PERAK ACADEMY LECTURE
“MY VISION FOR MALAYSIA”
By: Kassim Ahmad
25 February, 2012.
I thank the Perak Academy for this great honour of iviting me to speak here. I know that many more illustrious persons than me have preceded me to deliver their lectures . Some of you may know that I am but an infamous character, dubbed and known as the leader of the “Anti-Hadith” movement in Malaysia. If I were to take these slanderers to court, I shall have nothing else to do! So, as the Malay rhyme goes, “Biarlah si Luncai terjun dengan labu-labunya!/Biarkan!/Biarkan!” Roughly translated, “Let the village humburg drown in the river with his gourds!/ Let be!/Let be!”
As for my lecture this evening, I can only hope that it will be as interesting as the others who have delivered theirs.
To sum up what I want to say on this topic of “My Vision of Malaysia”, given to me by you, it is this: “The best in the world, materially, morally and spiritually.”
Is this possible? The world, being a lawful creation of a logical and beneficient Power that we call God, it should be possible.
2. Two Types of Politics
At the outset, we must be aware that there are two types of politics: the oppressive oligarchical, and the liberating humanist. Throughout human history, oppressors – the elite minority – have always tried to oppress the people; opposing this oligarchical faction is the humanist faction, fighting to liberate the people from their oppression.
As some of you might know, I was in active politics for some time. I hated the first type, our Malaysian politics being a mixture of both. That is why I left it, opting for what I do best – writing. I told some of my friends that if I were 60 (I am now 78), I would certainly fight for the UMNO presidency, for to obtain power in Malaysia (and therefore to re-shape Malaysia), one still has to do it through UMNO.
3. Malay-based Malaysian Nation
This our new nation-state of Malaysia originated from the 15th century Malay Sultanate of Malacca and its politics is bound to be Malay-based for some time to come. The changes, material, moral dan spiritual, can be dealt with separately, but they are actually inter-related. I would need between 10 to 25 years to achieve my aim completely.
The first ten years would be devoted to economics – to provide all Malaysians with the material support fo a good life, with no one living in poverty. This means that the country must be productive in all aspects, with the rich part psychologically capable of helping the poor part, and eliminating waste and extravagance, much of which is due to corrupt officials. The entire populace must be educated and trained to be productive, while at the same time to hate and act against waste and extravagance.
Malaya, now Malaysia, after 446 years of colonization by European and some Asian powers, has become independent for 54 years and is now on a road to become a new multiracial nation-state. This new nation-state has evolved from the 15the century Malay Sultanate of Malacca that was part of the wider Malay world of the Malay Archipelago. It is to be remembered that Malacca was in that century a most famous cosmopolitan port visited by traders from around the world. It is said that as many as 84 languages and dailects were spoken at the port of Malacca, with Malay as the lingua franca.
It is important to remember this history. It explains why Malaysia is Malay-based. This is not racialism, as some claim. It is reality, but a reality that will be overtaken by our new Malaysian idealism. It will take at least three generations for the new Malaysia to take firm roots and for all of us to think and feel ourselves as Malaysians.
4. A Humanist Society
You can see now that the material component is intertwined with the moral and the spiritual. We must achieve this mainly through our educational system – to teach the moral and spiritual values of a humanist, as opposed to an animalistic, society. Religion in wider sense of the word would have a major part in establishing such a society, as all religions teach the doing of good and preventing evil.
Having established this society without any one living in poverty, we need to make sure that the society, over a period of years, does not relapse into a situation prior to it. The fight is a continuous one. The moral and spiritual education of the people cannot be relaxed. It has to be continuously promoted, improved and upheld.
We have to be vigilant against onslaughts from the oligarchical factions outside our country. This needs a policy of uniting with like societies to oppose the enemy forces.
