out the whole education system.

One major proposal which is much needed but was lightly touched by the Blueprint is decentralization. Increasing local autonomy of schools and districts as proposed by the Blueprint is a short-term measure. There is currently a global trend of decentralizing education systems. The process transfers decision-making powers from central Ministries to State government, local governments, communities and schools. The extent of the transfer varies but of course it does result in the de-concentration of administration as well as transfer of financial control to the region or local level. This will allow schools or local authorities to have more say in the management, budget as well as staffing of their own schools without having to go through central authority that is riddled with bureaucracy. Looking at our current system which is highly centralized and is experiencing the pitfalls of a centralized education system such as administrative and fiscal inefficiency, and poor quality of services especially from the teaching staff, the advantages of decentralization is extremely appealing. In general, the process of decentralization can substantially improve efficiency, transparency and accountability. It would also better reflect local priorities, encourage participation of all stakeholders such as parents and local communities, and, eventually, improve quality. What the Government, in this context the Federal really needs to do is review back its role as an education provider. Perhaps limit its role to monitoring, evaluating and policy development only and shift the rest to the State, local authority and schools themselves.



In pursuit of wanting to be the best internationally, we focus our national policies on producing “gifted and talented” students. This is evident in our pursuit of A’s in national exams and the continuous praises that Ministry and politicians give themselves for producing students who achieved so many A’s. There is a fundamental problem with this, while it is not wrong to be a gifted student, rather I would say one is blessed to be gifted but if an education policy focuses on gifted children which are a minority, this takes away the attention on the 99% and some will fall through the cracks. A holistic education system does not set it goals by how many straight A’s students it has or how many “geniuses” it produces but by ensuring that no student fails. We have come to evaluate our education process solely on national exams. Everyone, student, parent and teachers put all their measurement on national examination results. While the Blueprint tries to address this, by introducing “assessments” but it is yet to see how this will take place. Currently, rewards to students, teachers and schools are still based on examination outcome. Salary increments and school rankings based on national exams, which is not wrong in itself bad but it can distort priorities. Teachers and schools should be evaluated on numerous criteria’s, among them a decrease in drop-out rate or the increase in number of students maintaining their whole secondary school performance. But how can we do that when a student record/report card has no value. Student report cards which shows the progress of a student’s academic life is crucial. These report cards represent more than just passing exams but how they are fairing in school overall and most importantly, we can detect whether a student is failing early on and do the required intervention. Unfortunately the current system is not using it. Therefore, a paradigm shift on how we evaluate education is pertinent.

It is of course difficult to make a value-added critique or proposals without clear empirical data which itself is hard to get due to the secrecy of the Ministry. For instance, inspectorates reports are not disclosed or shared even within Ministry, Examination board do not make public data on exams. We are left to assume that passing marks are the same yearly and that the exam analysis that is made public in truth only tells us how many students got straight A’s as opposed to a proper critique. Sadly, the public is forced to accept this quality of work as conclusive. However, the bottom-line is, we need to be very clear where the real problem is in our education system. Making random guesses and assumptions are costly and we do not have a bottomless pit of resources to tap into.


The Finish System

There is no doubt that we need a total reform our education system but instead of just taking piecemeal proposals from other countries, what would be better is to review on how good countries design their policies in the first place. International best practices is always a good benchmark to work with, and what better system to look at than one of the best systems in the world, the Finnish Education System. The Finnish society has gone through an economic and cultural transition from being a mono-cultural, agrarian, and peripheral society to a multi-cultural, high-tech knowledge economy. The Finnish education system is attractive because it successfully combines quality with widespread equity and social cohesion through reasonable public finance. The recent success of Finland as a nation has often been explained by its lack of ethnic minorities and a relatively homogeneous society. Even though the 5.3 million population of Finland is not as diverse as some other European nations, migration trends since the early 1990s indicate that Finland is rapidly transforming into a multi-cultural society yet their education continue to perform. So how did Finland have such a robust and dynamic education system? Has it always been like that? Finnish education system was never really affected by global education reforms of the 1980s, the policies today are a result of decades of systematic, mostly intentional development that has created a culture of diversity, trust, and respect within Finnish society in general and within its education system in particular, for a better explanation, please refer to below table:

Table 1. Some aspects of global education reform trends and education policy principles in Finland since the 1980s

Education policies and reform principles


Global education reform trends



Setting clear, high and centrally prescribed performance standards for schools, teachers and students to improve the quality of outcomes.


Focus on literacy and numeracy

Basic knowledge and skills in reading, writing, mathematics and natural sciences as prime targets of education reform.


Consequential accountability

The school performance and raising student achievement are closely tied to the processes of promotion, inspection and ultimately rewarding or punishing schools and teachers based on accountability measures, especially standardised testing as the main criteria of success.

Education policies in Finland


Flexibility and loose standards

Building on existing good practices and innovations in school-based curriculum development, setting of learning targets and networking through steering by information and support.


