Many people in town may not be aware yet that there may be now a new battleground for the eternal war between the two major Malay-based parties, UMNO and PAS [sorry PKR, you aren’t quite in the league].
The combat arena might have subtly shifted slightly and quietly from the purely Islamic holier-than-thou to another ground. The initiator of this manoeuvre appears to be PAS. I'll speculate on PAS' choice in this posting and talk about UMNO's in a subsequent one.
Recently PAS Youth information chief Mohamad Hanipa Maidin came in from the left field by condemning the Arab model as unsuitable for democracy and modern civilisation.
Hey-ho, so it's about democracy and modern civilisation, and Hanipa being from PAS, of course Islam as well.
Startling as it undoubtedly must have been even for the PAS Arab-philes, one of the party's top Youth leaders has now declared that Arabs have shown a terrible example, resulting in a negative image of democracy and Islam. There we have it again, democracy and Islam within the context of modern civilisation.
And Hanipa declared that the awful Arab example has unfairly dragged other Muslims down into the gutter with them. He deduced, quite correctly, that the West perceives all Muslims through that Arabic prism. In fact he blamed the Arab behaviour as the cause for the Europeans deliberately publishing the offensive caricatures on Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). While I do see his point, I reckon his analysis of the cause for Europe publishing the caricature might just be a wee over the top.
He didn’t stop there and went on to attribute the phenomenon of al-Qaeda to the undemocratic practices of Arab leaders. There is unfortunately truth in this assertion. But he failed to mention that those undemocratic Arab leaders were all propped up by the USA for the latter's own interests.
Obviously Mohamad Hanipa Maidin has started to move PAS away from the ultra-conservative right, and its low level brand of campaigning a la the blasphemous 'ticket to heaven' promotion prior to the 2004 general election. His direction for his party appears to be a more centrist, shall we say, Islamic democracy.
I am still unclear of what he has in mind but I am visualising [hopefully] PAS new politico-religious ideology as promoting and merging together the noble values of Islam and democracy, and returning to the enlightened, knowledge and tolerant age at the acme of the Islamic civilisation, but within the practical reality of a modern 21st Century multiethnic multicultural civilisation.
This could be really exciting as it would make PAS more palatable to the non-Muslims, and enhance the Islamic party's 2008 campaigning as Malaysians are getting impatient with Ahmad Abdullah Badawi's Islam Hadhari. But has Hanipa been acting on his own accord [it seems unlikely as he has sembelih (slaughter) the sacred Arab camel] or has he been acting with the blessings of the party apparatus?
Then, to show his democratic credentials and at the same time jab sideways at UMNO's ribs, Hanipa said PAS would not agree to use the Internal Security Act (ISA) against those who published the caricatures because the security law was wicked. He said: “Those who insult the prophet are definitely wicked but the ISA is worse and it is a law that has been abused.”
And in a show of new found humility and frankness, Hanipa stated that Muslims in this country should also not assume that all of PAS’ actions were right, but they need to understand that PAS is a political organisation, and sometimes would be forced to act according to its political agenda. Clever bloke, he's covering his behind just in case, in the worst case scenario, some loose cannon in PAS starts to sell 'tickets to heaven' again.
Wouldn't we agree that we wouldn’t have expected to hear the anti-Arab utterance and confession of frank humility from a PAS leader in a million years, but there you are, Hanipa has done them.
So PAS has abandoned its unnatural infatuation with all things Arab and Arabic, which of course, to be fair to UMNO, Cultural Minister Rais Yatim has long urged Malay-Muslims to do.
Perhaps the young turks in PAS have taken over and adopted a new and more flexible direction in the party's political campaigning. I believe this is a wise move as its previous campaign had been directed at the converted when their votes, while not 100% guaranteed, were already highly assured. It's now moving its sight towards the yet-to-be converted because that's where the additional votes for PAS have to come from.
If PAS aspires to be the federal government it needs to accommodate the non-Muslims, their beliefs and concerns, before it can convince them that the PAS brand of Islam [and there is no necessity for PAS to ever abandon its central pillar of Islam] will not be oppressive but in fact preserves the highest compassionate and just values of Islamic democracy, or if you like, democratic Islam without any medieval cruelty of punishment [eg.such as chopping off hands, gouging of eyes, whipping, beheading, stoning and misogynous practices].
The additional advantage for PAS in moving towards this direction is it maintains the initiative against UMNO, who would then have to attempt to catch-the-leader.
But don't wait until the eve of the 2008 general election to let us know PAS' manifesto. Start the explanation, clarification and assurance [of non oppression and non-suppression] process now! Convince us PAS can be trusted, because you can bet, UMNO will be striving to tell us PAS can't be.