We are now ready to embark upon the second level of our aim. I think it is not wise to separate the moral and spiritual levels. To what level does the promotion of science, philosophy, art and religion belong? Moral? Spiritual? It is difficult to say. The promotion of science needs a strong commitment to knowledge. The promotion of philosophy needs a strong commitment to rational thought. Of art, to beauty. Of religion, to truth, goodness and compassion.
What makes a man or a woman want to advance on the moral and spiritual planes? The Quran mentions three psychological states: the lowest being a self that is steeped in anger (Arabic: nafsul-amarah). He or she is angry at everybody else except himself or herself. This is the animalistic stage. I think most of mankind throughout human history remained on this animalistic psychological stage and only a Benevolent God saved us from our deserved certain destruction!
We must make an effort to ascend to the next psychological level, the true humanist level, i.e. the self-critical spirit (Ar. nafs’ul-lawwamah). At this level, we acknowledge that others may be right and ourselves may be wrong. This is the stage where we can cooperate with one another to carry out the good works of society. The establishment of the United Nations Organization in 1945 after the Second World war marks the point of our arrival at this stage.
5. Leading Groups
Every society consists of three leading groups: the sincere and the patriotic, upholding and fighting for truth and justice; the opposite of this, upholding and fighting to enrich themselves and their group; with a third posing as the sincere and patriotic, but actually behaving like the second group. There is a perpetual fight between these leading groups. The first group must unite with the broadest sections of the population to overcome the second and third leading groups. It is only thus that the whole society can progress.
Society’s leadership, both intellectual and political, must understand this truth and grasp and uphold the first worldview to fight the second and third worldviews and lead society onward in its evolution to true freedom and hapinness.
6. The Dual Party System
Since the 2008 General Elections when Barisan Nasional for the first time failed to get two-thirds majority, losing the control of four states (Selangor, Penang, Perak and Kedah, with Perak falling back to Barisan’s hands soon after) in the process, with Kelantan remaining in PAS’s hands, our people have become enamoured with the European model of politics, i.e the dual party system with a Government and an Opposition. This system has its philosophical roots in the British philosopher’s Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651) which stipulated society as a “war of all against all” (from Latin: Bellum omnium contra omnes). So society must have a government of check and balance to avoid chaos and civil war. He claimed that this was the state of nature!
It can be seen that this system is, firstly, primitive, since it is based on the lowest psychological state that I mention above, while we can and should progress to the next psychological state, i.e. cooperation among citizens (Ar. nafsul-lawwamah), both at the national and the international levels. As I said above, the United Nations Organization reflects this state. Secondly, it is extravagant, because we simultaneously utilise one part of society to undo the work of another part.
The question is: why cannot we use both parts to work together, while at the same time create a mechanism to make corrections from wthin the government and society? That is what happens in a family: when a family wants to have a function, it deliberates and takes decision. Criricism and correction come from within. In same way, this applies to a society, for a society is nothing but a family enlarged.
We should not ape the West. Under its secular cover, he West is Judeo-Christian. Eastern societies, be they Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and others originate from different religio-moral traditions and operate under different worldviews. We can and should evolve our own governmental systems more in line with our cooperative social-moral traditions, without, of course, sacrificing the worth and rights of the indivividual in society.
7. Eradicating Poverty
Take the case of a truly humanist society. Society should, by right, take care of its members who are in need. Islam makes it the duty of a government to collect taxes, called zakat, translated as obligatory charity, from those who are able, to be given to eight classes or recipients, namely (i) the poor (ii) the needy, (iii) the collectors, i.e. the government or a public body, (iv) for the use of abolishing slavery, (v) for truth seekers, such as students and scholars, (vi) to help debtors, (vii) to help poor travellers, and (viii) to provide basic infracstucture, like education, health, housing, public transport, etc. Although zakat is much stressed in the Quran, it is neglected in all Muslim countries. In Malaysia, for example, after 54 years of independence, many families are still living in poverty.
In order for a society to progress (the word ‘progress’ to mean on all planes, material, moral and spiritual), its leadership must be first class. This means it must consist of professionally competent and morally good individuals. They must work as a team and must not be concerned with narrow personal gains. We know that the Singapore Government pays its ministers the highest salaries in the world to achieve zero corruption in government. It has largely succeeded.
