View of BN flags on the ceiling
IN George Orwell’s seminal work of dystopian fiction, Nineteen Eighty-Four, the totalitarian Ingsoc government employs, among its slogans, the phrase “Freedom is Slavery”. Orwell, who wrote at length about how “language can corrupt thought“, is credited with popularising the concept of “doublespeak”: language deliberately constructed to distort its actual meaning.
The Barisan Nasional (BN) campaign in Manik Urai, if its ceramah in Laloh on the evening of 6 July 2009 is any indication, appears ready to embrace such distortion.
The night’s last speaker, former Kelantan Umno chief Tan Sri Annuar Musa, admitted that Umno was weak. “Malay politics are threatened. Some non-Malay [Malaysians] support PAS, not because they love Islam, but because they want to weaken Malay political interests,” he said.
“Because of such racial politics, we lost in 2008. The result is that Kelantan suffers.”
As rhetoric, Annuar’s message is quite subtle. During the March 2008 general election, campaigns of the then embryonic Pakatan Rakyat (PR) parties seemed to embrace a platform of racial equality. For example, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim consistently promised to replace the New Economic Policy (NEP)’s paradigm of ethnicity with need- and class-based policies.
Since then, the PR’s component parties, PKR, DAP and PAS, have distanced themselves from the BN coalition’s racially divided modus operandi by giving weight to racially blind principles. PAS, embracing Islamic ideals, seem poised to open up party membership to non-Malay PAS Supporter’s Club members.
It appears then that what Annuar was trying to do was to equate efforts at eroding the BN’s communal status quo with “racial politics” — which contradicts what the phrase conventionally means.
In short: being colour blind is racist. That is a classic example of doublespeak.
Trying to widen speculated rifts within PAS, Annuar praised PAS deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa. Nasharuddin had acquired a measure of infamy recently, for suggesting that PAS was open to unity talks with archenemy Umno. He was publicly censured by PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat. Nasharuddin has since been conspicuously absent from Manik Urai, a state constituency in Kelantan where Nik Aziz is the popular menteri besar.
Annuar delivering his speech But Annuar, in his speech, saluted Nasharuddin and party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang for “having awareness” and “being open to looking for alternatives”, as they were amenable to working together with Umno.
Comparing the Hadi/Nasharuddin clique with Nik Aziz’s less pliable faction, Annuar said, “I think the seed of moderation will not die out in PAS. It is the fanatics who will die out.”
Once again, this appears to be a deliberate repositioning of PAS’s leaders. Nik Aziz has long been seen to be a more moderate voice in the Islamist party when it comes to issues of Malay-Muslim supremacy. Indeed, he was quoted as saying on nomination day on 6 July 2009: “In PR, we already have Chinese and Indian [Malaysians]. Perpaduan Melayu antara orang Melayu buat apa?”
Further, if PAS is indeed denying the possibility of a unity government with the BN, this would mean that they are indirectly in support of a two-party system — certainly a more progressive form of democracy, as it allows for more checks and balances in government.
Divide and rule
“This is not the time for the politics of divide and rule,” Annuar said, claiming that PAS, symbolised by Nik Aziz, practised a policy of “hatred [of] Umno supporters”. The implication was that Malaysia’s second largest party was deliberately preventing Malay Malaysians from achieving intra-racial unity for its own political gain.
That is a curious appropriation of the “divide and rule” idea, since it historically refers to the British colonial practice of pitting different segments of society — typically divided along racial lines — against each other.
It is ironic, since the idea of “Malay racial unity” — to stand against the Chinese and Indian Others — is a colonial by-product. The BN coalition, with its Umno-MCA-MIC triumvirate, is usually held as a post-Merdeka perpetuation of the British’s “divide and rule” policy.
It is tempting to assume that Umno is consciously employing this sort of rhetoric in the by-election. After all, in a monoethnic constituency such as Manik Urai, whose voters are 99.2% Malay Malaysian, threats to Malay unity would certainly be deplorable.
BN supporters on nomination day
Also, it is easy to describe viewing Malaysian society with anything other than a race-based lens as a bad thing, especially when a party such as Umno is so dependent on race-based politics to remain relevant. Hence, it is not surprising that the BN camp is now describing attempts to use other lenses as “racism” or “extremism” as a way to cast them as being a threat to the status quo. New ways of looking at Malaysian society would mean drastic changes to historical prejudices and mores, and question the viability of race-based parties.
“[Nik Aziz] is a good man, but he is a politician,” Annuar cautioned his audience.
According to Annuar, no matter how much PAS hated Umno, the Islamist party’s supporters could not run away from “Umno’s delights”.
“If they buy a motorcycle, they will ride on good roads built by Umno,” Annuar said. “Whenever they wash themselves before prayer, they will use water provided by Umno. When they go for the Hajj, they use funds created for them by Umno.”
Talking about basic amenities as gifts is feudal; Annuar’s words imply a kindly monarch rewarding disloyal subjects. Yet these are things that any democratically elected government is duty-bound to provide for its citizens, regardless of political affiliation.
Further, Kelantan’s underdevelopment as a state in the Malaysian federation may be attributed to insufficient federal support — which may be read as the BN-dominated federal government punishing the errant PAS-ruled state.
Mustapa Mohamed Doublethink
Earlier that evening, Kelantan Umno chief Datuk Mustapa Mohamed envisioned a BN win in Manik Urai as a “beginning of change for Kuala Krai, and the whole of Kelantan.” That isn’t doublespeak, since the federal ruling party is the opposition in this northern state.
But, judging from the language Umno leaders are now using, the BN’s success in Manik Urai would ensure the continuation of Malaysia’s status quo in the constituency. Worse, it may mean a deeper entrenchment of such equations, as progressive values are called “fanatical”, and feudal patronage is repackaged as “democracy”.
After all, if the Orwellian argument of “language corrupting thought” is to be believed, then doublespeak leads to doublethink.