Broad learning combined with creativity

Teaching and learning focus on deep and broad learning giving equal value to all aspects of an individual’s growth of personality, moral, creativity, knowledge and skills.


Intelligent accountability with trust-based professionalism

Adoption of intelligent accountability policies and gradual building of a culture of trust within the education system that values teachers’ and headmasters’ professionalism in judging what is best for students and in reporting their learning progress.

Sahlberg, P.

As you can see, the policies that Finland had taken during an era of global education reforms were different. This is not to say that others were wrong but rather, Finland’s success has been the result of policy makers who pursued reform in ways that went beyond optimizing existing structures, policies and practices, and moved towards fundamentally transforming the paradigms and beliefs that underlay educational policy and practice. In the 1990s the discourse in education policy went through further changes and Finland was not immune to the development outside, it had reviewed its policy based on the current neo-liberal system but it still remained true to its fundamentals. The bedrock of the Finnish education policy is that it is based on sustainable leadership, established on values that are grounded on equity, equitable distribution of resources rather than competition, intensive early childhood intervention for prevention as well as providing an equal head start to all and of course building gradual trust among education practitioners especially teachers with other stakeholders such as parents and communities. Finland’s policy design was based on what was right for them and on their needs and they didn’t have a problem to revamp the system when it no longer served the needs of the country.

Malaysian education system is currently at a crossroad. The government has been announcing one reform plan after another and we have been reviewing our education philosophy a number of times yet it is still leading us to the same results. Accountability and transparency is much needed if we truly are to reform our education system. Mimicking other systems will not be sufficient in addressing our inherent problems. Japan did not become a first world country by mimicking the West, it took the technology and redesigned it in its own image. It is evidently clear that we need a strong and healthy human capital in order for this country to prosper and education is the key. However, are a few proposals on top of existing policy really going to transform our education system? Every one of us is a stakeholder in the making of our human capital resource and it will take all of us to reform it. We need real reform, a full review of the current system must be done and we need the Government to have the political will to make the boldest decisions by making policies that better suits us based on empirical data – meaning, owning up to its past mistakes and move on from there.


Sahlberg, P. Education policies for raising student learning: the Finnish approach. Journal of Education Policy, Vol. 22, No. 2, March 2007, pp. 147–171
Chilcot, J.H. A Critique of Recent Models for the Improvement of Education in Developing Countries. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, vol. 189, No 3 . Sept 1997. Pp 241- 245
Machin, S. the New Economics of Education: Methods, Evidence and Policy. Journal of Population economics, vol. 21, No1. Jan 2008. Pp 1- 9
Malaysian National Education Blueprint 2103-2025. October 2013
Do Colleges and Universities Increase Their Region’s Human Capital? : http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/education/colleges-universities-regional-human-capital/#sthash.ieRtwolx.dpuf


This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.


Notes on Marawi and our East Sabah Border

by Badrul Hisham Ismail
12 July 2017


On May 23, 2017, a few days before the start of Ramadhan, an armed conflict broke out in Marawi City, the capital of Lanao del Sur on the Mindanao island in the Philippines.

What began as the Philippine government’s attempt to capture Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the ISIL-affiliated Abu Sayyaf group, became an all out urban warfare between the Armed Forces of the Philippine with support from the US, Australia, China, Israel, as well as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), against the alliance of ISIL-affiliated militias, namely Abu Sayyaf, the Maute group, Bangsamore Islamic Freedom Fighters, and Ansar Khalifa Philippines (AKP). The fighting is still going on since with no sign of stopping. More than 500 people have died as of now, including civilians. Meanwhile here in Malaysia, just next door to the Philippines, people have been busy fasting and feasting throughout Ramadhan and Syawal. The irony of it all.

A couple of weeks before the start of the Marawi crisis -- also known as The Battle of Marawi -- IMAN’s field operative was in Marawi City on a fact finding mission. Our research work on violent extremism brought us to look at conflict areas in the region, including the island of Mindanao. Knowing the situation of the conflict in the area, as well as its border connection with Sabah, we felt it was important for us to find out the situation on the ground and how it might impact our fellow citizens in East Sabah.

The field operator first landed in Cotabato -- a regional hub for international organizations and foreign journalists -- to meet up with a local contact. He was then introduced to Syeikh Abdul of the Regional Darul Ifta’ of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, who is also the second cousin of Farhana Maute, the mother of the Maute brothers of the Maute group.

Syeikh Abdul confided to our field operator that some of the members of Darul Ifta’ have family members who are involved with the Ansar Khalifa Philippines (AKP) in Sultan Kudarat, and some have pledged allegiance to the Abu Sayyaf group. Syeikh Abdul also mentioned that recruitment was actively happening in Tahfiz schools located in Marawi City and Cotabato.