At the moment, our agricuture is not self-sufficient. We import many food products, including rice, the staple foof of our people, on the ground that it is cheaper to import than to produce it. This argument cannot hold, as the more important consideration is rice’s strategic significance to our country.
8. The Party System
The government is run by a party system. The party is the vehicle by which the leading elements in society voluntarily join to form the government and to lead society. Thus these leading elements must undergo a process of scientific education and training to enable them to be members of parties and to be the parties’ cadres and leaders. Only then can the parties be true leaders of government and society.
UMNO claims to be a mass party with of 3.2 million members. It is well-known that over the last few decades, since “money politics” came into being, the quality of its members has deteriorated, resulting in power struggles and corrupt politics in party and government. The disaster of the 12th General Election for B.N. could be seen coming ten or twenty years earlier. UMNO members themselves have come to dislike and to be critical of their leaders for their over-materialism!
Today a great number of people has come to hate politics, especailly the young. It is in this political atmostphere that many people have come to see in the dual party system of the West the answer to our problem. As I have pointed out above, the belief is quite misplaced. As the European experience has shown, the system has not checked Western colonialism and imperialism in Asia and in the world. If ever there was any cause for modern civilization to be totally destroyed, it was the incessant wars between colonialisms and imperialisms! As I said above, only a Beneficient and Merciful God saved us from certain destruction!
Today this duel party system is collapsing in Europe itself. Imagine how foolish we have become to think good coming of a bad thing!
9. A Free and Responsible Press
It is obvious that society cannot remain at the lowest animalistic psychological level. It has to ascend to the next higher level. Otherwise, it will loose its relevance and perish. We are entering the moral and spiritual realms that are necessary to further human development. In this process, a free and responsible press is neessary, being part of the criticism and correction that I spoke about above and that is required.
A press is owned by a group of people who have their own interests. In this sense, it cannot be free. But a free press is necessary. Therefore, the group of people owning the press must voluntarily exercise their patriotic duty to dissiminate true information as well as to make reasoned analyses of local and international news. The country’s leaders as well as other press groups also exersice their role in bringing about a free and responsible press.
All these institutions, party and government leaders, intellectuals, and press groups have one big responsibility, i.e. to uphold and speak the truth, as well as “to enjoin good and prevent evil”, in the pithy words of the Quran.
10. The Study of Religions
There must be a group in the country devoted to the study of the various religious scriptures, supported by the Government, i.e. through the zakat tax that I have already referred to. This is important as the people must be informed of the good moral and spiritual guidance provided by the various religious scriptures.
11. Religion Must Be Separated From Politics
The Government must be secular in character. This secularism must not be of an immoral or amoral type that Machiavelli proposed in his influential book, The Prince. It has to be of a moral type, although it must be separated from religion in the narrow sense of the word. Religious devotions and rituals of every religious community must therefore be separated from State policy and run and managed autonomously by the particular religious community. State policy must clearly be based on the aspirations of all the citizens, regardless of race and religion. State policy must be based squarely on justice, fairness and compassion.
Unless some religious fanatics brand me as anti-religious for espousing secularism, let me remind them that this is precisely what Prophet Muhammad stipulated in his famous Medina Charted that he promulgated and gave to the city of Medina upon his migration to that city.
In order to fully achieve this society, we must pursue an active foreing policy of friendship with all nations to promote peace and justice in the world. Do not think that a small country like Malaysia cannot lead the word. Smallness is not equivalent o weakness. True strength lies in truth, justice and compassion.
This is my vision of Malaysia. Although I grant that it is difficult to put it into practice, it should be a pleasure for truth-and-justice-loving leaders to create such a society, and a greater pleasure still for its citizens to live in it.
God bless Malaysia.
KASSIM AHMAD is a Malaysian author. His website is www.kassimahmad.blogspot.com