Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Ijok - where Malays are even more tribal!

Well, in Ijok we have, depending on your personal proclivity or party affiliation, either passive or sensible Indians, and oppportunistic or brave Chinese.

... which leads us to a malaysiakini headline on one of its articles
“Tension highest in Malay strongholds”.

It’s the same old story of UMNO vs PAS, and now UMNO vs PKR. The other parties are in mere supporting role (eg. MCA, MIC, Gerakan, and in the recent Ijok election, DAP) or just plain insignificant (eg. PSM). For this posting, we may ignore those peripheral elements ‘attached’ to the main combatants.

Paul McGeough, an award winning journalist specialising in Middle-Eastern affairs, particularly those of Iraq, once wrote that the Americans should realise the Iraqis or any Arabs would refer/defer only to their own sheikhs.

In other words, the Arabs are a society of several different tribes, some in alliance and others in conflict but each with its own code of loyalty. Therefore the Yanks should harness the authority of the sheiks to effect change in Iraq, and to stop blundering around sheikdom as if the locals operate in a western-like society, where there is a central authority to be held to account by the cuff of its neck.

Essentially the loyalty of an Arab lies only with his own tribe, and a central authority is nothing more than a western concept to be exploited as the individual tribe sees fit for its own interests.

There were instances when an Arab clan would dob an enemy clan as one which supported insurgents. The naΓ―ve or just plain stupid Yanks would then attack that innocent but framed clan, to the secret delight of the informer. Little wonder the Yanks are hated by almost every local, because the American military would have by now attacked every clan at least once.

Do I dare say that the Malays are in some ways similar to the Arabs in their sense of tribal loyalty, and mind you, I am not referring to their common religion but rather the social fabric and culture?

When I once worked in an organisation where the boss was from a particular State (to be specific, Kelantan) he would mingle with and promote only fellow Kelantanese, and it didn’t matter whether they were Kelantan Malays or non-Malays. To him, it was Kelantan first and last. The Malays from the other states were unimpressed with his State-based discrimination. One could argue that boss was multi-racial but he was certainly tribal.


Well, Penangites like to joke about themselves as 'thick' with Penang-ish kamcheng (sense of friendship or brotherhood) but it's more of pride for their unique Island rather than tribalism.

What about the Chinese then? Yes, there is a striking example of this clannish behaviour in Sibu where to the local Fuchows, non-Fuchow Chinese would be as alien as little green men from Pluto. In fact, they prefer not to know about non-Fuchows (unless there's hormones flying in the air). But unlike the Arabs they don't have a central personality as a sheik.

Now, we also know that UMNO has many factions (or tribes), gravitating around a ‘sheik’. The grouping may be influenced by origins of State or some other reasons. They even have their tribal war cry of 'bangsa & agama', with the latter perhaps providing their sheiks with teflon-ised divine imprimatur. Occasionally they would add 'negara' as a third element to their slogan to embrace a larger grouping or a higher-than-tribal concept of patriotism.

Dr Mahathir was of course a sheik and a very strong one when he was in power. Many factions seek a kind of unspoken alliance with his group because it was to their benefit and for their own survival.

But tribes being tribes, there were many other strong personalities or sheiks, eg. Ku Li. So the two tribes fought, with the result initially a virtual stalemate. But possession, they say, is nine-tenths of the law, meaning one who has physical control of the property is clearly at an advantage should rightful ownership of the property ever be subject to challenge.

Guess who had control of UMNO’s assets? Well, we know that Ku Li became history - perhaps an overly simplified explanation but that’s as far as I want to go down ancient UMNO history.

Well, flashback to the future or rather now, and we have Sheik Anwar Ibrahim and his (former UMNO) PKR tribe. Anwar's tribe was originally Abim. No doubt he has been a charismatic sheik because his followers have been noted to be fanatically loyal to him and his objectives. When he parachuted into UMNO, courtesy of the Grand Ole Man, he apparently took along his Abim people (or alternatively, he gradually inducted them into UMNO).


UMNO survived for years because there was an expectation of 'sharing' among the various tribes. In this, one could say was the success of the catholic church of UMNO (please note those two words written in lower cases, which means it's not the Roman Catholic Church which is a Christian group/organisation).

But when this unwritten law (of sharing among tribes) was violated (or a perception existed of its impending violation), tribes X, Y and Z could have been frightened into banding together to act against an aggressive tribe A. Maybe tribe A was expelled out of the resident oasis into the dry arid desert?

Anyway, let's returned to Ijok, where Anwar and his tribe met AAB’s tribe.

That’s the way I see PKR - an UMNO tribe (OK, a former UMNO tribe) rather than the reformasi overlay it wanted to present itself as, and which it carried into recent battle. Of course they were/are PKR members who are sincere political fighters for democracy and its associated process. We may take it they weren’t part of Anwar’s original UMNO tribe.

But leaving aside those well-meaning but fringe groups (mere cosmetic frills to the core tribe), when two tribes hostile to each other meet, they would engage in combat. In today’s terms, the combat should rightfully be confined to the (western style) constitutional process of an election – nomination of candidates, campaigning and balloting to decide the winning gladiator.

Invariably when one side chose to be ‘extra creative’ in an election campaign, the other tribe would also follow suit in stretching the legal or ethical bounds. Soon western concepts of democratic process disintegrated and violent confrontations arose.

Some of those involved probably didn’t even know what they were fighting for other than to out-do or suppress the ‘enemy’ because they had to protect the sheik’s interest, even if that might involve using police to harass the other tribe, or something as puerile as sitting on the top of the DPM’s car after blocking it with flower pots.


In Ijok we saw brief glimpses of tribal violence (with some collateral damage), which was hardly surprising when passionate and perhaps even fanatically devoted followers wanted to protect the interests of their respective sheiks and tribes. Thankfully the skimishes were limited and subdued by police intervention or presence.

It’s little wonder that “Tension [were] highest in Malay strongholds”.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of KTemoc good well written pieces although I was put off recently by his unnecessry personal attacks on Anwar. I know too well that Anwar was not an angel. If he was a devil the others were or are worst devils. We need somebody to articulate and speak out fearlessly IN PUBLIC on the very many issues confronting us.By the way I was born and bred in Penang thick with kamcheng

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