The Narrative

Next stop was Marawi City, where our representative met with a lecturer at a local public university. The lecturer brought him to the university, where he had a chance to do a focus group discussion with 17 students (12 male, 5 female). During the discussion, the students unanimously agreed on a few things: they wanted a full autonomy for Mindanao to implement Sharia law, citing Acheh as an example; they said that they were being oppressed by the Philippine government, saying that it was a Christian agenda to suppress Muslims; they were supporters of the separatist groups in the region, and they had no problems cooperating or joining external terror groups that would help them achieve their goals; they disliked the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) because they were not pure Muslims and admitted that some of their family members were involved with the rebel groups.

He also managed to speak to two members of the AKP, one of which could speak Malay since he used to work in Sabah. According to them, the AKP was being suppressed by the Philippines government, with their members being prosecuted and killed in attacks.

It is important to note the narrative at use here, employed by both by the students and the AKP members. According to them, the people in Mindanao aspire for more autonomy to pursue their own way of life, in accordance to their own principles. The powers that be, namely the Philippines government, with support from foreign governments, were not allowing them to pursue them. And not only that, they were also being punished for it. Harassed, prosecuted, jailed and murdered. They were being attacked because of who they were and what they believed in. The on-going “under siege” narrative has now become a mindset that is repeatedly being echoed by vulnerable communities all over the world.

Before leaving Marawi City, our field operator met with another local, a teacher at a Tahfiz school. They both met at a state-owned mosque in Marawi City, which is also the headquarters of the Maute group. Recruitment for the group was happening in Tahfiz schools and local universities, and that there were Malaysians in the group including Dr Mahmud, the lecturer from Universiti Malaya. A lot of the financial support for the group comes from Malaysia, and he suspected the person in charge of this was a Malaysian, a religious teacher cum silat master. At the time of meeting, there were already 32 Malaysians reported to be in Marawi City.

After the fighting in Marawi occurred, I spoke to a contact in East Sabah, to connect the dots and understand its implications towards neighboring Sabah. When I first asked him how the situation was now in Sabah, he said that in West Sabah, people have been busy with the Kaamatan festival. “It’s all about Kaamatan,” highlighting the fact that in West Sabah, just like in Peninsular Malaysia, people are either not affected at all or they are not concerned about the events happening just across the border. “But in East Sabah things are a bit different,” he said.
He maintained that the situation in East Sabah was “not that terrible yet,” but there was a brewing concern that needs to be addressed. For the longest time, the relationship between the Suluks in East Sabah and the rebel groups in Mindanao have always been based on economics. The well-funded rebel groups sought allegiance from the Suluks by offering them a small amount of money or basic necessities, which is considered a lot for the financially challenged Suluk people. There are also some family ties between the Suluk and the Filipino-Tausugs due to movements of both peoples crossing the border, which dates way back before colonial times.


Neglect by Malaysia? 

However, over the past few years, a new narrative has emerged among the Suluks. According to our contact, the Suluks now are talking about how they are being pushed to the corner, exploited and neglected by fellow Malaysians (a claim that has a lot of truth in it), and at some point they will band together and join a group that will champion their survival. Just like how the Malays in Peninsular identify themselves as Malay-Muslim first, not Malaysians, the Suluks identify themselves as Suluks first. Added with the cultural familiarity and filial relationship with the rebel groups in Mindanao, and of course their close proximity, it is not difficult to guess which side they might turn into.

Speaking to Vilashini Somiah, a Sabah ethnographer and PhD candidate from NUS, she said that although there are no apparent tension or conflict have been reported, she did find that certain ethnic groups tend to be “extra guarded due to a perceived idea that the state is particularly suspicious of them.” “I cannot say for certain if the state operates in that manner officially,” said Somiah, “but perception is a strong and powerful tool and this feeling of suspicion has certainly added to public tension.”  

I must stress here that I am not suggesting the Suluks in East Sabah have no loyalty towards Malaysia and that we should see them as a problem. They are Malaysians, they are entitled to be treated equally as Malaysian citizens and it is our responsibility to ensure their wellbeing. And because of that it is important for us to look into this matter seriously, to prevent the unrest in Marawi to spill over into our borders and affect the lives of our fellow Malaysians.

One area of concern is migration, and the movement of militants in and out of our borders. “I cannot see the state neglecting this part of the Sabah coast any longer. The latest pack with Indonesia and the Philippines in joint patrol efforts to protect piracy prone waters has actually significantly slowed down irregular migration towards Sabah but it most definitely has yet to put a full stop to it. There are always loopholes to finding one's way into the eastern coastal areas of Sabah. It just takes plenty of patience and diligence,” said Somiah. 

In IMAN, we believe in a holistic approach in preventing and countering violent extremism. This means going beyond the traditional security approach, and start to really look into the push and pull factors, protecting vulnerable communities by building resilience. In the case of East Sabah, this includes being a real ally to our fellow countrywomen and men, making them an integral part of our nation, while promoting awareness on ISIL and other terror groups and their implications towards our survival and way of life.   


Badrul Hisham Ismail is the Programmes Director of IMAN Research. He also makes films.


This is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of The Affair.











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